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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Inside Out

2015-06-28 Inside Out
Mark 5:21-23, 35-43 + Psalm 130

No offense to our world and nation, but I'm getting a little tired of rewriting my sermons every Saturday. What seemed reasonably acceptable on Wednesday is irrelevant by the end of the week. Not that I feel compelled to comment on every event. We have the Internet for that. It's just that history has gone into hyperdrive. Same-sex marriage is now legal. South Carolina's boldly marching into the 20th century. Somewhat affordable healthcare lives.  And we're now the University of Nike.

Aside from keeping up with the week's headlines, aside from dealing with the issues themselves, is handling the change. CHAAAANGE!! That's pretty universal. No one likes change. Change brings emotions. Sometimes joy. Sometimes sadness. Sometimes anger. Sometimes all of them at once going crazy in our heads, which brings me to the sermon I wrote earlier this week (see how I did that?) called, "Inside Out."

Surprisingly, subconsciously, maybe providentially, the Lectionary for this Sunday, is about change. About waking up to change. And the life it can bring, from the inside out.


I'm really excited about the new Pixar movie, "Inside Out." Haven't seen it yet, so no spoilers please. It's about an 11 year-old girl and all the little voices in her head, each one a character, an emotion, and they're struggling for control. As the father of teenage daughters, I'm thinking it could teach me a lot.

Interesting that they made the movie about the voices in a GIRL'S head. They could have done it about a boy. Would have been much shorter.

Last week one of our church members was telling me about her two and-a-half year-old grandson. She said, "As long has he's fed and has his iPad, he's happy." I said, "You just described 90% of the male population." ("Can you get ESPN on that?")

Anyway, the Pixar movie reminded me of an article from the satirical newspaper The Onion about a 13 year-old girl whose parents were wondering if she was really alive. Poor thing was only capable of rolling her eyes and texting. Mainly unresponsive, she could do nothing but lay on the couch and whine about things being "gay."

To me, today's scripture is a lot LIKE a teenager. It's going so many directions, it's hard to know what it's really thinking. Like, I don't even. There's the father and his 12 year-old daughter. But there's also the efficiency experts who flunked Pastoral Care: "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher?" There's the commotional mourners, weeping and wailing. Who laugh at Jesus because weeping and wailing is kind of their thing and they're pretty sure they know when to weep and wail, thank you very much. There's the disciples who are strictly ordered not to tell anyone about this, and we can see in print how well they listened.

There's a lot of characters trying to steer. There's what happens INside the house and what happens OUTside. A lot of little voices struggling for control.  Kind of like teenagers, but kind of like all-agers.

Very young to very old, we all have little voices in our heads jockeying for position. We all have stuff inside under strict orders not to be let outside. Because the world is filled with weepers, wailers, laughers, and efficiency experts. It's their JOB to point out how you're silly, you're crazy, that you're a waste of the Master's time. And what was crazy and a waste of Jesus's time last week might not be the same as this week. It's scary. Change is both emotional and commotional.

Jesus says, "Why do you make a commotion?" It's a rhetorical question. Jesus knows why. The OUTSIDE world makes commotion. That's its job. It hands us commotion and then we turn it INSIDE. Now it's emotional commotion. Commotion outside, commotion inside. So much commotion, it's loco. C'mon baby, do the Loco-commotion. It's easier than learnin' your ABCs. And that's the problem. Commotion makes us afraid. Afraid of voicing our opinions. Afraid of taking a stand. The fear of people OUTSIDE making commotion over us - in a bad way - can make it look like what's inside us has died.

Or maybe it's just asleep.


Think back. Back to those teenage years. If you're sixteen, think back to when you were eleven. Ah, were you ever that young?

What did you want to be when you grew up? From an early age, I had this notion of being a Presbyterian minister. And you're wondering, "How could you stand the popularity?" Don't worry, before that, I wanted to be a NASA scientist. It's amazing I lived past junior high.

What did you want to be? Or what DO you want to be? Or maybe that's not the big deal it used to be. Somewhere along the way, the question changes, doesn't it? Changes from WHAT to HOW. Instead of what do you want to be, it's how do you want to be? I mean, what good is it to be a professional athlete or a reality TV star if you're miserable? (I would think the first couple of years of income would make it bearable.) But sooner or later, the question changes from the what to the how. THAT change, I think, is our front line against commotion.

HOW do you want to be? Happy. Healthy. Financially secure. Independent. Able to drive your own car and work your own phone. You want to be alive and alert. You want to be awake in your aliveness. You want to be aware. Aware enough, and aware of enough, so that your life has motion, without being in commotion. Does that sound right?

Listen to what the people outside the house are saying to the father. They're saying, "NO." Commotion always says No. No, you can't. No, it's hopeless. No, you're wasting time. No, you're superstitious putting your trust in someone like Jesus. Commotion always leans to the negative, or at best, the pointless.

When you're surrounded by voices telling you things are impossible, that you're wasting your time and energy, what's the tendency? To believe them. Right? To become afraid. To fear. To fear the voices are right.

So Jesus says to the father, "Do not fear, only believe." Now that's not to say believers are never fearful. Of course we are. All the time. And that's OK.

You may have seen this bumper sticker. It's one of the few I'd be willing to put on my car. "Speak your mind - even if your voice shakes."

I like that. But I like it even more now that I know who said it. Maggie Kuhn. Do you know who she was? Maggie Kuhn was the founder of the Gray Panthers movement. She founded the Gray Panthers in 1970 at age 65 after being forced into retirement by the Presbyterian Church. (Not our finest moment.) Kuhn believed, quote, "Old people and women constitute America's biggest untapped and undervalued human energy source." 

Maggie Kuhn was retired but not dead. Not even asleep. She rose up against the commotion that told her that she should be. That told her No. That told her to get ready to lie down in a casket and be quiet. Loco stuff women, especially, have heard for too long.

One of the things that makes this healing story all the more miraculous is that the father - and Jesus - made such a fuss about a little girl. Because back then, women were of less value than slaves. But more, in Greek and Roman society, it was common practice to abandon female babies at birth. Christians caused some commotion because they said "No" to this even if their voices shook. They believed their Lord Jesus taught them that females were of equal value in God's sight (1Pet 3:7).
(Hare, Douglas R. A., Interpretation, Mark, Westminster Bible Companion, 1996. p. 68.)

Contrary to what you might have heard (usually from male voices), women taught, women led, and women funded Jesus and the early church. The church - at its best - was concerned not with WHAT it would grow up to be, but HOW it was going to be. Even if the HOW was kinda scary.


So - Jesus walks (inside), away from the commotion (outside). The girl is lying on the bed, unresponsive. He takes her hand and says, "Little girl, get up!"

Here's a question: In a society that treated women so barbarically, what awake and aware young girl would WANT to get up, or grow up? When you put this story in its full context of Mark, chapter 5 - and I encourage you to read the whole chapter when you go home - in context, this is symbolic of WAY more than just one healing.

It's about an awakening. A cultural awakening. It's about the father - and maybe also his daughter - learning to have faith even when scared to death. It's about the inside voice - Jesus's inside voice - commanding the child (AND all who would believe in him) to listen to the Yes of life (that comes from the heartfelt Spirit) instead of the deadly commotion outside.

Those disobedient disciples who had been sternly ordered not to tell? They wrote the truth even though their hands might have shaken. Their words brought the inside out. They may not have told us WHAT to be, but they told us HOW. And we are ALL stronger, more mature, and more alive, because of their voices and those who listened carefully.


When Jesus speaks to the crowd he tells them, "The child is not dead, but sleeping." And we kind of assume he's speaking euphemistically. Like "sleeping" is a nice word for, "Not quite sincerely but merely dead."

But what if it's not? What if Jesus is speaking the literal truth? What if the kid's just dead tired and everyone's jumping to conclusions? Wouldn't THAT be embarrassing?

The embarrassing tragedy is just that: To count ANYONE dead while they're still living. To discount someone as too young, too old, too male, too female, too gay, too straight, too foreign, too toothless -- to matter. And God help us, we do it. All the time. As quick as our own heartbeats. A fleeting little voice whispers in our ear, "Why waste the master's time, or your time, on them?"

If this is the deeper point here, and I think it well could be, then our assignment is to take a deep breath, and then another, and catch that little voice before it hijacks our better judgment. To reach in and pull that inner commotion out. To lift it by the scruff and to ask it, "Why? Why would you say that? Where did you learn that? Do you really know what you're talking about?"

That we all might live, neither dead, nor asleep, but awake and aware, inside and outside, is a pretty good HOW.

Do not fear, but believe. Little girl, little boy - wake up.