Eternal God, who calls to us through all the little things, help us to be sharers of your story, help us to follow and share bread crumb trails that point to you, through your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last fall, at our Parish Retreat, we had an activity called the Glow in the Dark Night Hike. I attached glow sticks to the trees and bushes along a circular path near our camp, so that our families could walk in the quiet darkness by following the glow sticks. In society, we have a way of describing this kind of path. Bread crumb trails. The trail is a guide to follow and every little marker is a moment along the way. It comes from the story of Hansel and Gretel. Once upon a time…the story begins, there were two children named Hansel and Gretel. While their fairy tale is rather grim, the pair is famous for their bread crumb trail. They leave a crumb trail for themselves so that they can find their way home as they wander in the woods.
The bread crumb path doesn't work though, because the birds eat the bread crumbs and the children wander around in the woods. This is how they come upon the witch's shack and are hungry enough to eat it. But, we use this label indiscriminately. It doesn’t matter if the bread crumb trail didn’t work for Hansel and Gretel, we use it for any path that come to us in small bits and encounters. Many times we find our lives are series of bread crumb trails. We are on paths of career, family, spirituality. They all come as small bits at a time. There is a normal course, a guide to follow, and each step is a moment along the way. Compared to the length of years, each small three to five minute segment seems so small, and yet many of those small things end up becoming important things. All the little things that made you want to marry your spouse. It started with a little bit of connection. A smile. A comment. And then it builds, a little bit here, a little bit there, until one day you have a whole lot between you.
Every moment, no matter how big or small, changes the course of our lives. This mornings’ gospel reading has two examples of small encounters changing people’s lives. We don’t know if what we see in the Bible is the whole story - but the two encounters this morning took probably all of three to five minutes each. But! In those minutes, a man is opened to a world of sound he never knew before, a woman’s daughter is released from a demon, and Jesus has a new revelation of the scope of God’s mission in the world. That’s a lot to pack into a few minutes!
Let’s dive into what happened.
In the second part of the gospel, Jesus heals a man who is deaf and mute. He takes him aside and opens the man to a whole new world. A little bit of spit and a word, “Ephphatha.” “Be opened.” And this man’s whole world is changed. Being open is a powerful thing. God opening us up is a wondrous opportunity and once we are open, powerful things can happen. The man’s friends asked Jesus to open his ears and mouth. They didn’t really know what would happen. They had heard stories about Jesus, but all they had to go on was faith. They were open to the possibility and they were able to receive the gift. He fulfilled their request, but he also opened them all up to something else. Something new. God present with them. The man cannot keep silent about it. The crowds, the man who was healed, his friends, they cannot keep silent about this moment, this small encounter.
The woman in the first part of this morning’s gospel takes a risk with Jesus. She desperately needs some help with her daughter and she believes that Jesus can release her daughter from a demon. However, her actions go against all social conventions. Jesus, a Jewish man, should not be talking with a Syrophoenician woman. But she takes the risk anyway. She begs him to heal her daughter. And he does. Surprisingly, the one who is most opened in this story is not the woman or her daughter, but Jesus. At first, he does not want to help this woman. But he listens long enough to recognize her faith and change his mind.
It’s an awesome story. We think so much of Jesus being God made man, knowing everything, that its amazing to have a story in which we get to watch him change his mind. And it’s a story that seminarians and theologians love to discuss. God changing God’s mind. Yet, this story is most impressive because of the way this small encounter changes who gets to hear the good news of God’s love and forgiveness. God’s gifts are for everyone. No exceptions.
All because of a small open encounter.
When we build relationships with people, there is a process of trust which grows over time. Most of us open ourselves up fairly slowly. Not showing new people everything about ourselves all at once. We build our relationship with God in this same way. When we are little, we talk to God through simple prayers. As we grow older, we learn how to pray in different ways, we learn more about God and what He has done for us.
All three major players in this passage had a small encounter with someone new which opened up their lives in some way. But they aren’t the only ones. The disciples and the crowds that saw these miracles also were changed because of these events. And when Jesus then sent them out to share the story, share the good news, they had experience with the idea that God’s gift was for everyone. They knew that what they needed was to have small, real, encounters in which they shared their story. And we know that the disciples did their job. We are in the chain of God encounters in the world. The people the disciples met and shared with became the people who passed along the stories, all the way to us. And now, we are those agents, sharing our stories of encounters with God. We share the gospel in what we do or say. And we don’t always do it all at once. We don’t have to drop the whole story on someone at once – who can handle it all of it at once? We share crumbs along the way. I encourage you in this endeavor. Leave crumbs behind you and around you. We build relationships which change our lives through small everyday encounters. We don’t need large all encompassing moments to change our lives. Small encounters with the Gospel, with Jesus, with each other, can change our lives for the better.