Rev. Isaac Bradshaw
June 27, 2021
Deuteronomy 15:7–1, Psalm 112, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, Mark 5:22 – 43
A few days ago, my brother and I got into a bit of an argument. It was one of those silly, text-based arguments, about a silly topic. We were discussing which Cold War movie was better: Hunt for Red October or Dr. Strangelove.
Now, if you’re not familiar with either one of them, a brief discourse: Dr. Strangelove was a 1964 movie about an Air Force general who sends his B-52 bombers to attack the Soviet Union without orders from the White House, and the plot hovers around recalling those bombers to prevent the destruction of the world. It’s a satire, so… It’s funny, but not haha, but more of a “hahahaha… ohh…” kind of funny. But serious content; the message is that the whole of the Cold War is kind of mad, insane, crazy.
The Hunt for Red October has a similar plot, except it’s about a Soviet submarine trying to reach the United States. But we dont’ know that, and the Soviets tell us that it’s coming to launch its missiles at us. Thankfully, Sean Connery is the captain of the Red October, and he’s never a villain. Also thankfully, Alec Baldwin plays the CIA analyst sent to figure out what the Red October’s intentions actually are: nuclear annihilation or to defect. I don’t think I need to do a spoiler warning on a 50-year-old movie, but suffice to say it carries its tone to the bitter end, with stock footage of atomic bombs detonating, the attendant mushroom clouds and Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again… Don’t know where, Don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day…”
The two movies have very different tones; Strangelove suggests that the insanity of the arms race can only win more and more insanity and eventual destruction. Red October, perhaps, gives a more hopeful vision: that in the hands of the right people, mostly Sean Connery and the CIA, all things can be resolved in good time and we can all cruise solemnly at night along the Connecticut River, talk about grandfathers and fishing, and quote Thomas Jefferson quotes to one another.
We like the happy endings, and thankfully, the historical events that inspired Strangelove and October ended with a happy ending. We like to see the good guys win, the bad guy lose, the sheriff arrest the bank robbers, the pirates get the treasure, the Death Star gets blowed up real good. Even when the ‘good guys’ are bad guys like in The Godfather, we root for the ‘good ending’ where all the enemies are wiped out and Michael Corleone outsmarts them all, even if it’s not particularly “happy.”
I think it’s the heart of the American framing of life generally that we tend to favor the good endings, and I suppose if we did some studies or whatnot we’d find that most people in the world somewhat expect a ‘satisfying’ ending. It suggests a world that is more like Hunt for Red October, with good guys and bad guys, a rational world that celebrates courage and doing the right thing, where truth is told, blind Lady Justice rules and the temptations of power are rejected.
I don’t mind to blow anyone’s mind, especially given the constant stream of stories erupting from our news feeds and chyrons and cable news…. But…
We live in such a world.
We live in a world where the good guys win, where courage and faith and doing the right thing is celebrated, truth is self-evident and lies are punished, and where Justice isn’t blind, but is set on the ultimate destruction of the unjust and corrupt.
We just haven’t seen the last scene yet.
I know this because of the gospel we read today, in which Jesus, not once, but *twice* heals and defeats death. Jairius, out of love for his daughter, seeks out Jesus to heal her. Jesus goes to the house but along the way, is stopped by a woman also asking for healing from a suffering bleeding disorder. Jesus heals her, but… and this an important point… the delay in reaching Jairus’ daughter means that his daughter dies. It’s Jesus’ stopping along the road and chatting that brings the story to what could be a terrible and.
Now, there are any number of parallels that we can draw between the bleeding woman and Jairus’ daughter; the daughter is 12 and the woman is hemoragging for 12 years. The woman would’ve been made ceremonially unclean and impoverished by her attempts to heal the bleeding. There are of course, 12 Tribes of Israel; the parallels seem to be clear: Jesus restores both old life and new. A woman made whole and able to ritually rejoin her community; a young girl is restored to new life. It is through the Jesus that both women, and symbolically, Israel, are restored. Jesus the source of life for both the suffering and the conqueror of death.
So we get a good ending, despite the little plot twist half-way through. We see the end of the third act. And we rejoice because that’s us; we’re the ones being made whole, we’re the ones being released from death.
And looking at our other readings we should start to see how this power is actuated as a Church. God issues this command to his people wandering in the desert: Therefore, I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ The passage from Deuteronomy makes it clear that to refuse to help our sisters and brothers, to leverage and put off the needy is sin. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians underlines this; that abundance exists to share, that blessings are not for us, but so that we can give those blessings to others
Because the reality is that we don’t always live in a world that is in the midst of the third act; we exist, liminally at the border between the second act and third, trusting and hoping that one day Jesus’ power will be made manifest, but at the same time refusing to act in faith, refusing to reach out and touch the hem of the garment. We are commanded by Scripture to look out for our neighbors’ material needs, we are given the example of the Corinthian church and told to do likewise. We may have faith in Jesus’ power, but we lack the faith in the Church’s sacramental presence on earth to affect change, to lead to a third act. And so we hover with the guests of Jairus, making weeping and commotion and asking “Why trouble the Teacher and longer?” So we hoard our wealth, hoard our grace, hoard our love, hoard our blessings and hoard our Christ, afraid that there will never be a third act. That Jairus’ daughter will stay dead.
I want to talk about another ending, one that is neither happy nor sad but simply one that is. Two summers ago HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries told the story of the 1986 nuclear disaster from the point of view of real-life Soviet scientist Valery Legasov and Soviet apparatchik Boris Scherbina. In the series the two characters start out polar opposites; Legasov quickly seizing the reality of the disaster, while Scherbina follows the state line of a minor, easily correctable error. By the last episode, Scherbina, now dying and diagnosed with cancer, turns to his friend Legasov and says: “I’m an inconsequential man, Valera. That’s all I’ve ever been. I hoped that one day I wouldmatter, but I didn’t. I just stood next to people who did.” His friend responds: “Everything we asked for, everything we needed; Men, material… lunar rovers… Who else could have done these things. They heard me, but they listened to you. Of all the ministers, of all the deputies, the entire congregation of obedient fools… They mistakenly sent the one good man. You were the one that mattered most.”
Will you be the one good person? Will you be the one that mattered most? To do so means not simply believing that there is a third act, a good ending, but *living* the third act, pouring out your blessing and heart and soul and body for the sake of others, to be a living sacrifice, to be the outward and visible sign of Jesus’ continued presence on this earth, working through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, faithfully trusting that the crying and commotion is wrong, that the girl is simply sleeping.
Who else could have done these things?