Sunday, September 9, 2012
Canterbury Downtown, New York, NY
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Mark (7:24-37).
Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go– the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
A reflective sermon offering by two clergy companions, engaging the Gospel together.
The Rev. Sarah McCaslin and the Rev. Mary Cat Young
– On the day I met Jesus I was ragged with grief. My daughter was getting sicker each day, and I had begun to fear that she would not recover. My daughter, my baby girl, my life. I had left no stone unturned; I had exhausted all my resources. And for nothing. My heart ached inside my chest; I could no longer eat; no longer sleep; no longer hear the comforting words of friends. But through the sound of my heart beating in my ears, I heard a rumor- a rumor that a man had entered the town- a man known to heal the sick, cast out demons, even raise the dead. A Jew, a stranger in this place. And my breath caught in my throat and I felt the flutter of hope beating in my stomach. I had no pride left, no shame, no sense of decorum or care for political correctness. I found out where he was staying, and I showed up at his door, with no plan, only the stubbornness of my own grief to keep me going.
When people read about me, they think… how hard it must have been to be deaf and unable to speak clearly in that time and place – how did I communicate, connect, survive? What you need to understand is I did survive. I had a life, at least the life I was born into. It wasn’t perfect. But I managed. I was fed, clothed, and I had a safe place to rest my head each night. And each morning I would get up and face another day. I didn’t expect much more, and know others who survived on even less.
On the day I met Jesus…it was others who brought me to see this man. I wasn’t looking to change my life, to be healed, to be opened. They brought me to him, perhaps out of kindness, and hope, or perhaps thinking they were playing a cruel joke, because even if the rumors were true, how could a man, just a man, make these ears work that had never heard a noise before enter the world of sound? And what would I do if it really worked? What would it mean for the life I had managed to hobble together? My expectation for myself, and the world’s expectation of me, God’s expectation of me would change forever.
I could not believe the words Jesus spoke to me when I knelt at his feet in desperation, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” How could these rumors about him be true? A compassionate man, a healer, an emissary of a powerful and loving God? Not true at all. To say that to me when I was asking him to heal my own daughter- a child. I knew what he was really talking about, though. The children are the Jews, the chosen people of this God. I know I’m an outsider;
I don’t read their Scripture or practice their rituals. My husband and father were not circumcised. But I had a feeling about this God, a certainty that the power was not a rumor, but a truth that I could access, that anyone could access. But to hear that refusal… to hear that cruelty… I could hardly bear it.
And I could not, of course, let the comment go unchallenged. If the God of Israel is as powerful and compassionate as the Jews imagine, than that God must be a great God; a just God. And so I said it. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Be open to the possibility, Jesus, that your God is bigger than you think. Be open to the possibility, Jesus, that the food you have for the children is so abundant that it will not fit on your table and will spill over. There will be enough for everyone, with leftovers to spare.
And he heard me. He looked at me for the first time since I walked into the room. He really looked at me, and I could tell that his mind was changing. And I knew it, at that very moment that my daughter was going to get better. And I jumped to my feet in joy, before he even said the words I so desperately wanted to hear, “You may go- the demon has left your daughter.” And I ran home as fast as I could.
– I could not believe…how peaceful he seemed. He had been traveling, and there were many who were seeking his time and attention – how my friends got me through I do not know, there were so many who reached their hands forward with need. I could see that it was not a quiet gathering – and in just moments I would be able to hear it. But he brought me to a quiet place, looked me in the eye. I almost believed he could see my unbelief, and I may have even prayed in that moment that he really could do something for me, for in his eyes was a sincerity that made me think he truly wanted to help me. I could see his shoulders rise and drop as he sighed, warm breath touched the skin of my face, I felt the touch of his fingers on the side of my face and my chin, inviting my mouth to open so he could touch my tongue. And then it happened. I heard him say, “be opened.” I heard him say. And I was able to say – I hear you. I was able to hear. I was able to speak.
– After my encounter with Jesus I thought a lot about our short conversation, and about the God who released my daughter from her anguish. Whenever I had a chance, I told people what the God of Israel had done for me and for my child. And I thought about what Jesus had said, and how he had changed his mind, and I grieved that I would not see him again.
Not so long afterward, I heard rumors again, but this time, they were rumors about his arrest by the Romans and the religious authorities of his own people. And then I heard the most amazing news. Jesus had been crucified, like all the other rebels and dissidents, but his body disappeared, and they say he has been raised from the dead by his God. And I believe it. After what he did for my daughter, after what I saw in his eyes when he looked at me… I believe it. I believe the strength of God, and the abundance of God’s grace, and the power to overcome the very worst of all.
After my encounter with Jesus…What can I say, my life was changed. My body was changed. The possibility of who I could be, how I could be, it all changed. I entered a world of sound, a loud and constant world of sound – it took some getting used to – but especially getting use to the sound of my own voice. And with my tongue released, it was a voice that I heard constantly – a voice that could not help but say, over and over again, I have been opened. God has opened my ears, and my mouth, and my world. God has spoken into my life, so that I may speak into yours, so that I may hear your need, your hope, your desire, and reflect back to you the possibility that even if you are not looking for the healing you desperately need, it is there for you.
– I will never forget the moment I entered my household to find my daughter sitting up in bed with a smile on her face for the first time in weeks.
-I will never forget the moment that my ears opened and my mouth spoke their first words, “Thank you Jesus.”
– I will never forget this God and I will never stop giving thanks and praise to the God who could heal my daughter,
Who opened my ears and my lips,
and raised Jesus from the dead,
and scatter the world with so much compassion and justice and love.