Monday, September 07, 2009

Child of Promise: Sermon on Mark 7:24-37

What won’t a good parent do for her child? It starts even before they’re born. You find out you’re pregnant, and suddenly… you understand that old saying, “The body is a temple.” Yes. Your body is a temple that houses a holy thing: this already-loved baby. So, gone is the glass of wine with dinner, and gone is the beer while you’re watching the game, and gone is the cup of coffee in the morning. And pretty soon, gone is any sense you have that your body is even yours… it’s not yours! Suddenly, unquestionably, it belongs to the baby.

It’s the same for adoptive parents, only different. My mom, who adopted two children, told me of an experience she had a couple of weeks after she and my dad brought my older brother home from the hospital. P. was down for a nap, and my mom had cleaned the kitchen and folded the laundry. Then she thought, I’d better run to the store for some bread. She picked up her purse and walked to the door… and stopped, dead in her tracks. She couldn’t go the store. Even asleep in his crib, all seven pounds of my brother exerted a control over my mother’s life that could only be described in terms normally reserved for forces of nature, like gravity. Her life was not her own any longer. She belonged to the baby.

And a good parent will do anything for that beloved child. He will relinquish sleep for it. She will give up smoking for it. They will move to the neighborhood with the good school, if they can possibly swing it. And if that child becomes ill, they will move heaven and earth to try to obtain them the best possible care.

Jesus encounters a parent who is clearly ready to move heaven and earth in our gospel lesson this morning. A Gentile woman in the city of Tyre… a place Jesus has gone, apparently, for that ever-elusive down-time. He entered a house, and did not want anyone to know he was there, like A-Rod and Madonna. But Jesus is a celebrity, and so once again his leisure is interrupted, this time by a woman whose daughter has an unclean spirit and is in need of healing. The woman engages Jesus and encounters, perhaps unexpectedly, resistance. I don’t know if the woman expected resistance. I have to admit that I did not expect it, not on Jesus’ part. The idea that he would hesitate, even a fraction of a second, is stunning to me, and upsetting. But fear not: Jesus has met, in this woman, a worthy opponent, one of those heaven-and-earth moving moms, and she is not to be dissuaded. She spars with him, (verbally, at least), and she achieves her heart’s desire. Her daughter is healed. After all, what won’t a good parent do for a beloved child?

And like a parent with more than one child, Jesus’ day isn’t over. He travels to another region where there are more people in need of healing… there are always more people in need of healing. There he encounters a deaf man, with a speech impediment. It says, “They brought him to him,” the deaf man to Jesus, but it doesn’t say who brought him. It is vague. Perhaps the deaf man’s parents brought him? In that era, a man with this kind of physical and social challenge would be highly unlikely to be able to live on his own; perhaps his parents are still responsible for him, ready to move heaven and earth for him.

The man is brought to Jesus, who takes him aside privately for some not-for-public-view healing, and no wonder. The work of healing isn’t necessarily pretty; in fact it can be pretty homely. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears, like a toddler playing with his dad, and then he spits and touches his tongue. It’s almost… almost… as if Jesus is winging it this time. Perhaps his startling encounter with the Gentile woman has thrown him off his regular healing game. Jesus speaks a word, an Aramaic word, that’s Jesus’ native tongue. Ephphatha, he says to the man… or, to the man’s ears and tongue, which is to say, “Be opened.” And they obediently open, both ears and tongue, and this man who could not hear or speak can instantly do both. Whoever brought the man to Jesus… parents? Friends? They have brought him to the right place.

What won’t good parents do for their child? Today S. and J. have brought M. here, to this place, to be baptized. So many things happen to us when we are baptized. H., our organist, shared a moving music video with me this week, the Kyle Matthews song “Been Through the Water.” It is a testimony to the power of baptism, that action that washes you clean, gives you a fresh slate, removes sin.

I've been through the water and I've come out clean
Got new clothes to cover me
And you don't wear your old shoes on your brand new feet
When you've been through the water

And all of that is part of what we Christians claim in baptism. But there’s more. Baptism incorporates us into the body of Christ… it makes us a part of another family, or another kind of family, the church. Baptism gives us a place where, like home, we belong. It doesn’t necessarily replace our family of origin, though in the early church, when being a Christian wasn’t a universally popular or obvious choice, that happened a lot. It still happens, sometimes. At the very least, baptism expands our family, significantly.

But there’s still more. Baptism does for us pretty much the same thing it did for that deaf man. In baptism, Jesus speaks to us: Ephphatha, Be opened. He opens our ears so that we can hear the Word of God, and opens our mouths so that we can speak the Word of God. When we are baptized we are relocated to a place where we are more likely to hear the Word of God. I hate to point this out, but, after all, each of us made promises today, didn’t we, promises to look after Madison and to meddle and interfere with her upbringing so that she might have opportunities to hear that Word, and be that much more likely to share it wherever she goes. Like the formerly deaf man and his family and friends. They cannot get over what has happened to him. They cannot stop talking about it. The more Jesus tells them to keep it a private, family matter, the more they flag people down in the streets to share their good news with them. Each time a child is baptized, or an adult for that matter… there is a great opening, a wonderful and new opportunity for the Word of God to be heard and to be spoken. An opening. Each baptized person holds that promise, the promise of someone who has been permanently opened to the Word of God in their lives. They are never the same.

What won’t a good parent do for their children? Our good heavenly parent gives us this good and meddling family, the church, to look after us. Our good and loving Father ensures that P. and M. and you and I have scores of “godparents,” brothers and sisters in Christ who will keep pushing us to hear the Word of God and spread it abroad. Our good divine parent opens us, permanently, to that Word, because God’s life is not his own. He has given it to us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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