A few summers ago,
our middle and high school youth group traveled to Atlanta, Georgia,
for our annual summer service and mission trip
and one hot afternoon
after working long-through the morning,
we finished up in the community garden
where we had been weeding and harvesting,
cleaning, and sorting vegetables…
and we all loaded up into our vans and headed out to take a break
and try to find a place to eat some much-needed lunch.
Ironically, having just worked in the garden all morning
we found ourselves in something of a food desert
with no restaurants around,
and yet we very much needed
to accommodate the appetites of 30 youth and adults!
We were tired and hungry
and as we drove around
we were becoming increasingly anxious to find a place to eat.
We looked on the map and finally found a shawarma restaurant.
Most of us didn’t know what a schwarma was at the time,
but we knew we were desperately hungry. It would do!
We drove up to this storefront with a glass façade
where the restaurant we had found was located
and a couple adults and I got out of the van to investigate the situation.
We looked though the glass at it looked empty
And when we pulled on the door to the restaurant
we discovered it was locked
and sure enough the sign on the door said “closed.”
We had missed the lunch hour.
We have all had the experience of needing something desperately–
a place to eat, or somewhere to stay the night,
or a trustworthy prognosis for an illness,
or welcome into a community – only to find a sign on the door that says “closed.”
And it is a helpless feeling.
We have all closed the door to people in our lives who needed help.
And maybe it is because we’re busy people, or self-centered, or afraid of being vulnerable and opening ourselves to risk.
As we stood in that blazing parking lot in Atlanta
The adult leaders and I peered into the restaurant,
And a man with dark skin and dark hair came to the door and looked at us and said:
“I’m sorry but we are closed. We’ve turned the ovens off.”
Perhaps he saw the look of helplessness in our eyes.
Perhaps he was a father and was moved as he looked out
at all the kids in the van.
He asked how many of us there were.
I told him there were about 30 people.
He hesitated only a moment, opened the door to us, and said,
“It will take a little bit of time to get the ovens up and running.”
In today’s gospel text,
Jesus encounters a man from the Decapolis in his hearinglessness, in his helplessness,
and Jesus takes compassion on him.
Jesus looks into his eyes and sees his need
and Jesus speaks the word of power to open that which had been closed,
demonstrating that the reign of God has come in his person.
The man from the Decapolis, with stopped up hears,
had been deaf to the sounds of the voices of his family,
left out of conversations, stranded, and unable
to fully take part in the world around him.
But Jesus commands the word
and the door to his speaking and hearing swings wide open.
Not only this, but the door to a transformed life for this man is burst off the hinges.
The same is true for the woman on Syrophoenician origin
who in right in her self-understanding that much of daily communal life
in first century Palestine would be closed to her
because she is a woman, and a Gentile, and as a Canaanite –
a member of a people who were enemies of God’s chosen.
And yet Jesus offers his power of healing to both of them,
Demonstrating God’s openness to all,
Showing that all people are clean in God’s sight,
And that no one exists who is excluded from God’s gracious love and favor.
God loves each person whom God has made
No matter a person’s gender, religion, or nationality
No matter their race, culture, or sexuality.
No matter whether or not they live with disabilities
No matter whether or not that are aware of God’s love
or whether or not they return God’s love.
God’s heart is open to all.
In fact, the word Jesus speaks to the man in the Decapolis is “Ephphatha.”
This is the Aramaic word that means “to open”
and Mark, the gospel-writer, interestingly enough, leaves it untranslated,
allowing us to hear Jesus speak in his native tongue.
We hear in the word “Ephphatha” –
the very sound that emanated from the lips of our Lord Jesus,
The very word that he spoke looking up to heaven
in complete dependence on the mercy of his Father
to hear him on behalf of this man’s need.
And we see that the Father does hear Jesus’ plea
and the man’s ears and mouth are opened,
and yet he is given much more.
A whole new life has been opened up to him:
He could now hear his family’s voices.
He could speak and be involved in his community.
Jesus has empowered him for a life
in which all sorts of new doors of community and vocation and involvement are possible.
And this man has seen in the face of Jesus the very presence of God,
and *that* is what is so astounding
that no matter how much Jesus orders him
(and the crowd that has gathered to witnessed this miracle)
to be quiet,
they simply cannot.
They have seen something so awesome that not only this man,
but everyone who has seen his healing, now have tongues that are set free.
All of their mouths are on fire
to tell the news Jesus has done everything well!
Even the deaf hear and even the mute speak!
They understand that this scene is the fulfillment
of God’ covenant through the prophet Isaiah.
“He will come,” Isaiah says, “with vengeance and terrible recompense to save you. And he will open the ears of the deaf and the mouth of the mute.”
And this crowd knows while these words have already come true
In God’s deliverance of Israel from their enemies and captors in Babylon
These words are coming true again in Jesus
And they see the new covenant
and the once-and-for-all freedom that Jesus brings to them now.
God has saved Israel from Exile and now God’s saving activity is coming not only to Israel but through Israel to all people – to gentiles and Syrophoenicians, and Greeks in these lands far outside Israel.
God’s favor and blessing are being opened to all.
And though the English translation in the NRSV is beautiful
the passage could better and more clearly be translated:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened
And the ears of the deaf shall be opened
And the lame shall leap like a deer
And the tongue that is dumb shall be broken open and sing for joy.
God is opening the way for all who are in need
And God has opened the door to us in Jesus,
So that we are brought home to God.
Jesus has opened his arms to all on the cross
And on the first day of the week,
God rolled away the stone so the world could see in the open tomb,
That nothing will stop God from rescuing us.
This risen Lord Jesus comes to us with forgiveness
and with gracious love to heal us again
To unstop our ears so we hear his word of life
He touches our tongue with the very presence of his body and blood
Given and shed for you
to renew you and me in life-giving speech and witness
and words that speak the compassion and mercy of God.
As people claimed by the grace of God,
We are called to work for and extend God’s openness.
Even in the midst of culture wars and cancel culture
that tries to shut people up and shut people out
Even in the midst of the political discord of our country
That has become so opposed to an open conversation about how to solve problems
Even in the midst of a world with a limited scope as to what is possible,
That dwells on our problems and challenges,
Where judge others ruthlessly can without seeking understanding can become the norm
Such that people completely close themselves off from one another
As a people claimed by the grace of God
We get to speak and be God’s openness to a world in need.
Not with acts of favoritism
to those who are wealthier or poorer.
Not with more welcome to those who have faith
than those who have more questions.
Not with distinctions of preference
for those who are more like us than less.
But taking up a collection of money and clothes
for those refugees who come to America
and are housed at Fort Lee
with nothing but the clothes on their backs,
trusting that the blessings that come to us are intended to flow through us
to these sisters and brother in need.
A people bearing with one another, still,
all these months later in this pandemic that makes it easy to villainize and judge one another,
praying for one another and seeking to work together.
God has made us into the people who come out of the back room
And turn the closed sign around so that it reads “Ephphthath.”
May we have eyes open to see, ears open to hear, and lips open in praise and song,
Because God has already opened the way for us.