I used to be a barista at Starbucks. The job was fine for the most part, but every now and then there would be customers who just drove me up the wall.
They’d be on their phone in line and when I’d ask them for their order they’d be like, “What? Ugh hold on, Sharon. Yeah, I want a decaf triple venti sugar free vanilla non-fat extra hot latte. And I’m running late, so if you could hurry? … Yeah, I know. I know, Sharon. I can’t believe he said that…”
You get the idea. These types of people made it abundantly clear that I was nothing more than an extra in the movie of their lives.
Ah but then there would be those rare, wonderful customers who just made everything better. They’d wait patiently, look me in the eye, ask me about my day… They seemed to genuinely care that they were interacting with another human being. It was so refreshing.
So what was it that made these customers so different? Why did one uplift my spirits and the other make me want to rip off my apron and run screaming into the woods?
Well, I think it comes down to one thing: paying attention.
One type of customer payed attention to the world around them. They acknowledged the shared humanity of those they met. They took a genuine interest in the people they were interacting with.
The other? Well the other just couldn’t be bothered. They were self-absorbed. Inattentive. Completely blind to the people right in front of their faces.
And do you want to know what scares me? I think this type of person is getting more and more common these days. Attentiveness is like a dying art.
We are addicted to our phones. We are glued to our TVs. We’ve never met our neighbors.
It is now a common sight for a whole group of people to be in the same room hanging out together with every single one of them starting into a glowing screen.
And I’m guilty of it too! When I’m in line at the grocery store I have like 3 seconds of patience before my hand starts twitching to pull out my phone.
Friends, this is a big deal for us in the Church. I think this trend is dangerous.
Being attentive is part of what it means to be a Christ follower, and we seem to be forgetting how.
So today I want us to consider together how we can re-learn how to pay attention and why it matters in the first place.
We are in a series called Formerly Known as Christian. We realize the nickname “Christian” carries a lot of baggage with it today, so we are exploring what the name actually meant to the first people who were called by it.
To do that, we’re looking at the book of Mark, which scholars believe was one of the earliest books in the New Testament. The stories in this book were most likely ones told by the Apostle Peter, who actually lived and walked with Jesus. One of his 12 disciples.
And so Mark, who was one of Peter’s friends, at some point wrote down these stories. Because they both knew that the Church needed to understand who Jesus really was, and whose life they were being called to imitate.
Today we’re going to look at two stories in Mark 5. [House Bibles]
Now, these stories actually weave into one another and, in my opinion, they both reveal a simple but profound truth about the character of Jesus:
Jesus paid attention.
Ok. So let’s dive in. I’ll read the story and then share a few thoughts as we go along.
Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.” Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him.
Alright. Let’s stop right here. Right off the bat we see that Jesus has an incredible amount of compassion.
I mean, if you look at the passages leading up to this one, you can see that Jesus’ pace has been relentless. He and his disciples have been going back and forth across the Sea of Galilee, and it seems like every time Jesus puts his foot on dry land, he’s faced with desperately sick people, demons, angry mobs, and crushing crowds of devotees. It’s exhausting!
And yet here, a terrified father falls at Jesus’ feet asking for help, and Jesus doesn’t hesitate. He sees the father’s need and responds immediately.
THE BLEEDING WOMAN
But while he’s on the way, another hurting person interrupts his plans. Let’s keep reading.
A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.
Alright. Let’s talk about this woman a bit before we go on. I think the significance of this passage is often lost on us because we don’t understand all of the cultural realities she was facing.
First of all, having a condition of constant bleeding in the ancient world would have been incredibly miserable. She would have faced infections, pain, and anemia. They didn’t have Clorox bleach back then, so her clothes were probably been stained and smelled bad.
Can you imagine how embarrassing and shameful her day to day life would have been?
Second, she spent all her money seeing doctors. But when you read that don’t imagine doctors with stethoscopes and surgical gloves. These might have been a bit more like what we think of as “witch doctors”. They probably used incantations, questionable potions, and all sorts of horrific “solutions” to her problem. The passage says they made her worse, not better.
Ugh. Are you feeling for this woman yet?
Finally, though, and this is the big one: in that 1st century Jewish culture, a woman bleeding the way she was would have been considered ceremonially unclean. Spiritually tainted. Permanently.
You see, in the Old Testament law, it says that women who were bleeding were ritually unclean, and anyone who touched them was also unclean. This meant they weren’t able to worship in the synagogue. They weren’t able to be around friends or family.
By the time Jesus came on the scene, the religious leaders in Israel had made a rule that whenever women were on their periods, they had to actually live in “menstrual huts,” away from the community.
And this women, according to the law, was menstruating all the time. Isolation. Solitude. Loneliness.
Can you even imagine?
Living in constant pain, penniless, ostracized from everyone around her, and considered unqualified to worship God… This woman was desperate.
So desperate, that she pushed and shoved her way through a crowd of people just to reach Jesus, compromising the spiritual status of every person she touched. Everybody she bumped into was now unclean. She was willing to do anything to find relief.
By touching Jesus’ robe, this desperate woman was healed, but her story didn’t end there. Look at what happens next. Verse 30.
Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?” His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”
Go in peace. Your suffering is over.
Jesus was in a hurry, right? To get to Jairus’ house and heal his dying daughter. He had every right to just keep on walking once this woman was healed. Nobody had to know what had happened. But Jesus was not content to simply heal her body.
Why? Because Jesus paid attention. He knew that her pain went far deeper than just her physical condition. He understood her plight as a social outcast.
He wanted to heal her body, sure. But he also wanted to dignify her in the eyes of her community.
And so Jesus brought an entire crowd of people to a stop. He searched intently for the woman. He acknowledged her. He looked her in the eyes. And in front of everybody there he declared that she was healed.
“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”
This woman could have friendships again. She could have dignity. For the first time in twelve years she could touch people and be touched. She could walk through town without being stared at. She could be normal.
Her suffering was truly over.
Jesus paid attention to this woman and he healed her… completely.
I find that little encounter so beautiful, don’t you? And I am so glad we have it recorded.
But of course, the story isn’t over, because Jesus is still on his way to Jairus’ house. Let’s read what happens next.
While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.” But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”
Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James). When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing. He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”
The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying. Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and then he told them to give her something to eat.
Ok, yet again, we see that Jesus was extremely attentive to those around him. He paid attention.
In this case, Jesus was attentive not so much to the girl, although of course he raised her from the dead, but to her whole family. Here’s why.
First of all, Jesus keeps the witnesses to this miracle pretty limited. Just Peter, James, John, Jairus, and his wife. That’s it. He didn’t want it to be a public spectacle.
Second, he tells all the mourners that the girl is only sleeping. He wanted to set the stage, so when the girl comes walking out into the living room, they would all say, “Oh, I guess we were mistaken. She really was just sleeping!”
Why is this important?
Well, Jairus was a public figure in town. He was one of the leaders of the synagogue. Everybody knew him. Everybody knew his wife. And I believe Jesus understood that if he were to publicly do something as spectacular as raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, it would completely take over the reputation of this couple and of their daughter.
“Oh hey look, there go the parents of that girl who was resurrected!”
“I saw that girl who died at the well this morning. How do we know it isn’t just a spirit taking over her body?”
You see, in the ancient world, people believed that if someone died, a supernatural force might reanimate their body. It was associated with witchcraft and the dark arts. I don’t think Jesus wanted this girl growing up in the shadow of those kinds of rumors.
So he lets people assume she really was just asleep the whole time. Just another sick person healed by Jesus.
Jesus paid attention to this family’s need.
Oh, and get this. There’s this last little line about Jesus telling them to get the girl something to eat. Now, it’s possible that he was just concerned she was hungry after being dead for a bit.
But it’s also possible he’s doing this because back then, watching someone eat food was considered proof that they really were alive - that they weren’t just some dark spirit reanimating a body.
But who was there to see her eat? Just her parents. He didn’t want them to have even a hint of a doubt in their mind about whether their daughter had actually returned.
Jesus paid attention! He was constantly attentive to the needs of those around him. Physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs, relational needs.
Jesus paid attention.
And I think the conclusion to draw here is obvious: Jesus paid attention. So should the people who follow him.
Christ-followers pay attention to the needs of those around them.
So ok. Let me ask you this: Do you?
Do you pay attention to people you encounter? As you walk through your day to day life, do you notice when people are lonely, in pain, or suffering? Do you see it?
In his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul says this to the Christ-followers living there:
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
So. Do you look out for your own interests? Or do you take an interest in others, too?
Are you attentive?
Now. Here’s the part in the sermon where I would normally start talking about paying attention to the Holy Spirit. I’d explain how we can be like Jesus because the Holy Spirit can open your inner-eyes to see things even beyond what’s visible.
· I’d talk about how you can sense when a person is struggling with something, even if they don’t look like it.
· Or how you can get nudges to pray for people and only later find out that at that exact moment something was happening to them.
· Or even how you can hear the Spirit’s voice and share words of truth with someone that come directly from God himself.
That’s what I’d normally talk about now. But I’m not going to.
I’m not going to talk about being attentive to the Holy Spirit, because I don’t think most of us know how to be attentive, period.
Like I said at the beginning, I think inattentiveness is becoming an epidemic in our culture. We are walking through our world like zombies.
And if we’re honest, the majority of Christ-followers here don’t seem to be living any differently than the rest of our culture.
So instead of being super theological, I want to instead get insanely practical. I want to give you just a few ideas of what attentiveness could look like in our world. The first tiny steps on the road to paying attention like Jesus.
#1: Alright. We’re going to start with something really challenging. Ready? Watch this. (Turn phone face down) The next time you’re in a meeting with someone or having a meal with someone, turn your phone face down.
Don’t leave it face up on the table so you get distracted every time… someone favorites your tweet. Want to take it to the next level? Keep your phone in your pocket or in your purse. Even more extreme? Turn on “Do Not Disturb” when you go into a meeting or into class. *Gasp* I know. It’s crazy.
Learn to pay attention to the person right in front of you.
#2: Ok. Here’s another one. Everybody grab your wallet. If you have a credit card or debit card, get it out and hold it. Ok, now look at the little chip in your card. These are becoming pretty universal, right? See the chip? Ok. The next time you are checking out somewhere and you put this chip into the machine… look up. Just look up!
Make eye contact with the person serving you. You know it takes a few seconds for the card to verify. Look up. If you’re feeling really wild, ask them how their day is going.
Pay attention. You never know who God might put in your path if you have your eyes open.
#3: Ok. Let’s take it up a notch. This next one might be uncomfortable for some of you, but it’s a phenomenal way to practice attentiveness. The next time you feel the urge to tell someone, “I’ll be praying for you,” try changing it slightly to, “Can I pray for you right now?”
Actually take a moment right then and there to pray for them. Oh, I know that’s uncomfortable. But I never feel more fully present with someone than when I’m praying out loud for their specific needs. Try it!
#4: And finally, this one is definitely a bit crazy in our culture, but the next time you hear of a friend or classmate or coworker needing to go to the hospital, go visit them. Even if you’re not super close!
Bring them snacks or flowers or a card. Yeah, I know it’s weird! And I know it’s possible they might be like, “Uh, thanks?”
But it’s also possible that you could be the living embodiment of Jesus in that person’s life at a critical time. You could blow their minds with your ridiculous compassion. You actually care?!?
By overcoming a tiny bit of awkwardness and being attentive, you could give them a glimpse of the love, compassion, and hope that can be found in this community of Christ-followers - the Church.
Or you can turn your phone over. The point is - be attentive.
Try it out! If you do, if you open your eyes and attend to the needs of those around you, your life will start to look a lot more like Christ’s, and God can use you to change this world.
And guys. Can you even imagine? Can you imagine what it would be like if the people of Grace Church began to pay attention? If we went out into this hurting, chronically anxious world with eyes wide open, with hearts dialed in, with compassion?
Not just Jesus by himself restoring the dignity of a single hurting woman - or a single grieving family, but hundreds, thousands of us - his followers - offering hope and joy to our entire community… to every broken life God puts in our path. Can you imagine?
Our neighbors are desperate to be known. Desperate to be loved. We are the body of Christ. The very hands and feet of Jesus in this world. We can give our lonely neighbors what they’re looking for, and it starts with opening our eyes.
We can pay attention. We can heal the brokenness. And we can say in the words of our savior, Jesus, “Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”