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St Paul's ChurchSermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, Connecticut
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Evensong – January 24, 2010

 Deafness is for many people a natural phenomenon which is, regrettably, often part of the aging process. Nowadays, small, inconspicuous hearing aids can help those with hearing loss. For others, deafness is something they have learned to live with, perhaps since birth and whose principal means of communication is American Sign Language.
 While there is no doubt that people who cannot hear face many difficult challenges and are often discriminated against and shown little tolerance by the hearing world, deafness, no longer carries the horrible stigma it did in the ancient world. We must read Mark’s text through eyes of that culture in order to fully grasp the significance of this healing story.
 In the time of Jesus, people believed that if a person was deaf, blind, or disabled in some way, it was a sign of God’s wrath and punishment. There was a perception that the person was bad and had gotten what he or she deserved. The Jews also believed such people were unclean and would avoid physical contact in order to prevent themselves from becoming unclean and unacceptable to God. This man would not have felt worthy to approach Jesus and risk contaminating him.
 This deaf man grew up in an environment in which he was treated as an unclean person living under God’s curse. In addition to not being able to hear, he had a speech impediment. Even in our enlightened world, people with such impediments as a stammer are the subject of ridicule and cruel jokes. The way Jesus treats this man is a powerful statement of God’s love and mercy. I imagine that the disciples and the rest of those present would have been extremely troubled by that and might have cautioned Jesus to stay away from him.
 Jesus takes him aside for a close and personal encounter and Jesus addresses the whole person when he utters that command “Ephaphatha!” “ Be Opened!” Be opened to God’s healing grace and a divine love you’ve never known. Be opened to God’s acceptance and touch and warmth! Be opened to all that God wants to give you and to the life that awaits you!
 Jesus did not just open his ears and loose his tongue. He opened up his entire life. He gave him a new beginning, a fresh start in life, and a world that would now be entirely accessible to him. Jesus restored his hearing and his speech, yes, but the more significant effect of that was that this person could now be a full participant in the life of a community.
 If we keep the pearl of a message that is in this Gospel locked away in the first century, it becomes no more than a museum piece. The words Jesus spoke to that man were a command—not merely a suggestion and Jesus charges us today in the same way. Our minds can be closed and we can be short of enough imagination about what God wants to do for us and can accomplish in our lives if we would just be opened to those possibilities.
 God wants us to be opened to the opportunities God is making available in our world in this New Year; to be opened to new ways of thinking that will expand our understanding of God’s love for us; to be opened to the idea of sharing with others the news about what God is doing in our life. God wants us to be open to the movement of the Spirit nudging us to try new things, explore new avenues, discover creative strains of energy we never knew we had; to be open to God’s grace releasing us from whatever may be worrying us, hindering us, holding us back from all the richness of life that God has created for us to savor.
 “Be opened!” Those powerful words that Jesus spoke long ago are a mantra that beckons us to recognize how accessible God wants every gift God intends for us to be. Jesus didn’t just open the deaf man’s ears that day. He opened up his entire life to a world he never knew he could enjoy. He wants no less for us.

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