Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon June 28, 2015
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?’ 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40And 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. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
“AND THEY LAUGHED AT HIM”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Today we hear the well-know story of the cure of Jairus’ daughter. This week I realized I preached on this gospel passage just three years ago – with the same title as today. I admit I considered dusting off that old sermon and giving it again. But I’ve yet to preach an old sermon in my seven years as pastor of our beloved church. Every sermon, every week, is written from scratch so that the scripture passage I’m preaching on is fresh in my heart and soul.
So I resisted the temptation to use an old sermon and looked once again at this wonderful story of healing. This passage from Mark’s Gospel is close to my heart since it’s the scripture I used to preach at my mother’s funeral ten years ago.
Pondering this passage this week, something struck me. I began to see that when people laugh at someone – they are, in effect, cursing that person. When people laugh with someone - they are, in effect, blessing that person. Sisters and brothers, we’re faced with two primary responses to life and other people: we can bless or we can curse. I want to go deeper into this truth today.
I’d like to share some material from a recent book by the spiritual writer Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity. Rolheiser notes: “We are mature when we define ourselves by what we are for rather than what we are against. (Let me repeat this important point.) The capacity to praise more than to criticize defines maturity. The crowning glory of maturity and (Christian) discipleship … is the capacity and willingness to bless others, especially the young.”
Brothers and sisters, when was the last time you blessed someone? And, yes, it counts when we say “bless you” to someone who sneezes! But more is required than blessing those who sneeze! Blessing others, especially the young, is a critical component of discipleship. And to understand this – we need to look at what blessings are – as well as the opposite of blessing – cursing.
The word “blessing” comes from the Latin benedicere – which means, literally, to speak well of someone – bene – well and dicere – to speak. “Thus, at its root, to bless someone is to speak well of him or her. If someone were to come up to you and say: ‘You are a wonderful person,’ that person is blessing you.” (Rolheiser)
But how often do we feel ourselves blessed? I fear many of us don’t feel very blessed. I believe many of us don’t feel blessed because we were beaten as children. Sisters and brothers, whenever adults, especially parents, beat their children, they are cursing them.
So what does it mean to curse someone? Again from Rolheiser: “A curse is not the (unfortunate) language that (can) come out of our mouths when we get stuck in traffic … or lose a few hours of work in a computer meltdown … Cursing is what we do when we look at someone we do not like and think (to ourselves) or say: ‘I wish you weren’t here! … I wish you’d go away!’
“Cursing is what we do when we are affronted by the joyous screams of a child and we say: ‘Shut up! Don’t irritate me!’ Cursing is what we do when we look at someone and think or say: ‘What an idiot!’ Cursing is what we do whenever we look at another person judgmentally and think or say: ‘Who do you think you are!’”
Brothers and sisters, if this is really what cursing involves – and I believe such is the case – then I fear we do a lot more cursing than we think we do. And we do it to our young more often than we imagine. Think about what happens when you encounter a gaggle of high-pitched children – what do you feel? Is it irritation at their exuberance – or is it joy at their boundless energy?
During the summer – our “Just for Kids” daycare uses our church facilities all day long each weekday. I must say my office is usually swamped with the excited sounds of children. If these sounds constantly irritated me, I’d need to work from home rather than from my office.
Of course, there are times when the noise level is incredibly high. This past week I asked our office manager, Taneasha, to go upstairs because one child was continually bouncing billiard balls just above my office. But, by and large, I enjoy being around these young ones. My beloved Beth loves being around them when she comes to the church for counseling sessions.
These little ones need to be blessed by those of us who are older. If we do not bless them – they may well carry deep wounds throughout their lives. “ (in fact) a good number of anthropologists, psychologists, and spiritual writers today suggest that (the) hunger for a father’s blessing is one of the deepest hungers in the whole world, especially among (young) men.” (Rolheiser)
Wait, I hear a question! What does it mean to bless someone? Good question – here are three elements of blessing: “1) To bless someone is to see and admire that person; 2) (To bless someone is to) speak well of him or her, and (3) (to bless someone is to) give away some of your (power) (your) life so that (the person you are blessing) might have more (power and more) life – (especially our young).” (Rolheiser)
The reverse is also true. We curse others when we demand that they see and admire us, (we curse others) when we demand that they speak well of us, (we curse others) when we use their lives to build up our own. A … blessing feeds others; a … curse feeds off (of others).”
Brothers and sisters, the fact is that few of us have been sufficiently blessed in our lives. If a young man is not sufficiently blessed by others, especially blessed by parents – he may well fall into an unhealthy and unholy focus on two things: success and sex. “The unconscious belief is that these (two things) will bring the blessing (so many of our young men) desperately desire. Sadly, neither of these is an adequate substitute for (being truly blessed).’ (Rolheiser)
If a young woman is not sufficiently blessed, especially blessed by parents – she may well fall into the unhealthy and unholy belief that having children of her own and having a showcase home will bring the blessing she so desperately desires. But having children for the wrong reasons – and spending all one’s energies on creating a showcase home – do not substitute for the lack of blessing so many of our young women need.
Sisters and brothers, I recall an experience of being blessed that has stayed with me for many years. When I became pastor of the Church of St. Benedict the Black in Grambling, Louisiana, at the first Sunday service, I asked everyone in the church to bless me. I then walked down to where an elderly woman sat in a wheelchair. Her name was Mrs. Fidelia O. Johnson, the daughter of the founder of Grambling State University, known affectionately as “Mama Fie.”
I knelt down in front of her and asked for her blessing – which she gave. I then walked to the front of the church and knelt there while every person in the church came forward to bless me as their pastor. Talk about being blessed!
I regret I did not do something similar when I became pastor of our beloved church here. And here’s the thing: we cannot force anyone to bless us. This is an unwavering truth. But while we cannot force anyone to bless us – we can, most assuredly, bless others. We need, as adults, to seek out opportunities to bless others, to mentor others, especially our young.
Let me add a caution here. Too often we misunderstand what is involved in being blessed. People who possess many things: a good job, lots of financial resources, good health, may carry on about how blessed they are. But this is not at all how we are to understand God’s blessing according to the One who truly knows: Jesus Christ.
Listen to Jesus’ teaching in the 6th chapter of Luke’s Gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you …” (Luke 6:20 – 22) (repeat last sentence)
What? Excuse me? Are you serious, Jesus? Are you trying to say that people trapped in poverty-ridden, crime-ridden neighborhoods of our city are as blessed as the people living in luxury with little fear of crime? Really? Really? Well, this seems to be what you are saying - but I tell you – this notion of being blessed seems strange to me!
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is telling us that each of us – regardless of circumstances – regardless of financial resources – regardless of health issues – each of us is deeply blessed by God. If we fail to understand this Gospel truth – then we may fail to understand other Gospel truths!
God has blessed all of creation. God looked at all of creation and deemed it “very good.” God looks at each of us and deems each of us “very good.” This is what it means to be blessed by God – to know our essential goodness before our Creator!
We’re called to bless in Jesus’ name. We’re called to increase the number of blessings we give, especially to our young. We’re called to decrease the number of curses we give, especially to our young. Blessing others helps us become “big-hearted.” Cursing others helps us become “petty” and “small-hearted.” The choice, as always, is ours! God bless everyone here! Amen!