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Free Sample for June 28,2015
By David Howell
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Preaching Mark 5:21-43
The challenge to this week’s lectionary reading is the dilemma of having too much of a good thing. Contained in this passage from Mark is the poignant story of Jairus and his daughter that resonates through every congregation. Parents, grandparents, godparents, babysitters, battle-scarred public school teachers—anyone who has loved and cared for a sick child will be waiting for the punch-line good news: Talitha cum, “Little girl, get up.” (5:41). Without missing a beat, we then literally run into the powerful story of the desperate woman who gets in Jesus’ way. This ancient biblical narrative has empowered countless women in body, mind and ministry. “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
What always accompanies the reading and hearing of this gospel of healing is the counterpoint of experience in which physical healing was not possible. The child did not wake up. The bleeding did not stop. Heart-breaking, unspoken questions about suffering and a God of love vibrate just under the surface of this week’s lesson. So what’s a preacher to do with this text (This question takes for granted that there are weekly Bible studies, mission projects, grief counseling, spiritual formation events, and good pastoral care undergirding every sermon preached every Sunday)?
These two dynamic narratives of redemption and healing are closely wrapped together in Mark’s gospel of the Son of God. The two stories literally interrupt each other in their desire to witness to the “good news of Jesus Christ” (1:1). There are reams of scholarship on each of these storylines of grace, and the temptation might be to separate the strands in order to explore each in greater depth, given the ordinary time constraints of a Sunday sermon.
A woman is hemorrhaging. She’s been bled dry of everything but hope. She risks everything to reach out for a stranger she’s only heard about. That will preach. What about the desperate father, a teacher, religious leader, who makes a fool of himself for the sake of a dying child? What of the mother who is fighting to hold death at bay but knows her little girl is slipping away? Jesus has the power to restore her life, but he and the congregation have to hurry.
The choice to separate or silence one witness for the sake of the other should be resisted. The stories are wound so tightly together that it will wound each to separate them. Look to where the stories are joined at the hip: Jairus and the unnamed woman recognize who Jesus is and know what kind of power he brings: exousia. He has the power of authority and of right. He has both influence and privilege. He has the ability and strength to heal. He has the freedom to offer that healing or withhold it.
Jairus and the woman know that Jesus the Teacher has exousia. Their knowing fuses the two stories together, for there are others who do not know. Compare this authority of Jesus with the authority of leaders of the synagogues, the doctors, the professional mourners, the disciples. They also have exousia, but it is lacking; it is limited. They only have the authority that is given from external sources; their power depends on others’ recognition. The Teacher’s authority comes from within. It is ousia, or Being. It is what it is and will be forever. The Son of God doesn’t need external recognition to exercise his authority.
We hear the question of Mark 4:41 asked again, “Who then is this?” and that question is answered by Jairus, the unknown woman, and the unnamed child. This is the Life of Life, God of God. This is the Teacher.
One sermonic suggestion is to give voice to a child as part of this sermon. The following monolog was written for a young girl who was confirmed on this Sunday. She gives “voice” to all those who want to answer that question for themselves.
I heard the news today.
Jesus is alive.
For once in my life, I can say,
“I told you so!”
I told them he’d come back.
I told them not to cry.
He was only asleep, just like me,
not dead and gone forever.
Why are grownups so forgetful?
Remember when the fever came?
It felt like I had fallen into fire.
My mother said my father lost his mind,
running street to street,
hunting for the Nazarene.
And when he found him
he just dropped down, right in the road
and begged for my life.
That’s something I’ll never forget.
And the Teacher came, right away,
well, almost right away.
He stopped to help somebody else.
Somebody who had nobody.
Somebody who was nobody.
Somebody whose body made her sad.
I’m glad he stopped for her.
I’m glad he took the time.
When I’m grown up I’ll remember
the Teacher says,
“Reach out. Don’t be afraid.”
But the bad-news bringers said
he took too long; he was too late.
It was his fault that I died.
He couldn’t make a difference.
They told him not to bother.
“It is what it is. That’s that.”
But Jesus didn’t listen.
They couldn’t tell him, “No.”
He said, “She isn’t dead.
She’s just asleep. Don’t cry.”
And when they laughed,
(That’s what my mother said.)
And then he came and stood beside my bed.
He took my hand, touched my eyes,
and said, “Talitha, rise.”
I told them so!
I told them not to cry.
He was not dead. He was asleep.
I told them so.
God stood beside his bed,
touched his hand and eyes and said, “Arise.”
I told them so.
I think he knows how grownups need reminding.
Who do they trust? What should they risk?
And when should they feed a hungry child?1
Heather Murray Elkins
Hannan Professor of Worship, Preaching, and the Arts
1. The Daughter of Jairus, The New Disciples (Nashville: EW Press, 1990) reprinted in Worshiping Women:Re-forming God’s People For Praise, Heather Murray Elkins, Abingdon Press, 1994, 143. Revised 2015.
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