(Mark 5: 21-43; Psalm 130: 1-8)
Things didn’t work out this summer for the Lindsleys to make our annual pilgrimage to the beach and ocean. Or, as some like to call it, “the shark’s home.”
But a boy can dream, right? And so in that dream, I am standing in the surf at Myrtle Beach on a sunny morning. Above me lies a crystal clear blue sky, along with a nondescript airplane that has some banner flying off the back, informing me that the Bargain Beach Shop has shark tooth necklaces for one cent. I am made to believe this is a great thing. Behind me is a beach full of people, a few hundred of my closest friends, as is always the case at Myrtle. Each of them, like me, is decked out in swim suits and sunscreen and sunglasses and all manner of beach paraphernalia. Many of the tents have been set up before sunrise, staking out territory like some lawn rock concert. All we’re missing is the band.
I am standing there in the surf with my oldest son, who, like his old man, has taken to body surfing. This is the rather asinine practice of positioning your body at the exact spot where an incoming wave is about to break, thus propelling you forward as one with the wave. When it works, if I may say so, it’s a pretty rad thing! When it doesn’t work, typically there is great pain involved.
The key element, of course, is the wave itself. And that’s sometimes a problem. Because the waves aren’t always there in the way you need them. Maybe the shoreline cuts at a steep pitch so the waves don’t go long enough. Or perhaps it’s a morning like this one I’m dreaming about – a quiet sea. It’s beautiful and peaceful, but for a middle-aged father and his son out there for the thrill, it’s a bummer, man. Every now and then the sea defies itself and a nice one pops up. But as the morning grows old it feels like the sea is doing the same. And so we are bored. We are impatient. We’re actually considering the Bargain Beach Shop and one of those shark tooth necklaces.
Let me share with you this morning something that I am not good at, something I am becoming more and more aware of as I stand in this surf: I am not good at waiting. I imagine most of us aren’t.
There we are, waiting in line at Subway. It’s always long around lunchtime, and we wonder if it really takes that much time to make a sandwich, or why the place couldn’t hire an extra worker or two. Which are perfectly okay things to wonder about, but will do precious little to make the line right now go any faster.
There we are, on hold with the cell phone company. I’m not going to name any names, but it has three letters, two of which are the same, and there’s an “&” in there. We’ve been on hold for so long that the phone starts to feel like an appendage, and we find ourselves longing for a live person to intervene, not only to end our waiting but to rescue us from the torture of Musak.
There we are, sitting at the Division of Motor Vehicles office. Need I say any more! If we’d known it was going to take this long to get our driver’s license renewed, we seriously would’ve considered just buying a bike. But we’ve been here for an hour and a half already; so hey, why end the party now!
Waiting. It’s boring. It’s agonizing. It’s no fun. It’s also biblical. In the gospel of Mark, our scripture today, there’s a whole lot of waiting going on. Jesus is out teaching by the sea. And in that crowd there is a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, who comes up to him. Falls at his feet, practically. My daughter’s sick, he tells him, out of breath. She’s near death. Please come and lay your hands on her so she’ll be healed.
Now any of us here this morning – with or without kids – can feel the desperation and urgency in Jairus’ voice, can we not? Scripture tells us he “begged Jesus repeatedly.” This isn’t “come when you get a free moment” or “swing by the house sometime next week.” This is come right now.
And so they’re on the road to Jairus’ home, but they’re not alone. There’s a crowd with them, as we imagine there was whenever Jesus was around; a Myrtle Beach kind of crowd. And they’re all pressing in tight, all wanting to be near him. And in that crowd somewhere is a woman who has also been waiting. Waiting a very, very long time. Twelve years. Have you ever had to wait for something for that long?
For twelve years this woman had been sick with an illness that had ostracized her from everyone she knew and loved, and everyone she didn’t. For twelve years. And she cannot wait any longer. So she reaches out and touches Jesus’ cloak; and when she does this, Jesus stops and turns, and ends up having a conversation with this now-healed woman.
Eventually, they make their way to Jairus’ home, and after a brief and somewhat awkward exchange – seriously, Jesus? She’s not dead, just sleeping. Might you have phrased that a little differently? After that conversation Jesus does in fact heal his daughter.
And it’s interesting, to me at least, that we find this story in Mark. Because in one sense, this sort of thing happens in Mark all the time, where the flow of one narrative gets interrupted by the intrusion of another. Life happens that way sometimes.
But in another way, this waiting – the woman waiting for twelve years to be healed, Jairus waiting on Jesus – this waiting is so unlike Mark. Everything in Mark happens immediately – in fact that word, “immediately,” appears nearly 40 times in the gospel. Three times in this passage alone. Have you noticed that there’s no birth narrative in Mark? It’s like he doesn’t have time for it – he cuts right to Jesus’ ministry from the get-go. Everything happens immediately.
But in this passage, two people are having to wait for something. Waiting on Jesus. Waiting on healing. Waiting to be made whole.
In my dream I’m still standing in the surf, waiting for that perfect wave. The waiting is hard, for sure. You know what’s harder, though? When that perfect wave comes. Because it’s a big one, right? That’s what it’s all about. It’s going to pack a punch when it hits, and I’ll need to be positioned just right to catch it so it’ll whisk me to shore.
And there’s an undeniable element of risk in this. Because if I hit it wrong, if I’m just ahead of it or hit it at the slightest of angles, I could get pummeled to the bottom, tossed around like a rag doll, my face planted squarely in the sand of the ocean floor. I don’t know this hypothetically – I’ve experienced this painful face-planting many times. It’s more than a little ironic that the very thing I’m waiting and waiting for is the very thing that could be my undoing. Which means I have to do something that does not come naturally, but is the only way to bring an end to the waiting. I have to take a risk. I have to make myself vulnerable.
I think Jairus knew how it felt to be made vulnerable – seeking Jesus out and begging him to come to his home, even though it might tarnish his esteemed reputation. I think the woman knew how it felt to be made vulnerable – going against every cultural norm, every religious law by being in the crowd in the first place and touching Jesus’ cloak. Tremendous risk for both of them. Tremendous vulnerability.
You know what the word “vulnerable” means? I find this fascinating. It comes from Latin and it literally means “to wound.” How about that? If we’re going to end the waiting and do something profound – ride a wave, seek healing, apply for our dream job job, ask that woman out on a first date, tell the therapist what really happened – if we’re going to do that, some part of us is going to get a little wounded in the process. Maybe a little nick, maybe a gaping wound. Either way, vulnerability is not without some level of pain.
Noted author and speaker Brene Brown, in her wonderful book Daring Greatly, takes this notion a step further. Vulnerability, she claims, is the key for not just people living into their full potential, but companies and organizations – and dare I say, churches – living into their full potential as well. In a very real sense, we cannot “play it safe” when it comes to living our lives or being the body of Christ and fulfilling our mission. We have to be willing to fail in order to grow. And “when failure is not an option,” Brown says, “we can forget learning, creativity, innovation.” She goes further:
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy. It’s the source of hope, accountability and authenticity. Vulnerability is not weakness; in fact, it is the bedrock of courage.
Brown also says that vulnerability is not “letting it all hang out” by oversharing or indiscriminate disclosure. Trust plays a huge part in being vulnerable. I like the way she puts it: Vulnerability is about sharing your feelings and experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.
Now if all that is true – and I’m inclined to think it is – then what Jairus and our unnamed woman are seeking in our scripture today is so much more than just the end to sickness. They are seeking love, belonging, joy, authenticity. And – they are seeking all these things from the one person who has earned their trust and the right to be brought into their vulnerability – and that is Jesus. A man who, through his simple presence and words of love, serves as a source of a faith for a deeper side of transformation, where they encounter the healing they need. Not from some magic touch or spoken words, but from the fact that they made themselves vulnerable to Jesus.
Our faith story is rife with this intersection of waiting and vulnerability and wounded-ness and healing and transformative faith. In the Psalm that Grace read earlier, the writer is obviously in the midst of some catastrophe or calamity that has rocked their world to its core. Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Hear my voice!
But then listen to what he says next:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
My soul waits – what an image!
My soul waits, and in his word I hope.
More than those who watch for the morning,
More than those who watch for the morning.
That repetition at the end – that’s not me, that’s the Psalmist. It’s written that way, which means he’s making a point. More than those who watch for the morning. You ever been awake during that 3-6am time frame, worrying about something, unable to sleep? It always seems worse at night, doesn’t it? The world is dark and hushed, and everyone else is in bed, oblivious to your pain. The loneliness is acute; and you long for the first light of dawn, because even though the source of your struggle will still be there, somehow daylight seems to take the edge off. But you can’t make the planet spin any faster, you can’t make the sun rise any sooner. So you wait; you wait more than those who watch for the morning.
But you do something else too, one last thought from the Psalmist:
I wait for the Lord, and in his word I hope.
Wait. Hope. You know what’s cool about that? In Hebrew, the words for “wait” and “hope,” they come from the same root. That means that waiting and hoping are made up of the same stuff. So to wait is to hope; and to hope is to wait. And not because we are strong enough to wait it out on our own, but because we are vulnerable enough to invite God into our mess.
And so I am still standing in the surf, waiting. The water is like glass. I may be standing here for awhile. Making myself vulnerable in an ocean of possibility, an ocean of hope. I am not a fan of the waiting. I am, however, very much a fan of the hoping. And so it’s the hope that keeps me there, until my wave finally arrives. Until the wounding leads to healing, and the healing makes me whole all over again.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!