Sermon: Be Opened

A Sermon Based on Mark 7:24-37

In November of 2002 country singer, Randy Travis released a song called “Three Wooden Crosses.” The song had a double meaning to it; the first was a reference to the three crosses that we are all familiar with in the crucifixion scene with Jesus in the middle and two thieves on either side. The second meaning has to do with the characters from the song and the roadside shrine that was built to honor their memory.

There were four people on a bus headed to Mexico, a farmer, a teacher, a preacher, and a hooker.  Now I know this sounds like to the start of a joke but hang in there with me. We learn that the farmer and the teacher are headed to Mexico on vacation and that the preacher and the hooker are in search of lost souls.  There is an accident, and the farmer and the teacher are killed instantly, but the preacher lingers a little, long enough to place his bible in the hands of the hooker.

As the song continues, we hear that the farmer had left a home with 80 acres and now his son, whom he instilled his work ethic and other life lessons, would be left to tend that farm.  The teacher left wisdom with her students and hopefully put them on a course for a better life.  The preacher left the word of God with the hooker, and as we find out, it changed her life.

The chorus of the song goes like this:

There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway,
Why there’s not four of them, Heaven only knows.
I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you,
It’s what you leave behind you when you go.

The storyteller is wondering why there were not four crosses on that side of the road and by the end of the song we learn why.  The preacher gave his bible to the hooker, who read it and read it to her children and one of them became a preacher and told the story of how he ended up where he was.

I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you,
It’s what you leave behind you when you go.

There was a chance encounter on a bus that changed a woman’s life and set her and her family on an entirely different trajectory.

Mark presents us with two very different stories of healing and a chance encounter in this passage that we have heard this morning.  We first have a woman “of Syrophoenician origin” who comes and begs on behalf of her daughter and asks Jesus to cast the demon out of her. What is remarkable about this encounter is that this woman is pagan and not one that Jesus would rarely come into contact with.  He chastises her and, on the surface anyway, calls her “a dog.”  However, she answers him back in such a way that he has compassion for her, and he heals her daughter.

We then find Jesus in Decapolis where some people bring a deaf man to Jesus.  Not only is the man deaf but he has a speech impediment of some kind.  Some of the commentaries posit that he has a stammer which is not uncommon with deaf people.  Now, keep in mind that in the first-century people with physical disabilities were often scorned and separated from society.  It was believed it was their sin that had made them that way and they had no status in the community.  They were often barred from social and religious gatherings. This man suffered from a physical disability, but he was also a social outcast cut off from family and faith.

However, the story takes an interesting turn, rather than heal the man right there Jesus takes him off, “privately” to not cause the man any more embarrassment.  Here Jesus heals the man of his disability by touch and by calling out “be opened.”  This is in stark contrast to the previous story of healing where Jesus never even went to the woman’s home nor did he touch her daughter, and she was healed.  Sometimes the healing takes place with a word, and sometimes it takes place with a touch. Not only did Jesus heal the physical he restored the man to the community, but he also healed the individual and in turn healed the community by restoring the man to that community.

We are not finished yet as the story takes yet another turn and Jesus tells those present not to tell anyone.  Now, I don’t know about you, but if I saw someone heal a person of his or her physical disability right in front of me, and I knew the person, I would not be able to keep quiet about it. I would want to tell everyone what had happened and who did it. Jesus tells them to remain quiet and “the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.”  Jesus not only opened the mouth of the man he healed he opened the mouth of those who witnessed it.

I like to think of these stories of metaphors that we can use in our daily life, and the challenge is to see what these stories point to.  In both of these cases, the actions of Jesus caused a radical change in the lives of not only those healed but of those who were witnesses to the healing.  There is no doubt that the girl’s mother went off and told others what had happened and the Scripture tells us that those in Decapolis could not keep quiet about what they witnessed.  There is no doubt that many were converted because of their testimony of what Jesus had done.

Just like the people on the bus in the Randy Travis song, the woman and the deaf man had a chance encounter that changed their lives, but that encounter was only possible because they were open to the possibility that something was going to happen.  Sure, they were in search of a miracle, but the miracle would not have been possible if the openness was not there, to begin with.

Jesus places his fingers in the deaf man’s ears and exclaims, “Be Opened” and his ears were opened, and his tongue was loosed.  The farmer from the song, in a way, told his son to be open and instilled in him a work ethic and lessons from his life. The teacher asked her students to be open to learning, and all that education could do for them, and the preacher asked the hooker to be open to a change in life, and she was, and her life was changed. Each of them made an impact on another but only because the other was open.

Right now God is calling us to be open, to be open to those chance encounters where we might make a difference or where someone might make a difference in our lives. God is calling us to be open to new and fresh ideas, new and fresh ways of looking at ancient truths that need to be carried forth and brought to the next generation. God is calling us to make a difference in someone life and to be open to change in our own life.

On September 11, 2001, while chaos was swirling all around him, FDNY Chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge knelt to offer a prayer with someone who had just died outside of one of the towers of the World Trade Center. He removed his helmet, bowed his head to pray, and was struck and killed by falling debris. Fr. Mychal was carried away from the scene and placed at the foot of the altar in a nearby church.

Most every day I wear a silver bracelet on my right wrist that bears the name of Fr. Mychal, he is my inspiration for my ministry with firefighters, and I wear that bracelet as a reminder of what I am called to do.

There is a prayer that is attributed to Fr. Mychal, and I believe it fits well with our theme today:

Lord, take me where you want me to go, let me meet whom you want me to meet, tell me what you want me to say, and keep me out of your way.

Jesus is calling each of us to be open, be open to the possibility that a chance encounter with someone could not only change their life but ours as well.