Good morning! David begins Psalm 122 with these words, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go up to the house of the LORD!” Psalm 122:1
It’s easy to take this place for granted. We forget the price Jesus paid so we could enter the presence of God. When Jesus died the veil that separated us from the holiness of heaven was torn apart. Jesus promised when we gather in his name, he’s here in the midst of us.
What would life be like if it wasn’t possible? Forgive us Lord for taking our worship together for granted. Can I hear an “Amen” to that?
Let’s open our Bibles to Mark 7. What an amazing chapter! It connects Genesis 12 with Revelation 22. It prevents us as God’s people from getting so turned in on ourselves that we forget or even despise those who aren’t part of our particular fellowship.
Last Sunday, Pastor Ralph taught us about Jesus as the Bread of Life. Passing out free lunch always makes a hit and Jesus’ popularity was exploding Galilee. And once again the religious leaders up in Jerusalem sent investigators down to expose Jesus as a fraud.
After careful scrutiny, they spotted some of the disciples eating their food without going through the elaborate handwashing ceremony required by the tradition of the elders. Of course nobody but the most pious Pharisees really did this, but it was an opportunity to criticize Jesus. So they confront him, “Hey, why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders? They eat with “unclean hands”!
Jesus responds by quoting Isaiah. “These people come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is made up only of rules taught by men.” Isa 29:13
These religious leaders came to church not to worship, but to nitpick others so they could exalt themselves. Aren’t you glad we don’t do that! There must have been a heart problem at work in these guys, don’t you think?
These religious leaders were so meticulous about this ritual handwashing before they ate because they didn’t want anything “unclean” to enter their bodies. Yet they were oblivious to the rotten attitudes and depravity that flowed out of their supposedly pure hearts.
When they prayed, they prayed on the basis of their own self-proclaimed righteousness. They prayed to God in their own name. “Hey God, this is Reuben, remember me? Did you see all the great stuff I did for you last week? Did you see me stick it to those sinners? Wasn’t that great?”
They prayed to God in their own name based on their own righteousness, and then they wondered why God didn’t answer their prayers. We should pay attention to that!
Jesus said, “It’s not what goes into you that makes you unclean; it’s what comes out of your heart … evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” Mk 7:21
Look carefully at that list. Which ones are you guilty of? Maybe I should say, which ones haven’t we been guilty of. Jesus came to save sinners, do you still qualify? Me too!
“Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.” Mk 7:24 Tyer is on the coast of Phoenicia, where the ancient Philistines lived. They were infamous for their depravity. So what is a good rabbi like Jesus doing in a wicked place like that?
The truth is God’s plan of salvation includes the whole world. Throughout the OT, the prophets tell us again and again; the LORD didn’t choose Israel because they were less sinful than the other nations. He chose to use them to bring his salvation to the world.
Remember Jesus is modeling the work he wants the disciples to do after he’s gone. Today he has a divine appointment with a Gentile woman. Her daughter is possessed by an evil spirit. She comes to Jesus and begs him to deliver her. She didn’t expect Jesus to answer her request because she was righteous, she came because she had nowhere else to turn.
Unlike the Pharisee, she demonstrates for us what real prayer looks like. Jesus’ reply to her is startling, “First let the children eat all they want for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Mk 7:27
The Pharisees considered Gentiles as stray dogs, mongrels fit only to fuel the fires of hell. Before we get too hard on them, we need to close look at our own attitudes toward others.
When Jesus uses the word ‘dog’ here, it isn’t the word for the mongrel in the street like the Pharisees did; he uses the word for the family pet. He says, “You don’t feed your pet first then give the children the scraps. You feed the children first and then feed the scraps to the family pet.”
This Gentile woman picks up on his metaphor right away. She can tell he’s not putting her down. “Yes, Lord, but even the puppies under the table get to eat the children’s crumbs.” Mk 7:28
Jesus is delighted with her response. “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” Mk 7:29.
The Word went first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham. “I’m going to bless you, I’m going to make you a blessing, and through you I’m going to bless the whole world.” Gen 12:3.
So where do we fit into this story? We are the Gentile woman! We’ve been adopted and grafted into the vine of Israel as God’s beloved children, which means we’ve been called to go out to those on the outside and bring them into the family of God.
But that’s just the first part of today’s story. From Tyre on the Mediterranean coast, Jesus climbs back over the ridge and heads for the Gentile area known as the Decapolis, the ten cities. There some of these “unbelieving pagans” bring Jesus a friend who was deaf and could hardly speak.
Once again, we see these people - not trusting in their own righteousness - but fully dependent on Jesus. They have nowhere else to turn. They beg Jesus to heal their friend. Lord, help us to learn to pray like these Gentiles, honestly - out of our emptiness, and not out of any sense of entitlement or false merit like the Pharisees. Are you following me here?
Jesus touched the man’s tongue and ears and looked up to heaven and prays one word, “Ephphatha!” which means “Be opened!” and the man began to speak plainly. The people said, “He has done everything well, he even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mk 7:37
These events demonstrate God’s love for the whole world. He told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17
The more I read and study the OT, the more I see God’s promise and purpose is not limited to the ‘insiders’ like the Pharisees believed, but that God has blessed and sent us to share the message of his love and salvation with all people whether they receive it or not.
Jesus fulfills God’s commission to Israel to care for the forgotten, the oppressed, the hungry, the hopeless. He models this for his disciples in a way they would never forget.
I praise God for Shepherd’s Hand Clinic and for our missions committee who take on this challenge every week. Jesus called our congregation into being, not just to take care of ourselves, but for the sake of serving those who aren’t here yet.
There is another point in this story that may be the most significant for us this morning. When Jesus prayed for this deaf mute man, he prayed, “Ephphatha – be opened”.
Listen carefully! This is Jesus’ prayer for you and me as well. Jesus came to open our ears to hear the Gospel – Ephphatha! He came to open our minds to understand it – Ephphatha ! He came to open our hearts to invite him in, trust him, obey his Word – Ephphatha – be opened!
He came to open our mouths to worship and sing his praise – Ephphatha – be opened! He came to open our eyes to see the suffering of others – Ephphatha – be opened! He came to open our pocket books to respond generously in sharing what we have with those in need.
This last week we were in Big Sky visiting our daughter Sarah and her family. My 9 yr old granddaughter Eva brought me this little paper bank. For the last year she’s been saving her pennies to build our new sanctuary. She presented our church with $40. Are you willing for him to open those closed places in your life? In Jesus name - Ephphatha – be opened!
Would you pray with me…“Lord Jesus, You came to save the whole world and that includes people who may be very different from me. But sometimes my fear gets in the way of loving others as you love me. I ask you to open my heart to love others as you have first loved me.
I also confess that sometimes my fear gets in the way of my believing you really love and forgive me. I get stuck in trying to earn your love. I ask you to open my ears, open my eyes, open my heart to believe Your Word and receive the love you want to lavish upon me.
Finally, I need you to open my heart so that you can move in and transform it. Let your perfect love drive out my fear so that I might share freely, generously, abundantly with others the blessings you so graciously share with me. I ask this in your mighty name.