I wrote this sermon as part of my assessment during my training for the Readers course. I remember that we were divided into small groups of about four with each if us being given a specific role or leadership position to take during a Sunday service that was not at our own church. As luck would have it (or was it divine intervention?) I landed the preaching role.
By this time in my development as a preacher I had come to the conclusion, as I’ve said before, that the preacher should be able to speak to the congregation in the “now.” Fortunately, I knew the church we were visiting for the Sunday of our assessment was in an interregnum and I was able to query a friend of mine, who was filling in as visiting vicar there, about the kind of church it was and what the congregation was like. I passed the assessment but what was really gratifying and a real confidence boost was when several of the congregation said how the sermon had touched and spoken to them.
How often do we stop and take stock of our lives either as individuals or as a church? I think it’s important that we do take stock of ourselves every now and again otherwise we tend to lose sight of where we are, and we forget how it was that we got here. Perhaps, more importantly, it allows us the opportunity to look for the faults, the cracks in the armour. It’s also a chance to spring clean. In the same way as a drain say, can become silted up with muck and dirt, so our hearts can become silted up with the accumulated muck and dirt of sin.
Imagine that you are someone who is approaching the end of, what has seemed like a long and intense period of training. You might say, be someone who has been training for a certain area of ministry within the church. Equally, you could be someone or some body of people who have been through a period of testing, in which time you have learned to fend for yourselves, you’ve grown in responsibility, and matured. Through it all, God has been shaping, and moulding and refining you, even though at times you may not have realised it. Often though you feel more down than up. Perhaps, maybe, you’ve felt out of touch with God and he has seemed far away beyond your reach, distant. On an individual basis as time goes by, you start to achieve your ambitions. You begin to rise through the ranks of the establishment. You become a person of substance, with money, power, authority, and respect. Maybe people take more notice of you now, giving you a sense of importance. I remember Liberace once said, “Go ahead and stare. I don’t dress this way to go unnoticed.”
Or, as a group of people you’ve become established in the community. You’ve put down roots, developed traditions and perhaps prosperity has come your way. Your leaders have successively steered you on your journey of faith, guiding you in your walk with the Lord. Sure, there may have been some hard times along the way, a few struggles, but God has always brought you through it safely. The trouble is that times of peace and tranquillity often make for forgetful memories. It’s easy when everything is gong smoothly to forget that we still need God just as much as when they’re not. The passage that we had read for us from the Old Testament issued a stern warning against such lapses in memory. Remember it said, “Take care not to forget the Lord your God and do not fail to keep his commandments, laws, and statutes which I give you this day.” But all too often we do become forgetful. As we feel that we need God less and less, so we forget that we wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for him. When we approach God it is less with humility and more with pride. Pride in our own achievements. There was one man who we’ve heard about, who had all these things; money, power, authority and respect. Yet when things really got tough for him he was prepared to put all of it aside in order to seek help from Jesus. His name, of course, was Jairus.
Luke, in our gospel passage that was read for us by Ann, highlights, I think, two elements of the human condition that can sometimes prevent, certainly inhibit our approach to God. They are pride and fear. And he does this by drawing our attention to two very different characters in this story. His purpose, it seems to me, is to give us an opportunity to stop and take stock of ourselves.
Well, Jairus, who’s the first of our two characters, is described as the “president of the synagogue.” That is, he’s the official who was responsible for the arrangements at the synagogue services. He would, for example, select those who would lead in prayer, read the scripture and preach. His position was one of some eminence in the community. He’s accomplished much in terms of achieving his earthly ambitions. He has wealth, prestige, good health and probably a good reputation. Most importantly he has a family whom, we assume love him, and whom he obviously loves. His most valuable asset, though, is that he’s prepared to swallow his pride for the sake of his daughter’s life. In his position among the hierarchy of the leadership in the synagogue, he’d be well aware of the policy that was rapidly sweeping through other synagogues of the region, that of closing their doors to Jesus. I don’t think he’d have been particularly fond of Jesus, and probably regarded him as a law-breaker. Even so, in his hour of need, he swallowed his pride and asked for help.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever come across any of Aesop’s fables. These are wonderful little stories that aptly illustrate the human condition. One of the fables is about a cock which having come off worst in a fight with his rival for the affections of the hens, went and hid himself in a dark corner. Meanwhile, the victor climbed onto a high wall where he crowed at the top of his voice. Without any warning, an eagle swooped down and snatched him up. The other cock was kept safe in his hiding place and was now able to continue wooing the hens without any fear of being interrupted. The moral is that this story shows how God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. And it was Jairus’s humility, his abandoning of his pride, that brought God’s grace to his home.
It must have been very hard for Jairus to go to this man whom he regarded with suspicion and dislike, in front of all those who knew Jairus and his position, and throw himself to the ground at Jesus’s feet and beg him to come and save his daughter.
I think we may not realise it or maybe we’re too proud to admit it, but we often let our earthly achievements come between us and God. Or perhaps it’s our social position, or our inability either to admit that we’re wrong or simply to ask for the help of another. Whatever it is, shouldn’t we take the time to stop and take stock. Time to reexamine our attitudes. To see where the cracks in our armour are and make some repairs. Time to do a little spiritual spring cleaning. Our pride is often what prevents us from approaching God.
The second of our two characters that concern us is the woman. She was afraid. She had a hidden need, a burden that she had lived with for twelve long years. It not only affected her physically and made life difficult, but it also affected her spiritually and socially as well. The trouble was that the haemorrhaging made her ceremonially unclean, and as such she was not permitted to take any part in temple worship or the like. Her uncleanness was readily communicable to other people, a simple touch was all that was needed. Therefore she would have been avoided in case others caught her uncleanness. There were various remedies that existed to relieve her condition. Indeed, she had suffered at the hands of many physicians, but all had failed. She must have felt defiled, destitute, discouraged and desperate.
It was her fear that caused her to creep up in the crowd and touch the hem of Jesus’s robe. Fear of rejection and failure. Had she come openly, in the first instance people might not have allowed her to get close to Jesus, in the crowd it was easier. In the second, she would have had to tell in front of all the people something of the illness for which she wanted a cure. In her embarrassment, her fear, she preferred the secret touch. When she’s been healed and Jesus confronts the crowd, she comes forward trembling, fearful, to give her public account of how she’s been healed.
There’s a story about a hesitant driver, who whilst waiting for traffic to clear, came to a complete stop on a motorway ramp. The traffic thinned, but the intimidated driver still waited. Finally, an infuriated voice yelled from behind, “The sign says to yield, not to give up.”
Sometimes we let our fear get the better of us. It could be that the weight of our sin is so great that we’re afraid to approach God, fearful of his rejection, or perhaps too ashamed of ourselves. Instead of moving into the stream of traffic as that driver should have done, we give up. Sometimes our problems seem so big that we dare not confront them, or expose them to God. In one of the Peanuts comic strips, Charlie Brown says, “There’s no problem so big that I can’t run away from it.” It’s fear that often inhibits us from drawing closer to God. If this is the case, then I say again, it’s time to stop and take stock.
I think we need to hear again the words that Jesus said to Jairus when he overheard the messenger inform him of his daughters death. “Do not be afraid, only show faith and she will be well again.” Pride and fear are part of the human condition, but they can become like an illness, preventing or inhibiting us from approaching God. With faith, though, we can overcome our pride. With faith we need not fear approaching God. Let’s not be proud or afraid, but only have faith, and we too can made well again.
Heavenly Father, God of love and mercy, help us to live our lives in response to that love. Banish our fears and overcome our pride so that the faith that you have put in us may cheer us into living our lives more as you meant them and planned them. May your Son keep working in us his miracle of transformation; and may the whole world come to realise that it is yours. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
- What is the purpose of a sermon? (johnmeunier.wordpress.com)