Don't Be Afraid, Only Believe!
Text: Mark 5:21-24a, 35-43
Proper 8, B
The sun overhead is beginning to grow uncomfortably warm. It seems like this trip is taking forever. The news only reached you this morning. Jesus is back from his trip to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He had been gone so long that you thought all hope might be lost, but now he is back and maybe just maybe there is a little hope left for you.
The crowds are going thicker and thicker. People are crammed into the streets everywhere. You must be getting closer now. You've never seen this many people together in all your life. Maybe the rumors are true! As you begin to push your way through the crowd of people you beginning to work things over in your mind. How will you approach this great teacher Jesus. Maybe you could use your position as a synagogue ruler to make him listen. After all you are one of the few men responsible for the worship and financial life of the local synagogue. Why you are even permitted to help in the leading of worship. Thinking of the encounters the Pharisees have already had with this man, you realize it is probably best that you don't try to make him listen. You will just have to rely upon his mercy.
You catch sight of this Jesus himself and throw yourself to the ground at his feet. A man of your position in the dirt … just think of all the talk. (Who cares) It would be worth it if he can only heal your daughter. You don't remember exactly what you say to the man, only that you are begging him to come and lay his hands upon your only daughter, your little girl, and heal her. She is dying. It may already be too late. (Shut up, don’t even think it.) You can see him look at you. You can well imagine his reply. "Why have you waited so long to come to me?" What will you answer him? Did you doubt that he could really help? Are you still skeptical? Were you just wishing that the whole thing would go away, and your little girl would get all better by herself? Have you tried everything else and this is only a last resort after everything else has failed? What will you answer him when he asks for the truth? You do not know.
To your amazement he does not look at you accusingly or ask anything of you. He simply says "Show me the way." Without even wasting time to breathe you get up off your feet and start pushing your way through the crowds to get back to your little girl. You want desperately to feel relief but that must wait until you get home. It quickly becomes apparent that getting out of the crowd will be even harder than getting into it was. Everywhere that Jesus goes the crowds move in thicker. You want to lash out at all these happy and excited faces. (Don’t do it. He might not come with you then.) Don't they know that your daughter is dying and they are keeping you from her. You turn around to make sure that Jesus is still following and see that he has stopped. He is demanding to know who touched him! What could it possibly matter in a crowd like this? You are so frustrated you want to scream. It takes just a few minutes for him to find this woman and talk to her. Each passing second you stand there waiting seems a lifetime. You can't help but wonder if he cares more for her than he does for you and your daughter. Isn't he supposed to be helping you?
As Jesus once again comes to your side you turn around to keep going and your heart leaps into your mouth followed almost instantly by your lunch. It is all you can do not to double over and be sick all over the ground at your feet. There coming towards you through the crowd are two of your servants. And you know ... It is all over ... You are too late ... Watching them walk up to you is about the hardest thing you have ever had to live through. You can see it in their eyes ... She's dead. Once the two men get to you they tell you as much. "There is no point in troubling the teacher any further they tell you." And with those words the bile in your throat is gone and a bottomless pit in your stomach threatens to swallow you whole. You have failed your little girl. (Why did you wait so long?) You have failed and now she is gone. Your worst fears have come true. (You did this. You killed her.) There is no more hope.
You expect this Jesus to turn around and go back to the crowds, (why wouldn’t he) but he doesn't. He looks you in the eye and says "Do not be afraid, only believe." (Wait, what?) You are completely stunned. It takes you a moment to realize that he has already started off towards your home again. In the back of your mind you notice that the crowds are no longer pressing in. It is only you and him; your two men and three of his. It takes only a short while now to get back to your home. As you come nearer to your house you can already hear the noise of the mourners. Even the most common of men would have at least two flute players and a professional wailer and crier. You must be more important than you thought to judge from all the noise you can hear even at this distance. When you turn the comer to your home the noise is overwhelming. Mourners, friends and family are everywhere. This whole practice is supposed to somehow take your mind off of the fact that your little girl just died. It doesn't.
This Jesus who has now come too late tells all of these people both inside and in front of your house that their demonstration is out of place. As you might have guessed, they all start to laugh at him. They look at him as if he were out of his mind. For many of them gathered here this is their job. They know what death is all about. The girl is dead they say, not merely sleeping as this Jesus says she is. Whatever the crowd might have to say, they somehow fall silent as you lead this Jesus and his men into your home. The ones inside even leave you alone with your wife and your daughter. As you look at her lying there on the palette you know that she is not sleeping. She is dead. Your pride and joy, your most precious little girl. You cannot look your wife in the eye. If only you had been sooner.
And yet, there is something about this Jesus that makes you pause. His expression has not changed as he has seen her dead. He looks at her as if she might only really be sleeping. He bends over and gently takes her hand. She looks so peaceful. "Talitha coum" he quietly says to her. "Little girl, I tell you to arise" he says. Your breath catches in your throat as her eyes open and she looks first at Jesus then at you. Your legs feel weak. Jesus' words of only a short while ago echo through your head: "Do not be afraid, only believe."
We too are touched by death just like Jairus in our story was. Not just the "end of life" of a family member of friend either. Although this also happens, we are touched by death every time that we become discouraged in our lives. We are touched by death when we become overwhelmed by fear. We are touched by death when we fall victim to illness or misfortune, ours or someone else's.
Everyone faces death of a sort every day, Christian and non-Christian alike. The only difference is in how we handle it. As you consider your own reactions to fear, discouragement, sickness, and misfortune; think back to Jairus from our text. Do you try to cope with death by ignoring it? Hoping it will all go away or solve itself? Do you put off facing it until it has grown into something far bigger and worse than it ever was to begin with? Do you try to cover over death, the way professional mourners were paid to do? Do you try to mask the problem, gloss it over? Do you try to tell others it is not really that bad? Or maybe even worse yet, do you become resigned to it? Do you come to accept it as something that must govern your life?
These are all ways by which people deal with the deaths they face every day. But these ways themselves can only lead to death! They arise from a lack of faith in our Saviour Jesus. Remember Jesus' words to Jairus just when everything seemed lost: "Do not be afraid, only believe." Easy for Him to say, being God and all, but how can Adam's children "be not afraid, only believe" when we are touched by death so often and in so many ways?
In 2 Tim. 1:7 St. Paul writes: "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-discipline.” Our heavenly Father saw into our hearts and knew that we would never be able to bear up under all of the death that surrounds us. So God has given us the Holy Spirit that lets us confront things like discouragement, illness, and misfortune, the loss of loved ones and not be afraid. This Holy Spirit, given to each of us in our Baptisms, is the only way we can possibly face death in all its forms and still believe. Through water and His Word of promise God gave us faith and the ability to trust that He will save us from every type of death that befalls us.
We are not afraid of death because we believe that Jesus truly has overcome death once and for all! Jesus destroyed fear, overcame discouragement (no easy thing considering the lack of understanding shown time and again by his disciples), over and over He battled and won against sickness and disease. And if that is not enough, He destroyed actual, physical death as well, not only for Himself but for each and every one of us.
Because in the touch of Jesus Christ there is life. And Jesus still touches lives today. In his touch there is faith. In his touch there is forgiveness of sins. In his touch there is Life. In baptism the loving touch of the hand our Saviour rested upon your forehead and upon your heart. There Jesus said to you, arise and awaken, I am giving you life and am making you one of my own. Jesus touches our lives in another real and physical way through the gift of His Holy Supper. There he gives to each of us his body and blood to bring healing and forgiveness of sins. And Jesus continues to speak words of encouragement and forgiveness to us every time we read or listen to the Scriptures. The very same words that he once spoke to Jairus, or the disciples, or the crowds, he now speaks to us. A loving Father and Brother reaching out to touch those they care about.
In this world we are caught in a constant struggle between life and death. It is no easy matter to do as Jesus commands and "Be not afraid, only believe." We are battered and torn, we are bruised and shaken by all the ways in which death touches us. Fear, discouragement, sickness, and misfortune often come one after another after another. They are not something that we will ever be able to get away from in this life. But God's message to all his children is this ... No matter what things may seem like in your life now. No matter how you might feel when forced to face all of this; there is always hope! (Is. 41:13) "For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you." Jesus has taken each of you by the hand, singled you out of the crowd to bring you comfort and healing, faith, hope, forgiveness and life eternal. He will never leave you, or let you be overcome. He has defeated death so it no longer has any real power over you or your life. And that is why we can face everything, even death itself and not be afraid but only believe. Amen.