Holy Spaces (Sermon)

“Holy Spaces”

Mark 5:21-43

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

Allen Huff


21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “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.”

24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”

32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth

34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”

36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.

39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”

40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (NRSV)

         As Marianne and I were preparing to move away from Shelby eleven years ago, an incredibly handy, generous, and good-humored friend named Bill asked if he could help us. So, we compiled a short list of minor repairs that would help our tired, old house look a little more attractive when we put it on the market.

One thing we asked him to do was to check the yard lamp set in the ground where the driveway and front walkway met. In the 8½ years we lived there, it had never worked. Bill didn’t take long to diagnose the problem.

“You got an air gap,” he said.

“An air gap?” I asked.

“Yep. There’s air where there ought to be wire.”

It had never occurred to me to pay attention to the space between the house and the lamp. I only knew that the lamp wouldn’t come on when I flipped the switch by the front door that didn’t seem to operate anything else. So, we just dug up the lamp post and tossed it.

Sometimes, the in-between spaces hold gifts of beauty, holiness, and guidance. Artists know that well. It’s the spaces in a painting, or a sculpture, or a piece of music that become the places of invitation and contemplation. An impatient observer will miss them, but Spirit moves in the spaces.

People who care for people know about sacred spaces, too. Therapists, counselors, and spiritual directors learn how to respect and mine the rich spaces in between words, tears, and laughter.

         When reading biblical texts, we often focus so much attention on main characters, sensational events, and a blinding expectation for precepts and absolutes that we lose sight of the spaces and the silences where the deeper holiness, revelation, and transformation happen.

         Today’s text is two stories, one sandwiched in the other. Mark situates these stories in the midst of his larger discourse, so they both contain spaces and are surrounded by them.

         Listen for the spaces. “When Jesus had crossed…again…in the boat…to the other side…a great crowd gathered around him…and he was by the sea.” Can you feel Mark opening up the landscape? He’s creating anticipation. Wait for it, he says. Wait for it!

         With each story, Mark is preparing us for the next, and then the next, all the way to Sunday, where the last line of the original gospel, leaves us on the threshold of not just another space, but the uncharted territory of resurrection: “So [the women] went and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8) And the universe reveals itself as a space of unfathomable wonder and possibility!

         Back in Mark 5, the spaces invite us to recognize the heart-sick parent, the ailing 12-year-old, and the suffering outcast within each of us. Mark invites us to enter the sacred space of our human helplessness where we wrestle with our grief, our dependence on others, and our spirited will to live and to participate in human community.

         Consider Jairus, a man of influence, a leader of the very community that shaped Jesus himself. And now that community feels threatened by Jesus’ disorderly grace. But Jairus’ daughter is dying. That possibility is, itself, a yawning cavern for us to enter. It asks us to ask, What happens if the girl dies?

Does Jairus become an unrestrainable wild man, howling at the moon and bruising himself with stones?

Do her friends become bridesmaids who let their lamps go out?

Does the community become rocky, thorny, hardscrabble ground, unfit for planting seed?

All of those references come from stories earlier in Mark. By telling them, he has already created spaces that help shape the story of Jairus humbling himself before Jesus and begging for help. They also give us room to ask, What is death? What does it mean?

Could Mark intend for us to wrestle with those questions before he tells the Easter story?

         During the same 12 years of Jairus’ daughter’s life, a woman has experienced a hemorrhage of some kind. For 12 years this woman has been considered unclean. In the eyes of the community, she’s as good as dead already. So, she comes to Jesus of her own accord. Unlike Jairus, though, the woman’s years of suffering and humiliation have numbed her to consequences. So, she comes in a kind of holy defiance.

         Let the crowd do with me as they please. They cannot do worse than they’ve already done. I will be healed, or die trying.

         Like a labyrinth, these stories lead us to a centering space where we stop and linger. And we ask ourselves, Where are we dying or dead? How do we dismiss or crowd out God’s creative holiness. How do we threaten others with our own loud doubt and self-righteousness? And where is the Christ in our suffering and in the suffering of the Creation?

         If we read the stories of Jesus’ life with patient anticipation, if we sit in partnership with them like the spacious trinity of artist, brush and canvas, they will offer us something new. For in that partnership, we are the canvas. And God, through the Holy Spirit, is creating something beautiful with our lives.

          For a decade, the Sunday school class that I’ve been involved with has used an approach to Bible study that seeks to create the kind of space we’re talking about. In this study, we read two or three versions of a text on which I will preach, and instead of me filling up the space with words and pronouncements (I do plenty of that on Sundays), we ask ourselves three simple questions.

First, What word, phrase or image catches our attention? What jumps out as new? The point is to sit with the text, relate to it, and allow it to open us.

         Then we ask, What is the Spirit’s call to each of us through this text? This question is personal, and we don’t always get so vulnerable as to name God’s individual call to each of us. Then again, that kind of discernment usually takes more than 30 minutes. The point is that the text reads us as much as we read it.

         Finally, we ask, What is the Spirit calling us as a congregation to be and to do?This question acknowledges that we’re a corporate body, and God calls us to hopeful action within and on behalf of the community. A faithful Christian witness is defined far more by lives of compassion, peacemaking, justice, and joy than by any claim to doctrinal purity.

Think about it, don’t we remember Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage because they demonstrated trust in Jesus, not because they professed belief?

We have two grieving families to tend to right now. Healing doesn’t always mean “getting better,” does it?

Nonetheless, scripture is like Jesus’ robe. We can touch it and feel his presence and his renewing grace. And through that experience, we can even become the hem of Jesus’ robe for others.

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