Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 2018—1 July 2018
Revd Martin Johnson
Lamentations 3.22-33; Ps 30; 2 Corinthians 8.7-15; Mark 5.21-43
Novelist EM Forster of 'Howards End' fame sighed over 'poor, little talkative Christianity'. I wonder if Mark's gospel is the antidote.
Music buffs may have heard the quote "It's the silence between the notes that holds the key to all music."? It's attributed to Claude Debussy among others and there's great wisdom in it. The great American Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis famously said: "It's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play." In recent days Professor Ken Taylor has returned to Canberra from the UK. He is a town planner and worked here in the 1970s. He is disappointed with the development of the last decade. He writes that he is not opposed to density in principle but the way it's done; 'in all the great cities of the world it's not the great buildings that people remember, they remember the spaces.' The problem in all this is that it easy to describe and articulate sound and structure, but how do you articulate silence and space.
In this same vein then do you have trouble articulating your faith? Would you rather avoid those situations where you may be asked to give a testimony? If you are, you're not alone, so please don't worry! St Peter, whose feast we have celebrated this week, in his first letter tells us to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us. There is a very good reason why he says that, it is because he knows that often we aren't. Clearly even in his day there were those who found it difficult and they were much closer to the events we celebrate and recollect than we are. I think there are a number of reasons for this. Some quite simply see their faith as a private matter. Others find it difficult because we can so often find that we are misrepresented or misunderstood. I feel that sometimes it is like trying to describe silence or space and there's a good reason for this.
Our gospel passage this morning is classic Mark! Two accounts – the story of Jairus' daughter and the chronically sick woman who touches Jesus' hem, are sandwiched together. Also classic Mark is the request of Jesus 'He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.' Jairus' daughter who was believed to be dead is now sitting up eating and Jesus tells those around him not to tell anyone! Jesus of course does this on many other occasions and is almost universally disobeyed …understandably. We can describe an event like sound or structure, or even a miracle, but what gives meaning to that event, like the silence in music or the space between structures, is very much more difficult to articulate.
The story of the woman touching the hem of Jesus' clothing suggests that the miracles flowed from him, he cannot stop himself from performing these acts of healing. It is not that he is unwilling, but he knows what will be said of him. Travelling healers and snake oil salesman abounded in his day. They are alive and well today some of them are so called tele-evangelists, hence his call for silence. Mark's Jesus does not announce himself to be the Messiah until the trial before the High Priest. 'Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?' Jesus says, 'I am.' Mark in this, the first gospel, is saying something that is totally revolutionary and extraordinarily challenging. He preserves the memories of Jesus telling his followers to keep silent in the face of his miracles because he will be misunderstood and misrepresented; he has much, much more to say and do, it cannot be articulated, until this 'I am' moment, when Mark begins the climax of the gospel.
The very first edition of Mark's gospel rested on what is known as the 'empty tomb' tradition. None of the words of the risen Jesus, but the silence of the empty tomb. Throughout the gospel Jesus calls for silence and he is often disobeyed. At the empty tomb the women are told to go and tell the disciples what they found, at last they have permission to speak. But they said nothing to anyone, but fled in fear. Rowan Williams says that we are, and I quote, 'to pick up the paradox here. At last, the message is clear: here, in the crucified Jesus, is the event in which God has changed the world ... and no one wants to talk about it. It's too much of a shock, it's too difficult ... Once it was a matter of how easy it would have been to tell the story of Jesus the great healer and wonderworker; all the words were there, ready-made ... Now something has been made clear that has no ready-made words: God has acted in the pain and failure of Jesus and in his torture and execution. Just how are we to talk about that?' Indeed, how are we to talk about this? Because it strikes me that, at this point, we're in a conundrum. Little wonder we find it difficult to speak about our faith, are there words that are adequate?
Jesus says to Jairus: do not fear. The women at the tomb were told the same thing. This business of fear is at the heart of our problem. The trouble is that not only are we sometimes fearful but folk are fearful of us and religious faith generally. So what is the answer? It seems to me that Mark's gospel is a call to patience. When Jesus performs miracles or when they tumble out of him he calls for patience. The gospel account we heard today always gets to me. Jairus tells Jesus about his daughter, it is heart rending stuff. He follows Jairus to his house but on the way is waylaid by the sick woman. What must Jairus have been thinking? I know what I'm thinking, come on go to the house, go to the little girl. It is as if Jesus is saying 'patience.'
We must be patient with ourselves and with those who ask us about our faith. We as a Church must be patient. Hope and patience belong together; as a Church we can only proclaim our message of hope by being patient. If the story of Job teaches us anything it is the need for patience. The writer of Lamentations speaks into a situation of hopelessness but can still say:
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Arsenius one of the Desert fathers of the early Church always used to say:
'Why, words, did I let you get out? I have often been sorry that I have spoken, never that I have been silent.'
Sometimes we too need to sit patiently, quietly with those who are exploring and in waiting with them out of the silence, out the space comes the music of truth. Amen.