Who Gets the Platform to Speak the Word?

Excerpted from
Rehearsing Scripture
By Anna Carter Florence

Here’s what I learned, the year I left the preachers-only sandbox and started reading Mark 5 with the repertory church. I learned that when I’m not looking for a sermon, I actually hear a text differently. I’m not trying out focus and function statements to find something (anything) that fits. I’m not worried about what I’m going to say in exactly thirty-six hours. I don’t have any of that pressure at all. I can just listen to Mark speak in the company of other interested listeners. If the text is awkward—well, then, it’s awkward. I can ask questions. If I don’t like the answers, I can keep pressing, because it’s not my job to explain anything; I’m just reading. And that lets me get interested in details I might otherwise rush past if I have a deadline. It lets me ask different sorts of questions, the kind that preachers don’t ever seem to ask.

I had been reading Mark 5 with preachers for years, and not one of us had ever asked about that Gerasene demoniac, why he gets to talk, and Jairus doesn’t. It wasn’t because we weren’t smart enough or schooled enough or diligent enough—or even, for an 8 a.m. class, awake enough. I think we never asked that question because we were preparing to be the ones who do get to talk about Jesus, and it wasn’t in our interests to ask it.

It’s a funny thing: The church gives preachers the power to speak, but in Scripture, it’s different. In Scripture, the one who has the power to speak isn’t always the leader of the synagogue. It’s the marginalized person, the crazy person, the teenager you’ve given up for dead. And while you would certainly offer hospitality to a demoniac by inviting him to worship, this text suggests you invite him into the pulpit, too.

When churches are shrinking and sermons are suspect, when preachers find it harder and harder to gain a hearing in a culture that has little time or interest, the “power to speak” isn’t what it used to be. Most preachers aren’t exactly looking to identify with 12-year-olds and demoniacs, as Scripture might have them do.

But speaking about Jesus isn’t just for those who know the password and can access the data. That’s a pretty dangerous road to go down these days—the road where some of us are in on a secret and others aren’t. The road where those with superior knowledge have authority and others don’t. In the big wide church, that road can lead to disaster. The moment a preacher’s speech becomes primarily about preserving the power to speak, because of secret and superior knowledge, then we need an intervention.

And that’s exactly what these repertory church reading groups were—a saving intervention! In the repertory church, we’re all equal partners in reading the verbs. We need one another to rehearse the text. We thrive on asking new questions and exploring the angles. No one has to “own” the secrets, or reveal the password or shoulder the entire burden of saying something true. The fifth chapter of Mark, as the repertory church showed me, is a brilliant place to look for new role models. Four characters show us what the power to speak looks like. And that’s very good news for everyone who wants to speak about Jesus.

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Excerpted from Rehearsing Scripture by Anna Carter Florence. Copyright 2018. Used by permission. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.