05 September 2006

be opened

Mark 7:24-37, “. . . and the more he told them to keep quiet, the more they talked.”

I remember the first time that I my wife. It was totally by chance; it was not a set-up or anything. She had just finished her first year at the University of Georgia and I had finished my first year at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon. A friend of mine was also a friend of hers. And this friend, Mel, and I and another friend of ours named Doy from Brewton-Parker had decided to meet for lunch one day and catch up during the summer break.

So we decided to meet in Macon, which was about the best place for us all to gather. But you see, Melanie was going shopping with a friend of hers earlier that morning . . . and they weren’t quite finished before lunch. So Melanie asked if her friend could come along. So the four of us had lunch together that day.

And this friends of Mel’s who was tagging along flipped her hair a couple of times and said a few 50-cent words that I hadn’t heard anyone else use before . . . and well . . . I was hooked . . . and I just couldn’t keep quiet about it. You see, I was not able to NOT talk about her.

This set of stories from Mark also gets me thinking about “not keeping quiet”.

In the second story there is the man who could not hear and could not speak. For this man there was nothing but quiet. Imagine your life if there was no sound. Imagine your life if there was no sight. Imagine your life without some of the things that you now enjoy, that you may take for granted at times, those things that add to your life.

Imagine your life if you were so very different from everyone around you.

We are all different in some way, but imagine if that difference caused such a barrier between you and everyone else, like getting around in a wheelchair causes a barrier for some people as they try to go to the grocery store or to church.

This man lived in a world where he had to hear what other people were saying through watching their lips and through the way that they waved their hands. And this Jesus took this man aside, away from the crowds where only a few people were present to witness what happened next.

Jesus places his fingers in the man’s ears, touches the man’s tongue. Jesus sighs . . . and I can only imagine that he is breathing in and out the years of struggle and pain, the way in which people may have been cruel at times, the ways that people, even quite subtly, without even knowing it, the ways that people had excluded this man. Jesus sighs . . . and then says, “Eph-phatha,” which means “be opened”.

Then Jesus asks the man to be quiet!

This man had been nothing but quiet his whole life up until now. And Jesus asks him to be quiet . . . but the man cannot be quiet.

And we read about this Syrophoenician woman too! Jesus begins to shoo this woman away . . . the way that we might shoo away a dog who is trying to get at the food that we have prepared, food that is intended for our children, the ones that we are supposed to be feeding in the first place.

It is a little bit troubling to read this passage where Jesus compares this woman and her people to dogs, to ones who are not worthy, who do not deserve what Jesus is bringing to the world. This is Jesus at his most human. But then that is what you tend to get in the gospel of Mark, a Jesus who is very down to earth, a Jesus who seems to want to keep his ministry a secret, as if he is not quite ready, as if he is still learning what it means to be the Son of God.

So this Jesus that asked the deaf and mute man to be quiet after being healed, this Jesus also says to this Syrophoenician woman that she and her daughter who is ill, who is possessed by a demon, Jesus says that he did not come for her and her daughter.

And this woman, this Gentile woman, she had the audacity to approach Jesus, because you were not supposed to do that. This woman does though; she comes up to Jesus and asks for healing. And when Jesus says “no,” this woman does not remain quiet.

She speaks.

She confronts Jesus and says, “But even the dogs, the dogs that you have compared me and my people to, even dogs get the crumbs from the table!” She did not keep quiet. She did not turn quietly away when she was told “no.”

There was something about her faith, a faith that we do not even know where it came from. Our scriptures give us no clue there. But her faith said to her, “I know that God wants this for my child. I know that I too am a part of God’s world, even though I have been rejected, even though I have been put down. God wants more for me and for my child.”

She could not keep quiet.
The man who was once deaf and could not speak, this man could not keep quiet.

And when we think of the ways that God has worked in our lives, the ways in which God has been with us in the past and the ways in which God is present with us now, and the ways in which God will continue to be present with us in the future, how can we be quiet? How can we be quiet when God has brought new life to us out of death? How can we be quiet when God has given us blessings, and food, and shelter, and the very breath that we breathe?

If you read the other lectionary text for this week, James 2:1-17, the writer of the is talking in a different way about the very same thing, about the way that our faith begets works, about how what is inside of us is seen on the outside . . . in our actions and in our lives.

Sometimes people call this “talking the talk and walking the walk.” But what James is trying to remind us of is that true faith cannot help but express itself. For James, true faith cannot keep quiet. True faith will flow out of our lives into actions that are just, relationships that provide wholeness and healing, not more brokenness and pain. There is already enough of that in this world.

We must remember with such gratitude the times in our own lives when we were down, when we were sick, when we were naked and in prison, when we were without the basic necessities of life, when we were caged by whatever has kept you from knowing God’s love for you whether that be envy or greed, or anger or sadness. We remember these times and how God has brought us out of those times, how God brought us through. We remember the way that God has healed us when we had been rejected. We remember the joy that God brought into our lives when we thought we might never experience joy again. We remember that day that we could hear, that we could see, when everything sounded and looked different because we heard it and saw it through the eyes and ears of faith.

It is out of that gratitude that we work for Christ.

Sometimes people want to make you feel guilty in that you have to “pay God back” for what God has done for you. That’s missing the point! It is out of gratitude that we work here in the church, not obligation, not indebtedness. It is out of that gratitude that we share our faith with others through practicing justice, treating others as we would want to be treated, accepting others as we would want to be accepted.

In many congregations it is the practice of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, that is a meal of gratefulness. This is not a meal of sadness where we feel unworthy to partake. God has made us worthy, all of us. We come to that table to experience again the ways in which God loves us and accepts us, the way that God invites us to God’s table, to share in these gifts of bread and wine, very tangible things. It is so that we may be strengthened, so that we may go out into the world to work for God and the church of Christ.

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