Jesus went to a foreign land, on the other side of the Jordan River. When he arrived, they brought to him a deaf man, and he said to him, “Ephphatha. Be Open!”
That seems like a pretty good place to begin our new year together. Be open!
Whose are the voices that you don’t usually hear?
What points of view are you quick to dismiss?
Which people do you not usually see?
It is the beginning of a new school year. It is a time of new beginnings after the summer break. For some of us that means new homes, new schools, new courses, new jobs, new projects, new churches. We will be in places we’ve never been before, we will meet people that we’ve never met before, we will hear things that we’ve never heard before, and maybe we will even listen to things that we’ve heard before but never listened to.
Being open is how we learn. Being open is how we grow. Being open is how we are transformed. Being open is exciting.
But let’s be honest, sometimes it’s easier not to be open. Just listen to public discourse, in this country and in our neighbour to the south. Pipeline disputes, trade grievances, tweets and anonymous op-ed articles. If you don’t agree with something, just call it fake news. Or sue me. I don’t hear a lot of openness in the way that people engage with each other. It’s easier if our friends, on Facebook, and in real life, tend to agree with our perspectives and think the way we do. I don’t know about you, but I like being right about things. Setting that aside, if only to listen for a moment, can be a challenge.
Being open can be exhausting. Because there are some people that are hard for me to listen to. There are points of view that we reject. We all have our sacred cows. But to be open, we need to learn to suspend judgement, and that’s a lot harder than it sounds. Being open means listening to and appreciating what’s being said before we agree or disagree with it. It means engaging with others on their terms, not ours.
Sometimes being open means setting aside the structures, going beyond the limits and crossing the boundaries that protect and support us.
Which brings us to the first part of today’s gospel reading.
Jesus is exhausted. Wherever he has been great crowds have gathered, placing demands on him. He doesn’t get much sleep, he rarely has time to eat. He hasn’t even been able to find time for prayer, because whenever he tries to get away on his own, the crowds are there first. And it’s not just the crowds. John the Baptist has just been murdered by King Herod. Jesus is next on the list. The spies from Jerusalem follow him wherever he goes, gathering evidence, initiating conflict. Jesus must be exhausted.
You know the feeling? What do you do when you’re exhausted? If it was me, I would turn off my cellphone and shut down my computer. I’d put one of those automated messages on my email. I’d set some limits. If someone asked me to do something I’d say “not now”. And then I’d get away somewhere where no one would find me.
Jesus decides to get away in today’s gospel. He needs to escape, and so he leaves Galilee and goes to the region of Tyre, to foreign territory, some place where nobody will find him. It’s a long trip, about five days of walking, but finally he gets there and holes up in a house where at last he can get a good night’s sleep.
But he couldn’t escape. At dawn the next morning there’s a pounding on the door of the house and there’s a desperate woman screaming at him in Greek. Not exactly what I hope for on Day 1 of my holiday.
He tries to put her off. He tries to set limits. He says “not now, I can’t do everything at once”
But you can’t put off a mother who’s desperate about her daughter and knows that you are her last hope.
And so she says to him, “Jesus, be open!”
He says, “I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
She says, “You are the light of the world. The whole world. Even me. Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
And Jesus listens and accepts what she says. He heals her daughter. And Jesus himself is opened to a new, more expansive understanding of his own mission and ministry.
Because being open is not just hearing what other people are saying. It is also means learning to hear what God is saying, to hear what God is calling us to do. Even when that goes beyond our limits. Even when that pushes us across boundaries. Even when God chooses to speak through a desperate Syrophoenician woman who is yelling at us in Greek.
And even if what you hear doesn’t seem possible, or doesn’t fit with your own understanding or priorities, be open. Because even though your resources might be limited and my resources might be limited, God’s resources are not. God’s power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, if only we are open to it, open to what God is calling us to do, as individuals and as a community.
Jesus leaves the region of Tyre, but he doesn’t go home. Instead he makes a long detour through foreign lands, eventually ending up in another Greek-speaking region, the Decapolis. He has embraced his mission to be the light of the world, the saviour of all peoples, and the ministry that he began in Israel is now extended beyond those borders.
Because when we’re open that’s what we do. We cross borders. We go places we’ve never been before. We meet people we’ve never met before. We experience God in ways we’ve never experienced before.
Let’s embrace that sort of openness. In fact let’s embrace it right now. On this first Sunday of the new school year, have a look around. I bet there are plenty of people here that you’ve never met before, some that look like you and some that might not.
So we’re going to take a time we call Open Space, a time to reflect, a time to move around, a time to write some prayers that we’ll read aloud later in the service, but most importantly this morning, a time to cross some borders, meet someone new and to be open.
And for those who like a question to start you off, try this one: What does it mean to be open? And how might it change us?
May God be in our midst during this time of Open Space.
Homily: Yr B P23, Sept 9 2018, St. Albans
Readings: Proverbs 22.1-2,8-9,22-23; Psalm 125; James 2.1-10,14-17
Image by Giacomo, Creative Commons, flickr.com