September 9, 2018
Sometimes you just need a good smack upside the head! I don’t think there is an age limit when this option ends.
For me, one such time was while I was on internship as I was preparing to become a pastor. Every spring before my seminary sent out students to begin internship later that summer they would gather the students together and give them a handbook of requirements. This handbook placed in my hands was a very dangerous thing. I now knew what I had to do and when I had to have it done and surely it would help me coast through my year of internship.
About halfway through the year I had a visit from Pastor Jane, the Contextual Education Director at Trinity. We talked about how internship was going with my internship supervisor and what the focus of the rest of my time there should look like. This is when I received a smack upside the head. As I talked about my checklists and getting the requirements done, Jane asked me, “How are you learning to be a pastor?”
Hmm…what a great question. I had learned how to do, but I had just barely scraped the surface of what it meant to be. It was in that little question that I was opened up to a whole new experience.
This morning in our gospel lesson, we have two stories that are stacked upon each other. They are more connected than one may think at first glance. First, they are both stories of healing. Second, the people that are asking for the healing are not the ones that need the healing. The Syrophoenician woman asks for her daughter and the deaf man’s friends ask Jesus that he be healed. They are both outsiders. The Syrophoenician woman is a Gentile and we can’t say if the deaf man was, but he definitely was on the outside looking in as someone with a disability. In a culture that relies on oral tradition and few people being literate, not being able to hear or speak puts you at a major disadvantage.
What is Jesus supposed to do with these two that come to him seeking restoration and healing? The conversation that occurs between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is one that does not seem to highlight Jesus’ people skills very well. He is combative and the love that we have got to know Jesus through seems to be lacking. You could say that he even comes off as a jerk. We are left wondering what must be going on in his mind. Maybe he is tired and just needs to take a sabbath. Maybe he needs to get away and pray.
It is easy to get stuck in a rut and keep on doing what has always been done. When we do this, it is not uncommon to react negatively when we are challenged. When things do not go the way that we expect them.
To live in our own insular lives blocks others out that are different from us. The outsiders that we hear of in the gospels. The outsiders that usually get welcomed to have a seat at the table with Jesus to break bread and join in conversation. When we do this, we also close ourselves off to the possibilities that lay before us in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God that is unfolding before our very eyes. When we fail to welcome the outsider as Jesus does, we close ourselves off from the Spirit acting and moving in our lives to show us new ways to encounter Christ.
We first hear the promise in our reading from Isaiah this morning.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy (31:6).
There is one word that Jesus speaks this week that changes everything!
It is in Jesus’ natural tongue and it is, “Ephphatha!” Fortunately, for those of us that do not know Aramaic, it is translated for us within the text, “Be opened!” It is in this word that Jesus heals the deaf man so that he can hear once again and speak so that people can understand him. The man that was deaf and could not speak was now opened to the world around him. His ears were opened to hear the sounds all around him and his vocal cords were made alive so that he was able to fully communicate with friends and family.
When Jesus speaks “Ephphatha” to the deaf man, it is also reflective of the previous scene when he is approached by the Syrophoenician woman. In this encounter, it is Jesus that is opened up! His way of thinking and the way that he views the woman. While his words first come across as hard to hear, even hard to imagine they are coming from Jesus, the woman provides him with the smack upside the head that he seems to need at that moment. She opens him up to even healing Gentiles, and expanding his ministry to all of God’s creation, beyond the people of Israel. It is in her words that Jesus ears are opened and his compassion for others is expanded.
The call of Jesus for the deaf man’s ears to be opened is a call that speaks to us today. As we close ourselves off from others and stick to the things that need to be done, how are we being opened to encounter Christ and the Spirit that leads us?
That smack upside the head that I received in seminary was enough for me to be opened to more and to learn how to be. Of course, I do slip back into the doing probably more often than I would like, but the Spirit is powerful and pulls me back into being.
How have your eyes, ears, hearts, and hands been opened to the Spirit working in your life? How are we as a community opened up to serving one another and being available in times of need? I believe we have listened to God calling us to be open through many efforts as a community, including the Food Pantry at St. Augustine’s, the Good Samaritan Fund, and the Backpack Blessings program. We have also worked together for Kids Against Hunger that provides food not just locally, but throughout the world.
It is in these many ministries that we are open to the Spirit. Our denominations are called to be open as well, which is reflective in some of our taglines. The ELCA is called to serve with open hands as we realize it is God’s Work. Our Hands. The UCC encourages us to be open to hearing the Spirit guide us as we are reminded that God is Still Speaking. And the United Methodist Church could not be clearer as their tagline is Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.
To witness God working in the Richmond Community is wonderful and when we are able to come together to worship and serve, the love of Christ is multiplied, and we are able to expand our voices and welcome people in to be open to a movement of the Spirit that changes lives. Together, we come to the cross and give our thanks to God for the love that was poured out for us and all of humanity through Jesus and the saving grace that we find in the waters of baptism and the meal that is served at the Lord’s table.
Let us pray. God of Community, you have knitted us together as sisters and brothers in Christ. May we walk with one another as you open up our ears, eyes, hearts, and hands to serve our neighbors and learn to love the stranger. Amen.