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16th Sunday after Pentecost                      __Mark 7: 24-37            __             September 9, 2018

All across the nation schools are now in full swing.
Classrooms are busy with activity as teachers are imparting words of wisdom, revealing impotent and meaningful knowledge and sharing practical skills to students.
Students are engaged in discovering, exploring, engaging and learning all sorts of great stuff.
One of the things I remember from my days back in Elementary School were the weekly vocabulary words.
And that’s where I want to draw your attention to this morning, a new vocabulary word.
In verse 34, where encounter the story of the man who was deaf and mute and he has been brought to Jesus by some of his friends and it is in that encounter we are introduced to a strange word—Ephphatha.
Try saying that…EPHPHATHA
Ephphatha is an Aramaic word that means, “Be opened.”
Interestingly, today’s readings have a thing or two to say about this notion of being opened.
The prophet Isaiah in our Old Testament reading describes a time when “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”
And here in St. Mark’s gospel we are told the story of Jesus opening the ears of the deaf man and empowering the same man to fully open his mouth in order to speak.
So, that’s what I want to talk about this morning, this strange word, Ephphatha."
"Be open."
More to the point, what does it mean?
What did it mean to the man in our story?
What might it mean for us?
And lastly, why should we “Be open”?
Let’s start with the man in the story,
In the time of Jesus, people believed that if a person was deaf, blind, or disabled in some way, it was a sign of God’s wrath and punishment.
There was a perception that the person was bad and had gotten what he or she deserved.
The Jews also believed such people were unclean and would avoid physical contact in order to prevent themselves from becoming contaminated.
The guy in our story also had a speech impediment and had learned that his life predicament was under God’s curse.
He would not have felt worthy to approach Jesus and make a complete fool out of himself.
I wonder if those who brought him to Jesus didn’t have to drag him all the way, perhaps not unlike the way some of you might have felt being dragged to church?
Jesus takes this outcast deaf man aside for a close encounter.
Can you imagine the horror expressed on the faces of the crowds when he touches the guy’s tongue with his spittle covered finger and sticks his fingers in the guy’s ears?
What Jesus does next is striking.
He looked up to heaven and sighed.
I imagine it was a deep anguished sigh while thinking, “Good God, what this poor creature has suffered in this intolerant, unloving world because of his condition and how awful that he thinks it is because you have cursed him!”
Then Jesus addresses him directly and speaks our word du jour, “Ephphatha!” “Be Opened!”
And immediately his ears were opened and his tongue was released.
What we learn from these episodes is that there is no such thing as an outsider or outcast in God’s eyes.
What we hear in this reading is how Jesus twisted the religious right that witnessed these events both by recognizing the faith of a gentile woman in the first part of our reading and by the intimate touch of a man who was judged unclean and cursed.
This inclusive, welcoming God, is often lost on modern church denominations where there is still judgment and exclusion and some of God’s children are still looked upon as outsiders.
Jesus did not just open this man’s ears, loosen his tongue.
He opened up his entire life.
He gave him a new beginning, a fresh start in life, and a world that would now be accessible to him.
The most significant effect of this healing was that this man could now be a participant in the life of a community—no longer an outsider.
So where in our lives do we need to be opened?
From what or whom are we feeling shut off?
To whom do we need to listen more intently?
From what thing that possesses us might we need to be released?
Keep in mind, our vocabulary word for today, “Ephphatha” was grammatically a command – not merely a suggestion.
God wants us to be open to new ways of thinking that will expand our understanding of God’s love for us.
God wants us to be open to share with others what God might be doing in our life.
God wants us to be open to the outsider, inviting them to receive the healing grace God wants to offer them.
God wants us to be open to the movement of the Spirit nudging us to try new things, explore new avenues, discover creative strains of energy we didn’t think we had in us.
And God wants to release us from whatever may be holding us back.
And this brings us to the question of: Why should we “Be open”?
Or, perhaps more pressing: How is our Lord ever going to get all of us to "open up" our lives a bit more freely?
I can’t help but believe that it's going to take a huge spiritual miracle in each one of us, if we're going to shed the different spiritual captivities in which we live.
But we have to begin to find better ways to live as if God matters.
We need to release the ligament that's holding back our tongues from speaking more joyously of God.
The world is going to ignore the church (and the people inside of it) if we cannot find anything important to say about this faith we cherish.
We can worship as politely as we wish … and behave in all the right ways … and STILL live anemic and trivial lives if we cannot find a way to open ourselves up enough to feel a little of the panic and surprise and power that comes with believing in a Lord who uses even spit to heal!
It's time we be set free of all our hang-ups.
It's time we come alive with our faith and love in a more expressive way - every single day—and not just for one hour on a Sunday morning.
A little juice wouldn’t hurt.
A little passion in it would all go a long way.
Maybe it is time for those of us Frozen Chosen Lutherans to warm up to the passionate love of Jesus so that we might share that love and grace with others in real and tangible ways.
If someone asked you why you believe this man Jesus is really important to you, could you do more than gulp and stutter in some confusion?
Don't worry whether or not you have the "right" religious words or vocabulary to speak with others about the difference God makes to you.
Religious mumbo-jumbo will not change the world.
You don't have to master the intricacies of theology to speak lovingly and convincingly of what God does for you in Jesus Christ.
We simply must find ways to articulate the faith and love in Jesus Christ that we hold so dear.
Back in 2006 our Lutheran church came out with a research project which revealed that 90% of teenagers active in the church could not tell you what their parent or parents believed. 90%!
They didn't know!
If adults cannot speak meaningfully and regularly of their faith, how will it ever get passed along?
This speech impediment we have on matters of faith is really quite peculiar.
Because on most matters in this country, if you're really for something, you let people know.
You put a bumper sticker on your car.
You fly an American flag on your house.
You wear a T-Shirts or a cap with logos.
You tattoo your favorite expression on your bicep.
If you're enthused about the difference that Christ Jesus makes in your life, why wouldn't you find a meaningful way to let people know … and to share at least a piece of that joy.
When Martin Luther put together a baptismal liturgy in 1523, the actual rite required the pastor to take some of his own saliva and touch the ears and lips of every child getting baptized.
At the same instant, the pastor was to repeat the words of Jesus to the deaf man with the speech impediment.
The baptizing pastor was to say: Ephphatha - Be opened.
We don't do this anymore in the Lutheran Church.
And I suspect the number of baptisms I perform might greatly decrease if I started using this saliva ritual.
But the idea isn't bad.
From the very get-go in life, with a lot of help from parents and pastors and adult mentors, we need to find better ways to not be so bound-up with our lives and so tongue-tied with our faith.
Have courage.
Grab hold to what is good.
Loosen up and love a bit more freely.
Support the weak.
Strengthen the faint-hearted.
Honor all people.
Through Jesus--God opened the deaf mans’ ears and voice.
And God calls, commands, invites to us, “Be open.”
Be open to what God is doing.
Open our eyes and ears and mouths and see what God is doing, and hear what God is saying, whoever the word comes through.
And be open to all who God sends our way.
Let us pray.
O Lord God, who has the gift to open up even the tightest of lives, work on us. Deliver us from that which has us all bound up that we might become truly free people ready to serve you with hearts that are wide open and willing. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

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