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“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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“Christ is Risen!” 2018 Easter Sermon 04.01.2018

Easter 2018 * John 20:1-18 * April 1, 2018Easter 2018 * John 20:1-18 * April 1, 2018

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

So this year, Easter falls on April’s Fools Day. The last time this happened was in 1956 and there will only be two more occurrences of Easter falling on April Fool’s Day this century. In case you didn’t know this, the actual date for Easter changes each year. It’s not a set date like Christmas. If you were paying attention as we received the gospel readings over the past four days of Holy Week worship, you’ll note that scripture doesn’t tell us that Maundy Thursday or any of the other days have a specific calendar date – only a specific day of the week. After all, God’s time is not the same thing as human time. It may surprise some, but God, in fact, does not have an Apple Watch.

I’ve never explored this too far but…the date for Easter is determined as the first Sunday, after the first full moon, on or before the Spring equinox.

OK – before I keep chasing after that squirrel, let’s move on.

Since the very earliest days of the Christian movement, there’s been a very significant, and somewhat foolish I might add, greeting used to signify Easter and the resurrection. Someone will say “Christ is risen!” And someone else will say “He is risen indeed!”

Let’s try it.
Awesome! You guys are great.

BUT – wait a minute. Weren’t you listening? Why are we shouting for joy?

In our gospel reading on this Easter Day, Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved have been to the empty tomb, don’t seem to understand what is going on so they decide to head for home in order to continue their Xbox video game tournament. Or something like that.

And Mary, one of Jesus’ closest friends and someone whom I believe we should see as one of the first disciples, is weeping.

So why are you and I, followers of Jesus nearly 2,000 years later, shouting for joy?

Here’s something about the resurrection that has rested on my heart this year. Peter, the other disciple, and Mary Magdalene don’t know what’s going on – they don’t know the end of the story. At this point, all they know is that Jesus – this friend of their’s whom they thought was the Messiah – has been brutally killed just a few days earlier. They don’t see any reason why there is going to be anything more to this story than the horrific, bloody death of their friend on a cross. They have to be thinking – this is the end. Nothing more to see here. Let’s move on with our lives.

Early on this first day of the week, they come to the grave where they thought Jesus was to be buried, and he’s not there. Is that all there is to their story? Is the story of Jesus, God’s son, our Savior, over?

You and I know that death on a Friday we dare call Good, is not the end of the story. The first disciples to witness the resurrection didn’t know that, at least not yet.

As Mary is weeping, she doesn’t recognize Jesus, but Jesus recognizes her. Not because of anything she does, but because of what God does for her through Jesus.

We began worship today by giving thanks for and affirming our own baptism. In the sacred and holy waters and words of promise from God that is the sacrament of Holy Baptism, God claims us. A sacrament when we see Jesus recognizes us. Not because of anything we do, but because of what God does for us through Jesus.

Peter and the other disciple have no idea what is going on at the tomb “for as yet they did not understand the scripture.” Over the next few weeks in our worship life together, we’ll discover that they will begin to understand the scripture as they experience the resurrected Jesus first hand. Again, not because of anything they do, but what God does for them through Jesus.

After all of the Easter candy has been consumed – or hidden by wise parents – and the Easter dinner is over, and family and friends have returned to their homes and busy lifestyles; what does any of this mean? What does it mean to be a follower of this Jesus?

This Jesus who couldn’t even be stopped by death. This Jesus who recognizes and calls each of us by name as precious children of God – loved and claimed and freed – in spite of all of the ways that we try to turn and run from God. All of the ways that we try and put God to death expecting that we, somehow, can keep God dead.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the resurrection of Jesus is not simply a historical event that we remember each year like a national holiday or birthday. And the resurrection of Jesus is not only about some future hope that we have for ourselves and our loved ones after our earthly death.

I’m sorry, but if we focus all of our attention on a past or future event, we are completely missing the resurrection promise that’s right in front of us today. The resurrection promise of Jesus that calls us to live with a hope that we can experience and witness each and every day of our life together as part of the body of Christ. Hope that is only possible because of what God has already done, and is continuing to do for us, through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

So don’t worry about Easter falling on April Fool’s day this year. You don’t need to ignore it. It actually might be helpful.

One ELCA pastor, Paul Lutter said – “Through his death and resurrection for us, Jesus Christ is God’s foolish power on the loose among us. Our strength is toppled by his weakness. Our wisdom is toppled by his foolishness. And we are never the same again. We are made new. We are turned upside down for the sake of Christ, who dies and is raised from death for us. We are given new identities. Marked with the cross of this foolish Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit in the waters of baptism, we are made fools for Christ.” [“Foolish Power,” Living Lutheran, April 1, 2011]

So for today, let’s greet one another as fools for Christ with foolish joy and proclaim “Christ is Risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

And just like Peter, the other disciple, Mary Magdalene and every follower of Jesus since that first resurrection day, let’s not be afraid or stand around weeping. Let’s proclaim truth every day.

The truth that God has, is, and will always be a God of resurrection. A God of resurrection that conquers every death we will ever experience. A God of resurrection that sounds foolish to some. A God of resurrection that brings forth new life, always and in all ways.

And so tomorrow, on Easter Monday, let’s continue being fools for Christ as we greet one another with joy and proclaim “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

And next weekend we will greet one another with joy and proclaim “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

And later this year, we will greet one another with joy and proclaim “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

Thanks be to God! Amen.