Date: June 28, 2009
Texts: 2 Sam 1:1, 17-27; Ps 130; Mark 5:21-43
Author: Isaac Villegas
“God made everything that is made for love;
and the same love sustains everything,
and shall do so for ever.”
~ Julian of Norwich
I’ve never seen a grown man beg like Jairus. He came to Jesus and dropped down to his knees, and begged. I’m sure this was quite out of character for Jarius—after all, he was one of the leaders of a local synagogue. He’s usually the one with authority. If anyone is supposed to beg, it’s definitely not him. Usually people beg him to do things. But here he is, at the feet of Jesus, begging that Jesus would come and heal his daughter. And it works. The begging works. Jesus listens. And Jesus goes with Jarius to see about his daughter.
There are plenty of important things to notice in this story. But I want us to think about just one of them this evening. It’s actually a very simple point, probably too obvious for us to notice. This story shows us how Jesus is always available—and with Jesus, how God is available. Let me explain. Jarius finds Jesus, makes a request, and Jesus follows. Lots of folks like to use Jesus as a model for leadership—what CEO’s can learn from Jesus, or whatever. But for this story, Jesus isn’t a visionary or a trendsetter. He doesn’t offer a strategy about the future. He’s just walking around, and a man begs him to do something, so Jesus does it. He goes. He follows Jarius. Jesus is a follower.
And why does Jesus follow? Because he is fundamentally available. His presence calls out to people. The way he walks and talks is an invitation for beggars, for requests, for questions, for intimacy. Jarius begs, and Jesus follows. Jesus is willing to be available even when it is an interruption. Let me explain. He is on his way to heal a child, making his way through crowds, following after Jarius, and he stops. “Who touched my clothes?” he asks. Now, Jesus is on an important mission, but he stops midstep. This mission is time-sensitive. Jarius’ daughter is at the edge of death. Every second matters.
And what does Jesus do? He puts his important mission on pause. He stops. He waits. He searches for the one who touched his clothes. And the woman, having received the power of healing from touching Jesus’ clothes, “came in fear and trembling, and fell down before him” (Mk 5:33). Jesus responds to the woman. Jesus is available to her touch. And Jesus searches for her—to try to encounter her face to face, to be more fully available, to look her in the eyes. Jesus makes himself available, even when he doesn’t try. The woman seeks him out, and without deciding to do so beforehand, Jesus responds with healing. It just happens. Jesus is always available, even without trying to be.
Our Psalmist also knows that God is available. Psalm 130 is one long cry to God. And the Psalmist cries out because he knows that God listens, that God’s ear is available. Listen to how the Psalm starts: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O God” (Ps. 130:1). The Psalmist knows he can cry out to God, the Psalmist knows that God is available, because, as he says at the end of the Psalm, “with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem” (v. 7). Steadfast love.
That’s what it means for God to be available. It means that God is steadfast love—not just that God is able to love when he needs to. But that God is steadfast love. That’s what God is—love, steadfast love. God is a love that isn’t flaky; it’s steadfast love—unmovable love, a love that is always available, steadfast, always just there…no matter what, completely dependable.
That’s what God is: a completely dependable presence. Someone you can rest into, a power you can relax into, a presence that teaches you how to let go and find liberation, freedom from fear. Why? Because God will redeem; as Julian of Norwich put it a long time ago, God shall make all manner of things well.
God is available because God is steadfast love. That is all that I’m trying to say. It’s really a basic point. But it’s one thing for me to say it, and quite another to feel it. And I don’t know how to get you to cross that divide with my words. I can tell you all about it. I can tell you about how God is available and how the Bible tells us so. But it’s quite another thing entirely for me to tell you how to rest into God’s steadfast love, how to relax into God’s presence where all shall be well, and to feel that it is true. So, the best I can do is tell you about David, that shepherd turned king, that morally ambiguous leader who turned out to be a man after God’s heart. Now, I don’t know if I convinced you last week that David doesn’t always have the best motives, or that he doesn’t always do the right thing.
But, for what it’s worth, I’m convinced. I think David gets away with murder, and we usually don’t care because we would rather have our image of “David the hero” that we got in Sunday school. But this week we get a window into a different part of David, at a different angle, one that’s far removed from the battlefield where he killed Goliath. The passage we heard this evening shows us a very different David. Not the heroic David that rides through town and makes all the women swoon. No. This David cries; this David is moved to tears; this David feels the loss of love.
His lament for Jonathan and Saul is beautiful: “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely…; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep…” (2 Sam 1:23-24). And David weeps too. He loved deeply and now feels a deep loss. The last lines of his lament return to his love relationship with Jonathan. David and Jonathan shared an intimate love; they even made a covenant of fidelity to one another to make room for their love to grow. And now death has taken Jonathan away. So David mourns and says to the dead Jonathan at the end of his lament, “your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (v. 26).
And now it’s gone; David remembers and mourns. Jonathan taught David how to love. Jonathan showed him how to love even when that fragile love threatened everything. For one thing, the love between them fueled Saul’s rage, and his downward spiral into madness. But, with Jonathan, David learned to relax into love, even when the world around him spiraled into chaos. This love is a gift that flows from God’s presence. God makes his love available in all sorts of ways—through another person: a friend who is always available to listen, or someone you don’t know very well who offers to pray for you, or a stranger who interrupts your busyness like the hemorrhaging woman who distracts Jesus from his mission.
David makes plenty of wrong turns. But he learns how to love—his human loves teach him the love of God, and his love for God emerges out of his relationships of love. The two loves flow into one another. He slowly comes to know that God is a love that is always available, always at his fingertips, always holding him, sustaining him. David’s life is a stumbling journey into this love, into the heart of God, and we get to watch and learn.
I can tell you all about how God is always available. And I can tell you how God’s offer of love disarms the weapons of this world that kills a little bit of you every day. The good news is that those little deaths can’t enslave you forever. Just like Jesus finally gets around to raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead, so will God raise you up as well.
I can tell you all about this good news; but it’s another thing to feel that it’s good for you and good for the world. And the way we come to feel it, I think, is to follow the stumbling way of David, who learns God’s love by loving and opening himself to others who love him.
When you dig into those everyday loves, the loves that keep you alive, you find the heart of God, the pulse of God that gives life to the world.
So, follow David, who draws close to the heart of God, even though he doesn’t always make the right move at first. But as he keeps on trying; David learns how to rest into God’s presence. He learns how to mourn. He learns how to dance with joy without embarrassment. And he learns how to confess his sins with complete honesty and without shame.
All of this is what happens to people who discover the freedom that comes when you know that nothing you can do can ruin the world because God holds it all in his hands, including you and your messy life.
We can see David at his best, we can see David living in the freedom of God’s love, when he laments—like in the passage we heard today. David is good at crying; his tears don’t embarrass him. They flow from the freedom he has found in God’s presence. Nothing he can do can ruin that. It’s always available; it’s steadfast love.
But it’s not all about mourning—the liberating power of God’s love also looks like joy. David is also remembered for his joy. He sings and plays the harp. And in one unforgettable instance, David dances naked in the streets, full of joy, full of God’s love. No one can take away that joy, no one can take away that profound love.
God is always available, a presence you can rest into, no matter what missteps you make along the way. And when you cry out like our Psalmist, out of the depths, know that God is already on the way, even though it seems like it takes a while. Jesus does finally show up to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, even though everyone (including the daughter), thought it was too late.