Sunday, July 1, 2012

"But They Laughed at Him"

Texts:    1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Mark 5:21-43

        PEOPLE LAUGH AT GOD THESE days. How absurd that anyone should believe in a Deity we've probably "just made up in our own heads."  We reply that our God could be seen and heard and felt when He lived on earth as the Man Jesus Christ, but the unbelieving world thinks that's a terrific joke.  How could a man be God in human flesh?!  How could one Man's death deal with the problem of our sins?!  Most hilarious of all, where do we Christians get off saying that people have any sin problem in the first place?  People laugh at Jesus, and they laugh at us.

    Maybe if we could go back in time and walk with Jesus in Roman-occupied Israel, we'd find that nobody laughed at God like that.  Everyone would respect Jesus and take Him seriously.  After all, Jesus was the Messiah, the Holy One of God.  And as His disciples, people would respect us take us seriously, too.  No one would dare to laugh, or say that Jesus-- or we ourselves-- was a fool.

    But we know that's not true.   We know it from our Scripture readings this morning.  Just as now, people in the 1st century had no trouble laughing at Jesus and laughing at Christians.  Why?  Because from this fallen world's point of view, Jesus seemed to go about His work in a very foolish way.  He didn't do things the way that was prescribed or expected.  Not even the religious people approved of what He did and why He did it.  Jesus deliberately went around turning things upside down.

    Now, not always.  In our reading from St. Mark's gospel, we see Jesus surrounded by a large crowd.  That's the way it was supposed to be--the famous rabbi, with the crowds hanging onto His every word.  And suddenly through the throng comes the respected Jairus, a ruler of the local synagogue, beseeching Jesus' help.  The man's little daughter is dying-- please, Rabbi, come and heal her.  Ah, yes, the high and respected ones look up to Jesus.  That's right.  And Jesus goes with the man to heal his daughter.  That's the way it's supposed to be, too.  And the pressing crowds enthusiastically come along.

    But what's this?  Suddenly Jesus stops dead, looks around, and asks, "Who touched my clothes?"  Even His disciples think this is an odd thing for Him to say.  Good grief, Lord, the people are all crowding against You!  Why ask who in particular touched Your clothes?  Jesus' modern detractors would say this proves He wasn't really God, because God knows everything, so Jesus should have known who had touched Him. They fail to comprehend what God gave up to become a Man, and so they laugh.

    But that day in the crowd by the Sea of Galilee, nobody was laughing.  They waited, and out of the crowd crept a woman who fell at Jesus' feet.  You can imagine the whispers that would have flown from ear to ear.  "Heavens!  Isn't that Hannah bat Itzak?  Doesn't she have some sort of bleeding trouble?"  "How dare she appear in public?"  "How dare she touch the Rabbi, even His clothes!"  Then, "Blood!  Blood!  Unclean blood!"  Nobody's pressing around Jesus anymore.  They've all drawn themselves and their garments back, lest they be rendered ceremonially unclean, just like this afflicted woman.

    And under the Old Covenant law they were right.  Back then our worthiness to approach God in worship depended upon our following certain rules of ritual cleanliness.  Why isn't Jesus following the Law and avoiding this woman?  Doesn't He know her history?  And even if He didn't before, He does now, because she tells Him of her twelve years of bleeding and suffering and isolation.  Does He draw back in horror?  No!  Jesus looks on her with compassion and says, "Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."  Sorry, Jesus, it doesn't make sense!

    Besides, Jesus, what about poor Jairus and his dying child?  Even while Jesus was still talking to the woman, men from the synagogue ruler's house came and reported that his daughter was dead.  No call for Jesus to come now.  Maybe if He'd ignored that unclean creature He would have been on time, but now, forget it.

    But Jesus won't forget it.  He tells the grieving father, "Don't be afraid; just believe."  What an odd thing to say!  But Jairus doesn't laugh.  He goes with Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John, back to his home where his daughter lies dead.  Already at the door the hired mourners are at work, weeping and wailing in honor of the dead child.  Jesus, really, isn't it too late?

    But our Lord says, "Why all this commotion and wailing?  The child is not dead but asleep."

    But they laughed at Him.  From every reasonable point of view, they had a right to laugh at Him.  You didn't need to be a professional mourner in that day to know what a dead body looked like.  The girl was dead.  Enough with the sick jokes, Rabbi.  You make us laugh.

    But Jesus isn't working from human reason.  He's working from the wisdom of God.  He isn't bound by the limitations of human strength, He's filled with the strength of God.  Jesus isn't controlled by the powers of death, He Himself is the everlasting Life of God.  He can confound all human expectations.  Taking the child by the hand, He commands, "Talitha, koum!" or, in English, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"  And this twelve-year-old child gets up, walks around fully alive, and ready for something to eat.

    What?  Who is this who by the speaking of His word can restore life in what was dead?

    It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man.  He is the Savior of Israel and hope of the nations, great David's greater Son.  He came in fulfillment of all the ancient prophecies, but even those who claimed to be waiting for Him didn't recognize Him when He came and laughed at Him as a fool.

    In Jesus' day, good religious Jews were expecting God to act to save them, through a human Messiah.  But God chose to come to earth Himself, as the Man Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God.   Can our human minds get around how this can be?  No, but the mind of God can and did make it happen.  And so Jesus lived and served among us, and demonstrated His full humanity by accepting our limitations.  He was willing to be like us, getting hungry, thirsty, and tired.  He accepted that at times His Father would hide some things from Him, such as the identity of the woman who deliberately touched Him in the crowd.  But He was also eternal God, with power over life and death, whose very clothes carried the power to heal those who reached out in faith.

    But then Jesus was hung on a cross and killed.  Now where was the glorious divine kingdom He was supposed to bring?  The Romans mocked and the Jewish authorities scoffed.  They laughed at Him as He hung there.  Where were all His godlike pretensions now?

    But we know what happened on the third day.  God the Father vindicated His Son by raising Him from the dead.  God had the last laugh.  What a reversal!  See all the wisdom and disdain of the world turned upside down!

    But amazing as the resurrection is, as much as it upsets everything we assume about the way things are supposed to be, the cross of Christ challenges our worldly assumptions even more.  For as St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, to those who are perishing-- that is, to all who do not believe in Jesus Christ-- the message of the cross is foolishness.  For what was a Roman cross but a mark of defeat, death, and shame?  To be hung on a cross meant disgrace and weakness, the end of everything you stood for and the end of you.  But God in Christ took that shameful instrument and made it the only sign of the world's hope, glory, and life.  The only sign, I say, because God in His wisdom and power has ordained that only through the cross of Christ can anyone anywhere gain access to Him and enjoy life everlasting.

    The unbelieving world laughs at this.  It laughed in Paul's day and it laughs in ours.  Everybody knows you're in charge of your own salvation, say those who are perishing.   First century Greeks insisted that intellectual enlightenment was the way to union with God.  The Jews of that day were waiting for Jesus to do a miraculous sign that would come up to their standards.  Make all the Romans suddenly drop dead in the streets, perhaps.  And in our time, it's common wisdom that if there is a God you please Him by obeying the rules and making sure your good deeds outweigh your bad!  You're laughed at if you say otherwise.

    But God our Father steadfastly points all mankind to Christ and Him crucified.  All the derision, all the disdain of the world cannot change the eternal fact that it's only through the broken body and blood of Christ that anyone at all can be saved.  Just as Jesus took the corpse of Jairus' daughter by the hand and called her spirit back into her, so the Holy Spirit of Christ entered into us while we were dead in trespasses and sins.  He raised us up in God's strength and enlightens our minds with God's wisdom.

    And so, brothers and sisters, the world may laugh at Jesus and it may laugh at you, but let the cross of Christ be your unchanging message and your eternal hope.  On this good news we take our stand unshaken, even when so much that is good is being torn down and denigrated, even when laughter at the crucified Christ comes from the heart of the church.

    But what if those who laugh and scorn are those we love?  What if our friends and family call us fools and worse for trusting a dead and risen God?  We do them no favors by compromising God's truth to make them feel better about their worldly wisdom.  Stand firm in Christ; love them, pray for them, be always ready to give a reason for the divine hope that is in you.  Remember, there was a time when you, too, couldn't believe that Christ's death was enough to save you, maybe a time when you didn't think you needed to be saved.  The Holy Spirit made you wise with the wisdom of God; He can raise and enlighten and enliven those you care for, too.

    Jesus Christ came to earth as God in human flesh, to die and rise again that we might be raised by the power of God.  The Supper here spread confirms this reality to and in us.  Come to our Lord's Table and eat and drink unto eternal life.  And laugh, brothers and sisters, laugh, no longer in derision, but in holy, exalted, and overflowing joy.  Amen.

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