Led by Rev. Suzie Stark
Words of welcome
Let us take a moment to prepare our hearts and minds for worship, let us be still in the presence of God, in our midst.
The Psalmist says:
Blessed be the Lord whose unfailing love for me was wonderful.
A warm welcome to you, whether here in the sanctuary of Wardie Church or from the sanctuary of your own homes. It is good to be back with you again for a second week, and I hope that next week Bob will be back leading our worship. But for now, let us listen to the words of praise and glory in Hymn 426.
Hymn 426 – All heaven declares
Prayers of Approach and Confession and Lord’s Prayer
You are the spark of life behind the universe,
from the infinite to the invisible;
you are the source of goodness in all things,
from the largest to the smallest.
We come to give thanks for your gifts,
And in awe, we worship you.
You are the friend of all people,
young and old, from all walks of life.
You are the teacher we all need
for the first and the last of us.
We come to open our minds to your words,
And in humility, we listen.
You are the fire burning within us,
fill us with a passion to do what is right and with compassion for your people;
You are the wisdom that brings new life,
for creatures great and small.
We come to open our hearts to your transforming power,
and in anticipation, we wait.
Creator, Son, Spirit,
You are life, wisdom and compassion bound together in love.
As we come before you,
Open our lives,
and bind us together in loving community,
worshipping and following you.
We remember the times we have caused pain or hurt,
or have made choices that affect the dignity of others.
Before your wisdom,
we admit the times when we have not understood how to care for your world or your people,
the times when we have not been willing to seek or hear guidance from you or from others, letting our pride get in the way,
Before your compassion,
we confess the times we have not reached out to care for others,
and the times when we have not been willing to listen to stories of lives beyond our own.
Before your love,
we turn to you in honesty and humility,
admitting our wrongful actions and hurtful words,
Merciful God, before your love,
We listen to your promise of forgiveness and healing,
that enables our hearts to be changed and our lives to be made new,
Through the loving and healing touch of Jesus Christ, our friend and teacher, Amen.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord in whose words we now pray together, saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
I did a quick Google search to see how many songs had ‘help’ in the lyrics or title. There were so many that I gave up counting, and I was looking at pop songs rather than hymns.
One song, one that might be better known by Grans and Grandads rather than even parents, might be the Beatles’
“I get by with a little help from my friends.”
Whether we like it or not we all need help at some time or another, but at the same time we can often be really stubborn about asking for help.
In our New Testament reading for today we hear about two people who asked Jesus for help. One came running up to him and threw himself down at his feet and begged for help, the other came quietly up behind him, not wanting to draw attention to herself, and touched the bit of his cloak nearest to her, knowing that just being that close to Jesus could help her.
We can be like that: sometimes it is easy to talk to God in our prayers and ask for help, maybe to help us to be kinder, or nicer, or more generous, or even more helpful. But at other times we don’t really know how to ask God for help.
There are times, too, when we need help from our family or our friends. Look at a little baby, they need help with everything, then as they grow up into a toddler they demand help for some things and refuse help for others. You can imagine a little one saying ‘up, up’ because they can’t get up onto a chair on their own, but if you try to help them with some messy food you are likely to end up covered in the food, because they are learning to be independent and don’t want help.
As we get older we sometimes forget to ask for help and find that we end up tired and grumpy and perhaps not doing what we wanted to because we needed help and were too proud to ask for it.
That is problem for all of us, whatever age we are.
We are a strange mix, but one thing that the Bible tells us is it is absolutely OK to ask for help when we need it. Ask God in our prayers, ask family and friends, never be too proud to ask for help, and remember when someone really needs our help it might not have been easy for them to ask for it. We can all get by with a little help from God as well as from our friends.
2 Samuel 1:1, 17–27
After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.
17David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18(He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said:
19 Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
20 Tell it not in Gath,
proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.
21 You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor bounteous fields!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.
22 From the blood of the slain,
from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
nor the sword of Saul return empty.
23 Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
24 O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
25 How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
26 I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.
27 How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and 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.’ 24So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years.26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’29Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32He looked all round to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He 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?’ 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.
Hymn 153 – Great is thy faithfulness
Sermon by Rev. Suzie Stark
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Our Scripture readings this morning may, on the surface, appear very different but there is a common theme of lament and personal cost contained within them both. They provide a rich seam for the preacher, and sometimes that can almost be worse than when there is only one way to go with a sermon. “Where is this taking us?” might be the cry of the person writing their sermon for this Sunday. I have preached on the importance of mourning from Samuel and I have preached more than once on the faith of the two people seeking Jesus’ help, and this Sunday … I wonder if we might look at ‘Cost’, the cost of asking for help, the cost of helping others.
In both the readings from Samuel and from Mark’s gospel we find lamentation, sadness, grief. King David is mourning the loss of Saul and his son Jonathan, slain in battle. Samuel notes that as part of his mourning, King David encourages corporate mourning, teaching the people of Judah the song of the bow. There is no doubt that what the prophet describes for his readers is genuine and true grief at the loss of two people deeply loved by King David.
In the passage from 2 Samuel we hear the phrase ‘How the mighty have fallen’ three times, a phrase we hear most frequently these days said with scorn and disdain; for whatever reason the words that were used to sincerely mourn two mighty warriors slain has become pejorative, so let us not lose sight of the truth behind King David’s lament. His despair at the fallen heroes is visceral, it is deep and real. His lament is not about the loss of dignity, or status, and there is neither slight nor side when he asks the reader to see and to lament alongside him ‘the fall of the mighty’ – Saul and Jonathan have paid the ultimate price for their God and their country, they have died in battle. The cost has been great, but their dignity is upheld by King David, who urges the nation to remember them thus:
23 Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
And so we move from a lament for two great warriors killed in battle towards two very different situations, but both of them giving cause for lamentation, and we are able to examine the cost of putting personal dignity to one side for Jairus and for the woman, as well as seeing something of the cost to Christ himself in his ministry of healing.
We find in the gospel reading two situations where Jesus’ help is urgently needed. A father, desperate for Jesus to help his dying daughter, has come running to find the one person he believes can help, his despair has led him to throw dignity to the wind, Jairus has come himself to beg for help, he has not sent servants, indeed when we fast forward to the latter part of the reading and his household send their messengers to find him they dismiss the thought of Jesus doing any good at all. When it is thought that his daughter has died the onlookers are quick to offer him advice, ‘why trouble the teacher any more’ – it seems clear that they see no place for Jesus in the midst of the despair and lamenting. Jairus had clung fast to hope, the hope that Jesus could and would make a difference. And so we are told that the powerful local leader of the synagogue threw himself at Jesus’ feet, at the feet of an itinerant preacher, a former carpenter from Nazareth from where nothing good ever came. This would have been a rash move in the eyes of many who attended the local synagogue; he risked ridicule from the local worshippers, but Jairus saw that Jesus was his hope in the midst of despair. His dignity and any personal pride was laid to one side, as he begged, literally prostrating himself before Jesus in supplication. For some reason the idea of this well-respected pillar of the temple throwing himself to the ground and begging Jesus put me in mind of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. He throws dignity aside as he runs out of the house to greet the prodigal making his way home. Both of these men hold fast to hope even when others would call them foolish to do so. Both were prepared to sacrifice their dignity for their love for a child.
And so to our third person who had for twelve years been unwell, who had spent all her money seeking a cure, and who, I have no doubt at all, would have been lamenting her own losses in terms of her particular health problem and the loss of associated social acceptability. Her illness will have reduced this woman to someone forced to become invisible. If she does venture out she must blend in, she has been reduced to a life of creeping about, wanting to remain unseen and unknown.
This woman sees her only hope of cure lies in Jesus, but she does not have the courage to come face to face with him and ask directly for help, she simply can’t do that because her condition has forced her to the margins, she is ritually unclean according to Jewish purity laws, there is no place for her to worship in the synagogue, there is no place for her even with family, no-one is permitted to touch her so she cannot come to the front of the crowd and beg for help, to do so would result in rebuke, rebuttal and a refusal on behalf of the crowd to permit her to access the help she needs. So she worms her way through the throng and stretches out her hand towards Jesus’ cloak – ‘if I can just touch his clothes, I will be made well’ – and we are told that immediately she feels well, better, healed. What happens next would not have been part of her plan as she would no doubt have wished to creep away quietly in the same way as she approached Jesus, melting back into obscurity. Instead Jesus sought out the person who had made contact with him. “Who touched me?’ – how afraid must the woman have been at that point? Just when she thought all was well, but Jesus knew that ALL was not yet well.
It may seem rather cruel to us, that he should draw attention to the woman, surely this is an affront on her already tattered dignity, but his rationale in doing so meant that her physical healing became a holistic healing. The poor woman, all of a tremble, realises that there is nothing for it but to do as Jesus says and so she comes forward, like Jairus; she, too, throws herself at Jesus’ feet and tells him her story and explains, and how costly that must have been to her, why she did what she felt she had to in order to be made well. His response is the second part of the healing process. He confirms that she is healed through her faith and he bids her to go in peace. Peace, that peace that only Jesus can give, that calming of troubled hearts and minds, in calling her to account he effectively points out to the huge crowds all around him that this woman is WELL, she is no longer precluded from worship, she has a place in the temple and a place in society; her healing, as I am sure you all know, having heard this passage often, sees her physically, emotionally and spiritually made whole. Jesus, far from contributing to any loss of personal dignity, gives it back to the woman in spades. She can hold her head up high, she can be a valued member of society, she no longer has to creep unseen among the crowds, her dignity, gone for twelve long years along with all her money, is restored. So often in the accounts of Jesus’ healing miracles we find that the healing event is about restoring someone to their rightful place, a restoring of dignity which far outweighs the personal cost of any temporary loss of dignity.
We see, to quote professor Tom Wright of St Andrews University, the sovereignty and gentleness of Jesus equal and integrated in his words and his actions, we see this as well in the tender and compassionate way he heals the little girl, gently asking her to get up and then instructing the family to feed her and not to make a fuss about this: don’t tell anyone. I wonder if that was done to protect the girl, to allow her to recover and live a normal life without all eyes being upon her? We don’t know, but where the woman we have just discussed needed the final seal on her healing that allowed her to be restored to her place in society, it could be that every compassionate, Jesus, saw that publicity was the last thing a girl on the cusp of womanhood needed.
In his ministry he looks at the implications, the cost to others, as well as to himself.
Something we may not always be fully mindful of is the personal cost to Jesus throughout his ministry. Oh yes, we know that he paid the ultimate price when he was put to death for us, but the cost to him, physically, emotionally and spiritually, is revealed by the writers of the gospels as they give account of his ministry, telling us again and again that he needed time alone, or in the hills, or in a boat, to rest and pray and recover.
And Mark tells us that Jesus feels his power, the strength, the energy flow from him when the woman touched his cloak, he has a physical reaction that is a part of the cost to him of his healing.
The next time we are tempted to scorn someone’s fall from grace, the next time we might say ‘look, how the mighty are fallen’ we could do no better than to remember the context of the quote. At great personal cost, the cost of their lives, Saul and Jonathan served their God and their nation.
At great personal cost: exhaustion, fatigue, ridicule, misunderstanding, hatred and denial by his friends, Christ himself ministered to us. He ministered to the sick and the dying, and at the greatest personal cost he gave up his life so that we might live.
William Barclay makes the point that if we are to do anything properly it will be done at personal cost. He writes:
‘Every time Jesus healed anyone it took something out of him. Here is a universal rule of life. We will never produce anything great unless we are prepared to put something of ourselves, of our very life, of our very soul into it. No pianist will ever give a really great performance if they glide through a piece of music with faultless technique and nothing more. The performance will not be great unless at the end of it there is the exhaustion which comes of the outpouring of self. No actor will ever give a great performance who repeats his words with every inflection right and every gesture correct like a perfectly designed automaton. Their tears must be real tears, their feelings must be real feelings; something of themselves must go into the acting. (…) If we are ever to help others we must be ready to spend of ourselves.’
(The Daily Study Bible, revised ed, Gospel of Mark, Wm Barclay pp 131–132)
Jesus reminds us that the first shall be last, the last shall be first, and if we follow his example our ministries will enable others to find their place in his kingdom, in our society, in our churches. There may will be a personal cost if we are to do this well, we may have to lay aside our dignity, we may have to fall at Jesus’ feet and ask for help, but is there a better place to be than at the feet of our Lord?
There is no place for pride in the Christian life. Pride is a false friend, one that puffs up and distorts the truth. There is much to be learned from the two protagonists in the gospel reading, their dignity and their pride were laid aside, they were so in need of help that they did not stop to consider the potential implications or cost, they just knew that they needed the help of Christ in their own particular situations. Whether we run headlong towards Christ asking for help or whether we come alongside him quietly, he is there for us, he may ask us to step out into the open, he may come to us quietly and minister with grace and kindness beyond our human understanding. We already know the cost of his love for the world. In our own lives and ministries we are also asked to give, and not to count the cost, as Barclay says: ‘if we are ever to help others we must be ready to spend of ourselves’ – and of course we have our example, as ever, in the loving, compassionate and caring ministry of Jesus himself.
Collect of the Day
you have taught us through your Son
that love fulfils the law.
Grant us grace to love you
with all our heart, all our soul,
all our mind, all our strength,
and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Prayers of Intercession
We turn to God, reaching out through our prayers of intercession, lifting up those near and far, known and stranger, trusting that even if our prayers but touch the hem of the divine garment, they will be heard.
God, thank you for the glorious weather—the sunshine, the warmth, the flowers. Be with those for whom the heat is a burden. We, who usually take water for granted, become acutely aware of what life is like without steady rainfall. We lift our prayers for lands where water is scarce, where children are forced to drink from unclean sources. When our rains come, let us not forget their needs.
We pray for those who suffer and who find themselves caught in the midst of violence and turmoil. Especially for families caught in the conflicts scattered across the globe, and those who have lost loved ones. We pray for those who seek safety and refuge far from home, and give thanks for those who welcome and assist them.
We pray for those in power, in our own city and nation, and around the world. May they value life, goodness and our fragile eco-system. May the attitudes of greed, bullying and pontificating melt away, replaced by altruism, care and humility.
We pray for students and teachers as they come to the end of another school year. We pray for youth, whether in academics, sports, arts, or trades who are seeking success. May a spirit of fairness and healthy competition surround their endeavours. And may they find wholeness in you.
We pray for the sick and infirmed, that your healing power might enfold and uphold them. May our touch, and that of medical personnel and family, assure them of your presence. In this moment of silence, hear the names of those for whom we pray, as we say them in our hearts.
God, thank you for hearing our prayers, spoken and unspoken. Encircle those we have named, and those left un-named, with your healing love. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
Hymn 251 – I the Lord of sea and sky
Go from this place, renewed in your willingness to serve him who calls you,
Renewed ready to give of yourself to help others,
Renewed by the costly love of Christ who paid the ultimate price for us.
And may the blessing of God the Father, Christ the Son and the Spirit Holy be upon you this day and always.