Year B, Proper 8
Here we are in the midst of high summer, a time when creation is bursting with life. Yet our lectionary texts this week remind us that death comes regardless of the time of year. It is part of the balance of life. Things must die to make room for what needs to be born. In the course of life we have reason time and again to mourn and lament losses. As we move honestly through the grief we find renewal as new growth appears in our lives. The wisdom writers of the scripture, King David, and the psalmists remind us that God’s faithfulness is great. God is present in the midst of loss and renewal, in the midst of sin and separation, in the midst of death bringing new life.
Paul’s message to the Corinthian church urges them to generosity as they take an offering for the church in need in Jerusalem. His rhetoric is meant to help them understand their connection to that church so far away and its connection to them. Yet his words can have meaning in the bigger picture of life as he speaks of “fair balance.” In our churches, programming and leadership have cycles of growth and fallowness. As the Body of Christ we celebrate the birth of new babies, the joining of new members into our fellowship even as we mourn the loss of elders and of friends who move away. Some of us are mourning and some of us are rejoicing at all times in the Body. Some are in need and some are in abundance. God’s presence is in fair balance with all.
In the gospel passage Jesus is the pivotal point of the balance. He moves the people through death to life quite literally in the stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the flow of blood. As he was in touch with the calming power of God in midst of the storm last week he is in touch in the chaos of the crowd this week. He demonstrates the ability to be in touch with himself and the power of God within him even as he is ministering to people in a crowd. There is a “fair balance” that brings life into death.
Questions we can ask this week are:
- Where do our people need to mourn and lament as David does for Saul and Jonathan?
- Where do they experience the steadfast love of God that accompanies us in death and life and make each morning new?
- Is our congregation in a “fair balance” of abundance and need, life and appropriate, constructive death?
- How can our community seek the inner and outer balance of relationship to God’s power that Jesus demonstrates in the gospel story?
Blessings as you pursue the balance in your story journeys,
One of my favorite biblical stories to tell is the story from Mark 5. You can also find it in Luke 8. It is a very powerful story to internalize. If you are preaching on the gospel text I suggest you learn and tell it in worship instead of having it read. Internalizing and telling the story is an opportunity to discover the places within your self that need healing or reviving. As you find and offer these wounded places offer them in prayer to Jesus who embodies the power of God.
There is a story from the Scottish folktale tradition that is part of the group of tales known as “Jack tales”. It is titled, “Death in a Nut.” Jack is an adventurer, a fool at times, wise at others. He is the same Jack as “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
You can find this story on line at Story-Lovers.com ( http://www.story-lovers.com/listsdeathinanut.html ). As well as at www.rorymcleod.com/talkativemusiclogo.htm. It is also available at Amazon.com as a children’s picture book, http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Death+in+a+nut . You can hear an audio version of the story at http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/1001stories/time-and-death/ .
At Story-Lovers.com the bones of the story are given. This description should help you get started if you want to tell the story.
While his mother lies dying, Jack meets Death heading for their cottage. He grabs Death’s scythe and uses it to beat him over the head until he is small enough to be stuffed into a walnut shell. Jack throws the shell out to sea. He finds his mother well. While she lights the stove he heads off to town to buy some bacon for a celebration breakfast. But the butcher is unable to slaughter any animals. He fears his business is ruined. Jack has to go home without the bacon. On the way he tries to pull a cauliflower from a field to be some sort of breakfast. But none of the crop can be taken out of the soil. He finds his mother ankle deep in matches: she hasn’t been able to light the stove. Jack tells his mother about his meeting with Death. She tells him that everyone has a time to be born and a time to die, that he has deprived her of that moment. That without death in the world nothing can change, nothing can be born. She says she has taught him all her stories and wise things, and it’s time for him to make his own way. Jack retrieves the shell and releases Death. He returns to find his mother dead. He fetches their friends and neighbours and they have a meal at which they tell stories of all the happy and some of the sadder times they had with Jack’s mother. Then they bury her in the earth. Jack takes the little money they had saved and walks out into the world, to other adventures and other stories.
Another story that speaks of “fair balance” in life is titled “Good Luck, Bad Luck. Who Knows?” It is a Chinese tale about an old farmer who encounters a series of circumstances that evoke comments from his neighbors. ”Oh, what good luck!” “Oh, what bad luck!” The farmer always replies, “Who knows?” You can find the story at http://www.beliefnet.com/Wellness/Health/2005/06/Bad-Luck-Good-Luck-Who-Knows.aspx# .
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015 and beyond. Text and photos may be reprinted with permission only.