In our story from the Gospel today I would like us to look at that portion of the story with the 12-year girl. We hear that the father of the girl is a leader at the synagogue and comes to Jesus because his daughter is dying and he wants to have Jesus come and lay hands on her for healing.
Jesus puts it off and as the story unfolds the girl apparently dies and the people see the coming of Jesus as too late to help her. But, he goes anyhow. And we are told that she recovers and lives again including being told to eat something.
I have often wondered about this story as to what learning’s took place and take place for us. The words Jesus uses to address the young girl is “KUMI” which translates to “Rise up” “Rise up”.
This young 12-year girl began life at some point when she was born. Someone, just like you and I, were patted on the rear end and we screamed out with our first breath. We were alive and began breathing regularly. It is the mystery we are all a part of…..life itself. A gift given and received and the other mystery we live with is death. At some point we will breathe our last breath and be beyond this world and we wonder about what the next stage of our being will be. And it becomes the mystery that millions of books have been written about and religious beliefs develop.
But, back to our story. We do not know the story of the 12-year girl. Was she handicapped? Was she able to talk about this experience later? Did she take her last breath and die? That is what the story tells us. “KUMI”, rise up Jesus tells her. Her eyes open. Did she scream like when she was a baby?
What happened to her? We do not know. Did she live another 5, 10, 20, 40 years? Did she have children of her own? Did she repeat this story and give thanks for her new life? Did she forget about it and get lost in the routine of everyday living…all this time breathing life…rising up each morning to face a new day. Living until she died again.
How many times did she rise up over the years? I know in my own experience I have had several near death experiences…car wrecks, accidents, and cramps while swimming, surgery. The mystery of my life continues. And the word “KUMI” came to me, “rise up” as an individual, as a culture, as a people, as a community, we are asked to “rise up” and live again. At in all times and in all places, it is who we are. “Rise Up”.
Some of our learning to “rise up” and live can be transformative. I knew a woman who at one time who had been abandoned on the streets off a country in South America. She was five years old and her parents left her on a city corner and never returned for her. She grew up in an orphanage and later became educated, married, and had a family of her own. She came to visit us and we went to the Lloyd Center shopping. Her six-year-old daughter disappeared, wandered off and was lost and found 20 minutes later. But the mother had flashbacks of being abandoned and later had to receive treatments in the hospital to be able to “rise up” and live again. I am sure many of us have memories of moments of learning the hard lessons of what it means to breathe and live and “rise up”.
One of my earliest memories of being raised in West Texas was the intense heat. When I was very young we had no air-conditioning and the heat was often over 100 degrees. I remember a Latino woman who took care of us as children when my mother worked. She would put me down for a nap on the bare floor in the heat of the day and I can still remember the coolness of the floor that allowed me to go to sleep and “rise up” to play again. As I was put on the floor, I can still remember her words, “pobrecito” “poor little one” in Spanish.
Each of us can turn to moments in time when we grew up. It might have been a decision you made. It might have been a controversy or an argument won or an argument loss.
But something changed because of our learning in a moment of time. The Latino woman that took care of our family when my mother was working had a son in the Korean War on an aircraft carrier. She received word one day of his death when a plane crashed on a return flight. She was grief stricken. I was only 12 and knew little of what to say or do. But, I had received a gift at Christmas of a $20 bill and put it at the bottom of her purse knowing she would find it someday and because she was needy I knew she could use it. I never knew what happened to her in finding my anonymous gift. I do know that I learned about the need to give beyond ones own self.
When I was ordained here at Grace Memorial in 1968, Elaine and I made a commitment to tithe 10% of our income to the Church and organizations we wanted to support. We have continued that for the 53 years of my priesthood. “Rise Up”…life awaits you…what’s next? How do I affect the future yet to unfold? “KUMI” rise up.
This story has some bad history for me in my own time in the priesthood. Forty-five years ago I had a woman in the hospital with a broken hip. She had a group of faith healers come to her bed in the hospital and read this passage of scripture and they asked her to get out of bed and walk. They told her she was healed. She stepped out of bed, fell down and broke her other hip. The saddest part of the story is that the prayer group blamed her for not having enough faith. Four of the five doctors in the county were members of my church and were disturbed that religious people were allowed in the hospital to do such things. Rise up was not the answer for her as the people wanted for her. Healing needed to take time.
The young woman in the story today had a purpose for living. We don’t know beyond this story what that purpose was but we can imagine she joined in a long line of people who were able to assist others in their own journey of life.
We are at a new moment of “KUMI” through out this nation and through out the world. The pandemic is leaving us with many scars that will take time to heal from our isolation, our lack of family ties, our day-to-day routines.
We cannot remember our first breath or the cry we expressed as we came into the world. But our breathing is life itself and to rise to new moments, to hear “KUMI” “rise up” to receive a new lease on life. To look at yourself in the mirror and thank God for being here in God’s creation as a servant to others.
“KUMI” “Rise Up”
[McFerrin’s Psalm 23]
There is a video making the rounds on social media. Maybe you have seen it. It’s short and to the point.
More than one person has shared that video with a caption that goes something like this:
Actual footage of me and my relationship with Jesus.
That’s hilarious. And it’s accurate. It’s one of those jokes that tells the truth.
In the hymn Amazing Grace we sing, “I once was lost but now I’m found.” But I wonder if those words might be more accurate if they went, “I keep on getting lost and I keep on getting found.”
This is Good Shepherd Sunday, the day every year on which we hear Psalm 23, probably the most famous and most beloved of all the psalms. (If you grew up in a certain tradition, there is a good chance that you know the King James translation of Psalm 23 by heart.) And it is the day as well in which we hear Jesus make this staggering and enigmatic promise:
I am the good shepherd.
What I am noticing in particular this year as I listen to Psalm 23 and Jesus is that each of these readings name danger, they name hurt, they name loss. Yea, the Psalmist writes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for you are with me. And Jesus – well Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is talking about the sheep – you and me – living in danger from wolves.
From the beginning, the church has had to wrestle with the paradox that on the cross and in the empty tomb God defeated death and that, simultaneously, death and, more broadly, suffering and unfairness and injustice remained. We still die. Awful things still happen. That kind of seemed wrong to the first Christians. And, I don’t know about you, but it kind of seems wrong to me today. If we are living in the time of Easter – and I don’t just mean this particular season, but rather the almost 2000 years after Jesus’ resurrection – shouldn’t all of that be over?
I guess that I am thinking about hurt persisting after resurrection this week because this is the week in which I got the news that a friend’s cancer has likely metastasized. “Metastasized” being a variation on a lovely ancient Greek word that in, this case, means that the monster inside of my friend that is eating him alive has given birth. Nationally, this was the week in which we witnessed the trial of Derek Chauvin and held complicated feelings as we did so. While there was a glimpse of justice in the verdict, George Floyd remains dead and a guilty verdict against a police officer for this sort of crime remains vanishingly unusual. And here at Grace, this is the week in which our beloved friend and longtime groundskeeper, Frank Schramling, died. We’re going to be doing a parish workday at Grace on Saturday, May 15th – you’re invited to help – and as we encounter the layers of grief in Frank’s death, a big layer will come as we work on Grace’s grounds and he is not there.
The resurrection has happened. We live in the time of Easter. And all of this hardship is still true and real.
In case it’s not obvious, I’ve just painted myself into a corner. If a solid structure for a speech is to pose a question and then to answer that question, I’m kind of hooped. Because, as my old Jesuit theology professor, George Griener, put it, theology – the words that we say about God – are nowhere more incomplete and inadequate than when it comes to suffering and evil.
Lots of folks have tried to give a neat and complete answer to why suffering exists and, in particular, why it exists after Easter. When the door-to-door religion peddlers come to your house, they will cheerfully hand you a pamphlet that explains everything. And just yesterday on Facebook I encountered someone making the extraordinary (and yet extraordinarily common) claim that everything happens for a reason.
What the hell is the reason that my friend’s cancer has metastasized?
What the hell is that a conviction such as Derek Chauvin’s is vanishingly unusual?
What the hell is the reason that Frank is dead?
Do not insult anyone’s suffering by trying to give an easy answer to those questions.
Give them the dignity of sitting with a question that, at least this side of heaven, does not have a good answer.
Maybe I started this morning with poetry (what are the psalms if not ancient poems?) and song because, sometimes, art has a capacity to hold mystery in a way that an argument or a speech or a thesis cannot. We could write books about where Jesus is in suffering – lots of people have, and lots of those books are glorious and consoling and important – but come the end of the book we would still have the sense that our questions were unanswered, that we had barely touched the beginnings of an answer. In art, in beauty, we sometimes catch a glimpse of God, of truth, of love in a way that we cannot via any other means.
So, as I hold the news of my friend’s diagnosis, as our nation holds the news of Dereck Chauvin’s trial, as our parish holds the news of Frank’s dying, let’s sing. Let’s sing about how the Lord is your shepherd and mine. About how we, Jesus’ sheep, walk through the valley of the shadow of death. About how, even in this Easter time, we keep on falling into that ditch beside the road. About our trust, our trust in spite of everything, that Jesus is with us and will pull us back out.