Through word and touch, we are no longer set apart; Jesus calls us to community and sacred life.
Today we are surrounded by some powerful women. Many of you do not know Charlotte and Piper, who we are baptizing today, but they came into the world fighting. While they were in the womb, their lives were threatened. Doctors were able to operate in the womb at twenty-one weeks to ensure their survival. Despite that help, they were born early and very tiny, but amazingly, had to have very little medical support. Once they gained weight, they were able to come home and enjoy a healthy infancy. My guess is that the strength these two children of God harnessed is what has pulled them through – a strength that their parents might regret when they hit their teenage years!
When we baptize Charlotte and Piper, we will baptize them into a communion full of strong saints – women who have paved the road before them, who have shown great faithfulness and strength, and who will serve as mentors and guides in their earthly pilgrimage. We meet a couple of those women today. First we meet Jairus’ daughter through her father. Now, we might not think of her as a strong woman, since she is near death, but this young woman was powerful nonetheless. She evokes such devotion in her father that he, a synagogue leader, is willing to bow down to the controversial Jesus and beg for healing for his dying daughter. Jairus’ love for this powerful young woman made him willing to cross boundaries, to show vulnerability, and put great faith in Jesus. We also know that Jairus’ daughter is twelve, about the age that women start menstruating, making them capable of producing life – one of the most powerful gifts of nature. Though she is at death’s door, her power as a woman and as an individual bring people like Jesus to her, so that she might be restored to wholeness of life.
Of course, we also meet another strong woman today. By all accounts, this woman should not have been strong. In those days, menstruation alone meant that women had to be separated from the community for a period of time for ritual impurity. But to have been bleeding for twelve years means that this woman has been ostracized from others for as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive. Furthermore, she spent all her money trying to obtain healing from doctors. Her poverty and her impurity make her a double outcast.[i] But this woman will not quit. She boldly steps into a crowd (likely touching many people that she ritually should not) and she grabs on to Jesus’ clothing, knowing that simply by touching Jesus she can be healed. She does not ask Jesus to heal her or mildly whisper among the crowds, “Excuse me Jesus, could you please heal me?” No, she takes matters into her own hands, and though Jesus demands to speak with her, her own determination and faith make her whole.
In many ways, the baptism that we witness today is a same expression of strength and faith. When we are baptized, we (or in the case of infants our parents and godparents) boldly claim the life of faith. We renounce the forces of evil and we rejoice in the goodness of God. We promise to live our life seeking and serving Christ, honoring dignity in others, and sharing Christ in the world. This action is not a meek or mild one. This action is an action of boldness – one in which we stand before the waters of baptism, and stake our claim in resurrection life.
Now, here’s the good news: even though we are surrounded by powerful women today and we are doing and saying powerful things, we do not always have to be strong. All the women we honor today are strong – but they have moments of weakness too.[ii] I am sure over the course of twelve years, the hemorrhaging woman has doubts. As bold as she is today, I am sure there are moments when she fears – maybe even that day – whether she could really reach out and claim Jesus’ power as her own. And as Jairus’ daughter feels the life fade from her, I am sure she doubts. I am sure she wonders whether she will ever be able to claim the life force that is budding inside of her or to live a long life honoring her parents. And though Charlotte and Piper have been warriors thus far in life, they will both have their own doubts and weaknesses. In fact, that is why we as a congregation today promise that we will do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ. That is why her parents and godparents promise by their prayers and witness to help them grow into the full stature of Christ. That is the good news today. For all the moments of strength that we honor in one another, we also honor the doubts, fears, and weaknesses. God is with us then too, and gives us the community of faith to keep us stable until we can be strong witnesses again. Amen.
[i] Mark D. W. Edington, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 190.
[ii] David Lose, “Come As You Are,” June 24, 2012 at https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1493 found on June 25, 2015.