Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37 - 5 September 2021 - A sermon given by The Rev. Peter Munson for the people of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Park City, Utah
Be Opened

Be Opened


“Then looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” (Mark 7:34)


I have a question for you. Is there an area of your life - right now - where God is challenging you to be open to a new possibility… a new way of thinking, seeing, or being?


SITUATION - Two stories, two healings, and different circumstances


We were talking in the Lectio group on Thursday about how we have these two stories, back to back in Mark’s gospel - the Syrophoenician woman who has a daughter with a demon, and the deaf man with the speech impediment. The daughter and the deaf man are both healed, but how those healings come about is quite different.


In the case of the Gentile woman, Jesus is hiding out - perhaps trying to get a little vacation at the shore - in Tyre, a city of ancient Phoenicia, and still a city, now in Lebanon. She has to go find Jesus, and when she does, she bows down at Jesus’ feet and begs Jesus to cast the demon from her daughter. Jesus, perhaps not wanting to be bothered, calls her a dog - makes it quite clear that he is called to the Jews, not Gentiles. The woman is undeterred and thinks quickly about the dogs she knows who eat the scraps that fall from the children’s table. She was a mom on a mission, she had heard of Jesus’ healing power, and though she may have been surprised by Jesus saying this, she had been insulted before.  Jesus was so impressed with her response that he sent her on her way, saying that the demon had left her daughter. I believe this was also a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. This woman who used her voice and her power to challenge him made him realize that he was called not to save the Jews alone, but all people.


Did you notice that, according to Mark, Jesus didn’t touch the woman, didn’t go with her to see her daughter and interact directly with the girl? No, he simply said, “the demon has left your daughter” (Mark 7:29), and her daughter was healed.


In the case of the deaf man, Jesus’ vacation is over and he has headed to the Decapolis, a region of 10 cities, most of which were east of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, in modern-day Jordan. (It’s almost as if, after the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus intentionally heads to another region outside of Israel.)

The deaf man’s friends and family members brought him to Jesus, and, as with the woman, they begged Jesus… “begged him to lay his hand on him.” (Mark 7:32)

In this case there is no exchange about feeding the children first, and no healing by speaking words alone. No. Jesus leads the man away from the crowd, and puts his fingers in the man’s ears and some spit on the man’s tongue. Jesus looks up to heaven, sighs - what do we make of that? - and said to the man, “Ephphatha” - “Be opened.”


And immediately - or “just like that” as it is translated in The Message, his ears were opened, his tongue released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus ordered the onlookers to not tell anyone. And they totally ignored him and told everyone they encountered, singing Jesus’ praises!


Two healings happened, but they happened in different ways. It was not “One size fits all.” In fact, in the first case, Jesus was not, at first, even inclined to offer the woman anything!


Jesus allowed the woman to impact him - to change his mind! Chew on that for a moment!


(Julia still mentions at times a sermon she heard probably 35 years ago in a Presbyterian Church in Denver, where The Rev. Mike Ladra said that “Prayer moves the hands of God.”)


COMPLICATION - Our limited thinking


We tend to get limited in our thinking, you and I. We tend to think or maybe even say, “God will act in this way” or “You’ve gotta have faith!” For one thing, that skips over the stories in the Bible where Jesus commends the faith of the friends, not the faith of the person who Jesus ended up healing, who - in some cases - seems to be a passive participant, at best.


How many times do you hear people say, “Challenge God! Give it right back to him! Tell God you disagree, that you are not going to stand idly by when it seems as if God is ignoring you or even insulting you!” (I”m guessing… not very often!)


We tend to be people who say, in effect, “Since my encounter with God… my healing… my salvation… my transformation… happened in this way, then you need to do what I did. You need to say the words that I said.”


The people of Jesus’ time were absolutely sure that the rich were blessed and the poor and sick had sinned in some way, and Jesus comes along and says, “Nonsense! Blessed are the poor! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”


And again, the tax collector who beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” went to his home justified, not the religious Pharisee who bragged about his fasting and tithing.

(See the James reading for today, also.)


GOOD NEWS - Transformation and healing can happen “just like that!”


“… the demon has left your daughter.”


“And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”




With God, all things - healing, transformation, life-changing insight, being given a whole new call, salvation, reconciliation - are not only possible, but they can happen just like that!


And even when our prayers are not answered in the way that we want them to be, even when our spouse dies, or our great-niece dies after an amazing, life-affirming battle with cancer, months shy of her 20th birthday, even when things happen that we simply cannot begin to comprehend, there is the truth that with the resurrection of Jesus, even death has been swallowed up in victory. There is the truth that we live in Christ and we die in Christ, and therefore we stay connected… we are all one in Christ… this side of the grave and beyond the grave, transcending time and space.


God is to be found everywhere and nowhere, in everything an in nothing - no-thing. Healing and transformation can happen this way and that way and also that way, too! Healing can occur when we seek God with mother-bear energy and when we are so incapacitated that our friends do the heavy lifting and carry us to God. Healing can happen when we are so awestruck that we have no words and when we are so desperate that we challenge God with our words, and ultimately change God’s mind.


NEW BEHAVIOR - Be opened


So be opened!


Be open to being healed in a way you don’t expect.


Be open to someone, maybe even God, not saying what you expect them to say.


Be open to others loving you so much that they seek what is best for you… maybe even drag you to Jesus… before you ever realized that that was exactly what you needed.


Be open to letting go of some ministry that you have done for years, so that you can say “yes” to a new call from God.


Be open to being wrong.


Be open to speaking up… to challenging someone… to finding your voice… to not accepting “no” for an answer.


Be open to playing the fool.


Be open to risking everything on Christ loving you and being for you.


Be open to breaking a habit or a pattern or a way of thinking that is hurting you and holding you back.


Be open to being born anew.


When God acts in you or through you, it is going to be for the good of someone or something - you, someone in need, many someones in need, or the planet.




There is a lot of bleakness in the world, a tremendous amount of need and hurting, so many challenges and so much heartache. And…


God is with us.


When you are open to God, life can change - just like that!


Remember the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter. Remember the deaf man and his friends. Remember all the times in your own life when you were open to God’s intervening, and when God intervened, something new was born in you.


Be opened!

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