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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

How Much Faith Is Enough?

Mark 5:21-43

New Revised Standard Version

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 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.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 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?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 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. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Faith is part of our everyday lives. We have faith that the other cars will stay in their lanes and that the roads and bridges will be safe. We believe that Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks will have the coffee we want, that the grocery store has what we need (maybe not so much this past year!), and that our internet and cable TV will always be working. We have faith that the sun will always rise in the morning and set in the evening. Frustration sets in when the coffee isn’t ready, or the car won’t start.

We want to have faith in other people but are sometimes disappointed by them. We want to have complete faith in God, but there are times when God’s actions are not what we expect or want. To avoid disappointment in God, we live in a “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” mentality.

Today’s passage is about faith. Two stories of faith that belong together even if it doesn’t seem so at first. One happens inside the other. The outer story, the one about Jarius and his daughter, adds another level of faith to the inner one, the story about the woman who touches Jesus’ cloak. Similarly, the inner story adds depth to the outer one.

Both Jarius and the unnamed woman felt fear and faith as they went to Jesus for help. Both experienced the power of Jesus to move a person from one to the other.

Jarius was a ruler of the synagogue – a prestigious position of authority that required a sense of decorum. He was a man of strength, capable of making important decisions, and an example for those in the congregation.

The woman had suffered for years with chronic bleeding. She was bound by the laws of cleanliness and purity – laws that ostracized her. Consequently, she was shut off from her family, community, and any kind of social life. She feared openly asking for help because she had been rejected so many times in the past.

Two people in need of a miracle. Two people afraid to ask for one because of their place in society. Two people out of options except one.

Thankfully, it’s not a regular occurrence for most of us to have this type of need that requires this depth of faith. But sometimes…

I wonder if that’s a good thing. We’re not practiced at dealing with this type of need. We don’t know how. We are used to handling stuff on our own – we live in a DIY (do it yourself) world. Gather your bucket of tools and supplies and have at it.

Try as they might neither Jarius nor the unnamed woman had been able to fix their problems. No doctors had been able to help. The woman had spent all she had and not gotten better. The little girl was going to die. All they received was isolation – social, spiritual, emotional.

Both were out of options. Jesus was their only hope. Jarius no longer worried about decorum. The woman was willing to put aside her fear and the reality of social scorn. Whatever it took to get help they were willing to try.

We are similar. We turn to God when we are out of options. When we have tried everything else. Once we have exhausted all our own possibilities, we are willing to give up our social standing, swallow our pride, and do whatever it takes – even ask God. But are we really willing to do whatever it takes to experience God’s healing touch?

Jesus tells Jarius to believe even when the messenger reports that it is too late. His daughter has died. Jesus tells the woman that her faith has made her well.

We are approaching Christmas in July on the Hallmark channel – actually, they have started early so it is Christmas in June. So, it is okay to talk about a Christmas movie.

The Polar Express tells the story of a boy who doubts that Santa exists. When a train mysteriously arrives outside his house, he reluctantly gets on. The train, the Polar Express, is headed to the North Pole on Christmas Eve.

After several adventures on the train along the way, the children who are on board arrive at the North Pole. Three of them, including the reluctant boy, are sent careening down a side track in a runaway train car.

Eventually they get to the town square to see Santa and his reindeer. When a bell falls off one of the reindeer’s reins, the boy picks it up but can’t hear the sound when he rings it. When he sees Santa, he finds it within himself to believe and can then hear the sound of the reindeer bell.

Santa eventually gives the boy the bell as the first gift of Christmas, but he loses it. When he receives it as a gift on Christmas morning, he rings it and can hear the joyous sound of the bell. From then on, he can always hear the bell ring just as it does “for all who truly believe.”

Is believing really enough? Can faith alone really change us, even change the world? A question that becomes all too real when faith in God doesn’t seem to work. To provide us with the answers we seek.

In our tradition as Presbyterians, known as the Reformed tradition, we believe and affirm these tenents: grace alone, scripture alone, faith alone. These are simple, concise statements yet they aren’t. They are intertwined in a depth of meaning.

The familiar hymn, “Amazing Grace” expresses this:

Verse 2

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed!

Verse 3

The Lord has promised good to me, his word my hope secures; he will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.

Verse 4

Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; ‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

As you listen to these familiar words, you hear how the three expressions of what we believe are woven together.

· Grace that relieves fear becomes known when we believe

· The Lord’s promises and word secure our hope

· Grace brings us safely through the dangers and difficult situations of life

These truly are amazing words: grace, scripture, faith!

The intertwined stories of Jarius and the unnamed woman seem, at one level, straight forward. Ask God, God helps and fixes the problem. At the same time, they are complex. Their stories are intermingled with fear, judgement, and pride – the things that make us human and make what human life what it is.

The Bible, God’s Word, doesn’t often, on its own, give us a clear and straightforward answer to navigate all the complexities of life even though we wish we could simply turn to a page for the answer we are looking for. We also need grace and faith.

There is more to faith than a simple concept. There is a depth and breadth to faith that encompasses the spiritual, emotional, and physical. Faith embraces all we believe, how we live, and who we are.

Grace, scripture, and faith – we need all three. These are not added conditions that must be met before God will listen to our plea for help. These three add understanding to our relationship with God. Each one is needed to describe faith – our faith.

James reminds us that the three – grace, scripture, and faith work together:

Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.

Faith demands action as a response to God’s word that instructs us, and the grace God has given us. Others need to hear and experience grace, scripture, and faith. We aren’t called to be pew potatoes. We are called to be people of action.

Jarius set aside his pride and went to Jesus believing that he could make his daughter well. The woman set her fear aside, worked her way through the crowd, and touched Jesus’ cloak believing he could change her circumstances.

How much faith is enough? Enough to overcome the roadblocks and obstacles that get in the way of us reaching out to Jesus. To trust Jesus. To believe Jesus can help.

Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed as an example of how much faith is needed. The smallest seed, the smallest amount of faith can lead to exponential growth through God’s grace.

How much faith is enough? Enough to always hear the ringing of the reindeer bell.


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