Sermons That Work

Today the Scriptures Confront Us…, Proper 18 (B) – 2000

September 10, 2000

Today the Scriptures confront us with the power of Jesus to heal and our obligation to be the healing hands and presence of Jesus in our world. Considering the Scriptures, each of us can perhaps identify with one of the characters or recognize ourselves in some way: deafness, inability to speak clearly, maybe a sense of being caught or inhibited, unable to be a “do-er of the Word.” By making these connections we can then begin to recognize those places where God is trying to break into our life, and through us into our society and world.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus going to Galilee, the place where his ministry started. Going to Galilee is perhaps an indication that something of fundamental importance is going to happen in Mark’s Gospel. At Galilee, Jesus is confronted with an unfortunate man who can’t hear and has some kind of speech impediment. He is handicapped, at a disadvantage in his community, and ritually impure, his neighbor suspecting he had committed a sin. Illness and deformity were believed to have moral causes. Jesus reaches across the gap, opens the man’s ears and mouth, restores him to wholeness. The basis of the Good News about Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus restores people to community. His healings are about incorporating people into a new system where there are no outcasts.

Just before this morning’s Gospel lesson is the story of the Syrophoenician woman who claims the privileges of a dog to beg for Jesus to help in healing her daughter. We see Jesus reaching across prejudice, across lines of insider and outsider, and healing the daughter. Before that, we learn what really makes people unclean is what comes out of their mouths, not what goes in. Mark shows us Jesus changing religious rules to include more people, opening communication where there was deafness and denial before, creating new possibilities for relationship.

I wonder where we see this story in the world around us. Certainly in hospitals we are advancing in ways to help people hear and improving our technology and ways of helping people to speak. They are restored to community; it is exciting and awe-inspiring to speak with people who have had hearing restored. It is even more awesome to consider the cases of people who learn to read lips and are trained by skilled therapists to speak even when they cannot hear. There is such a woman in the television sitcom The West Wing. In the story, she is an employee at the White House–highly capable and functioning at the top of our society. Her deafness is not an impediment and she asks for no special treatment. She exemplifies the distinction that is often made between “cured” and “healed.” She is still deaf, but her place in society is healed. She is not an outcast.

Considering the difference between cured and healed, makes me realize that there is another way to think about deafness, too. I am reminded of a story about a man and wife. The wife would often break off a conversation to demand, “Did you hear what I said?” And the husband would look up from his paper mystified. Eventually she learned of a free hearing clinic to be held in town and took her husband for testing. The doctor, after the hearing test, told the man, “Sir, your hearing is fine. But you might need a marriage counselor.”

It is true, I think, that we often tune each other out. Husbands turn a deaf ear to wives, children tune out their parents. Sometimes communities of people will not hear the plea for help from poor neighbors. One of the greatest challenges to people trying to raise an issue on a national level is getting heard, breaking through the indifference of the news media, the politician’s agendas for re-election. Yet our protests are in a way perhaps like the prayer of Jesus praying for the deaf man, praying for all who are deaf to families and neighbors, a plea that ears be opened.

Deafness and denial have played a big part in my own life. Sometimes it required a terrible event to open my ears. And yet I have learned that I can prayerfully open myself to the ways I might be deaf; when I feel a kind of agitation or anger inside, I know it is an invitation to stop, to consider, and pray to God for help. An even greater step is to make my needs known to friends or trust them when they suggest I might need help. I know my friends can bring me to a place where I can get in the way of Jesus. My friends have gotten me to church, gathered me up in prayerful support, and thus encouraged me to get the help I need to hear what is going on in my life. In all of this they have been like Jesus in their ministering to me, praying that I might be healed, that my ears might be opened to what’s going on around me.

Who are the people around you at home or at work or school that you do not hear? Are there friends in your life trying to get you to listen to something you don’t want to hear? Do you pray for Jesus to open your ears, clear your mouth, and restore you to community where there are ever-expanding circles of friends–and no outcasts?

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Christopher Sikkema


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