Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Lectio Divina - Mark 5:21-43

It was my privilege to preach this sermon on Sunday, July, 2018, at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin in San Francisco.  Thanks to them for their gracious welcome, and to our Berkeley Associates, Tom and Nancy Bickley, for the hospitality that made my visit there possible.

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, San Francisco
Sunday, July 1, 2018
Adam D. McCoy, OHC

Pentecost 6B, Proper 8: Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24
Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43

    What a joy it is to be with you in this beautiful historic church!  It shows such care and love in both its buildings and in your ministries. In an earlier time I spent five years of my life off and on in the Bay Area, at Incarnation Priory, the monastery of the Order of the Holy Cross in Berkeley, and at CDSP, in both the 1970s and 1990s. It is so good to be back.  Thank you for inviting me.

    One of the reasons I’m here this morning is to bring you the message of monastic life in our Church, and I thought, what better way to introduce monastic ways to you than to share our experience of today’s gospel with an ancient monastic practice called lectio divina. Lectio divina means divine or spiritual reading. Using this practice monks, and many other persons as well, approach scripture not simply as a text to engage the intellect, but as the living word of God. The expectation is that we will encounter the text as it is and incorporate it into ourselves as God’s word. And in that process we will meet God’s living message to us now, today, as we are in this moment. Lectio divina has four simple steps: studying the text, meditating on it, praying through it and in contemplation letting it act on us. It converts and transforms and transfigures us as we enter into it and it enters into us.

    In what follows I will be using a stream of consciousness approach. As I tell you what happened to me, let yourself imagine yourself into lectio.

    First we read and study the sacred text just as it is, without editing it to fit our own preconceptions, using whatever resources we possess to gain a better understanding. As we do so, what do we notice? What jumped out at me was this: In today’s gospel there are two intertwined stories. A little girl is dying and a woman is afflicted with unstoppable bleeding.  These are both life and death situations. But some differences also leap out at me. The girl’s father is a person of importance, standing in the community -  and unlike most of the people Jesus meets in his public ministry he is given a name - Jairus. The woman is not given a name. Also, unlike Jairus’s daughter, she seems to be of little or no consequence. Jairus approaches Jesus with social propriety, man to man, as that culture would expect. But the woman does not stand on ceremony. Jairus is decorous, while the woman is not. He politely invites Jesus into his social space, asks him to come to his house. The woman perhaps has no social space, and in her need seizes the opportunity of the moment. She violates Jesus’s personal space by grabbing his cloak.

    As I studied the passage, I learned that there are some cultural issues here which I knew about but was not aware of at first. In first century Palestine respectable women do not interact with men outside their kinship group in public. But this woman does, and this suggests that she lives outside normal social structures. Mark tells us that she has lost everything in her search for health.  Perhaps she has no home to invite Jesus into. In Jewish ritual codes, to have physical contact with a menstruating woman renders a person unclean. As does touching a corpse. But then I notice that Jesus neither makes an issue of the gender rules of his day, nor does he rebuke the woman for the purity code violation when she touches his cloak. Jesus simply asks who did it, and why, and then instead of condemning her, he praises her for her faith. And likewise he does not draw back from the dead girl’s body, which would also render him ritually unclean..

    And finally, study reveals how Jesus reacts to the two situations. When he raises the little girl he doesn’t do anything very special.  He deflects miracle talk, even downplays what has happened, by saying she isn’t dead but sleeping, and endures the laughing scorn of the people around him. But his reaction to the healing of the desperate woman is quite different.  Here we are in the presence of something strange, eery, mysterious. Jesus feels power going out of him, an almost physical experience. The raising of the girl is played down, but the healing of the desperate woman is the occasion of a most wonderful public demonstration of miracle craft!

    So, in lectio, we let the text encounter us in its own integrity. We read it to understand what it itself tells us. We let its uniqueness jump out at us. I have given you what I noticed this time. As you read it you perhaps noticed other things, and so very likely so will I the next time I encounter it. But from what we notice in this moment will come the surprising Word.

    The next step is to meditate on the text. What comes to us when we let these two intertwined stories, and what we have noticed in them, play in our mind? What does it bring us to think? For me: These are two contrasting women, one safely hidden in the home of her respectable family, the other out on her own. But Jesus is not bothered by the gender stereotypes of his time. Nor is he bothered by the violations of convention they present to him. Nor is he bothered by the difference in their social status.  Jesus moves with confidence through both situations. He is equal to the needs of both of them. Maybe these are good news Mark wants us to hear. If the point of these stories is not simply reporting an event, or inviting us to think that in similar situations we can assuredly expect the same result, what is the point?  The first is simply information, and the second will likely not happen.  Jesus did not come to change the natural laws of the created universe.  Maybe this story is presenting some marks of the kingdom of God: It doesn’t matter who we are. God is not confined or restricted by our conventions and boundaries.  God recognizes our faith when we act from our deepest needs. God does not seem to mind when we get too close. God is not deterred when people make fun of what is going on or even refuse to see what is happening.  God is compassionate. God invites us to bring our needs to him. 

    And so these meditations lead to the third step: prayer. Jesus, let me see my needs and bring them to you. Jesus, what is dying in my life? Can it come to life again? Can that little daughter of my soul grow again? Can a future come from what seems lost, over, finished, done, dead? Jesus, help, me make room for that desperate person inside me. Let her lose her inhibitions so she can reach out and touch your healing power. Jesus, help me not be ashamed to admit that I too am desperate, that I also may have invested too much in what doesn’t work.  Jesus, help me get over being embarrassed that I am in some ways, perhaps in many ways, hopeless, homeless, destitute, bleeding out my life, looking for your power to heal me. Jesus, help me know that I too am that little girl, that father, those jeering bystanders, that crowd following you through town, that desperate woman. I am one with them. Let me touch you. Touch me.  Look at me.  Talk to me.  Raise me up.  Give me my life again.

    And finally, contemplation. Resting from the text, from its images and questions and patterns, resting from the mind’s work, resting from the words sent from the heart.  Resting quietly in the Word as we have experienced it. Sitting quietly as it does what it will. Who am I now that I have lived into this text, this meditation, this prayer? Am I the same as I was before? I hope not.  Quiet down now.   Let that ineffable something be in me. Let me be in it. The daughter, the father, the crowds, the woman, Jesus in the middle of it all.... Hush for a moment.  What do I feel? Is something new in my heart? Can I just sit still for a moment and let it be?

    But often these four processes, studying the text, meditating on it, prayer, contemplation, do not always happen in sequence. Suddenly something elbows its way in, out of the art of the sequence that I am now in:  The daughter, the daughter, the daughter:  That dying little girl has a family, a home, a father. She is by definition a daughter. But the woman has lost everything, has risked everything. And so what does Jesus call her? He calls the dying girl simply talitha, little girl. But he calls the desperate woman Daughter, something he calls no one else in the whole Gospel of Mark: Daughter, your faith has made you well. Daughter. Your faith has not only made you well, but gives you a new father, a new family, a new home.

    What is it like to have Jesus look at you and say, Daughter?  Jesus, may I be your daughter?  May I be your son?  May I join your family?  May I come home with you?

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