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Qualifications

Today’s blog contains the sermon manuscript and video for a message preached July 5, 2015 at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, Richmond, VA.   You can also find an audio of this sermon by visiting the church website and subscribing to our podcast.  The sermon is titled:  “Qualifications” based on Mark 5:21-43

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You can watch the video below and/or read the manuscript.

Qualifications  – Mark 5:21-43

 

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

 

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

 

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

 

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

 

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

 

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

 

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

 

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 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.

 

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

 

If you have ever owned a business or been in a company management position, you’ve probably been a part of the hiring process.

 

Your primary concern in this process is to determine if an available candidate is sufficiently qualified for a particular job.

 

You look at how the candidates present themselves.  Are they dressed professionally?  Do they make eye-contact and speak clearly?  Do they have a pleasant personality?

 

Next you explore their education.  Do they have the knowledge, skills, and training to meet the expectations for the position for the position you are trying to fill?

 

You ask about the person’s work ethic.

 

You make inquiry into their employment experiences.

 

You explore their moral compass.

 

You contact their references.

 

These days you even look into the person’s social media presence.

 

You are checking their qualifications.

 

Its not just in our business that we explore issues of qualifications.

 

We explore a person’s qualifications when examining which candidate we will vote for in the next election.

 

We explore a physician’s qualifications when looking for a new family doctor.

 

We explore the qualifications of the mechanic who will service our car, or the contractor when planning a house renovation.

 

This issue of qualifications even enters the life of the church.

 

We want our deacons to be persons of faith and courage.

 

We want our pastor to be a person of integrity.

 

We want our teachers to know how to study and teach the Bible in a way that  facilitates life transformation.

 

There are times, however, when we can become so concerned about qualifications that we end of hindering the advancement of God’s Kingdom.

 

The scripture lesson read moments ago includes two intertwined stories.  In one story, Jesus raises a little girl from the dead.  In the other, Jesus cures a woman suffering for twelve years from a health affliction.   These two healings are wondrous examples of how the love of God can bring health and wholeness to both mind and body.  But I want you to look beyond these healings and see a deeper miracle.  These two who were blessed by God were considered unqualified by their religion to receive such blessings.

 

It is difficult for us today to understand the social structures of Jesus’ time.  Foreigners  had no place.  Those of the wrong racial heritage were excluded.  People of ill-repute had no social standing.  Women and children did not fare well either.  On second thought, maybe we understand the social structures of Jesus’ day. Here’s the scene from today’s scripture lesson.

 

Jarius, a leader of a local synagogue, sends his servants to Jesus – asking Jesus to come and heal his sick daughter.  Jesus agrees and heads our toward Jarius home to heal the child.

 

Along the way, Jesus encounters a woman.   We are told she had an “issue of blood.”  Put another way, that time of the month came once a year and stayed for all twelve months.  In that condition, a woman was considered ritually unclean.  To touch her would make you unclean.  That put her in a lose-lose situation everywhere she went.  There was no relief, no help, no healing.  She had been ostracized from her society for the better part of twelve years.

 

As Jesus approached, he is surrounded by a crowd of people.  Most are reaching out to touch Jesus.   One of them is the woman who has lost any hope for healing except for Jesus’ touch.  But she did not approach him directly.  That would be inappropriate for a woman in her society.  She imagine that if she could just touch his garment, that will be enough.

 

She touches his cloak ever so briefly and Jesus knew something had happened.

 

“Who touched me?”  He asked.

 

It was a silly question, at least to anyone watching the scene.  People were pressing in toward Jesus from every angle.  Yet Jesus knew that something different had happened.

 

“Who touched me?”

 

The poor woman probably figured she was in for a good tongue lashing.  If that is all that happened, she would be glad.  The law would have permitted Jesus to have her to be stoned to death.  She came trembling and fell at Jesus’ feet and confessed her action.  Jesus spoke to her, not with harsh words of rebuke.  Oh, no!  Jesus called her “daughter.”

 

For twelve years this woman had no standing in the community.  She was ritually impure.  She was ostracized by the traditions and rules of her religion.  Now Jesus speaks to her and calls her daughter.  She is one of God’s chosen ones.  Her status went from one who was worse than “of no account” to being “the beloved of God.”  Instead of being ostracized by the law, she is brought close by God’s grace.  Where others saw someone who was not qualified to even be spoke to, Jesus saw someone who was precious and valuable.

 

Next Jesus continues his journey to the home of Jairus who had called for him on behalf of his little girl.  Children didn’t amount to much in that society – but this girl mattered to her daddy, so he broke protocol and sought out the help of Rabbi Jesus. Remarkably, Jesus changed was worthy of his attention and love.

 

When he arrives, the message is “You are too late!  The girl is dead!”

 

Jesus replies, “She is not dead.  She is asleep.”  This raises the ire of the crowd.  They began to taunt Jesus, making jokes at his expense.  Jesus puts all of them out of the house except a few disciples, the parents, and the lifeless body of the little girl.

 

Next Jesus takes her by the hand.  He had touched the unclean woman, healed her, and called her daughter.  You’d think Jesus couldn’t do anything else wrong in a single days work, but he does.  He touches a dead body.  That was a big no-no, especially for a Rabbi.  It made one unclean and impure.  Jesus did not hesitate.  He took her hand and told her to get up.  She got up.

 

Jesus wants his followers to understand that no one is unworthy or unqualified to experience God’s grace.

 

It doesn’t matter what somebody might think or say.  It doesn’t matter how vulgar or vile their lifestyle might seem.  It doesn’t matter their race, their social status, their political party affiliation, or their income level. No one is outside God’s redemptive grace.

 

Jesus repeats this lesson often throughout his ministry.   He parties with the tax collectors, associates with prostitutes, reaches out to touch a leper, and asks a Samaritan woman to give him a drink from a well.   No one is beyond the love of the God.

 

The sick woman and dead girl had been place outside the walls of their religious culture and were denied by its leaders the hope of healing and relief.    Then Jesus steps into the picture.

 

The healing of the woman and the raising of Jarius daughter are signs of both the compassion of Christ revealing the nature and character of God.  The God revealed in Jesus Christ reaches out, extends love, puts forward healing, brings hope, and offers inclusion to those thought unqualified to receive such mercies.

 

After the shooting in Charleston, SC, the young man who was arrested for this terrible crime stood in a courtroom and heard from the families of those he had victimized.  We would have thought is justified is those families if they had cursed him and condemned him to hell.  But they forgave him.  Even this young man is not beyond the gracious inclusion of God’s grace.  In 2006 a man entered an Amish School House in Lancaster, PA and shoot ten children to death.  On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man.”

 

Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”  Even this man was not beyond the gracious inclusion of God’s grace.
Society considered those in this story as unqualified.  We probably have some that we look at the same way.  But when Jesus enters the picture, no one is excluded or rejected.  Jesus’ grace is given to all.

Jesus reveals this Divine mindset all the time.  He offered grace to the woman caught in adultery; grace to traitorous tax-collector Zacchaeus, grace to the criminal who hung on the cross next to him, and even offered grace to those who nailed him to the cross.  None of them were qualified to received these gifts, but Jesus was qualified by his Father to offer them  to whomever he wanted, and Jesus wants the whole world to know God’s inclusion and acceptance.

 

There are just two things I want us to walk away from here today thinking about.  First, I like us to enter our mission field remembers that  nobody is outside the love of God.  The Bible means what it says when it says: “For God so love the world, He gave his one and only Son.” We like to draw lines and build boundaries.  We do that over with race and ethnic background.  We do that with issues of lifestyle and personal morality.  We do that with people who have a checked past.  We do that with those people we consider to be weird and wacked out in the head. Remember when grace enters the picture and Jesus steps into the scene, nobody is excluded.  Everyone is like, loved, accepted, included, and adopted.  None of us are qualified to erect fences and build walls to exclude anyone/

 

Secondly, I want us to think about how we often try to exclude ourselves from God’s grace.  We have a real back habit of placing ourselves outside God’s grace.  We see ourselves as unqualified.
I grew up in a church where I often heard sermons about how I needed to “get right with God.”  There were always things I was told that I needed to do to be qualified for God’s acceptance.  That was a lot of pressure.  Then I learned the truth of the gospel:  We do not get ourselves “right with God.”  Rightness with God is a gift from God.

 

I was already in the ministry myself, putting that same guilt trip on others, when I first really heard and began to understand the full goodness of the gospel.  My qualifications did not make me more acceptable.  My faults, failures, and foibles did not place me beyond God’s loving grace.  Somebody said it to me like this:  “There is nothing I can do to make God love me more than he already does, and there is not anything I could do to make God love me any less.”

 

This revelation began to influence the way I see others.  Who was I to decide who was in and who was out?  Who was I to determine who was acceptable and who wasn’t?  Who was hold up hoops for people to jump through before I would love them the way Jesus loved them?  Who was I to create a list of qualifications about who was liked, loved, accepted, included, or adopted by God’s grace? Author and theologian Robert Farrar Capon once offered this incredible insight.  He wrote:  “Jesus came to raise the dead. The only qualification for the gift of the Gospel is to be dead. You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to be wise. You don’t have to be wonderful. You don’t have to be anything…you just have to be dead. That’s it.”

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