The collect and readings for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18B, may be found here. The following sermon is based on the second part of the day’s gospel, Mark 7:31-37.
The gospel does not tell us much about this man. We don’t know his name, where he is from, or what he does. We don’t know when or how he became deaf. The only thing we know is that he is deaf and has a speech impediment.
This isn’t simply a story about Jesus turning a particular deaf man into a particular hearing man. This is a story about each one of us. Deafness is the human story. This man could be anyone and, likely, he is everyone. He is every man. He is every woman. He is every child. He is you and me.
Today’s gospel is a story about one who was closed but is now open, one who was deaf but now hears, one who was dead but now lives. It is more about our heart than it is about our ears. It is more about spiritual deafness than it is about physical deafness.
Hearing and deafness are not determined by our ears, but by what’s in our heart; the way we love and relate to one another. The old Verizon commercial – “Can you hear me now?” – reminds us that it is all about the connection. So it is for the man in today’s gospel. So it is for us as well. We are either open or closed to the connection with God, one another, and the world. Sometimes we choose to be open or closed depending on people, places, and circumstances. We hear what we want to hear. Selective hearing.
Regardless of how it comes about, the tragedy of spiritual deafness is that the connection is broken. We can no longer hear the voice of God or another person. The only voices we hear are the ones in our heads. The only conversation we have is with our self. Spiritual deafness is ego centered. When we are spiritually deaf we assume that ours is the only or the most important voice to hear. We are cut off from God and other people. We are closed to new ideas, understandings, and experiences. Unopen to new ways of thinking, behaving, and relating, we continue business as usual and nothing ever changes. It is a lonely, isolated existence.
I can’t help but wonder if spiritual deafness isn’t one of the primary causes of conflict in our marriages and families, in our relationships with one another, in our nation, and in the world. It’s not hard to see how deafness destroys relationships.
- We are deaf to the dignity of all human beings when we show favoritism and make distinctions based upon appearance, wealth, and status.
- We are deaf to the teaching of Jesus when judgment triumphs over mercy, and indifference rather than love defines our relationship with our neighbor.
- We are deaf when we become self-occupied and self-enclosed because of pride, anger, jealousy, or the refusal to forgive another.
- We are deaf to our spouse and children when we are too busy or too self-important.
- We are deaf to God’s justice when we refuse to recognize and do something for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and those who suffer the devastation of war.
- We are deaf when agendas, prejudice, and assumptions tell us all we need to know.
- We are deaf when we have no need of another because his or her views, politics, religion, or lifestyle differs from our own.
- We are deaf when we choose not to listen to the cry of the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, the marginalized and oppressed.
- We are deaf to God’s grace when productivity, winning, and profits determine our choices and guide our lives.
- We are deaf to God’s presence when we refuse to be still, be quiet, and listen.
Deafness abounds in today’s world. Talking heads are a dime a dozen. Listening hearts are few and far between. So what about us? What are the places in which we are closed? Where is our life disconnected? To whom or what are we deaf?
The cure for our deafness is not to hear but to be open. Hearing follows openness. “Ephphatha.” That’s what Jesus tells the deaf man. He doesn’t say, “Now hear!” He says, “‘Ephaphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’” He says the same thing to you and me. Jesus is always speaking, “Ephphatha,” to the closed parts of our lives.
- Let our ears be opened to hear Christ’s word of forgiveness of our sins and his love for us.
- Let our eyes be opened to see the beauty of creation and the possibilities God sets before us.
- Let our mouths be opened to speak the good news of what God is doing in our lives.
- Let our hands be opened to do the work God has given us to do.
- Let our minds be opened to new ways of thinking and understanding.
- Let our hearts be opened to love our neighbors as ourselves.
- Let our lives be opened that God might dwell in us.
“Ephphatha” is Jesus’ prayer to God, his commandment to the deaf man, and his longing for all human beings. The openness to which Christ calls us transforms and heals our lives. It reconnects us to God and one another, offering new life, new beginnings, new hope, and new possibilities. … “Can you hear me now?”