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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

He Does Everything Well

He Does Everything Well

 Mark 7:24-37

 

In today's scripture Jesus has gone into Gentile territory, perhaps to get away from the crowds, but even there he encounters a woman who has heard about him and a deaf person who is probably also a Gentile.  Jesus' mission up to this point has only been to the Jews, but his encounter with the woman whose daughter has been possessed opens up new possibilities.  The woman outsmarts Jesus in the dialogue, something the authorities had been unable to do.  Jesus responds, not with irritation, but with graciousness and heals her little girl.  But the second healing in this piece of scripture is the one I would like to talk about this morning.  Jesus' second healing fulfills two of the signs foretold in the book of Isaiah, namely that the ears of the deaf would be opened, and the tongue of the dumb would sing.  People in Jesus' time believed that spittle had a curative quality and was a means of healing.  Jesus provided body talk for a man who might otherwise not know what Jesus was communicating.  (Read Mark 7:24-37)

 

One of my favorite hard of hearing stories comes from an event that happened during one of my mother's hospital stays.  My sister, Joe and I had gone to visit her and it wasn't long before we realized her roommate was an incessant talker.  Her husband was standing beside her and did not say a word.  I don't think he could get a word in anyway.  When the woman seemed to take a break from her chatter we took the opportunity to try to include him in the conversation by asking him a question.  When he failed to answer the question, his wife informed us, "He won't answer you because he can't hear you."  So we gave up trying to include him.  Not long after he decided to leave the room and as he passed me, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I heard every word you said," and walked out the door.  He had practiced selective hearing and I think I know why.

 

But back to the gospel story.  It was unheard of in Jesus' time that a deaf person could be cured, let alone given the gift of new speech.  Yet here was Jesus doing that very thing to a deaf who was more than likely a Gentile.  Jesus used the familiar rituals of healing that were popular at the time, the afflicted parts were touched and spittle was used as a curative, something the deaf person could understand.  And it worked.  The former deaf person simply could not keep quiet about his cure even though Jesus admonished him not to tell anyone.  This was a true miracle, to a Gentile and his response was a natural response, to rejoice and tell everyone about what had just happened. 

 

A few things can be said about this miracle and what it might mean.  For Mark this event was evidence that Jesus had unique powers and that Jesus did not intend his message to remain with the Jews alone.  The Gospel message was intended for the entire world.  His message was gaining in popularity and was beginning to hit home to those who heard, including his disciples as they witnessed Jesus' healing and heard his words.  But we can find a parallel to our times in this story as well.  We find a great part of our society spiritually deaf or using selective hearing when it comes to the gospel message and we may find ourselves deaf to many aspects of its message as well.  We don't explore and study the message well enough to proclaim it with certainty and conviction. 

 

But, there are moments for us when God says, "Ephatha! Be opened!" and we receive clear insight into another aspect of the Gospel message we didn't think about before.  I find that when that happens I want to share that insight with someone, to sort through and get feedback about my new understanding, to let someone else know what happened. 

 

Any one of us can remember those times when we have questioned and doubted the veracity of our faith.  Sometimes we bury our doubts, believing we should not have those doubts,that we are not faithful enough if we do doubt.  But I would challenge that type of thinking.  We are at our best when we grow from our doubts.  Aren't there times when we ponder whether God exists?  Then we can take that doubt and explore it.  What are the things that tell us that God exists?  What are the things that tell us the possibility that God does not exist, that we have only imagined this story we live by?  We can, with God's help and guidance begin to filter out the garbage self messages that lead us from the truth and can then begin to find the reasons why we have to believer in the existence of God.  We know too much about our faith to place stock in our doubt about God's existence.  There are some people who do come to a conclusion that God is just a figment of our imagination, but those people often carry hurts along with that belief and find a restlessness that cannot be stilled.  Most of us can travel back to our past experiences with God, remembering when God acted in healing ways, in comforting ways, in joyous ways.

 

It is when we experience doubt that God is able to open our ears and teach us new things.  It is also when we are at our lowest moments that God can open our ears as well.  God speaks our language in those times.  Just as Jesus used body language so the deaf man could understand, so Jesus uses the language we will pay attention to in order to move us to a new point of understanding and faith. 

 

At other times we practice selective hearing when it comes to our faith.  We lock ourselves into a certain point of view and believe that is all there is to know about our faith.  It may be easier to think we know, than to have our ears opened to other possibilities, deeper meanings that help us grow spiritually.  Our simple reaction to familiar Bible stories might be "yes I know that story.  I thank God that Jesus healed the deaf man.  Jesus heals!  That's all I need to know."  So we don't take time  to delve into the story, to find deeper meanings or new insights into that particular event that can deepen our faith.

 

In a few months we will move into the season of Advent.  We will think we've heard the same story year after year, and we will think we know the details and the story's meaning.  We will hear once again the story of Mary and Joseph and dreams and travel and birth.  We will light candles and sing familiar songs and hears messages of waiting and expectation.  We will celebrate the story of birth as we imagine bells ringing and angels singing and shepherds and magi coming to see.  But no matter how familiar the story is, if we allow our ears to be opened, the story will contain fresh and new meanings that emerge as God speaks to us through those stories, rituals and songs. 

 

In one of the churches I have served, we used to have four Christmas Eve services.  It was during the last service one year, exhausted and ready to go home and sleep, that tiredness overwhelmed me.  I was ready for the evening to end and I just didn't want to face one more repetition of the story of Jesus' birth.  It was approaching midnight, my feet hurt, my voice was dry and cracked from speaking, and my soul was flagging seriously.  I felt like I was walking in a dream as I got up to read the scripture yet once again.  As I spoke the words, "and laid him in a manger," something woke within me, and the words continued to echo in my mind even as I read the rest of the story.  In a new sense I realized that was what it was all about!  Jesus was born to feed the world, just as the manger provided hay for the animals, so Jesus provided living bread for the world.  That familiar part of this story took on new meaning as the words sank in.  My ears had been opened to a new aspect of that story.  I remained inspired about that new meaning as I worked through the rest of the service.  During the candle lighting part of the service, I felt close to tears at the remarkable inspiration God had given me in the story I had read hundreds of times before.  It wasn't just about a baby being born, or a tender story of faith, it was about the bread of life being offered to the world and generations would be able to partake of that bread.  I can only hint at how that one inspiration changed the way I approached Christmas after that.  The story had transforming power and it would never be received or told the same way again for me.

 

Jesus continues to open our ears even when we are tired or discouraged or flagging in our faith.  We are given the capacity to hear and to tell the story anew if we allow our ears to be opened.  I wonder what we will hear in our journey together in the coming year as we begin this new season of worship and Sunday School.  I wonder what new insights will be ours as we travel through Christmas and Easter and all the in between stuff in the Gospel stories.

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