The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s125g12   Sunday 13  1/7/2012

'Talitha cum'    Mark 5.41

We really do have to deal with the conjunction of last week's gospel with this week's.   Last week we heard Jesus wondering why the disciples in the boat were fearful for their lives, yet this week we find Jesus raising this little girl from the dead, then telling people to keep it to themselves.   Either death is something not to be worried about, or indeed Jesus comes to save us from death.   And this follows directly on my thoughts from last week about the difference between faith and covetousness.

The raising of the various people from the dead, this girl, the widow's son from Nain and Lazarus, have most often been interpreted as a foretaste of the physical resurrection for which we all look forward.   Eternal life becomes a thing for the future, granted to one and denied to another, on what are actually rather esoteric grounds.   If the difference between faith and covetousness is so fine, it requires great discernment to spot it, and it is almost impossible to discern in oneself.

This 'god' is a phantom at best, nothing real like Jesus and the down to earth attitude to life he had.   We have only to read of the healing of the woman with the haemorrhages to realize how down to earth Jesus was.

We have somehow to deal with the fact that Jesus was more concerned with the health and welfare of people other than the disciples, and, of course, himself.

Woe betide any parish priest who is more concerned about the health and welfare of others rather than the members of the congregation!   But what is even worse, that the parish priest wants those others to be quiet about his or her concern.   The priest should get them to talk to all their friends about it and get them to come to church - like the rest of the congregation!   It just doesn't make sense!   The concern to get 'bums on pews' is essentially covetousness, not faith.

Discipleship and faith are the opposite of covetousness.  

And for me, it is vital to see that belief in an afterlife is no less covetous than belief in earthly blessings.   Belief in God, an afterlife, or God blessing one and not another, are no less selfish for all their religious finery.  

And covetousness is death, both personally and corporately, and Jesus takes us by the hand and lifts us to our feet saying 'Talitha cum' - giving us life - a life free of covetousness, not an excuse to sanctify our own experience of life and deny it to others who haven’t had precisely the same experience as us.   We are not freed from covetousness by becoming more powerful than others so we can inflict others rather than they afflict us.

If we are disciples because we or the church benefits at the expense of others, then we have got the message wrong.   The path of discipleship is where the well-being of all is the only consideration.   Nothing is more important than life without covetousness and it begins with us.  Indeed it is what we are prepared to lose our own lives for, and it is surely what God wants and wants the church to bring about.

I must repeat what I said in 1994 and 2009 that in this reading we have a graphic illustration of Jesus' blessing sexual intimacy.   When this woman was cured, she was enabled to enjoy intimacy again.   So passing from death to life is not away from real life and unmentionable things – but to life and the full enjoyment thereof.  It is important to realize that it is the woman’s enjoyment of physical intimacy that is important to Jesus – not quite a usual perception for a male, methinks.

For me it has been so important for me to explore my faith.   My reflections which led me to an appreciation of the substitutionary theory of the atonement just last week are a case in point.   The only sin deserving death is covetousness; indeed it spawns death and infects everyone around.   So Jesus died because of religious covetousness in order to free us from religious covetousness which is death.   It is only covetousness that actually brings some sense to much of the New Testament.

One of my increasingly regular reads is the Huffington Post.   Recently I found these words of Michelangelo Signorile: '.. recent events have underscored what we've known for a long time about the Vatican.   Men in the church who act out are protected and even rewarded, and lying is acceptable if it's in the service of covering for the church.   Women, however, are slammed for espousing compassion and truth if it deviates even slightly from what the men in charge have decided.   And homosexuals are blamed for everything.'   This ‘faith’ is really covetousness in religious finery.

One of the interesting things about modern society is that people will say that they are spiritual but not religious, and I suspect that this expresses a belief that they hold a faith while implicitly accepting that others hold a different faith which is no more and no less valid for them.   In this way they are saying that they are not covetous, and their rejection of religion is actually a rejection of covetousness, which they rightly see as demonic.

Death is life without others so life is being in community, and this applies as much on the corporate level of the church as it does on the personal level.   Jesus reaches out and takes us by the hand, and if we are willing as people and as a church ,bids us live rather than die, returning from isolation and death, to society and life.

Do we hear these words of Jesus addressed to us as individuals and as church: 'Talitha cum'?

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