The Sunday Sermon: Jeff’s Last Sermon With Us

The Rev.Cn. Jeff Martinhauk
Proper 8B, June 27, 2021
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
2 Sam 1:1, 17-27; Mark 5:21-43

The story Mark tells us this morning in the gospel is full of little details.  One tendency when we hear these stories of old, year after year, is to sometimes to make these characters like Jairus and the woman who has been suffering for twelve long years into distant figures, into unreachable non-persons, easy to analyze but hard to know.  We can forget to keep them emotionally close, to remember that these are really stories about us, and that they are told so that we can put ourselves into them and hear about our lives through these people.

Here we have two interwoven stories about some people with some very relatable experiences.  Jairus, a father of a young girl, is desperate.  His daughter is deathly ill. That is, unfortunately, not an experience relegated to the distant past, or to fables.  Among us here and now are people like Jairus, who have lost a child.  Maybe you have been Jairus, or known him.  I have ministered to parents in the midst of losing a child and I do not want to really try to put myself in Jairus’ shoes.  It is just so overwhelming to think of losing a child.

But here he is in this reading this morning- Jairus and his sick daughter are before us like it or not, for us to think about– all of the potential loss and pain.  And as Jesus comes with his entourage to the shore, Jairus throws himself at Jesus’ feet.  Jesus responds to the man’s plea, and heads for Jairus’ home.

But on the way, the story is interrupted by another encounter.  We hear of a woman who had endured much under many physicians, suffering hemorrhages for twelve years.  She has tried everything.  One commenter tried to gently describe this as a women’s health issue, which had evaded treatment for many long years. Perhaps you or someone you know has tried everything to wrestle with a difficult health problem, and after a long time has been willing to try anything.  Maybe you or someone you know is the woman in the crowd.  Again, we are presented with another very real person, with a real life that we cannot help but relate to.

Jairus and the woman in the crowd share a few things in common.  This is an instance where faith does not seem to indicate a strong belief in Jesus, but faith represents instead almost a desperation.  They are, well, very human characters.  Neither Jairus nor the woman are perfect, nor are they villainous or even less-than, they are just humans with human challenges.  Through encounters with Jesus they experience something life-changing, miraculous: healing in the midst of life.  Get up, Jesus says to Jairus’ daughter.  Jairus’ life is changed from his persistence.

This is my last Sunday with you as one of your pastors.  The ending of a pastoral relationship is a hard thing in many ways.  It is a loss for all involved.  But it is a loss that leads to new life.  The Bishop and church sets standards such that, for at least several years and maybe even longer, I will not be able to worship with you or visit on Sunday mornings.  I will only be able to serve at weddings and funerals and baptisms at the invitation of the dean, and I will be busy enough in my new role that I will probably not accept many invitations.  These arrangements are not because I don’t want to be here, or because I don’t love you.  But it is because I have been your pastor, and I love you as your pastor.  I need to respect the boundaries and ending of that relationship with you so that your active pastors– including the ones you haven’t met yet!–  have room to work.  It is not healthy for me to be in the middle of parking lot conversations and have folks casually ask what I think about the new person, or about the latest ministry idea, or plans for the new building, or even about your own spiritual lives and pastoral care.  It is no longer any of my business, and it is my intention to respect that.

That will be messy.  I will be on diocesan staff.  I may invite some of you to be on diocesan committees.  I may be at the cathedral for diocesan events like ordinations and other important events.  I may even be working with some of you on initiatives for the cathedral as you work with the standing and executive committees on your new initiatives.  But it will be different.

And so, as I reflect on this, my last Sunday with you at St. Paul’s as one of your pastors, I am doing some reflecting on our lives together.  On the ordinariness of it.  We are, after all, ordinary people.  We find God in our ordinary lives– lives that are like the woman in our story today, and like Jairus and his daughter.  I am so grateful for the common humanity that you have allowed me to share with you these past five and a half years with you, where God is in the midst of us and surprises us with healing in the midst of both joy and loss. So many memories are returning as I reflect on our time together.

I remember moments, especially as we enter the month of pride in San Diego now, of gay pride celebrations in years past.  It is remarkable to be in a place like St Pauls and I hope you know that.  The church once rejected us LGBTQ people, but persistence like that of Jairus and the woman in our story paid off, and we kept reaching out for God– and God reached back.  St Paul’s has been an active part of that and being here has so many moments of blessing and belonging.  I remember one year the joy I felt at seeing the swarm of 200 Episcopalians descending down sixth avenue in the parade– all met with smiles and astonishment in the crowd that a church might embrace those who thought they were outcast from Jesus.

I remember hugs on the courtyard, and smiles, and hospitality, and welcoming.  Stewardship events with Pat Kreder’s broad smile guiding us through.  Calls during the pandemic organized to ensure that nobody was left alone; that the hem of Jesus’ cloak was always in reach.  Meals delivered, masks made, lives touched.

I remember December nights, out on Sixth avenue– dancing in the parking lot– some years just to keep warm!– passing out hot chocolate, and laughing while trying to figure out how many more chotzkies Jen Jow would pull out of her backpack to give to people, and greeting strangers on the street, and feeling like this was home.

I remember dinners shared in the great hall, quiet and sometimes not so quiet conversation, before breaking into small groups of stimulating conversation in formation classes.  Intimate conversations of spiritual experiences, of growth and transformation, of Jesus.

I remember loss, and funerals, and sitting collectively in this space to remember those great and small who have passed from our sight.  Prayer vigils and laments for injustices and horrors in the world around us.  The solemn markers in the back of the church for the mass shootings in Christchurch, each one representing a victim. Great gatherings of interfaith groups for the Latinx LGBTQ+ murders at Pulse in Orlando, and the small intimate remembrances at Flicks in Hillcrest.  The losses that we shared together as a community.

I remember courage as we entered into conversations about race.  Watching in awe as the people of color in our congregation came forward to tell their stories about what it is like for them to participate in a faith tradition that comes out of an imperial and colonial history.  And growing together in awareness as a congregation so that we can discern how to do more.

I remember talking together about the possibility of electing a woman bishop in our diocese.  And then, hosting the ordination of said woman bishop, with overflow seating and partying in the street after working together to scrub this place from top to bottom. And the wonder and joy that spread from our home here at the cathedral all across the diocese and even the whole church on that day.

I remember saying goodbye to a building that had been around for many years before I ever showed up.  Of watching it come down and watching a new building rise, and with it the changing dreams of the future taking shape.

And undergirding the whole thing was the rhythm of our liturgy, evensongs and eucharists and lessons and carols and Christmases and Easters and Holy Weeks and candles and incense and Canon Verger Lisa standing back there in the door to the sacristy where y’all can’t see her frantically whispering something to me in the middle of the service that I can’t understand, a wonderfully choreographed cacophony of chaos that we somehow pull off week in and week out.

This is holy.  This is the life of Jairus and the woman in our story.  This is a life where Jesus is available, as we journey together calling out for him to meet us here, reach us, heal us.  Sometimes it is hard to see in the middle of it.  It may not always happen as suddenly as the healing of Jairus’ daughter.  The woman in the crowd was waiting 12 years before she found what she was looking for.

But we are in this story.  The story continues with us.

I leave you now with a long quote about our gospel from Fredrick Buechner:

“Who knows what kind of story Mark is telling here, but the enormously moving part of it, I think, is the part where Jesus takes the little girl’s hand and says, “Talitha cum’—”Little girl, get up”—and suddenly we ourselves are the little girl.

“Little girl. Old girl. Old boy. Old boys and girls with high blood pressure and arthritis, and young boys and girls with tattoos and body piercing. You who believe, and you who sometimes believe and sometimes don’t believe much of anything, and you who would give almost anything to believe if only you could. You happy ones and you who can hardly remember what it was like once to be happy. You who know where you’re going and how to get there and you who much of the time aren’t sure you’re getting anywhere. “Get up,” he says, all of you—all of you!—and the power that is in him is the power to give life not just to the dead like the child, but to those who are only partly alive, which is to say to people like you and me who much of the time live with our lives closed to the wild beauty and miracle of things, including the wild beauty and miracle of every day we live and even of ourselves.”

God is among you St. Paul’s.  Keep getting up. 

Sources Consulted: 

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Jairus’ Daughter — Frederick Buechner

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