“Ephphatha” 09.09.2018 Sermon

Mark 7:24-37 • September 9, 2018

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.

At the end of their fourth date, a young man takes his favorite girl home. Inspired by the amazing night they had just experienced – a romantic dinner at Dairy Queen followed by an even more romantic movie starring Adam Sandler – he decides to try for that all important first kiss.

Confidently, he leans his hand against the wall of the house on the girl’s front porch, smiling, he says to her, “How about a goodnight kiss?”

Horrified, she replies, “Are you crazy? My parents will see us!”

“Oh come on!” He says, “Who’s gonna see us at this hour?”

“No, please,” she says, “Can you imagine if we get caught?”

“Oh come on, “he persists, “there’s nobody around, they’re all sleeping!”

“No way,” she says, “It’s just too risky!”

“Oh, please,” he continues, “please, I like you so much!”

“No, no, and no. I like you to, but I just can’t!”

Image result for front door home intercom buttonOut of the blue, the porch light goes on, and the girl’s sister shows up in her pajamas, hair disheveled. In a sleepy voice her sister says: “Dad says to go ahead and give him a kiss. Or I can do it. Or if need be, he’ll come down himself and do it. But for crying out loud, tell your boyfriend to take his hand off the intercom button!”

In last week’s gospel, Jesus proclaimed all foods clean and challenged his followers – then and today – to take a good hard look at the filth we carry inside. “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:” is what Jesus said to us.

So…today we have two of the great healing stories in Mark’s gospel. And actually, the second one is only found in Mark’s gospel.

In the first of these healing stories, Jesus says to a woman with a daughter in need of healing “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

The children he is referring to are the people of Israel.

The dogs he’s referring to are the Gentiles, like this Syrophoenician woman.

Wait a minute, didn’t Jesus just do what he told us not to do – defile someone with what came out of him? Even in Jesus’ day, it was quite insulting to call someone a dog.

We can probably cut Jesus a little slack here. He’s maybe a bit off his game. He is desperately trying to get away from everyone pushing in on him, requiring his time and energy. He just needs a day off, even an afternoon free of responsibility.  Just a little bit of time to rest. And out of nowhere, he’s bothered by another person needing his attention. And this time it’s a person needing his attention who is not even in his circle of friends or part of the Jewish community. Why in the world should he take the time to be bothered by this outsider – she’s a woman and a Gentile woman at that.Image result for syrophoenician woman

One of the core elements of Christian theology – not just Lutheran theology – is that Jesus is human and divine at the same time. He is 100% of both. 100% divine, the holy son of God. And at the exact same time, Jesus is 100% human, born of the Virgin Mary, a human mother.

I think that’s part of the reason why the author of the gospel of Mark wants us to hear these stories of Jesus’ healing a Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and a deaf and mute man in the Decapolis. The woman helps Jesus see his own humanity. And in doing that, she helps him more deeply discover his divinity. Which brings healing to her daughter, to the man and ultimately to all of God’s creation.

Because Jesus is the savior of the world, situations that seemed completely hopeless, now have hope.

The daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit. A human Jesus wouldn’t have given this woman a second glance. After all – she’s an outsider in every way imaginable – gender, race, national origin, religious background, family lineage, etc. etc.

A divine Jesus doesn’t care about any of those things.

The Jesus that you and I claim to know about and believe in will not let stereotypes or walls or anything else that humans use to divide, separate us from his healing. A Gentile woman – a woman from outside Jesus’ known communities– helps him see that. And healing takes place.

After Jesus’ encounter with this woman in the region of Tyre, he returns closer to more familiar territory. He barely has time to say hi to the neighbors before a deaf and mute man is brought to him for healing. Lay your hands on him and heal him, they beg.

Jesus, no longer needing to be reminded of his divinity takes the man aside in private, looks up to heaven knowing full well now that his power comes from God the Father working through him and says “Ephphatha.”

Be opened.

And the man’s ears are opened and his speech is restored.

But, you might be saying, these healing stories are all fine and good pastor, but I’m not Jesus. I can spit with the best of them and stick my fingers in someone’s ears until the end of time and no healing will come from me.

To which I will always respond, yep.

But as the God of all creation works through you, I believe healing can, will, and does happen each and every day. Through you. Through me.

Ephphatha.

Be opened.

Be opened to the truth that God isn’t done with you yet.

Be opened to the destabilizing wisdom of people who are nothing like you.

Be opened to the voice of God speaking from places you consider unholy.

Be opened to the widening of the table.

Be opened to Good News that stretches your capacity to love.

Be opened. (www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/1907-be-opened)Image result for ephphatha

“Our faith can transform the world and challenge us to leave our comfort zones behind.” is how one pastor describes these healing stories in Mark’s gospel. (Bruce Epperly, Healing Marks: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel)

And another pastor challenges us even further by reminding us that, “Jesus, truly human and truly divine, brings with him truth of the coming of God’s new kingdom. Its unfolding brings healing and freedom not only to a specific people in a specific time and place, but to all people.” (Rev. Charles Cowen, www.modermetanoia.or/2018/08/27/proper-18b-humility-and-jesus/)

Ephphatha. Be opened. That’s exactly what the blessing we will receive and share at the end of our worship today is calling us to do and be on this God’s work our hands weekend.

So brothers and sisters in Christ, its ok if we lean against the intercom button once in a while. In fact, to be honest, I wish we would do that more often than we actually do.
Lean against the intercom button and wake the whole house, wake the whole neighborhood for that matter with the love of Christ Jesus.

Lean against the intercom button with the good news of walls being torn down and human divisions being healed with the kiss of God’s unending and unconditional love for all of God’s children through the life, death, and resurrection of the savior of the world Jesus the Christ.  That’s why we are here today. And that’s what we are being sent to do with everyone we meet this week wherever God happens to place us.

Ephphatha.

Be opened.

Amen.

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“This Teaching is Difficult” 08.26.2018 Sermon

John 6:59-71 • August 26, 2018

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.

If you’ve been paying attention in worship over the last 5 weeks, you know that we have been firmly planted in the 6th chapter of the gospel of John. It is the largest, most concentrated time in one chapter of one gospel that we have together as the church. I wonder why that is. I don’t know maybe, just maybe, this chapter still has something important for us to hear as children of God who claim to be followers of Jesus.

BUT – every time I read the 6th chapter of John, I join the disciples who first heard these words from Jesus and shout out – with a bit of a whiney and complaining tone to my voice – “This teaching is difficult.” Anybody else relate? As we’ve received these gospel readings over the last month?

Image result for john 6:59-71This teaching is difficult. Actually, if we study the Greek for the word translated in our pew bibles as “teaching,” we will discover that teaching may not be the best translation. A better and more accurate translation is “This Word is difficult.” Capital “W” on the word, Word. Which then brings us back to the opening of John’s gospel, doesn’t it? – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is Jesus. This Word is difficult.

John 6 is the midway point of Jesus ministry in the world. A point in time when Jesus is revealing that he is the one sent by God in flesh and blood. This is difficult for us to wrap our heads and hearts around. And for those of us today who already know the rest of the story, we know full well that it doesn’t get any less difficult from here. After all, there is a cross in Jesus’ future. And even more difficult to understand and believe than that, there’s a resurrection of a dead man coming soon too.

This teaching – this Word is difficult.

The Jesus we follow is not the latest and greatest self-help tool or fad diet. The Jesus we follow is the savior of the world. That was difficult for those who first heard him speak and followed him as he walked with them in this world. And it is difficult for you and me to grasp even as we sit in worship today.

Pastor, author, teacher Eugene Peterson reminds us that “This is still the way Jesus is God among us. And this is what is still so hard to believe. It is hard to believe that this marvelous work of salvation is presently taking place in our neighborhoods, in our families, in our governments, in our schools and businesses, in our hospitals, on the roads we drive and down the corridors we walk, among people whose names we know. The ordinariness of Jesus was a huge roadblock to belief in his identity and work in the ‘days of the flesh.’ It is still a roadblock.” Peterson believes. I tend to agree with his insight. [Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene H. Peterson, pg. 34-35]

In the sixth chapter of John we witness some of Jesus greatest miracles – Jesus feeding 5,000 people in the middle of nowhere with a couple fish and a few loaves of bread. Followed by Jesus walking on water. And the response to these miracles after all have eaten more than their fill and storms have been calmed … was to complain. To complain that this teaching is too difficult. To complain that you wanted chicken instead of fish. To complain that Jesus isn’t the all-powerful king that will overturn the oppressive rulers of the day. But you and I know better, right? We never complain, do we?

The truth of the matter is that we often do far more than complain, don’t we. More often than we care to admit, when we don’t get what we think we should be getting from this Jesus, we complain a little and then simply turn our back and no longer go with Jesus. Just like so many of his first followers did.

Instead of following Jesus, God’s gift of grace, we follow our own glory thinking that our greatness is because of us, not God working through us.

Instead of following Jesus, God’s abundant and unending joy, we work ourselves to death in order to buy one more toy for our garage that we believe will finally make us happy.

Instead of following Jesus, God’s unconditional love poured out for us in the flesh and blood of the savior of the world, we turn away and follow the next great thing that flashes on our smartphone or across our television or computer screens promising to love us more.

You see, Judas might be the one in the gospels who gets a bad wrap for walking away, for betraying Jesus. But as we heard again in today’s gospel, he isn’t the only one to walk away. Many other disciples did too. That’s still true today.

Eugene Peterson illustrates this by saying, “When it comes to dealing with God, most of us spend considerable time trying our own hands at either being or making gods. Jesus blocks the way. Jesus is not a god of our own making and he is certainly not a god designed to win popularity contests.” [Ibid. pg. 36]

What Jesus is inviting us into is different. It’s not life-based upon wealth or popularity or success or fame or power over others.
It’s life much different from any of those things that lure us away from a relationship with God through Jesus.

As a pastor colleague reminded me this week, “God calls us to a new kind of living.” He said. “To be a Christian means to be grounded in grace, and surrounded by God’s love. It also means to be willing to give of ourselves for the world around us. It means refusing to focus on what’s best for me and my own, but instead on how I might live sacrificially, so that others might come to know God’s love. It means not asking what I have to gain from this faith, but asking instead what I am able to give. It means wrestling with challenging beliefs and concepts – often times being called to stand in direct opposition to the world that surrounds us.” [Pastor David J. Risendal, http://www.onlelittleword.org]

Of the 100’s of volumes and 100’s of thousands of words written and spoken by the 16th century reformer Martin Luther, few ring as true to me and have had as much impact on my faith journey as Luther’s explanation for the third article of the Apostle’s Creed. We’ll share the creed together in a few minutes, but just to make sure we’re all in the same place at this point in the sermon, the third article of the Apostle’s Creed is… “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

If you’ve been paying attention over the last month, hopefully you notice that those words echo a lot of what Jesus is talking about in John six.

And Luther’s explanation, points to that even more as he wrote this explanation of the third article of the creed for the Small Catechism. A document that still serves to guide us in our faith journey today. “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins – mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.” [Luther’s Small Catechism]

Image result for jesus loves you iconIn today’s gospel reading, Peter confesses Jesus as the Holy One of God. Way too often, our confession is “Jesus, this teaching is difficult” rather than “Jesus, you are the Holy One of God.” In every one of those times. Times that may cause us to want to turn away from God, you and I need to hear Jesus say to us again, “Did I not choose you?” Because, that is most certainly true.

Following Jesus is not always easy.
And it’s often different from what we think it is.
Let’s face it, as we walk this journey of faith we are going to frequently complain or may even turn away from what Jesus might be calling us into or inviting us to become.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we can learn anything from the sixth chapter of John, maybe it’s a little something like this –John, chapter 6, reminds us of the depth and length and breadth that God will go to be in relationship with us. After all, the bread of life…the Word…the Savior of the world…has come down from heaven, for you, for me, for all of God’s children. God is doing all of this, for us, so we can have life. Have life abundantly here and now. Have life eternally as God’s kingdom continues to come. Amen.