Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ephphatha. Be opened.


Ephphatha. Be opened.

Ephphatha is a funny word to our ears.
In Aramaic it means to be opened.
Aramaic was the language Jesus spoke most of the time.
It is characteristic of the gospel of Mark that we hear the words Jesus used,
instead of being translated into Greek and then English.
There is an understanding in Mark that the words of Jesus are powerful.
Words do have power, that is true,
though not in the same way as some people in the ancient world understood them.
They weren't magical.
However, it is interesting that Mark was concerned about representing the words Jesus used.

Ephphatha. Be opened.

The woman in the story from the gospel passage was certainly ready to be open.
I imagine that by this point in her life, she was at the end of her rope
with trying to help her daughter.
I'm sure over the years, she had tried everyone.
The physicians, the local healing woman, the priests,
and nothing had worked to this point.
She was probably open to any idea that would help her daughter.
Even going to some itinerant healing rabbi of the Jewish people.
She was open and determined to help her daughter out from under the oppression of an unclean spirit.
So when he, Jesus, degrades her by metaphorically calling her a dog,
she still doesn't let that stand in her way.
She responds in a way that even opens HIS eyes.
There was certainly a natural order to whom got fed first,
adults and children, then animals.
But even still, there is something available for the animals.
And her openness, her faith in her daughter's ability to be well,
her faith in the idea that this man, this itinerant Jewish rabbi,
could save her daughter
allows for a miracle to happen.
She is open. He is opened.
Her daughter is opened to a new life in the world without the demon.

Ephphatha. Be opened.

The deaf man had been closed off to the sounds of the world
ever since he was born.
Hence, he had an impediment in his speech,
he tried to make the same sounds, the same shapes he could see other people's mouths making,
but he couldn't hear them properly,
so he couldn't say things properly.
He was closed off to the conversations going on all around him,
all the time, cut out from the world of sound.
Yet, he has some friends, some family,
someone cared enough about him to think of him when they heard about Jesus,
about this healing rabbi who was traveling in their area,
and they bring the deaf man to Jesus.
They must have cared a great deal about this deaf man,
because whoever it was that brought him,
begged Jesus to heal him.
Jesus didn't heal everyone who was brought to him.
He healed many.
But there was no shortage of broken and hurting people in the ancient Judean world
and he only had so much time.
But their faith in him, their faith in this deaf man's openness to hearing,
convinced Jesus to take him aside and open up his ears,
to open up his tongue,
so that he could communicate with the world and be open to the sounds around him.

Ephphatha. Be opened.

When I was working as a seminarian in a church in Chattanooga Tennessee,
The diocese was going through the conversations around same gender marriages.
The church I was working at had many vocal people on all sides of the conversation.
The matriarch of the parish, one of the oldest female members of the church,
was violently opposed to the idea.
Mostly because of some traumatic experiences she and her family had had in the past.
Another member, one of the Vestry, was a partnered lesbian woman,
who wanted to have a family and raise her children at that church.
Needless to say, there was a lot of high emotion around the issue.
So the rector held an open parish conversation evening and a good portion of the congregation showed up.
It was a long evening
spent listening to many different opinions and stories and feelings,
unfortunately including some yelling and some tears,
but throughout the whole evening, we sat and we listened.
We tried to be open with each other.
We hear each other stories.
And some healing happened.
I won't say that everyone was happy after that evening.
Certainly some people were not.
But I can say that the life of the congregation was strengthened.
Was opened.
People were more open with each other after that day,
they had shared their stories and shared their lives with each other.
They were more open to the experiences of the other.
One sign of that, a few months later, when the partnered lesbian Vestry member announced that she was pregnant,
the matriarch of the parish, threw a baby shower for the Vestry member.
We were all opened to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
We were open to the faith that we can still be one Church,
even if we don't always agree.

Ephphatha. Be opened.

Jesus calls to us.
Here and now.
Ephphatha. Be opened.
In whatever struggles we are experiencing,
long term ones like the deaf man or the woman with the demon possessed daughter,
short term struggles, like an illness or a bad situation, or community conflict,
be open to God.
Sometimes being open to God, being healed by God, doesn't mean our troubles go away.
Sometimes being open means instead
being open to the opportunities and lessons
present in the situations in which we find ourselves.
We all have moments in our lives when we act deaf or blind,
we all have moments in our lives when we don't seem like ourselves,
instead being possessed by anger or fear or ignorance.
Jesus is waiting for us to ask, to admit we need help,
and then with compassion, he will open us up.
Ephphatha, be opened.
And we will see, we will hear, we will find our hearts moved.

It is a funny ancient Aramaic word, Ephphatha.
Try to say it with me: Ephphatha. Ephphatha.
It has a lot of "h" in it. A lot of breath.
Ephphatha.
Breath is the opening of the Holy Spirit.
Be opened to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Take this word with you this week, Ephphatha.
Where does Jesus need to speak this word in your life?
Be opened my friends.
As we start our new program year,
as we go back to work or back to activities of the fall,
take Ephphatha with you.
What needs to be opened to God?

Ephphatha. Be opened.
Amen.