It’s a Miracle! sermon series – #3: Girl, Get Up!

SCRIPTURE – Luke 8:40-42, 49-56

40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him.41 Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

49 While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.” 50 When Jesus heard this, he replied, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.” 51 When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat.56 Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened.

SERMON
It’s a Miracle! Sermon Series
#3 – Raising Jairus’ Daughter
Luke 8:40-42, 49-56
Nov. 2, 2014

We continue our sermon series on the miracles of Jesus this morning by looking at one of his resurrections, which I think are the biggest challenges to our rational minds. You might be able to explain away a miraculous feeding or the healing of someone’s hand. But unless you believe in zombies, there’s simply no explaining a person being brought back from the dead. And the person who is resurrected, unless it’s Jesus himself, is still going to die in the future. So what’s the point?

By this juncture in Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ popularity is reaching rock-star levels. Everywhere he goes people are waiting for him, crowds are forming to see him. He’s becoming known, against his will, as the man who can work miracles. He’s already raised one person from the dead, lifted him right out of the casket. It appears as if he can do anything. That belief is what drives Jairus to seek out Jesus. As the president of the local synagogue, Jairus would have heard about Jesus. In fact, he probably would have been warned by the Pharisees to keep a close eye on Jesus. “Watch this guy, Jairus; if he does anything suspicious, call us.” As a Jewish religious leader, he was expected to help out in the plot against Jesus.

As important as Jairus’ role was as a Jewish leader, he had an even more important part to play in his life: he was a father, and that trumped everything else. We fathers are very protective of our little girls. One time, when Sydney was in first grade, she was punched in the nose by another kid while riding the school bus home. When Leigh called me and told me, I admit that I stopped thinking like a pastor for a moment when I thought about what I wanted to do the kid who punched her. The father instinct kicked in. That’s why when I say my daughters won’t date until they’re 30, everyone else laughs, but I don’t. We fathers are a protective bunch.

Jairus has that same protective instinct. His only daughter, just  a year away from being a teenager, is dying. So when he sees a chance to restore her to health through this man Jesus, he acts on it, regardless of what his bosses might think, throwing himself at Jesus’ feet. This must have been a strange sight. Jairus the ruler of the synagogue, in his flowing robes and religious garb, on his face in the dust before this itinerant preacher and miracle worker.

But Jairus had been driven far beyond the point of caring about appearances. His daughter was dying. At this time, there was no Jewish belief in eternal life. The prevailing understanding of the day was that the souls of people who died went to Sheol, a murky, mysterious underworld that offered a kind of shadowy, purgatory-like existence. With no expectation of life after death, the death of a young person was considered especially tragic. Their time on earth was all they had. That’s why Jairus is so desperate.

On the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus gets sidetracked by another person looking for healing and that interruption was the girl’s death sentence. A messenger comes to Jairus and delivers the final verdict. Save your breath, don’t waste your time, give up your hope in Jesus. There’s nothing left to do but make funeral arrangements.

The wording of the message that is delivered is a peculiar one. “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.” At first that sounds like a brusque brush-off of Jairus’ request. “She’s gone. There’s nothing he can do here.” But I read it as a brush-off of Jesus. “She’s gone. There’s nothing you can do here.” Do we place those same kinds of limits on what Jesus can do in our lives, in our world? Had Jairus believed the message, his daughter would have stayed dead. I wonder what hope is squelched in our lives because we believe there’s nothing Jesus can do here.

Jesus here’s the grim report and says to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid, just believe and she will be saved.” They continue on to Jairus’ house, where they find a crowd already gathering to mourn the girl’s death. Jesus takes a few disciples and the girl’s parents into the house, takes a look at the girl, and pronounces, “She is not dead, she’s sleeping.”

Now, did you hear the reaction? Luke says, “And they laughed at him.” Laughed! At Jesus! “They laughed at him.” Who is “they?” I can’t believe it was the parents who laughed. They’re the ones who had faith in Jesus in the first place. And his disciples knew better than to laugh; they’d seen what he can do. Maybe it was the servants or the mourners outside the house who laughed. Would you have laughed? I probably would have. Sleeping? We saw her chest stop moving. We can’t feel a pulse. We know this guy has touched a few lepers and calmed a storm, but this girl is dead. No one has that kind of power. There’s nothing he can do here. Would you have laughed?

Sarah did. When a visitor told her and Abraham that she was going to have a baby at age 90, she laughed. When we’re faced with impossible circumstances, the only thing we see in front of us is a brick wall. And then God shows up and said, “That’s not a wall, that’s a door,” and we say, “Are you blind? That’s bricks and mortar! There’s no getting past that diagnosis, no finding another job, no chance for love.” Do we laugh? Do we make light of the promises Jesus has made to us?

When Jesus goes into the house, he sees the girl lying there on the bed. Is there any worse feeling than that? At Crestwood, we know something about sick children, don’t we? Two of our own, Milly Bles and Holly Schoeder, have recently been the little girls lying on the bed. And we’ve probably experienced similar things in our families. I remember when our daughter Molly was about seven months old, she had to get tubes put in her ears. That’s probably the simplest surgery in the history of surgeries, but when they wheeled her back on the gurney through the surgery doors, Leigh and I just dissolved into tears. And then five seconds later they wheeled her out. “We’re done!” But when it’s your child, there’s such thing as a minor surgery. It is soul-level painful to see a child lying there.

Jairus is not the only one who feels that pain when he sees his daughter lying there. I believe God also felt that pain. We use many different terms to describe God. Some are nice. God is our Creator of the universe, God is a Shepherd, God is almighty and holy and loving. Some are not so nice. God is a vengeful judge. God is a critical punisher of sins. But I believe this story gives us the term that trumps all terms. Pardon the gender exclusivity here, but it fits our story. First and foremost, God is our Father.

When we hurt, God hurts with us like a father does a child. When we accomplish something, God celebrates with us like a mother does a child. And when we fall ill or make bad decisions or are the victims of cruel circumstances, God grieves for us like a parent does a child. I believe God’s parental love for us is a constant presence for us, even in situations that don’t work out the way we had planned. I’m really glad for Jairus that this story has a happy ending, but we have to acknowledge the painful reality that not all stories end the same way. On this All Saints’ Day, I’m aware that we remember a number of kind, loving people who weren’t healed, who died despite our prayers. Sometimes the girl doesn’t get up off the table, so we have to be careful about telling people that if they just have enough faith, God will fix everything.

This story leads us down that road, doesn’t it? Jesus says to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe and she will be saved.” Notice he doesn’t say she will be alive again. It doesn’t say she will be resurrected. In the translation the Message, Jesus says, “Trust in me and everything will be all right.” Can everything be all right even if the girl still dies? Yes it can. Maybe not “all right” in the way we want it to be all right. But all right in the sense that we have put our trust in the one Who promises life in the face of death, the One who doesn’t stop working when we think there’s nothing he can do here.

For us today, to have faith in Christ doesn’t mean we believe we’ll always experience a physical miracle. Christ calls not to fear, but to trust. Preacher Barbara Brown Taylor says that if Jairus was able to do that, to trust in Jesus’ power and presence, then he would have survived whatever happened next, even if Jesus had walked into the room, closed his daughter’s eyes with his fingertips, and pulled the sheet over her head. Her father’s belief would have become the miracle at that point, his willingness to believe that she was still in God’s good hands even though she had slipped out of his.

Our faith is not grounded in the fact that Jairus’ daughter was brought back to life. If that’s the basis for our belief, if our faith is predicated on the certainty that Jesus can rescue us from every illness and even physical death, then we’ve set our sights way too low, because at some point, we’re still going to die. Instead, our faith is grounded in the fact that the one who had the power to bring her back from the dead has himself defeated death forever, for all of us. The miracle is not that he can perform resurrections; the miracles is that for all of us, and for all of those who didn’t get up off the operating table or get out of the hospice bed, Christ is the resurrection, that there is something more to our life than our time here on earth. Trusting in that, claiming that promise, even in the face of death, is the  miracle.

By raising Jairus’ daughter, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the kingdom of God, where there is no illness or mourning or death. But not everyone who calls on Jesus’ name receives the same kind of miracle. And yet, we still believe. Faith means refusing to focus on the circumstances and the uncertainties. Faith means taking seriously the promises of God’s presence, the promises of God’s goodness, the promises of God’s faithfulness to us. Faith means believing that God loves us like a father. Even when death seems to have won, through pain and anxiety and grief, when the love of a parent isn’t strong enough to save, we trust. We are in God’s good hands, regardless of what life brings or what life takes away. Thanks be to God.

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