Sermon

“Ephphatha! Be Opened!” – September 9, 2018

Mark 7:24-37

In our Gospel lesson, the writer chose not to translate one Aramaic word, “EPHPHATHA” which means “Be opened.” Why do you think Mark did not translate this word? I think, this is Mark’s way of emphasizing this story, insuring that no one would ever miss it. We need to be reminded that these two healing stories were happened to the Gentiles. I believe that Mark is trying to say that the healing power of Jesus is not limited to the Chosen Israel. Certainly, gospel knows no boundaries – not geographic, not racial, not sexual, not any.
“EPHPHATHA…Be opened!” Can the good news be limited by race? The story of a certain Gentile who sought healing for her daughter says NO. Absolutely not! “EPHPHATHA…Be opened!” Can it be limited by geography? NO. Absolutely not! Not in Jesus’ day, and certainly not in ours. “EPHPHATHA… Be opened!”

To be honest, it is a command… not a suggestion, a command… that the church desperately needs to hear. Gay marriage has become finally legal in our nation, but we have seen our denomination torn apart over human sexuality issue. The so-called evangelical Christians argue that according to the Bible, homosexuality is sin. But, they don’t understand what the Bible meant when it was written is not the same as what the Bible means here and now.

For example, Jeremiah 16:1- 4 reads, “Then the word of the Lord came to me: “You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place.”  For this is what the Lord says about the sons and daughters born in this land and about the women who are their mothers and the men who are their fathers: “They will die of deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like dung lying on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine, and their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.”

Oh, my goodness! How do we understand this passage? It’s a curse to every married couple and their children, isn’t it? Seriously, how do we understand this? Would you cancel your son’s wedding next month? Would you have your pregnant daughter have an abortion? No! Absolutely not! That’s ridiculous. This is out of the question because the text is no longer valid. Yes, you heard me right. It’s not valid any more.

Let me explain. This text was written when the Israelites were captives in Babylonia. The Babylonian captivity lasted about 60 years beginning around 600 BCE. During this period, Israelites began to settle down in Babylonia, which is absolutely ok if you are immigrants. But they were not immigrants; they were captives. And their goal was to return to Israel and restore the Jerusalem Temple. But, as the people began to have a family and settled down in Babylonia, their national and religious dream to restore their land and temple was getting weaker and weaker every day. So, Isaiah’s message was: “Stop settling down; Be prepared and get ready to return to Jerusalem.” That’s what this particular text meant WHEN IT WAS WRITTEN. We have to understand that the words in the Bible DO NOT always mean what they say.

I don’t know what more I can say to the evangelical Christians, except, “EPHPHATHA… Be opened!” The whole Bible was written many years ago when people believed that the earth is the center of the universe. They didn’t know anything about human sexuality, either. Besides, most of the descriptions of homosexuality in the Bible are not about genuine human love between same-sex couples. For example, a powerful and rich man or a military general abuses a captive or a slave boy to enjoy his sexual pleasure. This is a sin! No question about it! Here we have to understand that this is what Paul referred to when he mentioned about homosexual activities in his letters. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is also about massive group or ethnic abuse to strangers.

The story of Sodom is probably the most famous Bible passage that deals with homosexuality. The story is found in the Book of Genesis, chapter 19: 1-11. Please, read passage carefully and find out what the text really means. The sin of Sodom was not homosexuality. It was abuse and offense against strangers, inhospitality to the needy. That is the point of story understood in its own historical context. To use this text to condemn homosexuality is to misuse this text.
The word of Jesus to the church is loud and clear: “EPHPHATHA!” BE OPENED! The gospel is not the exclusive province of historically dominant group; whether it is ethnically White, gender Male, theologically the Orthodox, economically the Rich, and sexually the Straight. Learn about what the text meant when it was written! Also, study what the text means HERE AND NOW…, PLEASE. Read it over and over again. Listen to it over and over again. And obey the command, “EPHPHATHA!”
The United Methodist Church will hold a special General Conference next February in St. Louis. The goal is to end our denomination’s long impasse over how to regard homosexuality. Personally, I believe Jesus would open the door to full participation of LGBTQ individuals in the life of the church. Therefore, I support the proposal that eliminates all restrictions in the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality. And I strongly believe the word of Jesus to the church is loud and clear: “EPHPHATHA!” BE OPENED! 

But, I am fully aware that not everyone will be in agreement with me. Regardless of your opinion on these matters, I pray that you will remain open and receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we continue our discernment and our work as a people of faith.
 
Over the years I have witnessed, affirmed, celebrated and been blessed by the diversity of theology and practice within our denomination. I feel so blessed to be able to serve with so many other colleagues in ministry. I also learned that vital ministry is not dependent upon agreement as much as it is on the embracing of a common mission. Regardless of individual opinions on matters like this, we must continue to work together for the unity of the church and the fulfillment of our mission to make disciples and change the world by God’s grace.

Of course, my friends, the word, “Ephphatha! Be opened” is not just for the church. Remember, it came first to a man who needed help. The Spirit of Jesus is speaking again this morning and saying to us who need help,
“Ephphatha! Be opened.” Let your ears be open to Christ’s word of forgiveness for your sin.
“Ephphatha! Be opened.” Let your eyes be open to see the opportunities God is making available in your world.
“Ephphatha! Be opened.” Let your mind be open to new ways of thinking that will expand your understanding of God’s will for you and yours.
“Ephphatha! Be opened.” Let your mouth be opened to share with your friends what God is doing in your life.
“Ephphatha! Be opened.” Let your life be open to the movement of the Spirit, open to release from whatever is scaring you, stopping you, holding you back, from becoming the person you want to be, the person God wants you to be.
“EPHPHATHA…Be opened!” 
Amen!

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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