TEXTS for 5 Pentecost
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This story from Mark
is really two stories woven into one,
which is a clue to which we should pay attention.
There are a few other things that might grab
our attention first:
a 12 year hemorrhage,
a dead girl brought back to life,
power surging from Jesus through his robe,
miracles, miracles, miracles…
I am more or less an agnostic
when it comes to stories about
Jesus’ supernatural actions,
and any supernatural acts I have not
personally witnessed myself.
By “agnostic” I mean
I do not have to decide one way or another
until I experience them for myself.
Why should anyone deeply invest themselves
in things outside their own experience?
It’s a recipe for disaster, if you ask me.
If we have learned anything along the way,
it is to trust our experience,
and to confirm what we hear
with what we can touch, see, think, or at least, imagine.
So, when you tell me, for example,
that you have seen a recently dead person
in a dream or vision,
I won’t think that is weird.
I hear stuff like that all the time.
I have even had vague experiences
of such things myself.
But don’t ask me to believe
or disbelieve your vision.
I will hear it
and receive it
and accept it as part of you,
and help you explore it
and discover the meaning of it for you.
But don’t ask me
to see it as proof of anything,
or to use your experience
to bolster my own beliefs;
or proclaim your experience
as an example of how God wants us to vote,
or believe in the doctrine of the Trinity,
or support your favorite charity.
It is your experience not mine.
When it becomes my experience,
and I see my aunt Elma
then, then I need to account for it
and its meaning.
That is what I mean by agnostic —
not disbelieving but awaiting a decision.
Anyway, when Mark reports these amazing things
I can just leave them on the page:
I can observe them,
notice them in detail,
wonder about them,
and poke around in them
like coals in the fire.
But I do not need to make judgments about them.
And by the way,I am not evangelical about my agnosticism:
If you want to believe or embrace claims
outside your own experience
knock yourself out.
But here is something
I will wholeheartedly recommend:
When we read stories like this one from Mark,
don’t ask the story a question it cannot answer.
“Did it really happen?” or,
“How could that happen?”
or even, “What would it mean if it really happened?”
These are all questions
a Gospel story cannot answer.
Instead, I recommend we poke around in it
like stirring up the coals to rekindle a flame.
Try to figure out why —
why did the editor of these stories,
in this case Mark,
tell us this story
the way he or she told it.
What we notice right up front about this story
is that it was two stories
Mark wove together as one.
If we wonder why he would to that,
we start seeing things
we may not have seen before.
When we wander around in that question
about Mark’s story,
something interesting will suddenly dawn on us.
who was on a fast tract
to save a little girl from dying,
and not just any little girl
but the daughter
of an important member of the congregation –
you know, a really big contributor –
stops and gives personal attention
to a nameless woman in the street.
That is worth noticing, isn’t it?
Jesus stopped to connect
with a nameless woman on the street
when the big boys were waiting for him.
If you ask me,
that is more miraculous than the healing!
If the nose of our interest
is stuck in the miracle,
and questions about whether
or how a miracle could happen in real life,
then Jesus stopping for a nameless woman
in the street gets lost.
And then we miss the real punch line of the story:
Stopping on behalf of a street person
who has no power or influence,
and no ability to improve Jesus’ power or influence,
is a miracle even you and I can perform.
That is a much bigger deal for you and me
than whether or not Jesus could perform magic. Why?
Because you and I cannot perform many
or any miracles,
yet we can stop
and respond to people
who are otherwise unimportant to us.
We are capable
of stopping on our busy way
the smaller, quieter,
and less drastic needs
of those who walk in our wake.
We may not be able to fix them
or to fix the social and economic circumstances
that caused their problems,
but we can stop and listen.
That is the kind of thing we can notice
when we get past all the supernatural stuff.
Underneath the drama
there lies something that is a very earthy,
something painfully challenging,
something that could be — probably should be —
a standard for us.
What difference does it make
to what kind of people we are
if we think Jesus could perform magic or not?
But it makes a whole lot of difference
if we take a cue from Jesus,
and consider that taking the time to stop,
even for people who are in the wake of our lives,
is the appropriate standard to live by.
How many times have we not stopped,
even for people we really love and care about?
The people we work with.
People at the grocery or hardware store?
Now I realize that in comparison
to a big, splashy healing miracle,
this is a very homely and pedestrian point.
But I also know, from my own experience,
that this issue of not stopping is real and challenging.
Small as it is next to a miracle,
it feels like it could be powerful.
Well, this ain’t my story, it is Mark’s.
So do with it as you please:
Miracle, or gritty little reminder to stop,
to listen and act
even for, as Jesus would say,
”the least of these.”
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