The Lay Leader at the church I serve is going to be preaching out of town in a few weeks. Every week, he and I meet in a Soul Care group, and we all asked him what Scripture he was using. I got an email with this text:
Mark 5: 21-24, 35-43 (New International Version) 21-24: When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. 35-45: While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Now, I really try hard not to write sermons as blog posts, because who wants to read someone’s sermons? Okay, maybe some people like to read others’ sermons… that could just be my ADHD speaking. But I don’t preach regularly, so I’ll take some personal privilege and share this anyway. This Scripture just moved my heart and I have to share. You can feel free to use any of this in your preaching if you find it helpful.
Consider reading the passage with church language instead:
Mark 5: 21-24, 35-43 (Laurel O’Connor Version) 21-24: When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the church leaders came, and when he saw Jesus, she fell at his feet. The church leader pleaded earnestly with Jesus, “My church is dying. Please come and put your hands on it so that it will be healed, grow and thrive.” So Jesus went with her. 35-45: While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of the church leader. “Your church is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus told the church leader, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Jesus did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the church, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The church is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the church’s leadership and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the sanctuary was. He laid hands on it and said, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little church, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the church sprang back to life and began to host worship and events, connecting with the community with new vitality. At this they were completely astonished. Jesus gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to host a community meal.
What do you think? Not a bad rephrase if you ask me. I felt this reading in my bones, with the shifted words, and don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to infuse this language into the passage.
After all, this scripture is about a group of people who think that death has come into their household. Jesus tells them not to be afraid and to just believe, and then resolutely proclaims that it wasn’t death but slumber. Then he wakes the girl up, and gets her a snack.
Why can’t this be a story about the church? Even before the pandemic, many churches have been on the brink of closing. We’ve been worried about the future of the church for a long time, considering many of them dead. My friend Rev. Sarah Welch-Pomerantz wrote a blog post about it, noting that churches were “Existing on Borrowed Time” long before we had to isolate and socially distance.
A client I’m working with uses this illustration when talking about why it seems like the church is dead: “We are a terrific 20th century church. But we are 20 years into the 21st century.”
There are buildings that are crumbling, leaders who are exhausted, aging congregations, skyrocketing health care costs, and the current reality is grim.
As we shift out of the pandemic and try to reframe our ministries, we still see a lot of death when it comes to churches. Rural congregations have been hit hard, and smaller congregations without technology skills have been left to their own devices when it comes to connecting remotely. But as we move forward, are we going to look back to old practices for comfort, or are we going to go to Jesus to wake us up?
But don’t be afraid, just believe.
The church is not dead, it is only sleeping.
With the light of Jesus, we can name our current reality while dreaming about the next chapter. We can grieve the loss of parts of church post-pandemic, like the offering plate and passing the peace. For more on the loss of the offering place, I talk about it in a blog post called “It’s the End of the Offering Plate As We Know it (And I Feel Fine)”.
What are some other things that your church has lost over the past year? Over the past ten years?
But in our grief, we can call to Jesus to wake us up. Maybe those things we were mourning have to be let go so that new things may arise. There’s a reason the religious leader came to Jesus: because they believed that Jesus was the answer. Jesus’ life and healing was all that they needed to solve the problem. Whether it was a dying girl or a dying church, Jesus is at the epicenter of that healing process, which turned into a process of awakening.
Jesus calls us to wake up, friends.
Jesus calls us to put aside the transactional model of ministry that judges growth by amount of giving units, or by the amount of video views. It’s so easy to try and define ministry as “successful” if the bills are paid, but we’re called to so much more than survival. Jesus calls us to create an energy of connection: with God, with each other and with the community.
Leaders are hungry for something new, but are afraid of what those changes might mean. Your church is waiting for a catalyst – a Jesus moment – to wake them up.
Whether that catalyst is permission to “be scared and do it anyway” or a new dream laid on your heart, you’re on the edge of building something amazing based on what you already have.From Scarcity to Strength, introduction
Jesus says, don’t be afraid, just believe.
There are lots of resources to help you along the way. If you’re looking for a place to start, From Scarcity to Strength is a great soup-to-nuts approach of evaluating your ministry, your team and your community – and using those strengths to build community and real impact, both fiscally and socially. If you find the book helpful and want to work one-on-one, feel free to contact me and we can set up a consultation call.
You feel moved to walk with Jesus and “wake up” the church, I bet. I also bet you’re afraid, but God has got your back (and so do we here at Affirm). There might not be a clear picture yet of what “waking up” your church or ministry might look like. That’s okay, don’t pressure yourself to know exactly how to do it – just stay open to the Spirit. You’re feeling prompted to move a mountain for a reason. Call on Jesus, and let him work through your heart and hands. Regardless of what mess we think we’re in, Jesus comes through to help us wake up.
Don’t be afraid, just believe. It’s time to wake up.