“It is my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself.” These words began Franklin Roosevelt’s first inauguration speech, given in the darkest days of the Great Depression to give comfort, confidence, and courage to a desperate American populace. The fear of fear was something Roosevelt practiced through the even more trying days of WWII until his death 70 years ago. Inspiring words given by an inspirational leader. Yet what limits our fear so that it is contained by itself? Fear can grow and move with any of our many new challenges in our lives. When attacks by the devil and the world are at the point of overwhelming us, fear paralyzes our faith and trust in God. Yet God tells us to always trust the powerful Savior. Our human weakness cannot hinder his power and love.
Putting trust in God is something that is often talked about but less often done; “In God we Trust” is our nation’s motto after all. When we are faced with difficult circumstances it is natural to look to a stronger power. As children we turn to our parents, grandparents and teachers, later to friends, bosses, spouses, doctors and banks, corporations, and governments to aid us where we fall short. Yet all of those things can and have let us down. Who else can we turn to when all else fails? Sadly, we often turn to God as a last resort and ask him to help us. Many people did turn to Jesus when he walked on this earth, often in the most desperate of circumstances. Yes, they put their faith in Jesus, yet it was a faith that was timid and nervous.
In today’s reading we find the account of Jairus, the synagogue leader, begging Jesus to save his ill daughter’s life. We don’t know exactly where Jesus and his disciples landed after crossing the Sea of Galilee, but many believe that he returned to his base of ministry operations in Capernaum. By this time Jesus had already preached, driven out demons and healed many in this area. No doubt Jairus had heard of Jesus and he had ample opportunity to witness his ministry. Jairus was a lay leader in the synagogue, something similar to an elder or president in the congregation. He was a man who seemed to have a rather happy life. Jairus was a man blessed with a wife and daughter, a girl of 12 whom he still viewed as a dear little child. He had the respect of those in his community, and was wealthy enough to have servants. Yet, just like today, status cannot prevent a person from suffering hardships and disaster.
Whether his daughter’s illness came suddenly or progressed slowly, we do not know, but it is clear that the little girl’s life was in danger. It is a terrible feeling any parent has when he or she looks down on an ill child who is suffering in pain; all that is made worse by feeling powerless to help. Very quickly the perfect life can be clouded over by hopelessness. But Jairus had not lost all hope, he turned to only one who could help. In his time of need he looked Jesus.
One can see how distressing this situation was to Jairus, once he saw Jesus he immediately fell to his feet and begged for his precious little girl’s life. No words were necessary, of course Jesus was willing to go and help him. It was a desperate and urgent situation. Every minute counted. Yet, Jairus wasn’t the only one who desperately put hope in Jesus that day. A woman had been suffering for 12 years from internal bleeding, 12 years! That was the entire lifespan of Jairus’ daughter. She had spent her whole fortune on doctors, operations, and medicine in attempting to fix her condition. Yet despite their best human efforts, her bleeding became worse. We ourselves have experienced many similar stories. An illness or medical condition is no light matter. It can easily consume a person’s time and money and leave them a hollow shell of their former selves. Yet this woman too, had a glimmer of hope. At last she put her faith and trust in the power of Jesus and her faith was rewarded. She was healed.
Yet there is something disturbing in the faith of both Jairus and this woman. They both were hindered by fear. They had seen and heard of Jesus’ merciful healings and the love that he had to offer to everyone freely. Yet the woman too fell at Jesus’ feet and trembled with fear. While all this was happening, Jairus must have been standing by anxiously as precious time was lost by this woman’s distraction. Then he was dealt the heavy blow he was so desperately trying to avoid. Word came that his daughter had died, and this message was followed by very poor advice to leave Jesus alone and not to trouble him. “Don’t trouble the teacher anymore.” The servants thought it was hopeless now, a done deal. Jairus’ weak hope had been transformed by doubt into fear. Nothing could change the fact that his little girl was dead and gone forever.
Jairus must have been visibly distressed and afraid when he heard of his daughter’s death, for Jesus himself said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe!” A few days before Jesus came to heal Jairus’ daughter he calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee. During that storm his very own disciples were afraid that they would lose their lives. After calming their fears as well as the storm Jesus taught them that they should trust him. He would always care for them; with him their lives were secure. Jesus tells Jairus the same thing when it seems like all hope is lost.
As Jesus arrived at Jairus’ house he came across professional mourners who were already hard at work; wailing and crying loudly. Their job was to set and maintain a mood of sadness and defeat. The shaken Jairus would find no comfort in them. Once Jesus arrived there was no need of despair or distress. He sent them away, the girl was not gone forever, but only “sleeping.”
How often do we find ourselves in similar situations? No matter where we are in life you and I have hard things to do and many challenges to overcome. Homework and chores add up, responsibilities at home and at work can come into conflict. That nice nest you were building yourself may not look so cozy anymore. Relationships and health deteriorate, and yes, loved ones leave and die. Our natural reaction is to turn to ourselves first, we like to be self-reliant we like to be in control. But we are open to the idea of asking for help when we need it. We turn to family and friends, and professionals. Yet they too fail us; they cannot love and care for us perfectly. All this time we ignore the one standing by to strengthen, help and support us. God our Father, Savior and Comforter is always there in his Word and Sacraments. We know that our weakness in health or faith cannot stop God’s love and power. We know we don’t have to be afraid because Jesus teaches us not to be! He tells us clearly who he is. He is our prophet, priest and king, our sacrificial lamb who atoned for all our sins. Through baptism we are buried with him and raised with him. We cannot be separated from his love.
You see, all people have three common enemies: sin, death, and the devil. Jesus has defeated all of them. Throughout the Gospels we see how Jesus drove out demons, resisted temptation, healed frail bodies and forgave sins that only God could forgive. The whole time he also had power over death. Death was no longer final but temporary. A simple rest before we are raised and renewed After reassuring Jairus and encouraging his faith, he showed Jairus, his disciples, the mourners, and us that death cannot stop him. With two simple, yet powerful words, he fully restored life and health to that 12 year old girl; immediately she got up and even needed food. Jesus overcame the death which had claimed this girl. With his own death and resurrection Jesus has secured our own inevitable resurrection at the final call of the last trumpet of victory.
The pressures and distresses of this world can make us feel desperation and despair. We often face challenges that make us afraid for ourselves and our future. We are comforted by Jesus’ words to lose all fear, and simply trust and believe in him. Instead of turning to ourselves to find courage in dark times, turn to the one who heals and saves us from sin and death. Jairus and the suffering woman turned to Jesus in faith yet were hindered by fear. We have God’s own reassurances we need not have any fear at all, not even our weakness can kinder Jesus’ power and love. Whatever else happens, we know that Jesus is our life and eternal resurrection. Amen.