Mark 7:31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. 36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
I have a word I wish to give to Mark-Peter as a gift on this day of his licensing. Actually, two words. You all can listen too and do with those words what you like, because they’re really for all Christians, not just pastors. These are not words that Mark-Peter and the rest of us don’t know already. We have seen Mark-Peter put them into practice, regularly. So, I’m effectively preaching to the converted.
I simply offer these two words by way of reminder, because I need that same reminder over and over again. And if anyone here ever gets the impression that I have forgotten these two words, then I urge you to remind me of them, too.
After all, that’s what pastors and preachers basically do: we are professional reminders. Every week from the pulpit, or in Christian Education, or in every commission meeting or counseling session, what we’re effectively doing is reminding people of the promises of God to us, and of the call of God on us. For that we can only be so original. As Mark-Peter reminded us this summer in his sermon series from Ecclesiastes, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
But we need those reminders because the basic human condition is that of forgetfulness. So often we are like the employee at the shipping department of the crystalware factory who wanted to get through preparing boxes of glassware and crystalware to mail in a hurry. So to save time, he would not stop to put fresh ink in his stamp pad, he just kept stamping the boxes harder and harder, until he was really banging away on the boxes, quite hard. The stamp said, “Fragile.”
Gee. You think he might have forgotten something?
Mark, the writer of today’s Gospel passage, wants us to remember these two words so much that he gave them to us in Jesus’ original Aramaic language. Or did we think that Mark just wanted to show off his command of another language? No. He does that several times in his gospel, and each time we find that these are very important words worth meditating upon. Because these are either words of Jesus that we have heard in the depths of our hearts and spirits, or they are words of Jesus that we shall hear, or both. Like when Jesus says to the little girl who had just died, “Talitha, Koum,” or “Little girl, Arise.” Aren’t we also expecting to hear Jesus call each of us to rise from the dead some day? And in a way, have we not already heard those words and arisen, at least from the waters of baptism to newness of life? So, every time Mark gives us Jesus’ original words in his actual Aramaic, that’s a red flag that says, Stop! Think about this! This word is also for you; believe it, receive it and think about it a while. Then do something about it.
And so it is with today’s Aramaic lesson: “Ephphatha,” or “Be Opened.” I’m offering us today those two words, “Be Opened.” I thought about offering them in the active sense, “Open Up,” and so the title of the message. But then it struck me that “Open Up” puts all the onus on us. “Be Opened,” however, is both a command and a blessing, like every Word of God. And it shows how much God is responsible for our ears and our mouth being open, as are we.
So, “Be Opened,” ears, to hear the word of the Lord. “Be Opened,” mouth, to speak that which came from the mouth of the Lord, that which you heard and which he placed in your mouth. As Psalm 40 puts it, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire but my ears you have opened… I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, LORD, as you know…..I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.”
Again, from many experiences with Mark-Peter, we can attest that he has shared the word of the Lord, because he has heard the word of the Lord. We can attest that Jesus has touched the ears of his heart, so that in the depths of his spirit there must have echoed the words, “Be Opened,” because the words that come out of his mouth sound an awful lot like Jesus. Therefore, he has come to this point of licensing toward ordination because this congregation has experienced his gifting for ministry, and can attest to it.
For example, some of our youth and young adults, including our own daughter, Emily, have had formative spiritual and ministry experiences under his mentoring at Urban Ventures. So that when this place in this community opened up as a possibility for us three years ago, it was a natural fit; we already had a fruitful partnership with Urban Ventures. He has also served on some of our commissions with valuable impact. And then there was his ministry during my sabbatical this summer, which received high marks in our latest Pastor-Congregation Relations Review. While I was out on sabbatical, I listened to his sermons over our website this summer for my own spiritual nurture. I’ve also seen how Mark-Peter relates to students, staff and clients at Cristo Rey High School and the Urban Hub, how whenever he smiles at them, greets, confers with, or even teases them, something of Jesus shines through.
So, here again is the phrase that I offer Mark-Peter, and all of us, really, by way of reminder, not of enlightenment or rebuke: “Be Opened,” or even “Stay Opened.” In other words, do whatever you can to stay in that place of open-ness, with Jesus, so that he can touch the ears of our hearts or spirits and open them, so that we can hear the Word of the Lord. And resort, whenever you can, to that “place apart from the crowd” where Jesus can touch your ears and your tongue, spiritually speaking, and put the word from his mouth into your own. For all Christians, but especially those in ministry, this is our most important task: going apart with Jesus to get our ears opened and have him put his word into our mouth.
But Oh, how easy it is to lose that living touch with Jesus and get ground down into ruts and rhythms where we just go through the motions, while forgetting the purpose, like that man stamping “fragile” on the boxes of crystal and glass ware. Sometimes I think it can happen especially to people in ministry. The devil is more likely to say to us, “Keep busy,” than he is to say, “Slack off.” Because we care about doing right by people. And because we can so easily confuse busyness with fruitfulness. Then we are drifting back into the condition in which Jesus finds everyone: deaf to his word, and therefore mute, even for all our chatter, even for all our religious chatter.
There’s nothing for it but to go with Jesus, away from the crowd as we read in verse 33, where he can again touch the ears of our hearts, where he can again put something from his mouth into ours, his word. So, this week, I carried with me, on a small notecard, the word, “Ephatha,” “Be Opened,” with which to begin my prayers and my journaling. I prayed it through the week, so that Jesus might open my ears and put something of his word into my mouth. Frankly, the heavens did not open, nor did a voice thunder from the sky with some new and game-changing revelation. But for me, one fruitful result of our hearing Jesus and testifying to his work, over the long haul, is this event, this morning, a confirmation of the ways in which God has gifted his church with people and their spiritual gifts.
So, everyone, including me and Mark-Peter, take time apart with Jesus to listen for the word of the Lord for you. Don’t worry, it won’t be something at odds with that which God has already spoken through Jesus, the prophets and the written word. Instead, it will be about the unique way in which the Word becomes flesh in you, in ways that are true to who God is, true to whom God is making you to be. And in ways to which the church can attest and confirm. As we are doing for Mark-Peter this morning, and his calling to ministry. Be open, as you have been already, to hear the word of the Lord for you, and to speak it, whether by word or by deed or both.
I’ll close with a prayer of openness by a monk and missionary from the 19th Century, Father Charles de Foucauld. I’ve carried it around in my pocket this week, too. Would you pray with me the words that he prayed? “Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father. Amen.