Faith in Tragedy

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 5:21-43

Dear people with faith in Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When terror or tragedy strikes, it is common these days to claim strength in the midst of weakness and helplessness. For example: “Humboldt Strong” and “Toronto Strong.” It says that we are strong enough to get through this tragedy. We are strong, so we will survive, and life will go on.

What is it that makes us strong? Our resolve and determination? Our self-confidence and smug attitude? Our faith in ourselves to stay strong? These will not help us in tragedy.

Faith in Jesus will help us in tragedy and crisis. Faith in Jesus will get us through.

But this faith is not self-confidence. Faith is not confidence that you are strong and can take on the world.

Faith is humble begging. It is throwing yourself at the mercy of God. It is Jairus falling at the feet of Jesus and begging Him to heal his daughter. Faith is reaching out and touching Jesus’ garment for healing and falling at his feet as did the woman with the discharge of blood. Faith is trusting in God’s mercy even though we deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment because of our sins.

So you see, faith is not strength. It is relying on the strength of another, namely Jesus. Faith comes from weakness.

Ask anyone who says that they have strength in themselves to deal with tragedy. They will say they don’t need faith in Jesus. They have faith in themselves – they have no use for faith in Jesus. If you have the self-confidence to get through anything this life throws at you, you reject Jesus because you say you don’t need Him.

Faith is the opposite of self-confidence. It is denying yourself and clinging to Jesus for salvation, comfort, help, and for everything you need.

We heard of the faith of Jairus and the woman with the discharge of blood. Jairus was a prominent man, one of the rulers of the synagogue. He would have been well known, well connected, and well respected. Then we have the woman, who would have been ritually unclean because she just wouldn’t stop bleeding. She had spent all her money on doctors who were not able to help her at all. In fact, the text says she suffered much under many physicians and her condition only grew worse. According to Jewish law, she was unclean and forbidden from even worshiping in the synagogue which Jairus ruled.

Two people on opposite ends of the spectrum. Both in need. Jairus’s daughter was sick to the point of death. In fact, she died while Jairus was with Jesus. She was twelve years old, born about the time that the woman had started bleeding. Both Jairus and the woman went to Jesus for healing, because both had faith in Jesus.

Faith is rather a simple thing. Faith is knowing God as He is revealed to us in Jesus, assenting to the truth of God’s Word, and trusting in God, especially for the forgiveness of sins because of Jesus’ death for us.

Faith is trust in Jesus, even when we don’t have all the answers. Faith does not ask, “Why did this happen to me?” but simply trusts in God’s mercy. Having faith means realizing that all the bad things that happen in the world are not only because of everyone else’s sins, but our own sins, too. Having faith means realizing that God is justly displeased because of my sins.

This brings us back to faith coming from weakness, not strength. In our weakness, we trust in Jesus for salvation, comfort, help, and for everything we need.

Faith does not come from within us. Faith comes from outside of us. Faith is the gift of God. As Ephesians tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one my boast.” (2:8-9) God gives us faith as a free gift.

We cannot attain faith by our own powers or strength, but we can lose our faith when we rely on our own powers or strength. This is seen most often when Christians forget how God strengthens and nurtures faith. They forget that God keeps them in the faith through His Word. They forget that God nurtures them in the faith through the Lord’s Supper. They think that they don’t need God to keep them in the faith because they are strong enough on their own. They stay away from where God preserves them in the faith, thus they fall away from the faith.

Faith does not preserve itself. Just like faith does not create itself but is given by God through the means of grace, so also faith does not preserve itself, but is preserved by the means of grace. The second you think that you don’t need to hear God’s Word regularly and receive holy communion frequently, you are relying on your own strength and are walking down the road that leads to falling away.

Faith trusts in Jesus no matter how things appear. In the midst of suffering, it appears that God does not care. It seems like He is not listening to your prayers.

You don’t think everything seemed bleak to the woman who was able to get no help from doctors, only suffered more, and now had no money either? You don’t think she had prayed to God every single day over those twelve years, crying on her knees, and begging for help? Yet she still had faith that simply touching Jesus’ garment would heal her! After God had not answered her prayers for twelve years, she still had faith and trusted in Jesus.

Such a faith cannot come from within. The only way she could have such faith was because God had given her the gift of faith.

Jairus’s daughter’s future also looked bleak as she was so ill. Undoubtedly, Jairus also had been praying for healing before he went to Jesus, but instead of getting better, his daughter approach closer to death’s door. Then she died.

But having faith means believing in the resurrection of the dead, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Saint Matthew tells us that after his daughter died, Jairus said to Jesus, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” His daughter died, but Jairus still had faith in Jesus.

Your prayers for healing, comfort, and the end of suffering will be answered. No matter how bleak things appear, Jesus will make an end of them as He has promised. You may have to wait twelve years for healing like the woman, or you may have to wait until you die, but Jesus will give you healing, comfort, and end your suffering.

We trust in Him who is the resurrection and the life. We trust in Him because He has given us the gift of faith. He who suffered our sins and sicknesses on the cross will give us healing in His good time. He will save us from our illnesses and sins and even death itself, because He has conquered these enemies of ours.

Jesus continues to preserve our faith through the hearing of His Word and the eating and drinking of His body and blood. He continues to forgive our sins and will keep us in the faith until we die. And then when He returns, He will raise us from the dead like we are merely sleeping and give eternal life to us and all who have died in the faith.

Don’t think you are strong enough yourself to get through tragedies and crises. Rather, in your weakness, trust in Jesus and His promises to you. He will see you through. Pray to Jesus for healing and help even if He has not answered you for twelve years. Pray to Jesus for life in the midst of death.

When you do face tragedy, do not claim to be strong. Instead, in your weakness and helplessness, cling to Jesus. He is the resurrection and the life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.