Mark 5:21-24a, 35-43
Do not be put off and offended by the graphic nature of what is about to be said.
Our culture and sensitivity has chosen to insulate us to the fearsome nature and
reality of death.
Americans are good at covering death up. They send their loved ones off at death
and get them properly made up and “looking good” and then they go through the sanitized
motions of death. Most don’t touch the dead body. Most don’t deal with the body
that has already begun to decay. Most don’t wash and dress the body and try and
get the clothing on the stiff limbs. Most don’t sit anymore with the dead body all
night…in a parlor or living room. Many don’t even see the body (in a closed casket
ceremony). Flowers abound. Everything is covered in their bright profusion. Perfume
is on the air. Most don’t do the hard work of digging the grave. Most don’t shovel
the grave in and hear the first clods hit the coffin lid.
Christians don’t do the above things either and escape having the cold clammy fingers
of death around their hearts and minds. Death is a fearful thing. It scared even
Jesus who when faced with it said, “Let this thing not happen to me.” He said it
with blood on his brow. Death has its sting…still.
Death terrified the man in our reading today of two thousand years ago too. He lived
in Galilee. It seemed likely that he had a house by the lake. He had a little daughter
and he loved her very much. But she got sick and the doctor looked up and said quietly,
“Your little daughter is dying. There is nothing we can do for her. Get ready.”
And there wasn’t anything to do then and there isn’t anything to do now…except for
the only thing: go to Jesus. And when that happens we hear him say to us…………..
DON’T BE AFRAID; JUST BELIEVE
1. Don’t be afraid of the weeping
2. Don’t be afraid of the laughing
3. Just don’t be afraid!
1. Don’t be afraid of weeping
Most men in the United States believe that it is a fearful thing to weep. (Women
get some kind of pass on this, but probably the same fear threatens them too.) Real
men are supposed to have a stiff upper lip. Just the weeping is a fearful thing.
Finally, who likes it? Who isn’t afraid of weeping? Who does weeping willingly
and cheerfully? Who wakes up in the morning welcoming uncontrollable sobbing and
a face that caves in with emotions that can’t be controlled?
When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people
crying and wailing loudly. This universal symbol and sign of grief is unmistakable.
One word for it is keening. Keening is that awful crying that goes on in the presence
of death. Some cultures have a certain format for it, but keening takes place in
one form or another in every culture. People cry at the graves of their loved ones.
“Your daughter is dead,” are absolutely the worst words a father could hear. Bad
enough that he had had to hear already, “Your daughter is dying.” Now there is no
hope. This is the awful finality of death. But Jesus did something amazing. He
went to the man’s house to reverse the irreversible. He went to give joy in hopeless
grief. He went to make possible what was impossible. He went to change the DOD.
(You and I can’t do that.) Once that date is established no one can change it.
Well, that isn’t quite true. One can change it. Only one. Jesus can change the
Don’t be afraid, just believe? We are pretty sure what Jesus means when he says,
“Don’t be afraid.” He is telling us to not be afraid of death.
2. Don’t be afraid of the laughing
He is also telling us, “Don’t be afraid of the laughing.” It was out of place then
and it still is. See if it doesn’t grate on your sensitivities when you hear the
words….“He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child
is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him.”
In a way, the laughing is more fearful than the weeping. It is bad enough to weep,
but actually, everyone in every culture weeps at death. Even the Bible says to weep
with those who weep. Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus. So that is
expected of us. But to have someone laugh at you as you stand with your belief at
death…this is a fearful thing.
To man’s way of thinking, Jesus always gets to the scene of death too late. If it
is already a scene of death, Jesus is too late. Mary and Martha suffered from this
occurrence to some degree. They told Jesus who was four days late by their reckoning,
“Lord, if you had only been here.” And so the people in our reading today said to
the fearful father, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher any more?” Don’t
cause yourself any trouble here on our parts, Jesus. That is the way it is with
these religious leaders. They are always around but when the going really gets tough,
they can’t do anything more than the next person…maybe not as much. Don’t bother
yourself with our death any further. It could well be that this is the way it was
said. What’s the use with religion anyway. It doesn’t really help us with our death.
We still end up dying. We end up weeping and causing a commotion anyway. What’s
the use? What’s the point? And in this awful way unbelief laughs.
That it was this way is borne out by what Jesus did with that caustic comment gnawing
at the fabric of this moment, “Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue
ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” And this action of Jesus deals with the
laughing that has no mirth in it. It didn’t stop the laughing, but it dealt with
the laughing. What about this heartless and senseless sarcasm? Why get laughingly
sarcastic with Jesus anyway? And the answer to that question can only be one thing,
“Don’t be afraid, just believe.” To laugh with mocking laughter at Jesus at the
grave is to call him a liar. He is not afraid of such people as he shows in the
reading, but they should be afraid of their own laughing.
Jesus can turn weeping into laughing. Jesus is the one who says, “Don’t be afraid,
just believe.” That is enough. To have the faith to say, “I am sure of what I hope
for and certain of what I don’t see,” is to be able to laugh at those who laugh.
God sometimes laughs this way too. He who sits in heaven laughs. His laughter
doesn’t have mirth in it either. It never has mirth in it when God laughs at people’s
unbelief. Jesus said it and he said it clearly to each of us, “Don’t be afraid.
Just believe.” A Christian is the only one who can laugh rightfully at the time
of death. Only one who does not fear and who just believes. That was exactly right.
That is the formula. That stops the weeping…and laughing…at death.
3. Just don’t be afraid!
“The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Franklin Roosevelt said that in fearful
and dark times in our country. You have to wonder how much it helped to hear this
crippled and polio stricken man with his own host of troubles telling everyone not
to be afraid. Kind of like whistling in the dark when you go past a graveyard.
Don’t be afraid (of death); just believe. Death is not an inescapable hole in the
ground. Death is a door…the door to heaven. For the one who believes in Jesus,
death is a one way ticket home. Death is the time God uses for all believers in
Jesus to answer Jesus’ prayer, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with
me where I am, and to see my glory.” (John 17:24) Death is the contest where your
side wins. Death is the time when Jesus wins. Death is the happy ending because
Jesus makes it that. Death is the time when angels come specially and tangibly.
Death is the sound of music…eternal music in God’s presence. Death is true peace.
Death is graduation day. Death is your wedding day.
Jesus said to the little girl, “Talitha koum!” God wants us to hear the very words
spoken in that cool and dark room with the corpse. We get the interpretation of
the words, but no matter. It doesn’t matter what language you are speaking to corpses…they
don’t get up. Try Swahili. Try Pharsi. Try German. (We are mostly German Lutherans!)
Try English. But when Jesus says his words to you, you hear him talking. Even
in the dust of death you hear him. And you will rise. The very same words will
be spoken over you one day by this very same Jesus. He will say, “Rise up!” “Get
up!” “Live!” “Forever!”
At the end of the book of John we hear these words: “Jesus did many other miraculous
signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But
these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that my believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30,31). There, you
heard it! “…That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that
by believing you may have life in his name.” Remember the theme of this day. “Don’t
be afraid, just believe.” Hear the story; believe! Just believe.
Just believe. Believe the story you heard. Believe Jesus’ words to you. Wait for
his words to happen for you. Don’t be afraid. Just believe. Amen.