Ephphatha… Be Completely Opened!

15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 6, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street,
San Diego, CA 92114

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And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. [Mark 7:34, 35]

Our text this morning is not about faith healing, although there was a healing of a man who was deaf and could no longer speak.  Our text is not meant to show you the power of faith, as if it was some secret force that you can use to steer your life in a positive way, thus avoiding the pain, sorrow, and tragedy of life.  No, instead, all of our texts this morning, are examples of God doing and desiring things His way; of God simply doing what He has already declared He will do for us and in us, if we will simply yield to His will and trust in that will.

This morning, God says to each of us, “Ephphatha” that is, “Be completely open!”

This morning God has made a way that you must follow in order to know Him and have an abundant life; it is a way that only He can provide.  It is the way of faith that allows you to not just hear Him speak, but to be changed by the very Words He speaks.  Will you be opened?

In our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 35:4-7), God instructs me to declare to you His children, the same message that He instructed the prophet Isaiah to declare to the children of Israel who were in bondage in Babylon:  “Say to those who have an anxious heart, to those who are quick to loose faith and grow discouraged and want to run away and hide when the devil attacks, “Be strong!”

Say to my children, “The devils have already been defeated and they are powerless to harm you; their roar and fierceness is only an illusion to trick you into scattering out of fear.  Say to my children that even if all of the devils awaiting punishment were to gather in mass against you, your God is still much stronger and able to save.”

Say to them, “Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you from all of your enemies.”

These Words can be hard for us to hold onto because they are Words about the future, that is, they require us to have faith; to wait.  The Israelites were in bondage in Babylon, but they had been in that position before, hadn’t they?  They were in bondage in Egypt much longer than they were held in Babylon, and still God made good His promise.  And now, the prophet Isaiah declares that God is getting ready to do something even greater, very soon, so hold on and trust God.

And indeed God did return a remnant back to Judah; back to temple worship and back to another chance to walk by faith with their God.  And how did they do?  Well, once again they began to loose faith in God’s presence and promises; they began to replace His pure Word with the delusional teachings of men.  They began to question the prophet’s declarations of promised healing and restoration to the land.  What declarations?  Listen: “God will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.  For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.”

They began to grumble that God was not keeping His end of the bargain; that He was slow in restoring glory to the nation Israel. They may have given up on God and His Word, but remember, God always does what He says He will do.  And if we miss it, then the fault is ours and not God’s.

In our gospel lesson (Mark 7:31-37), God’s own Son, Israel’s Messiah and our Savior is demonstrated in all of His glory, breaking into the time and lives of men.  He enters a region of the Decapolis, by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, the same area that Elijah settled into with a widow, whose oil and flour would not run dry; the very same widow whose son was raised from the dead.

It’s within this region, Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and the Champion and Savior of the church begins to demonstrate to Israel His credentials as the Messiah.

Some well meaning people heard that Jesus was passing through; Jesus the healer, the master who can even drive out demons, so they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to heal him by laying His hand upon Him.” [v. 31-33]  But Jesus does not work as man demands, but instead He does the work and will of God.  So…

Jesus takes the man aside into an isolated place, away from the crowd and they are alone; just Jesus and the man that is to be healed.  Jesus looks into the deaf mans eyes, and begins to engage in a sermon that will bring both faith and obedience; a sermon that will bring not simply a healing, but a right relationship of faith with God and eternal life.

Once Jesus has the deaf man’s attention he uses his fingers to communicate; He places them in the man’s ears.  Now the man understands that Jesus is getting ready to do something that will restore his hearing.  Next Jesus spits and then touches the man’s tongue.  The man understands that Jesus is also going to fix his speech.  Then, with the man still intently looking at Jesus and understanding His instructions through this amazing sign language, Jesus looks up to heaven, informing the deaf man that this healing comes from God alone.  Finally, Jesus takes a deep breath and sighs, signifying that the deaf man should pray to God for this healing, and if God is willing it will happen.  But what this man did not understand yet was…

It was God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ who was preaching and teaching Him God’s will.  With the authority of God, Jesus declares “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And with that command, our Old Testament lesson begins to unfold in a powerful way to both the people of Israel and the people today; if they and we will be opened, if we will understand that God means what He says and accomplishes what He promises.  Now in a very physical way, the eyes of the blind are being opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame will begin to leap like a deer and the tongues of the mute will sing for joy.”

But God’s ultimate truth, the sermon that must be received as anxiously as the deaf man understood Jesus, is spiritual and eternal in its true sense.

Eternal life comes with great joy, and within the spirit of a forgiven sinner, the waters of eternal life begin to break forth out of places that before were desolate and lifeless.  Like streams of living water in the desert, the Spirit of God brings new life into the reborn hearts of sinful men and women, much like a great pool of fresh water springing out of the burning desert sands.  Where once a human heart was the place of evil and the home of jackals and devils, now all things are new, and new life comes out of the person that has been redeemed by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This morning, Jesus says to each of you “Ephphatha—be completely opened” and if you will not reject this gift of God, you will be opened.

Think about those disciples whose ears of understanding were also stopped up concerning the feeding of the five and then seven thousand (Mark 8:17-18), who “having eyes and not seeing, and ears and not hearing” were more concerned about what they would eat, than the spiritual feast Jesus was feeding them. Or, think about the disciples’ lack of understanding about Jesus parables (Mark 4:13).  And think about those disciples, who because they were unable to hear or  understand, were filled with fear at the empty tomb (Mark 16:8).

And think about us, who are also in the very same way His disciples. Couldn’t God also say of us, “You have eyes, but do not see; and ears, but do not hear” because we are so caught up in the worries of the day, so caught up in the real and the material, looking for miracles to rescue us from the reality of the pain and the rejection which we experience.

We too, like the deaf mute, and the disciples, find ourselves this very moment alone with Jesus in an isolated place within our hearts, struggling to understand Jesus, and afraid of all of the times of failure that we allow to define our past.

Think about the times when we are unable to hear the Good News, because of the noise and distraction within us and around us. Think about those times when we felt alone and abandoned because of what was happening around us, when we needed to have others bring us to be touched and to have that word spoken—Ephphatha.  Be opened to make possible the entrance of the power of our Lord.

“Ephphatha — be completely opened!” Think about those ears that don’t particularly want to be opened because of what they might hear, those ears which do not want to hear the Lord’s word but are so eager for the spectacular, those eyes which would rather see signs and wonders, (Mark 7:11-12), and none would be given.  Those ears that wanted to hear the glory stories, but instead are told only about the life of Jesus, and the cross of His suffering for all sinners (Mark 7:31). They heard only of the way they must follow, taking up their own crosses (Mark 7:34-35); and about their lives that must be given in service to each other, about being last and least rather than first and greatest (Mark 9:35); and about losing their lives to find them (Mark 7:34-35). These, too, are the ears of the deaf mute, unable to hear the Good News. They are the deaf ears afraid to hear what they have to lose, therefore, deaf also to what they have to gain.

These ears are all around us within our community and even within our own families.  We feel great fear and pain because the people we love will not be opened; we fear and worry because we know that if they will not be opened and receive new life they will be lost for an eternity.  So what can we do?  First, we hear Jesus tell us “Ephphatha!”  Believe that He has risen!  He has risen and so shall you!  The grave is not an end, but a signal that your promised life, your eternal life has begun!

Ephphatha, and believe; Ephphatha and continue speaking to those who have not, can not, or will not hear the Words of Jesus, simply because that is God’s way and His will!

Like the deaf man, we follow Jesus’ instruction and we pray to God, but also like the crowd that brought the deaf man to Jesus to be healed, we bring others here, to God’s house to hear the Words of healing.

In the final analysis, this really is a healing miracle story. “Ephphatha!” breathed from the mouth of God, and the kingdom was opened to the deaf who could not hear, and even to the ones who didn’t want to hear.

“Ephphatha!” On the cross, no spectacular display of glory, only the mundane death of a man very much on the outside with the outsiders, and rejected, He breaths His last “Ephphatha,” and opens the gates to God and to paradise restored.

“Ephphatha!” And the stone door of the tombs of all those who have gone before us in death are opened and they are given a resurrected life where once only death could be found.

“Ephphatha!” In the bread and the cup, in the body and the blood “given and shed for you,” we hear it again, anew, when we’re deaf to the news, when we’ve been brought, unable to come ourselves.

“Ephphatha!” We hear it again, each time the forgiveness of our many sins is fresh and new, along with the hope and confidence that we are no longer outcasts, but children of God.

Ephphatha! Ephphatha! Ephphatha! And behold, we declare with those before us, “God’s grace is truly amazing.  He has accomplished all things well! Even the deaf He makes actually to hear, and the dumb actually to speak! Even a wretch like me and a wretch like you!  AMEN!”

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