[Sermon preached by the Rev. Marcus Halley at Saint Paul’s Church – Minneapolis, MN on Sunday, September 9, 2018. You may listen to the audio of this sermon by checking out the latest episode of the Word Made FRESH Podcast.]
In her recently published book entitled Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans writes this about the nature of the Gospel. “The good news is good for the whole world certainly, but what makes it good varies from person to person and community to community… The gospel is like a mosaic of stories, each one part of a larger story, yet beautiful and truthful on its own. There’s no formula, no blueprint.”
Each of our stories of encountering Christ vary from person to person. No one’s story perfectly resembles that of another and yet the truths of our stories do not negate one another. Our reading Mark narrates two people’s drastically different encounters with the singular reality of Christ. Both stories are true. Both stories are powerful. Both stories paint a fuller picture of the work of Christ in the world.
Our task, as those who are bystanders, eavesdroppers into these stories, is to hear them, honor them, and believe them. When we do this, our own stories of Christ at work in our lives become more complicated and more beautiful. Today’s sermon is about that: how hearing the good news of God in new ways fortifies our life in faith and empowers us to sing old songs in new ways.
I recently stumbled upon a tweet that I sent on July ##, 2009, a little over nine years ago, right after I left Eucharist at Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church. When I left church that morning, I left with an overwhelming sensation that I had found my spiritual home; but, in the months and years leading up to that moment, I had visited countless congregations across the spectrum of Christianity – Presbyterian, Non-denominational, Baptist, Roman Catholic, and Methodist. I heard God spoken of and worshiped across a wide range of experiences and perspectives and what is I learned is two-fold: God is greater than the words we use to describe God and each of our stories and experiences of God help us to paint a fuller picture of God.
The problem comes when we refuse to allow ourselves to experience newness, when the Gospel becomes a static, stayed, unfeeling idol as opposed to living, breathing, dynamic account of God’s work in the world. There is a tendency among many to place God and God’s work in a time capsule, to assume that God was best worshipped in a particular time and using a particular language to the poverty of our current experiences, but the denies that God is still alive and active in our world.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of tradition. Regular patterns of worship allow us to engage God deeply by having us visit the same themes over and over again. The familiarity is holy, the cadences of prayer are comforting, particularly in a time when so much of our world is changing. The Book of Daniel refers to God as “the Ancient of Days” and Psalm 90:2 says “Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born, from age to age you are God.” Before time was, God was. Before the first sparks of light danced across the vast emptiness of space, God was.
A few years ago, my family and I went on a trip to Europe. Since it was less expensive to fly into Heathrow International Airport in London and then take the Eurostar to Paris, my brother and sister-in-law and myself went a few days early to do some sight-seeing in the United Kingdom. Here’s the thing: if you take an Episcopal priest to England, expect to make a few stops at churches, especially Canterbury. When I walked into Canterbury Cathedral and stood on stones worn smooth with age, stones older then the oldest buildings on this continent, I was in awe. I was struck by the reality that people have been worshiping God on that spot for almost 1,500 years. Those walls had seen every major event in Western history, from Bubonic Plague, to the Protestant Reformation, to the World War II.
And even that perspective pales in comparison to God. From everlasting to everlasting, God is God.
But we should never assume that because God is from of old, that God can be tamed or that we’ve figured it all out. God is a fire – unpredictable, dynamic, and consuming. If our songs are to speak faithfully of God, they must be both ancient and new. They must challenge the status quo and provoke our own souls out of complacency.
The man that Jesus encounters in our Gospel this morning is struggling with two issues that related. He is deaf and he has a speech impediment. As children, we learn to speak because of what we hear spoken around us. If the man who is experiencing deafness is also struggling to speak, it might be that he has deaf since birth or shortly after. Being unable to hear sound, he is likewise unable to mimic or speak them.
But his friends bring him to Jesus hoping that Jesus is the one who could heal him. Jesus takes the man aside, away from the crowd, and performs a bizarre ritual on him before reciting this word: Ephphatha, an Aramaic word that means “be opened.” Immediately the man’s ears were opened and his tongue released. Jesus tells him to tell no one what has happened and yet this man is incapable of keeping his experience of Christ to himself. He becomes an evangelist! He came to Jesus as one who was unable to hear or speak and he left as one praising God! Even the crowd around remark, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Each of us is that man and Jesus comes to unstop our ears and to untangle our tongues. Each of us comes to Jesus unable to hear and incapable of speech. All we can is mimic the language of the world around us – fear, bigotry, violence, lying and deceit. But Jesus comes to give us a new song – one of hope, joy, faith, abundance, and grace.
As Christians, we hear the Gospel, the great deeds of God, proclaimed week in and week out because by doing so, by regularly encountering the Word of God, we learn how speak. We learn how to cut across the din of selfishness and smallness with a song of salvation that is as unique as each one of us.
Like this man, each one of us has an experience where God has taught us to hear and speak. It might not be as dramatic as this bizarre ritual, but I believe if we reflect deeply, we can discover how God has opened us.
Be opened! is an invitation to us all.
Everyone us stands in need of renewal. Each of us is in danger of forgetting to sing a new song. Each of us is invited to consider how God has been at work in your life.
Be opened! is hearing abundance where the world claims nothing but scarcity.
Be opened! is possessing hope even when we have every reason to despair.
Be opened! to believing God and believing in God even while the world around us becomes increasingly devoid of wonder.
Be opened! is honoring the stories and experiences of others, even when we are told to be afraid of them, to hate them, or deny their humanity.
Be opened! is experiencing the goodness of God and being incapable of not sharing it with the world!
If you’re struggling to sing these songs, if you are having a hard time finding your voice, I want to invite you to Be Opened! Hear of God’s love for you. Hear of God’s devotion to you. Hear how much you matter.
Eventually, if you keep listening, you’ll pick up the tune, and if you allow yourself to, soon you’ll be unable to keep it to yourself.
 Rachel Held Evans. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, pg. 151.
 Daniel 7:9