Archive for the ‘James 2:1-18’ Category

Ephphatha… Be Completely Opened!

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

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

Click here for audio of this message

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!”

Who Is Welcome Here?

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

15th Sunday in Pentecost B, September 9, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“”Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”” [Isaiah 35:4]

Can you remember a time in your life when you had an anxious heart; when you were separated from God and you knew it?  What is it  that separated you from God’s love; wasn’t it your sin?  Didn’t that make you afraid of thinking about eternal things; about judgment?    And yet here you are this morning; listening to God’s Word and experiencing a new and abundant life!  True, it isn’t always and easy  life, but it is a lot better than the other option of living a life of fear and worry.

So how did you get here, living this life of faith?  How did you become a Christian?  Was it your decision to simply turn away from a life  of sin, or was there more to it?  What I mean is, if you simply decided to turn to faith and away from sin, then why are you still sinning;  why are you still struggling with living a life that is pleasing to God?

Ok, I know that is making you a little uncomfortable, so I’ll try another approach; perhaps you are here living this Christian life of faith  because someone invited you at just the right time to come to church, and your life has not been the same since?  Well then, if that’s  the truth, I would say that you owe that person who invited you to church your very life.  I would say that there is no limit to how much you can and should do to repay that person for the kindness they’ve shown you!

I know, I know… that reason doesn’t seem practical either, so let me try something else; something different and outside of you.  Perhaps, just maybe you are here because Jesus saw inside of you, knew the real you and still saw someone worth saving; worth touching and worth speaking to!  Maybe in a way that only God could touch or speak, He simply said, “Ephphatha!  Be opened” and it was at that point your ears were opened to hear the truth; God’s truth.”

In our gospel reading we see two examples of healing and both were done to people you and I would probably have over looked.  One, was a strange foreign woman and the other was a deaf and babbling foreigner who could only mumble and point.

The foreign woman was the insistent type; she insisted on having a one on one talk with Jesus!  She wouldn’t settle for His helpers or friends; it had to be with Jesus alone!  Now she was a strange one; she was different.  Today, you might call her needy and clingy; you might even say she was downright rude.  You know the type I’m talking about; the type that won’t take no for an answer.  Now the apostles I am sure tried to send her away, after all she was a dirty, no good gentile woman, but she refused to leave.  Finally, when Jesus came out of the home he was in, she pushed her way past the crowd and through the apostles, fell down at Jesus feet and worshiped Him.  She worshiped Him and called out for mercy; she called out for the one thing only Jesus could do… drive a demon out of her daughter.

Now, I am going to ask you a tricky question; the answer isn’t what you think it should be, so take your time before you answer.  Did Jesus heal her daughter right away?  Wait, don’t answer yet… really meditate on the question.  Here let me help you.  After Jesus received her worship and heard her speak out loud her question, he immediately responded with a statement of facts, He said,  “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Now that is a strange thing for Jesus to say; why would he call that desperate woman a dog?  Does that sound like the Jesus you have come to know?  Did he really call her a dog… someone less than human?  No!  He called her something more than a dirty wild dog and something less than a Jew; He called her what she was, a gentile sinner, in need of a Savior.

You see, Jesus spoke correctly when He said that it wasn’t right to take the food out of the mouths of His children.  What parent here would feed anyone or anything before their children were fed?  No one would, and that is Jesus point.  You see, the Jews were the children of God by default, because they were the children of Abraham; descendants of that man of great faith.  It was to Abraham who God promised that one of His descendants would be the promised Messiah, who would come to save the Jews first and then the gentiles from their sins.  And now before the very eyes of this woman stands that Messiah; Jesus, the Son of God and the son of Mary.  And He is telling her that His first mission to the Jews is not yet complete; her time, the time of the gentiles has not yet come.  But that doesn’t explain why Jesus called her a dog.  Well, let’s see if we can shed a little light onto that one.

The Jews, who were supposed to be a light to the gentiles, a light that showed them the way to God’s forgiving love, instead mostly drove the gentiles away; they acted hatefully and superior.  They looked down on the gentiles and even called them dogs; the kind of dogs that were homeless and unclean; they called then “ka-leeb”.  Ka-leeb was the Hebrew word used to describe the dogs found in the junkyards or roaming the streets at night.  But Jesus did not use that word, instead he used a Greek word that referred to the woman and other gentiles as Kynariois, or family house doges.  That kind of canine was the beloved and cherished family pet.  But as much as you love your pets, you certainly would not feed them first and then feed your children.

Now the gentile woman picked up on that word that Jesus used to describe her, and she spoke it right back to Him; “Yes, Lord; yet even the kynariois (pet dogs) under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  And to this Jesus smiles and sends the woman home; home to a daughter who is already healed.  So the answer to the question is yes, Jesus did heal her daughter immediately, perhaps even before they spoke.  He healed her because the request that came from her mother was completely covered and surrounded in faith.

So my next question is this: Why did this woman have faith in Jesus?  Why did she trust Jesus?  She trusted Him because Jesus opened her heart to trust Him.  Like the man who had been deaf and unable to speak for such a long time, she was helpless to hear about and believe in Jesus unless God opened her ears and her heart to hear and believe.  Just as Jesus spoke the Word “Ephphatha” to the deaf mute, He spoke the same Word of opening and believing to the woman.  The Word of God speaks the will of God.  And what is God’s will?  That none should perish but have everlasting life!

Eternal life is a gift; it is never earned nor a birth right.  You are not a Christian because your parents were Christians; you are a Christian because God has spoken the Word Ephphatha to you.  He spoke it to you in your baptism and he speaks it to you when you gather around His Word and at His table to receive His Supper.  We believe because He has spoken, and when He speaks to us Ephphatha He speaks new life.  It is a Word that is spoken to dirty no good sinners and holy and righteous saints alike.  It is a Word full of power and it both kills and brings back to life.

Are you listening?  Do you hear Jesus speaking Words of death and life?  He is asking you to be open and listen; perhaps He is even asking you to speak Words of life to someone you would not usually speak to?  Maybe He is asking you to step outside of your comfort zone and associate with people who are not like you; people you would normally not give a second thought to.  If you are rich or at least well off, maybe He is asking you to share the gospel, or invite someone who is poor to church.  Or if you are poor, maybe He is asking you to speak openly and sincerely with someone who appears rich or above your economic status; you know rich people need Jesus too!  Or maybe He is asking you to speak to someone who is obviously living a life far removed from God and the church; maybe it is someone or a group of someones who intimidate you or even infuriates you?

Will you speak; do you dare go that far outside of your comfort zone?  Yes, and you will do it if you allow God to open your heart along with your ears.  You will do it because you know that God is no respecter of persons or status.  If He was, He never would have chosen you.  And yet, He did!  Jesus died for you.  On the cross He had you on His heart and His mind, and in your baptism He called you God’s own child!  You are God’s own child because the Word of the cross opened your heart and your ears.  You are God’s own child because the waters of your baptism washed you clean and recreated you.  You have been transformed from a sinner to a saint.  From a dog to a child of God, and now God asks you to watch Him do the same thing again and again through His Word that you carry in your heart.  “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He 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.”

So sing for joy.  Tell everyone who will listen, because everyone really is welcome in God’s house.  Tell whoever God puts in your path, about what Jesus has done for you.  Invite them here to this place to hear the very words that save you… Ephphatha… be opened!