JULY 28th, 2019 PASTOR DON PIEPER
Right On the Mark Isa 35:1-6a/Mark 7:24-37
“EVERY LITTLE THING...!”
This morning's gospel reading brings us to the grand finale of our series, 'Right On The Mark'! Some may find it strange to end such a series with a reading from the middle of the book, and they'd probably be right. It's a little like walking in the middle of a movie or being interrupted while reading...
Calvin: I'm hoooo-aaaghhhh! AAAAAaaaa!
Hobbes: If you ache, it's because you don't properly stretch before exercising.
Calvin: I didn't know I was going to BE exercising!!
(from The Days Are Just Packed, p. 17)
I hope you've done your stretches! But that's why you're here, right, to stretch your faith? If so, you gotta love our final reading from Mark. Here we're treated to a couple of stories celebrating the ultimate game-changer – Jesus the Christ! As the crowd declares: 'Everything he does is wonderful!'
But ending a series with a reading from the middle of the book isn't the only strange thing here. The choice of stories to pair together is a bit odd as well! At first glance, they seem closely related – they're both stories of healing after all – one of widow's demonized girl and the other of a deaf man, but under closer examination it quickly becomes apparent what a strange double-feature we have here!
I mean look at all the contrasts. One focuses on a woman, the other on a man; one is a Gentile and the other a Jew; one comes seeking help for another, the other doesn't come seeking at all, but is brought by others; one celebrates a person's faith and perseverance, the latter does not; the first story ends peacefully, intimately at home, the second ends loudly with crowds and commotion!
The stories told back to back make a most strange double-feature. It reminds me of one of my first outdoor theatre experiences. My sister-in-law wanted to see the award-winning film, Driving Miss Daisy. Anyone remember that one? Such a sweet film. My brother was proud to have taken us to see it. Imagine our wide-eyed-response when the second film that night was the sci-fi thriller: Invasion of the Body Snatchers! That's an odd double-feature, I can tell you that!
So, too, is Mark's double-feature in chapter seven, but his is poignant and by design. So why does he lump them together? Well, for one thing, they occurred during the same leg of Jesus' ministry travels outside of Galilee. Not only that, but put side by side and placed where they are in the gospel, they underscore what Mark has been trying to convey since the first chapter of his book.
These stories are placed right smack in the middle of the gospel because they point to what is at the heart of Mark – to bear witness that Jesus is God's only beloved Son, who comes to us bearing the power of the kingdom of heaven, the power to push back the enemy and reclaim lives for God. We find themes found throughout the book concentrated in these two stories, such as the focus on Jesus' healing and deliverance ministry, the mystery motif of Jesus telling people not to tell & quotes in Aramaic.
Here are 4..: First, at the heart of Mark, we find Jesus on the move! “Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre.” (Mk 7:24) No, he wasn't looking for new Goodyear tires, he was looking for a bit of rest. It was an appropriate name for a city to visit as Jesus was tired. He's just come off an intense confrontation with the religious authorities and is looking for some down time.
But Jesus is all about bringing hope & healing to God's people so when the widow interrupts his down time he ultimately responds to her need: “You may go home – the demon has left her!” (7:29)
Mark's transition verse to the next story shows Jesus, once again, on the move: “Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Decapolis.”
If we track Jesus' route on a map, we see that he's covering quite a bit of turf. He's left his usual stomping grounds around Galilee, and Israel altogether. Tyre and Sidon are old Canaanite cities, with Greek connections, that're now wealthy port cities on the Mediterranean Sea and part of the Roman empire. Jesus' going there reveals that his gospel is for all peoples. But what about his shocking statement to the woman: “It is not right to take food from the children and give it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27)
This was not an insult but a test, to see if she understood the inclusivity of his mission. The word he uses for dog is that of a house pet as opposed to the more common word for dog as a scavenger and social pest, the word Jews often used for Gentiles and Samaritans. Jesus reference is a term of endearment. Not only that, but Jesus' metaphor reflected the wisdom of the day – that one does not interrupt a family meal to feed the families' puppies. It's kind of a first things first, kind of statement.
Jesus tells her that he came to proclaim the kingdom to the Jews first but clearly not exclusively because, after all, there he is in Tyre, north of the border, in a city of Gentiles. She gets it, and uses his metaphor to reveal her heart – she'd take whatever's left over, whatever he might be willing to offer. He affirms that she gets it by sending her home to her healed daughter: “Good answer!” he said. “Now go home for the demon has left your daughter!” (Mark 7:29) That day the kingdom came to Tyre!
Mark points to the exciting revelation that Jesus is on the move – and he's for everyone – the religious and non-religious, the insider and the outsider, alike! It's reminiscent of a refrain C.S. Lewis wrote into his Narnia books, concerning Aslan the Lion, who represents Jesus in all seven books....
[DVD clip from the film, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; ]
The children had never heard of Aslan before and yet their hearts began racing at the mere mention of the news – Aslan is on the move! That's what I sensed happening this week during the Good News on the Lawn! We had some kids come who, like the Pevensie children, had never heard of the Lion of Judah! On Thursday, Natalia tearfully told of one boy.... Clearly, Jesus is on the move!
A second theme here, at the heart of Mark, is that Jesus comes to town with the power and the will to heal and deliver us from the snares of the enemy. The casting out of the demon from the widow's daughter is one of many such deliverance healings in the gospel of Mark. Over and over again we see Jesus on the move, reclaiming spiritual territory from Satan, just as he continues to do today.
As his disciple, John, gave witness: “The reason the Son of God came was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8) Jesus is on the move and the enemy is on the retreat. We've seen evidence of this among us, as some here have come clean of drugs, others over the lies of the enemy....
In the words of Pastor Robby Dawkins: “Every time we share the Gospel and lead a lost person to Christ; every time we pray for someone's healing, every time we forgive someone who has deeply hurt us, every time we bring freedom thru deliverance, every time we encourage someone or humbly love on someone, we're destroying the works and lies of the enemy. When we step out in Kingdom work, we're reclaiming what was stolen, and extending the Kingdom of heaven. At the same time as some of the greatest spiritual opposition comes against the Church, some of the greatest power we'll ever experience is advancing God's Kingdom.” (Robby Dawkins) Jesus is on the move!
Thirdly, here at the heart of Mark, is not only a witness to the power of faith in Jesus but also the powerful reality of his believing in you! Jesus comes to town to open us up to our potential, living out his love for us. The second story points to this. There we encounter a deaf man who is never quoted and who, we're told, is brought to Jesus by his thrill-seeking neighbors. It's not that they care about him, or are concerned about him. They just want to see a show, a miracle, so they haul him in.
The fact that Mark tells us this “deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to Jesus”, (Mark 7:32) implies that the man in question had little to no faith in Jesus. He hasn't sought him out, he's been brought out. And yet, in spite of his lack of initiative or faith, Jesus sees something in him that others, including the deaf man himself, have failed to see. Jesus sees his potential and looks to unlock it, so he heals him and, by pointing to a deeper need the man has, with a word, cuts him loose....
“Ephphatha!” Jesus says to the man. That's Aramaic for, “Be opened!” (Mark 7:34) I love that! Not only does Mark quote Jesus' speaking in the common tongue of his day, in Aramaic, but the word he heals the man with speaks to something else that needs to happen for the man to be whole and to reach his potential that Jesus sees. It suggests that with his physical limitations and all the abuse and neglect and manipulation that he was subjected to as a result, that this guy has closed down. Perhaps that's why he's never quoted. Maybe that's why he didn't seek Jesus out. He'd shut down, tuned out!
How common is that? How many of us have been hurt in some way and as a result, shut down or tuned out? Many of us, or someone dear to us, have experienced a loss or a betrayal, or been hurt by a Christian, maybe a pastor, and in order to cope, have built inner walls. This week, one of our team got up in front of the kids and talked about how pain had caused her to do just that. Amy...?
What an amazing God we have! To see Amy today, so full of the joy of the Lord, so selfless in her loving on others, eager to see Jesus' glorified, is to see what happens when we respond to Jesus whispering into our inner ear, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” (Mark 7:34)
I love that just before Jesus says that to the deaf man he looks up to heaven. It's as if he utters a short prayer first. “Father, are you ready? I am! This man needs you. Open the floodgates of heaven, O Lord, and pour out your power on this man! His walls are thick, but your love for him is deeper still!”
Maybe this is a good day for you to look up to heaven and pray a similar prayer! Are you ready for your walls to come down, for Jesus to heal your hurt, to be the guardian of your heart! Ephphatha!
Fourth, here at the heart of Mark's gospel, is Jesus – always Jesus. That's who this is all about! That's who Mark reveals as the one who you can truly, utterly trust. How can you be so sure? He has a heart for those whose hearts are hurting, for those who are so desperate for a break, for a sign of God's goodness that they'll take whatever scraps of grace Jesus can send their way, and Jesus is more than willing to share more than scraps – his heart is that our hearts will overflow with his own joy...!
At the heart of Mark we find the response that Jesus came looking for, and he loves it when that response comes not only from an individual, but from that individual's entire community! “All those in the crowd were completely amazed and said again and again, 'Everything he does is wonderful!'”
Life can be hard and pain runs deep and its at just such times that our walls need to come down. Are you ready for your walls to come down, for Jesus to heal your hurt, and your heart? “Ephphatha!”