Sermon for July 19, 2015

Verlee A Copeland

Text: Mark 7:31-37

          “They have ears but cannot hear,” King David said in the Psalms. “You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing and they have shut their eyes, so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn---and I would heal them.”  So said the ancient prophet Isaiah. And Jesus took aside a man in private who wanted to be healed, and he put his fingers in the man’s ears and he touched the man’s tongue and he looked to heaven, and he sighed. Then he said to the man who wanted to be healed, “’Ephaphtha’, be opened. And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”


 What Do You Hear?

         Some of you don’t know this yet, but as you get older you start to worry about your body falling apart. A few years back, I noticed that my husband Ellis didn’t seem to be hearing some of the things I said. Upon my pointed recommendation, Ellis went to get his hearing checked, and he returned home beaming that there was nothing wrong with his hearing. What he didn’t realize is that this news actually made things worse. If there wasn’t anything wrong with his hearing, then the test actually meant that he heard me just fine. He just wasn’t actually listening to me.

         My husband Ellis, however, is nobody’s fool. I overheard him telling one of the oldest members of the church that the hearing test actually diagnosed that he had trouble hearing women’s high-pitched voices. The man let go of his walking cane and reached out to touch Ellis’ arm empathetically. “If you can’t hear women’s voices,” he said, “then consider yourself a lucky man.” What’s up with that? Very funny, gentlemen.

Like the man in the Bible story who couldn’t hear or speak, each of us carries an unhealed wound that we long to be made well. Some wounds feel like a gaping hole, a Grand Canyon in our soul so deep and wide that we think every one can see it, so long standing that we think it will never change regardless of our desire to make it so. We experience other wounds that nag at us, a tender spot that we can mostly ignore unless it gets bumped just so, and then, oh baby. We forgot how much that hurt.

Jesus healed a man who could not speak and could not hear, as he healed a man in last’ week’s story who could not see, and a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years in the story before that. Jesus cured their presenting problem, but he also healed them all the way down to the source of their woundedness. We can’t know the source of suffering for the man in today’s story. We don’t even know if he had been hearing impaired from birth, or became so by illness or accident. We only know his suffering was so profound that he begged Jesus to heal him. The path to healing required hearing in a new way that could be made possible only by God. Jesus said, “Ephaphtha, be opened to being healed. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

         Jesus gives us these miracle healing stories as a sign of hope that our deepest suffering might be made well. He shows us again and again that God desires whole and abundant life for us, and a life of reconciliation and peace between peoples. The path to healing comes through hearing and seeing the world as God sees it. We can’t do this of our own accord. Jesus becomes the glasses that show us how to see, the hearing aid that makes it possible for us to hear.

We receive this story today for two reasons. First, we experience once again through this series of miracle stories, that through God all things are possible. Those of you who are about to embark on a mission trip to Pennsylvania will be forever changed by what happens to you there. This past week I met a young man from the community who told me that he had gone on four mission trips with First Parish Church when he was in high school. They changed his life. When I met him, he was working for a local mission organization. Whether he was paid for his time or volunteered, I do not know. But I cannot help but believe that he would be spending his days doing other things besides loading furniture to be sold to raise money for mission if he hadn’t encountered this Jesus who makes the deaf hear and the blind see.

         While you will be encountered by Jesus on this mission trip in surprising ways, you will also bring Jesus to those in need of him. You will meet people who are deeply wounded while on this mission. Some of those wounds will be evident, like a blown knee or the infirmity of old age that makes caring for personal property a dream. You will be the miracle in Jesus’ name that they are seeking. They will not have believed it is possible. They have not known how to ask for help. They may look like they aren’t willing to receive it. Some may have been disappointed by life for so long that they can’t dare express excitement or appreciation; for fear that the help will all evaporate.

         Your healing work of painting their house, or fixing their porch, or repairing their roof, or playing with their children will help them hear Jesus’ invitation to a whole and healed life.

         Jesus miracle stories provide evidence and bear witness to the power of what God has done for people he touched then, so that you will know what God can do for you now. We believe that through Christ, all things are possible, all things. If God can open the ears of a man who was deaf, if God can open the eyes of a man born blind as we read last week, if God could stop the twelve year hemorrhage of a woman as we hear in the gospel three weeks ago, then God can heal you and bring you to new life.

         As Jesus healed the hearing of the man wounded man in today’s story, we know that hearing in a new way heals more wounds than a problematic aural anatomy. Take a moment to bring to mind a wound in need of impossible healing. Perhaps this hurt is personal, something that has happened to you in your childhood or a trauma in adult life. Or maybe your greatest concern is broader than that: the racial violence racking our country, the random and senseless personal impotence that leads to gun violence both south and north, or the squabbles and quarrels within our government that stalemates necessary resolve and action in the global village.

         Whatever the wound that diminishes your capacity to live fully as God intends, consider what it would be like to be made well. The healing path described in a new work by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Episcopal priest Mpho Tutu is called the Fourfold Path of Forgiveness. Based on the healing path of Jesus, the Fourfold Path invites us to be made well through the practice of forgiveness that requires hearing in a new way.

         In The Book of Forgiving, the Tutus walking guide includes four steps: Telling the Story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness, and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship. This path heals both victim and perpetrator. Both wounds are difficult: the need to forgive and the need to receive forgiveness.

          This path of forgiveness healed South Africa as apartheid ended in South Africa. Many people anticipated violence and a breakdown of society as decades of apartheid ended. Instead, the country transitioned relatively peacefully to a multiracial democracy, in part because of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission led by Desmond Tutu in 1995.

         The process was described as tough but redemptive. To heal from deep wounds requires truth telling, all of it. If we want to be made well, we have to tell the truth to someone willing to hear us. Rev. Tutu said, “It takes incredible courage to go through the process that will lead you to reconciliation – to tell the story, to be able to articulate how you have been injured in way that may feel excruciatingly painful, evn shameful. To name the hurt: shame, feeling disdained, feeling belittled or demeaned. (And then through being heard, through naming and claiming the pain), to be able to grant forgiveness!

         “We assume it is hard for the person being asked to forgive. It may be harder still for the person seeking forgiveness…When we have done wrong and seek to make it right, we show the depth of our humanity. We reveal the depth of our desire to (be healed). We show the depth of desire to (participate) in the healing of those we have harmed.

         “Stefaans Coetzee traveled the Fourfold Path from Pretoria to Central Prison South Africa. On Christmas Eve 1996, when he was 17, Stefaans and a trio of members of the white supremacists Afrikaner Weerstands bewegining, or the (AWB), planted a series of bombs in a shopping center in Worcester, South Africa. Their target was a venue frequented by the black population of the city. Their goal was to exact the maximum death toll. Only one of the bombs exploded, but it injured 67 people and left four dead.”

         “It was a fellow prisoner who set Coetzee on the healing journey. Eugene de Kock, nicknamed ‘Prime Evil’ by the media for his role in many apartheid-era murders, became Coetzee’s mentor. ‘Unless you seek forgiveness from those you have harmed, you will find that you are bound inside two prisons – the one you are in physically and the one you have around your head. It is never too late to repair the harm you have caused. Then, even though you are behind bars you will still be free. No one can lock away your ability to change. No one can lock away your goodness or your humanity…”

         On Reconciliation Day in December 2011, a letter from Stefaans was read to a gathering of the surviving victims of the Worcester bombing. In the letter, Stefaans expressed his remorse and asked for forgiveness.” Some have forgiven, even visiting him in jail, others have not. “But he describes being forgiven as a ‘grace’….that resulted in freedom beyond understanding.”

When we store up wounds inside ourselves and allow them to fester there, we become like the dull people described by Jesus, those with no speech, or with stopped-up ears.  Whether the wrongs are those perceived slights or traumas done to us, or things we have done to others, unhealed they leak out as judgment, criticism, anger, or violence turned outward, in explosive language or behavior, in bullying, or turned inward as depression.

Jesus comes to you today and asks to speak to you in private as he did the impaired man so long ago. Do you want your life to be different? Are you willing to walk the path of healing? Will you tell the truth about what has happened to you or about what you have done to others? Can you trust that by the grace of God it will be made well?

If God can heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, the bleeding walking wounded; if God can reconcile nations and warring peoples within nations, surely this God can heal whatever wound stands between you and abundant life. Whoever has hurt you, hand it over to God. However you have hurt another, give it up to the Holy One. Whatever has a grip upon you, let it go, trusting the healing path God has prepared for you.

Then with glad and grateful heart, go your way this day.  Your faith has made you well. Amen