Old Testament:1 Samuel (1:1, 17-27)
After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said: Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult. You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty. Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
The Response: Psalm (130)
1 Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
2 If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?
3 For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.
4 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.
5 My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.
6 O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
for with the Lord there is mercy;
7 With him there is plenteous redemption, *
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
The Epistle: 2 Corinthians (8:7-15)
Now as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you–so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something– now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has–not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
The Gospel: Mark (5:21-43)
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
In every age, including our own, there are a group of people – often a large group – who try to “spiritualize” religion: that is, to make it about some other world, a world in which we hope to live after death, instead of about this one. Even some of our familiar hymns portray the scriptures as focusing, as one of them puts it, on “realms beyond the sky.” (I try to limit the use of those types of hymns since they distort our sense of what lived faith is all about.)
In many ways, it all comes down to what we mean by “salvation” and “being saved.” Many of our evangelical sister churches emphasize their own particular notion of “being saved.” “Are you saved?” they like to ask. They pluck individual verses out of scripture and try to equate “being saved” with having some theoretical acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. Our baptismal promises do, of course, include the question (The Book of Common Prayer, page 302), “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?” But then they proceed to ask a series of questions about what it means to accept Jesus as savior, about what difference it makes in our lives, about what we are going to do in a practical, concrete way in this world. It is there that they actually address the deeper, biblical concept of “salvation” and “being saved.”
This morning’s gospel reading is an excellent reminder of that central, biblical concept. It is a two-part story, one that follows Mark’s typical pattern of sandwiching one narrative – this time, that of the healing of the woman suffering from hemorrhages – inside of another — in this case, the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead.
What doesn’t come across in an English translation is the fact that both accounts are stories about people being saved, in the fuller, more authentic biblical sense. The reading begins with a desperate father coming to Jesus and begging him to go and lay his hands upon his seriously ill, twelve-year-old daughter, as our translation puts it, “so that she may be made well.” But the actual Greek verb that Mark uses, “sōzein,” means “to save”: “lay your hands on her so that she may be saved.” The literal meaning of that word is deliverance from danger or suffering. This man wasn’t worried about some sort of life after death for his daughter; he was worried about curing her illness and saving her life here and now.
The same thing occurs in the account about the woman who had been suffering for the twelve years. The woman reflects that, if only she can touch his clothes, she will be made well; again, the actual word says that she will be saved. And when Jesus tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well,” Mark uses that same Greek verb again, which makes Jesus’ declaration mean literally “Your faith has saved you.” “Saving” in this context clearly means being healed from her suffering.
Notice that, in both cases, the gospel wasn’t talking about “being saved” as the equivalent of “being able to go to heaven when you die.” Instead it was talking about people being saved in the sense in which they needed saving here and now, in a very practical and concrete way.
The same is true of Jesus’ ministry throughout the gospel. When the crowds are hungry, he doesn’t just promise that they will be fed in another life, that there will be “pie in the sky when you die”; he feeds them. When the sick and disabled come to him, he doesn’t reflect dispassionately on the idea that they will be healthy in some future life; he heals them. And when people who have been rejected by and ostracized by society come to him, he doesn’t suggest that they just put up with their situation, looking forward to a better life beyond the grave, he welcomes them and embraces them and brings them into his new community of believers.
The gospels in general make it clear that Jesus didn’t come just to save souls; Jesus came to save people. In doing so, they clearly show God working through Jesus to do the work that God has done from the very beginning, that God continues to do, and that God calls on us to do in our lives as well.
That deep and central concern for life in this world, for serving people’s needs and relieving their suffering, comes out in today’s first and second readings as well. In the passage from First Samuel, David fully enters into and shares the grief of Israel at the loss of Saul and Jonathan; in doing so, he helps them to deal with this very real, present crisis. And in the selection from Second Corinthians, Paul calls on that community to put their faith into action by giving generously in order to support the apparently impoverished church in Jerusalem.
The God revealed to us in the Bible is not a God whose concern is only for what happens to people after death. Instead, this is a God whose focus is on serving people’s real, present needs and on raising up human partners who have the same focus and the same self-sacrificing dedication.
That focus has been an integral part of the identity of St. Mark’s Church since its beginning, nearly 80 years ago. This has been and continues to be a church that strives to make a positive difference in the life of the community around it, the community that it is called to serve.
One of the questions that churches sometimes ask themselves — and should always ask themselves — is “If this church were to close its doors and cease to exist, would anybody in the community around it notice? Would it make any real difference in people’s lives?” It is apparent that, in the case of St. Mark’s Church, that answer is a clear “Yes.”
That central part of our nature, our identity, was evident in last Sunday’s discussion about the Yard Sale and other possible fund-raising approaches to support our outreach work. There were many thoughtful and helpful suggestions and questions from those who participated in the discussion. But one thing that no one questioned was whether or not we should continue our service to the community and the wider world. That was assumed, because that is who we are; and that is who God calls us to be. The only question was how to accomplish it.
That focus does not at all diminish the spiritual side of our life as a church. On the contrary, it is an essential consequence of what we say we believe. For we believe in a God who cares deeply and passionately about the world that God has made and all the people who live in it. And we can have no higher goal than doing what God does and reflecting God’s infinite love and compassion for the world in our place and time.