5 Pentecost Proper 8B (Independence Day)   
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 5:21-24b; 35-43 Sermon                                          
July 1, 2012

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal and With One Voice):
TLH 1 "Open Now The Gates Of Beauty"
TLH 529 "I Leave All Things To God's Direction"
TLH 394 "My Faith Looks Up To Thee"
WOV 771 "Great Is Thy Faithfulness"
TLH 577 "God Bless Our Native Land"

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 Taylor Morris

The land of the free because of the brave!


TEXT (vs. 21-24b):  “21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, 'My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.' 24a And he went with him.

            It was back in the early part of May this year that I received an Email from Pastor Roger Twito from Ascension Lutheran in Ames, Iowa.  Here's what he had to say:  "Please pray for Taylor Morris. He is a good family friend and our son Daniel's best buddy throughout high school. He was wounded in Afghanistan last Wednesday [May 3, 2012] while serving with the U.S. Navy. There were 10 of them (8 [Army] Green Beret plus 2 members (including Taylor) of [Navy] special operations) caught in a firestorm. They ran out of ammunition and tried to shoot their way to an escape with just their pistols. He stepped on an IED [improvised explosive device] and lost two legs, one arm and the hand off of the other arm. He is now at the [Walter Reed] military hospital near Washington D.C."

            Pastor Twito solicited the prayers from his brothers in the ministry for this young man.  Considering the close association the Twitos, especially Daniel have with this young man, a catastrophe of this nature really rocked their world.  And I can't even begin to imagine the impact all of this has had on his family, especially his parents Dan and Juli Morris, his sisters Molly and Claire, his brother Riley, and his girlfriend Danielle Kelly.  This is the man you see pictured on the cover of your bulletin this morning (at the top of the page if you're reading this on the Internet).

            If you would permit me, I'm going to share with you some excerpts from various news articles and internet sites, just so you get an idea of what kind of guy Taylor Morris is.

              "After graduating high school in 2007, Taylor joined the Navy with hopes of becoming a Navy Seal.  Those who know him best know he always sets out to conquer the hardest and most challenging tasks. Taylor ultimately found his passion as a Navy EOD tech.  EOD stands for Explosive Ordinance Disposal, which meant Taylor was trained to know the ins and outs of bombs....In January of 2012, Taylor was deployed on his first tour to Afghanistan, set to return August 2012. We always wanted him to come back as soon as possible, missing his energetic spirit and love of life, but we never imagined it would be under these circumstances.  On May 3, 2012, Taylor was injured in action.  The injuries were profound, but he stayed conscious immediately afterwards.  He was able to tell his partner to call Danielle and family to tell them everything.  He sustained injuries to all four limbs, entailing loss of both legs, left arm from the bicep down, and right hand."

            Taylor Morris remembers and feels everything. He remembers the explosion that blew him off the ground and took portions of all his limbs.

            He still feels his hands — every knuckle, every fingernail — as though they’re knotted up inside him and being crushed, and the stinging where his legs were, as though they’ve fallen asleep.... Morris said he was conscious and alert throughout the May 3 ordeal, despite excruciating pain.

            He was clearing a path for Special Forces comrades to take up defensive positions in a building prior to an attack from insurgents. He stepped on an improvised explosive device, undetected by his equipment.

            “It threw me 10 feet in the air. I think I probably did about six back flips. Fortunately, I landed on my back,” he said.

            He had been careful to distance himself from nearby soldiers, and his body screened them from injury when the IED detonated.

            There was about 10 seconds of dead silence. It took about 20 minutes for comrades to get to him.  For a time they couldn’t see him.

            “The dust cloud, the ‘moon dust’ in that area, is really hard to see through. The dirt and dust really caked up on my sunglasses,” he said.

            As comrades called out to him, he indicated he needed help. Another explosive ordnance disposal expert began carefully making his way towards Morris. When the area was cleared, a medic got to him.

            Morphine and other drugs would not put him to sleep or deaden the pain — probably, he suspects, due to an adrenaline boost.

            “They asked me how much it hurts on a scale of 1 to 10.  I said, ‘Definitely a 10. It freaking hurts,’“ he said.

            Medical crews and comrades were under fire as they came to his aid. The got him on a stretcher and he was evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in Kandahar and then to Germany. Somewhere between those final two stops, he finally lost consciousness after a doctor administered a strong sedative."

            Of course there's a whole lot more to this story, but this gives you at least some idea of what one very dedicated and courageous individual did in defense of his country.

            This past week at synod convention, Pastor Twito talked about this young man, and gave everyone a bit of an update about him.  He continues to improve each day.  When I talked to Pastor Twito privately, he told me that Taylor had been fitted with a prosthetic hand that has been attached to the nerves in his arm.  He was so happy that he could actually pick up a brownie from a plate and eat it.  That is indeed a major accomplishment.

            As we move into our Gospel lesson for today as recorded by Mark the Evangelist, one of the things emphasized by Mark is that Jesus has authority over all things.  He heals diseases, casts out demons, and even controls the wind and the waves.  That's a very impressive list of accomplishments.  And as he teaches the people, he does so with the full authority of God himself.  Certainly Jesus is capable of doing anything.

            Of course news like this spread rapidly.  People came to Jesus from all over to receive his healing touch.  Disease, injury, demon possession, and just about every malady imaginable were things that Jesus dealt with all the time.  And when someone couldn't come, then people would intercede on their behalf.  They would approach Jesus and ask for his help for someone else.

            This is what happened in our Gospel lesson for today.  The daughter of Jairus was very ill, to the point of death.  But when the daughter actually died, people came from the home to Jairus.  "Why trouble the teacher any further?" they say.  As far as they were concerned, death was the end of it all.  Every hope had been exhausted.

            You see, nobody had ever asked Jesus to cure death.  It probably never occurred to them that Jesus had the power it would take to reverse it.  As great of a miracle worker as Jesus was, raising someone from the dead was too much to expect from him.

            So what does Jesus tell Jairus?  He says, "Do not fear; only believe."  Jairus had to be beside himself with grief.  But Jesus comes through with a ray of hope in his sad and gloomy situation.  Death would not have the final victory.

            There must have been quite a crowd of people gathered at Jairus's home.  They knew what had happened.  So Jesus sends them all away, because he knew that such a miracle would create quite a scene.  So he takes only Peter, James, and John as witnesses.  And then taking the girl by the hand, he says, "Little girl, arise!"  And she gets up and begins walking around.  Jesus had indeed conquered death.

            One of the things this shows us, is that Jesus has the ultimate power over absolutely anything that would ever attack us or hurt us.  He has control over every evil.  And that most certainly is a great comfort to us.

            This morning, I chose the theme, "God does, and God doesn't."  By this I mean that God indeed does act, but he doesn't always act in the way we want him to or expect him to.  Sometimes people are healed and cured, and sometimes they aren't.  We don't know what God's plans are in any situation.  Some people are miraculously cured against some pretty heavy odds, while others die from relatively routine procedures.  Some people suffer life-long debilating effects from a particular illness or accident, while others experience a complete recovery with no effects whatsoever.  God does, and God doesn't.  We just have to trust his purpose, and know that it is for our ultimate good.

            The thing that is important for us to remember from this story, is that Jesus has indeed conquered death.  What he demonstrated with the daughter of Jairus pales in comparison to what he did himself.  Jesus experienced death on the cross, but it was powerless against him.  He rose from the dead and proved that he had conquered every evil, even Satan himself.

            Sin is the cause of death, pure and simple.  God did not design us to die.  He designed us to live forever in eternity, and that's still his purpose.  When mankind fell into sin, mankind also invited death into the world.  Because of sin, we all will experience earthly death at some point in the future.  Even the daughter of Jairus that Jesus raised would also die again.  That's a fact of life.

            The point of our Gospel lesson is to demonstrate what Jesus came to do.  He came with power over death that would give life, eternal life to all who believe.

            Through faith in Jesus, that power over death is now ours too.  Through faith in him, we have the forgiveness of sins he bought with his own blood.  And since our sins have been forgiven, we now will have life as God intended us to have.  We will live forever in his kingdom once our earthly life has passed.  Faith alone gives us this guarantee.

            This past week, I heard another very sad story.  One gentleman told me about what happened to him when he was working in a gasoline station in Oklahoma years ago.  This car pulled in with a man and his wife.  His wife was in the final stages of terminal cancer.  This man had sold literally everything he had and sent the money to Oral Roberts so his wife could be healed.  He was so broke that he couldn't even afford the gasoline to take him those last several miles to Tulsa so Oral Roberts could do some faith healing on her.  This man said that he doubted if she ever got to actually see him.  It wasn't too long after that incident that he learned she had died.  That was a sad situation, which probably destroyed this man's faith, and most likely his wife's faith too.

            God doesn't bilk people out of all their money on false hopes and promises.  We know he hears and answers prayers.  But we also know that God answers according to his will, and not ours.

            On the flip side of this, one of the older pastors at the convention had been diagnosed with kidney cancer.  He got up and told the assembly that he had just received the results of his latest tests, and he is cancer free.  What a miracle in his life!

            Another older pastor talked privately to me about his battle with alcohol addiction, and how it had affected his life.  He had to go through treatment three times.  But the third time worked for him, and he has been clean and sober for quite a few years.  He has no desire to go back to drinking again.  That is a miracle in his life!

            As I think about Taylor Morris and his recovery, God saw fit to spare his life.  But God did not cause new hands, arms, and legs to just sprout where the old ones were.  That's not the way God has chosen to deal with him.  God does, and God doesn't.

            Taylor was not without his times of despondency either.  In talking to another wounded comrade at Walter Reed, the man told him: "...every day, it’s going to get better and better.  I promise you’ll feel better with every tube they pull out of your body and every time they take you off one of those meds.  If you get up on that floor where all those other guys are, rehabilitating and taking therapy, I’m telling you, you’re going to feel better and better."

            Taylor responded, “And now, I’m feeling pretty good, about a 3 on 1-to-10 pain scale."

            Every year around July 4th, I like to have a sermon with a patriotic theme.  I think that it is important for us to be reminded about the blessings we have as citizens of the United States of America, and what people endure for us to have the blessings we do.  Taylor is a living example of someone who has placed his life on the line for you and for me.  We owe him a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to adequately pay.  Of the reasons God has for allowing him to continue his life on this earth, one big reason has to be as a reminder for us that the price of freedom is not cheap.  He went forth willingly to do what he had to do, so we could be the land of the free because of the brave.

            We are also reminded of a Saviour who also gave his life for our freedom.  He bought our freedom with his blood, so we would be truly free from sin, death, hell, and Satan.  For Jesus, the war is over.  Sin has been paid for.  Death has been conquered.  And Jesus is alive and active today as living proof that he has power over everything.

            Today, let’s take some time to give special thanks to God for the brave men and women of our armed forces who have volunteered to serve this country.  They are doing so because they believe what we have is worth preserving.

            So we pray for them.  We pray that those injured would be healed.  We pray for the families who have lost their loved ones in this war and previous wars.  And we pray that they would all know their Saviour and the blessings he brings to their lives, even in the face of adversity.


NOTE:  You can read more about Taylor Morris by
visiting his website:  www.taylormorris.org 

Some quotations were excerpted from a
Cedar Falls Gazette article of May 31, 2012