Proper 18B / Mark 7:24-37
Every so often the folks who put together the lectionary do so in a way that makes me just stop and say, “wow!” The section from Mark’s gospel is one of those moments for me, because, really, it is two separate stories. There is the story of the Syrophoenician woman seeking healing for her daughter and there is the story of the man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. It would not be odd for the lectionary to split this reading across two different Sundays; but they didn’t. And it is their juxtaposition that gave me the wow moment this week!
Both stories are, on the surface, about healing. Jesus rids the woman’s daughter of the demon that has been plaguing her and Jesus heals the man who is deaf. But what struck me this week was how Jesus healed the man and what that might tell us about the first healing story. Jesus places his fingers into the man’s ears, spits (o.k., I admit, I’m not sure what that is about), and then touches his tongue while saying “Be opened.” Two simple words: Be opened and the man is healed.
In the first healing story, I would like to suggest that there are two persons who are healed. Of course, the woman’s daughter is healed because the gospel tells us that when the woman went home she “found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” But I think the story is also about Jesus being healed. Jesus, at first, refuses to heal the woman’s daughter saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” In other words, I am here to heal God’s chosen people, the Jews; I am not here to help the gentiles. But the Syrophoenician woman cuts right to the chase – taking Jesus’ harsh words, including calling her a dog, and turning the image back on him saying, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And in that instance, Jesus’ ears are opened and he sees a vision for his ministry that is bigger than he had previously imagined. It is as if the woman had put her fingers in Jesus’ ears and touched his tongue and said, “Be opened.”
Over the past year at St. Mark’s, we have been doing some deep listening to one another, pushing ourselves to keep our hearts and minds open to where God is calling us. The wardens, vestry and I have shared with you some of what we’ve heard. We’ve heard you say that multigenerational worship is the core of what we do as a community. We’ve listened as you’ve shared how much you value and are devoted to St. Mark’s outreach efforts but share your frustration that resource limitations sometimes frustrate our efforts to sustain or expand those efforts. Likewise we feel called to continue ministry from this space while, at the same time, we have some fears about the adequacy of funding to keep a facility of this size operating.
From what we have heard we have begun responding by revamping our Sunday School program which launches/launched today and by expanding the number of lay persons who are involved in ministries of the church. But there is work that remains to be done and this work will require that all of your ears remain open. Open to the possibility that what you most want for St. Mark’s may not be the same as what the person sitting two pews away from you wants for St. Mark’s, open to hearing something new from a new voice – perhaps the voice of our sabbatical priest Suzi – or to hearing something new from a voice you thought you already knew well.
Over the course of the next 14 weeks, while I am on a sabbatical for refreshment and for renewal, I pray that you – the people of St. Mark’s with the guidance of your wardens, the vestry, and Suzi, will continue preparing for the refreshment and renewal of St. Mark’s. The vestry will be working together with you to lay the groundwork and develop plans for a capital campaign – developing a vision for that campaign, soliciting input from key stakeholders within the congregation and the broader community to help identify and prioritize our needs and to determine the greatest priorities to address in light of our mission, vision and resources. You have within you all that you need to do this important work.
Imagine the Syrophoenician woman challenging your assumptions about what St. Mark’s is called to do or be or change. Imagine Jesus placing his fingers into your ears and saying to each of you - to each of us - “Be opened.” Those around Jesus who saw he had healed the deaf man “were astounded beyond measure” – so much so that even when “Jesus ordered them to tell no one,” they continued to proclaim it zealously! May these 14 weeks be a time of astonishment and of wonder for you. May you be so surprised by what you hear, by what you learn, by what is stirred within you that you have no choice but to proclaim to all around you the wonderful things God is bringing forth at St. Mark’s.
Andrea and I are so grateful to all of you for this gift of time. I am especially grateful to the strong leadership of our wardens, Doug and Rachel, and to all of the members of the vestry. I am grateful to Suzi for coming forward to serve St. Mark’s at this time. While we are away, Andrea and I will be asking God to keep our hearts and minds focused on those things that will allow us to come back renewed and refreshed. I will look forward to hearing of the work you’ve done in my absence, the plans you’ve made for this corner of God’s Church in the world, and will be ready, with God’s help, to take my place among you once again as your pastor as we embark together on an exciting future for St. Mark’s.