Sermon–July 1, 2018


6 Pentecost—Proper 8-B, July 1, 2018

William Bradbury

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24, Lamentations 3:21-33, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43

What do you remember from high school? For me the day by day grind is largely forgotten, but certain moments, some quite trivial, are with me still. I think of 9th grade when I attended our school’s production of “The Miracle Worker”, the play about the young, blind and deaf, Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, who works to connect Helen to the world in a new way. The breakthrough scene is when Anne Sullivan is spelling with her fingers the word “water” on Helen’s palm, while Helen’s other hand is under a stream of water and Helen makes the connection between the two. She then exhausts Anne demanding to know the word for everything.

That’s the dramatic breakthrough, but what I remember is at the beginning when her mother goes to check on Helen in her crib and discovers her 19 month old daughter is now blind and deaf, and her mother lets out a soul-piercing scream. That scream transfixed and overwhelmed me. I remember the scream.

Most of us have made that scream—either silently or aloud—in response to situation that overwhelm us. Certainly a sick or dying child will elicit a scream, as will an illness or personal failure that promises to change our lives forever.

Do you remember a time that you heard that scream in your soul?

That scream is at the heart of our gospel reading today. Mark presents us with two screams–one sandwiched within the other: Jairus, the synagogue leader, is screaming because his beloved 12 year old daughter is dying. He falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him to come lay his hands on her to make her well.

But on his way to pray for the dying girl, there is an older woman who is also screaming. She’s been fighting a hemorrhage for years—a condition that is not only debilitating, but which also makes her ritually unclean.

She believes her last best hope is Jesus of Nazareth.

These two healing stories are connected in a number of other ways, usually by contrast.

  1. The year the girl is born is the same year the woman contracts her illness—12 years ago.
  2. The girl is in a room of her own, a sign of wealth, while the woman has spent all her money on doctors and treatments.
  3. The girl’s father approaches Jesus from the front and begs for help. The woman approaches Jesus from the rear and, without speaking, touches him.
  4. Both girl and woman are healed and both are rightly called daughters, for Jesus addresses the woman as his daughter.


Screams give voice to a profound sense of helplessness and hopelessness and fear.

 This recognition is the first, necessary, step toward healing, because it opens us up to the reality that there are limits on our ability to heal ourselves or those we love.

But the scream alone doesn’t bring healing, rather it brings a choice. Once we know in the pit of our stomach that we need help we have a decision: we can fall into self-pity and victimization, in which case we never move beyond the scream. Or we can let ourselves fall into faith that opens us to Christ for companionship and healing.

Faith takes us beyond ourselves and opens us to whatever God can do for us. We’ll take whatever anyone or anything offers us. We may approach Christ either publically, like Jairus, or we may come to him secretly. Jesus doesn’t care how we approach him, only that we invite him into our pain and let him be Emmanuel, God-for-us.

So Faith is not a thing, but a process.

Faith is not a thing I possess that makes me powerful, but a process, a flow,  that is a gift and that leads me out of myself, so I can experience participation in Jesus and his faithfulness to God. See John Cobb’s discussion in …

It is not faith that heals, but it is faith that opens us to receive Christ’s connection to the Father healing love.

We remember in Mark 9:24 when a father asks Jesus to heal his epileptic son, Jesus says, “All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child screams, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The Helen Keller story and the healings in today’s gospel are rightly called miracles. But not “miracle” as the Enlightenment understands the term. From this 18th century perspective that is still very much alive today, a miracle by definition can never happen, because it would require a god, from outside the universe, to violate the laws of nature and interfere with the fixed and orderly running of the world.

But miracle as the Bible understands a miracle, is a sign that the creator God is working in and through what is, in order to create beauty and love. In the story of the prophets and of Jesus “God”, as Walter Brueggemann puts it, “is a lively agent and a real character.”

And yes, Anne Sullivan is rightly called a miracle worker. When she first arrives on the scene she has to endure Helen’s screams, her hourly tantrums, and physical acting out, even losing a tooth to Helen’s anger and violence. Both Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller participate in Christ’s faithfulness and a new and beautiful reality is born.

They might have said, as Saint Paul wrote to the Galatians:  “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

What Helen Keller did say is: “I know that life is given us, so that we may grow in love. And I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the color and fragrance of the flower, the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence.”

So we don’t run from our pain but we take it to Christ. Take our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and fear to Christ, who himself screams to the Father on the night of his arrest and as he hangs from the cross, opening the way of faith for us all.

So take life, just as it is, to Christ. And by the grace of God we will end up in the same beautiful place Helen Keller does when she says, “I thank God for my handicaps for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.”