Mark 7: 31-37 In these past two weeks I have listened to large portions of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and felt myself getting more and more frustrated and disgusted by all of the lies that were told, whether they were outright lies, half truths, omissions, exaggerations or creations of confusion and cognitive dissonance. Lying has now become the new normal. Lies by politicians, lies by the government, lies by businesses and corporations, lies by the medical industrial complex and pharmaceutical companies, lies by the prison industrial complex, lies by Wall Street and the banks and lies and legalisms by the Roman Catholic Church from the Vatican on down. Lying has now become the new normal. Who could blame anyone for turning off their ability to hear and continuing to live in denial? Today it is just easier to tune out this constant assault to our ears and our sensibilities. And if we don’t hear it, we don’t have to speak out about it. Our lives are stressful enough. Why should we have to acknowledge these lies and risk being ostracized? In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals an individual with a physicalimpairment, the inability to hear and to speak. These two disabilities seem to be connected. Once the person’s ability to hear was healed, clear speech followed. But, what if we took this as a metaphor? What if Jesus were to heal our inability to hear and our ability to tune out the lies? Would our ability to speak follow? Would this result in our collective ability to speak truth to power? Let’s see what might follow by looking more closely at the readings from Isaiah and from Mark. In Mark’s Gospel we hear of a God who spits, as one of my Seminary professors would say. By his actions, Jesus co-mingles his saliva with the other by touching the other’s tongue. By his action, Jesus violates the religious, social and class convention of his day. By his actions, Jesus shows over and over again, that truth,tested by love, compassion and restorative justice is more important than conventions. By his actions, Jesus shows that compassion is more important than legalisms and that love is the primary rule. What conventions are we willing to violate in defense of truth, love, compassion and justice today? Jesus heard a cry for help and through his powerful sound and word, “Ephphatha!” or “Be Opened”, Jesus announced that God not only cares for those who are hurting but God also cares for those who are willing to risk being opened, opened to faith and to the unconditional love of God, that which makes all things possible. Jesus teaches us that God’s grace is always offered. We just need to be opened to it. The historical times in which Mark’s Gospel was written were very difficult ones. The followers of Jesus were being persecuted. Secrecy and fear abounded, not unlike today. Many groups come to mind as ones who are persecuted and who suffer today. We know the list, homelessness, economic peril, joblessness, crushing debt, stagnant wages, scattering of families in search of a more affordable way of life, poverty, wars, destruction of the environment, domestic abuse, abuse of children, loss of civil liberties, loss of the rule of law, loss of our Constitutional rights, disease and fear of being conned by the banks and by Wall Street and all of this due to greed and a lust for power. There is currently a war on whatever gains we have made in the last 100 years. There is war on the Roosevelt reforms, war on the feminist revolution, war on the civil rights movement, war on those who want the freedom to choose whom they love, war on unions, war on living wages and a war on the environment. This last one is war on our children and the future of the human race. The website 350.org, created by Bill McKibben, is based on the fact that the environment cannot be sustained with more than 350 particles per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As of May 2012, the atmosphere now contains 396.18 parts per million. Some say if we do not turn things around within the next 5 years, it is not going to be possible to turn it around. We will have reached a tipping point. And the politicians are not talking about it. Today, in the 21st century, we not only need physical healing, we also need to be healed psychically and spiritually. Our spirits are being diminished by all that is going on around us. The temptation to hopelessness is great. When I listened to those presidential conventions, long on spectacle and short on truth, it seems that we are in a spiritual desert, a wasteland in which very few are hearing. We, who are willing to risk being opened, have become exiles in our own land. It is interesting that today we have the Gospel of Mark, written at a time of persecutions and Isaiah, written at a time of exile, side by side. Isaiah, like Mark, wrote at a time of war and of political intrigue, followed by the siege of Jerusalem and an exile to Babylon. It is believed that these writings of Isaiah were meant to encourage the Jews returning from the Babylonian captivity. He meant to encourage them in faith that God would not abandon them and would turn their suffering into joy. Isaiah encouraged the exiles to hope by envisioning waters breaking forth in the wilderness, streams flowing in the desert the scorched earth becoming a lake and parched land flowing with springs of water.
Since the Israelites continued to suffer long after their return, it is believed by some scholars that this passage refers to a spiritual transformation, a blossoming of an inner desert, the inner changes that take place in the redeemed. These scholars believe that Isaiah is pointing to the time of the Messiah, to the living water that is the grace of God, to Jesus. Jesus healed one who could not hear and turned his/her suffering into joy. He offered this individual as well as us today, healing by offering us the living water of God’s grace, as long as we remain opened. We are told often by Jesus, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid. Fear blocks us from absorbing love. Fear blocks us from absorbing wisdom. Fear blocks us from recognizing joy. We certainly need all of that today. Fear blocks us from being opened. Take heart, Isaiah said, the deserts will bloom again. “Be opened!” Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid!” The words of Isaiah move us to have courage and hope. The words of Jesus seem to say, one day our suffering will turn into living water, into joy and health. Be strong, fear not retribution. Embrace the source of life. Embrace Jesus, God’s living water. Both Isaiah and Jesus tell us to maintain our courage and remain opened. They tell us to remain open in the face of threats from the hostile ones within and without. They tell us to take courage during this time of threat. Through our ability to hear and speak, God will bring us to safety. Today, the temptation to fear is everywhere. It is a frightening world in which we live. But let us hear the lesson. In Jesus there is no fear. God’s love is the antidote to fear. God’s grace, living water, provides us with abundant love, nurturing our souls and bringing the desert back to life. Let us pray that the grace of living water will open our ears that we may have the strength to be opened to the truth. Let us pray that the gift of living water will loosen our tongues so that we may have the ability to speak truth to power. Let us pray that we will be able to speak out for justice, mercy and peace and that we will no longer tolerate the lies. We must do this for our children and their children to the end of time or we will be no more. Heal us O God. Open our ears. Help us to listen and to hear your promptings of love. Open our eyes and hearts Jesus that we may grow in faith, hope and love. Open our lips that we might speak clearly to bring about justice and peace. In this time of great trouble, O God, hang onto us. Listen closely. Even now… we can hear Jesus speaking to our hearts. Ephphatha! Be Opened!