September 9, Proper 18:
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
Here we are, on another threshold. The start of a new program year…a new school year…welcoming new people…welcoming back familiar faces.
Thresholds are those moments between the past and the possible…between the known and the unknown…between the now and the not yet…
Thresholds are those tension-filled moments just before things are revealed…and known…and opened.
Jesus meets a woman on a threshold…The Gospel tells us we’re “in the region of Tyre,” which means we’re out in the borderlands…in Phoenician territory…gentile territory…a long way from where Jesus has been working. Borderlands are spaces where cultures mix, and the rules and customs of one don’t always mesh with the other. It’s a place where boundaries become porous…and where conflict is always possible…a place where you don’t know what to expect…It’s also a place where things are cracked open…where some find a voice…and others have their ears opened…where deeper truths are revealed. It’s a threshold.
“Jesus entered a house,” it says, “but did not want anyone to know he was there.” Good luck with that—because here comes this woman, a non-Jewish woman—with a compelling need and a powerful faith. Details are always important, and this story in Mark is significantly different from the one in Matthew. In Matthew, Jesus is out on the road, with all the disciples. But here, there is no mention of the disciples…it’s just Jesus and this woman.
So picture this…he’s in the house…and she comes to the door…and maybe he tries to get past her…to escape, but she…kneels down in the doorway. It’s a gesture of pleading, but also of strength…classic non-violent resistance…she kneels in front of him, and he’s now stuck. And what happens when people feel trapped? They lash out. There’s no getting around the fact that what he says to her is incredibly offensive.
But the way she responds to him…is incredibly faithful, and courageous.
“Sir, even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs.”
The tension on that threshold is electric. And in that tension…something opens up…in the space between her speaking and his hearing…the Holy Spirit slips in and cracks the world open. In that space…I think the Holy Spirit stuck her fingers in Jesus’ human ears and whispered “Ephphatha—be opened.” Because in that moment, her daughter is healed…and Jesus (learns? remembers? Recommits to?) his divine directive…and it’s clear once again that God’s love and grace are for all people.
The next story is an echo of the first.
It’s in a different border land…we’ve moved from the Phoenician region of Tyre to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, to the Decapolis…a more Roman area, but still a border lands of the Jewish world. Again, in Matthew the details are different. Matthew says, “Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others.”
But in Mark there’s just this one guy, who can neither hear nor speak.
And again, Jesus goes off alone with him—“he took him aside in private”—and now Jesus is the one who says, “Ephphatha—be opened.” And his ears are opened, his mouth is opened…and there’s no shutting it again…the more he orders them to not tell anyone, “the more they proclaimed it.” (Mark 7:36) The messianic secret, that Jesus is the son of God—the fully human, embodied, incarnation of God—is starting to get out, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.
And next week, we’ll start to hear more of what that really means…”Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected, and be killed, and after three days rise again….and those (of us) who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake…will save it.” We won’t fully understand it…in fact, we will spend the rest of our lives learning how actually do that…but today our ears have been opened…we’ve crossed that threshold…we can’t un-hear it.
Our spiritual journey is one of constantly crossing thresholds…and having our ears and eyes and hearts opened…more and more and more. We need to be opened…constantly opened…to what the Spirit is saying and doing.
We need to listen, and be open to—and be opened by—those who kneel down and those who persist. Those who block our path out of desperation, and those who are brought to us by others. Sometimes we will be the ones whose ears and eyes will be opened…and sometimes we will be the ones who need to take a knee…find our voice…and humbly and courageously speak.
Today, at the beginning of this new school year, we are being invited by the Holy Spirit to cross some thresholds…to enter territory that is a bit strange and unfamiliar…to be opened…to engage in conversations with one another that will be both challenging and opening…conversations around our own experiences of race…conversations around our own experiences of economic inequality…conversations around our experiences of this place…our history…our programs…and to be open to where God is calling us to go…
Welcome back. As we stand on this threshold. I pray that in the silence that always follows the homily, and in all the days ahead, each of you will hear the Holy Spirit whisper—“Ephphatha—be opened.”