Today is the traditional date for celebrating the lives of 2 of Jesus' most significant disciples: Simon, known as Peter, and Saul, who was renamed Paul. Simon Peter was the first to declare that Jesus was the Christ. He also was the one who denied Jesus. Saul was a leading persecutor of Christ's church, but he later became our first theologian and foremost missionary.
According to tradition, the apostles Peter and Paul died on the same date (June 29) and in the same city (Rome), but not in the same year nor in the same way. Simon Peter is said to have been crucified, but upsidedown so as not to suffer the same death as Jesus. Paul is thought to have been beheaded.
The service today is not primarily about either Peter or Paul. I would ask that you remember them as we worship God and reflect on our lives as disciples of Jesus.
We will sing the psalm together using Martin Luther's hymn version (words #761, tune #396).
The entire congregation will join in the choir portions.
We will omit the final response and replace it with the following hymn.
Our confidence and self-honesty are expressed in Nicholas von Zinzendorf's "Jesus' Love Unbounded"
Singing with a steady butter-churn tempo
The ushers will gather the gifts as we sing.
The first reading this morning was David's lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. Saul had been leading the army in battle against the Philistines. The battle had not gone well, and 3 of Saul's sons were killed. Finally, Saul despaired of his own life and "fell upon his sword". Our reading is David's song of grief after he has been informed of the defeat of the army and the deaths of the king and his sons.
19 Alas! the glory of Israel, Saul, slain upon the heights; How can the warriors have fallen!
20 Tell it not in Gath, herald it not in the streets of Ashkelon, Lest the Philistine maidens rejoice …
23 Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished, separated neither in life nor in death, swifter than eagles, stronger than lions!
24 Women of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you scarlet and in finery …
27 How can the warriors have fallen – in the thick of the battle, slain upon your heights!
David and Saul were rivals for the throne of Israel. In a sense they were enemies, and Saul had more than once tried to kill David. Saul also showed symptoms of a possible mental illness which seriously hampered his ability to rule. Yet at the end of Saul's life, David grieves.
David grieves for the king because Saul was the king. He was the leader of David's people. He grieves for Israel because the nation has been seriously damaged by the army's defeat and by the loss of its leader and his sons.
Saul had been annointed the first king of Israel. He brought together a nation out of 12 fractious tribes. It is true that King Saul died fearful and unstable, mentally and emotionally a broken man. But Saul died fighting for what he thought that God wanted and with his sons at his side. David was right to mourn for Saul.
Some day I'd like to preach a sermon on the question of whether Saul or David was truly the successful man. David heard God more clearly than Saul, and he sang God's praises more beautifully, but he also sinned more fearlessly. (Remember the affair with Bathsheba.) When King David died in his bed as an old man, David's sons were bickering over the kingdom – one son had already died in open rebellion – and the nation was ready to split in two.
Each of these kings was a hero in his own way. Each was also a sinner and a failure. David's lament for Saul and Jonathan was true, and so too were his many laments for his own life.
It would be a poor religion indeed which could not express our pain, anger, sorrow, and disappointment. Christianity is not so poor as that. From David to Zinzendorf, we have sung our pain as well as our joy.
Psalm 130, which we sang in Luther's hymn version, is a lament over ourselves, a sad song about our failures, weakness, and rebelling.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! …
3 If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?
But Psalm 130 is also a song of faith, faith that God will listen to us in spite of what we do and hope for a complete reunion with the Lord.
4 But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered. …
6 My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn. …
It would be a poor religion indeed which could not express our sadness, frustration, yearning, and failure. This is part of what life really is – and it touches our souls because it expresses the truth. Truth is beautiful and powerful. Like David's lament over Jonathan and Saul, this psalm's beauty is its honesty.
With that as background, let us turn to the Gospel. The story in Mark is about Jairus: a Jewish leader, a desperate father, important in his community, but helpless against the disease that was taking his daughter. He comes to Jesus, pleading for help.
So Jesus sets off with Jairus. This seems at first to be just another healing story: Jesus has compassion on a neighbor in distress. Jesus, working with the faithful, has power. Faith in Jesus brings life and wholeness. All of that is here, but there is also something extra.
On the way to Jairus' house, a different story intrudes. There is a woman, poor in every way: She is poor in money, having spent everything. She is poor in health, for nothing she spent bought her a cure. She is unassertive, hoping to sneak in unnoticed. She is unsupported, alone so far as we can tell. Here is a woman who is needy in all ways.
This poor, sick, unassertive woman works her way up through the crowd behind Jesus. She reaches out her hand anonymously and unobstrusively – and takes what she needs.
Jesus immediately stops. He looks around, he asks who it was. He calls everyone's attention to what has happened. Jesus makes the woman show herself. He insists that she tell everyone what her need was and what she has received from Jesus. This woman has nothing except her story, and Jesus asks her to share that.
This woman had nothing at all; she needed everything. Yet Jesus allows her to give what she has. Listen again to what she does: She needs. She takes. She gives.
Here is the lesson of the gospel story. Here is the model whom we are to emulate. Here is a woman who has nothing but her need. Here is a woman who reaches out to take what she needs from Jesus.
Didn't Jesus say "everyone who asks receives"? [Luke 11:10; Matthew 7:8] Here is a woman who proves Jesus' word to be true. In this way, the woman who needed everything is able to give something. She gives to Jesus the opportunity to fill her need. She gives to the crowd her testimony about Jesus' power. She gives to Jairus the reassurance that he is putting his faith in one who can be faithful.
She needs. She takes. She gives.
And now news comes from Jairus' home: The little girl is dead. There is, they say, no more hope.
But Jesus tells Jairus not to give up hope. Could Jairus have heard that word had he not just witnessed Jesus' power at first hand? What has Jairus received already? From the woman who had nothing at all, Jairus has received the one thing he needed.
So they continue on their way and they come to the house. There the mourning has already begun: It our terms, they've called the funeral director and started planning the funeral. Jairus allows Jesus to throw all of his friends and relatives out of the house. Jesus goes to the little girl, speaks to her, and lifts her up.
What do we give when we have nothing but our need?
When Paul wrote to Corinth, he saw a community which was already rich in faith, in resources, and in good intentions. Could it be that their wealth distracts us from Paul's deeper model of how Christians share what we have?
Paul says that when we see other Christians giving generously, we should see them as members of our family whose efforts we want to support and encourage. We want to participate in the generosity which has already been shown by our brothers and sisters. In this way, our love ties us first to those who have already been giving generously and then to those who are being aided by our gifts.
For this reason, we want to share whatever have. Do we have money? Well and good. Do we have insight into what God wants? Do we have enthusiasm for telling others about Jesus or for helping our neighbors? We search our lives to find what riches we possess so that we will be able to share our money or our discernment or our enthusiasm with our sisters and brothers who have less money or poorer discernment or lower confidence.
But – what do we give when we have nothing but our need?
Perhaps we are rich in need. It would be a poor religion indeed which could not let us express and share our need. Christianity is not so poor as that. Need is part of what life really is – and it touches our souls because it is the truth. A real need honestly expressed is true and beautiful and powerful.
When, like the woman in the gospel story, we can see nothing in our lives except our need, we can offer that need to our family – God's family. Your need can be an opportunity for others to serve. Your need can be an opportunity to build up the strength of Christ's body. It is God's pleasure that we should share together in order to have the things we truly need.
The example of the woman in the gospel teaches us to accept what we need from Jesus and from his church. We should always be anxious to receive the gifts from each other which supply whatever we lack for doing the work of Christ. Sharing our real needs with each other in honesty strengthens each other in the church, just as the woman who touched Jesus' cloak strengthened Jairus in his need.
When David heard about the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, he felt he had nothing to give but his grief. And so he offered his grief.
The woman in the gospel had nothing but her need – and a willingness to receive. And so she not only received what she needed, but she also was able to give encouragement to Jairus.
When the Moravians had nothing left to give, they gave their broken community to God. They received not only healing of their community but also an overflow of the Holy Spirit with which they blessed the world.
The Wesley brothers, after a fairly disastrous mission to Georgia, gave their lack of faith to Jesus through the Moravian community in London. They received faith themselves, and went on to inspire faith in others: John mainly in his preaching and Charles primarily through his hymns.
We cannot always control what fills our lives. We can search our lives to discover the riches we possess. Let us bless each other in Christ by offering whatever we have: our faith, our doubt, our wealth, our poverty, our talents, our needs, and our willingness to accept God's gifts.
We send each other out to live Christ's love by standing and singing Charles Wesley's "Peace Be to This Congregation"
Jesus told Jairus, "Do not be afraid. Only believe." Go now, in peace, accepting the gifts Christ has for you.
Scripture quotations from The New American Bible. Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York. ©1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.