This Gospel Lesson Is Personal
2009-09-03 by Guy Kent

“Dad, you need to come to the hospital,” the voice on the phone said. “It’s Christi.”

My daughter, four months pregnant with her second child, had for no apparent reason gone into a seizure and immediately afterward fallen into a coma. I rushed to the hospital and entered into the agony of every helpless parent with a child in the hospital.

Around one in the morning my sons came to me. “Dad, the doctors say she only has about a 10% chance of making it through the night.” My life stopped. It just stopped. Everything was on hold. The world stood still. That helpless child of mine was the only reality of my universe. I would have done anything. I would have sold my soul.

She made it through the night. And then the doctor, the famous neurosurgeon that had been brought in, called us together in a family counseling room. He still did not know what was wrong. He wanted to try a drug. But the drug would kill the baby.

This Syrophoenician woman is a friend of mine. We are kindred spirits. We have both experienced that devastation that comes when the demons are at work on your child. We both have begged him to bring healing. And we both have felt abandoned, alone, without hope. And so we argued with God.

Days later my child awoke. Days after that the doctors conducted tests. They discovered the virus that had caused the tragedy. They developed a recovery program. And then the doctor gave us startling news. “The virus was in every tissue of her body,” he said, “except for her womb. And that’s impossible.”

The woman and I know the uplifting exuberance that comes from finding your child alive on the bed, the demon gone. I do not know how the woman in the lesson celebrated, but when my granddaughter was born, she was named Faith.

Five years ago I married Lynn, who, as had I, lost her spouse. Lynn was a member of my church by when I was young and handsome, fit and smart. The last time I had seen her son was in that earlier day. He was three years old then. As his pastor, I learned to get his attention at church. I would raise my foot and stomp with all my might upon the floor. Chris would then turn to me for he had felt the vibration. I never called to him for Chris is deaf.

Chris is a college graduate. He’s astute and informed. But Chris is in a prison. I cannot know what it is like in there, in that silent world that we hearing people cannot understand.

Chris is patient with me as I try to communicate with him. The problem, you see, is I learn finger spelling by looking at the back of my hand. But when I try to read his finger spelling I’m looking at the front of his hand. Truth be told, Chris thinks me a little slow.

There is a rage in Chris. It’s a rage that comes from not being able to hear and not being able to talk. To walk about a world encased in a box of silence where everyone is isolated from the other boils frustration into a rage that sometimes bursts forth.

I smile at the verse 32 in the text. “They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech ...” What deaf person does not? It is the doubled locked door of the box of silence.

I am trying to imagine the Lord looking up to heaven, sighing and saying to Chris, “Ephphatha,” that is “Be opened.” The deaf man in the story felt his ears opened and his tongue released. If Chris experienced that do you suppose he would tell anyone? If Chris experienced that do you suppose I would tell anyone?

Who does Jesus think he’s kidding.

This reading speaks to me. It speaks for I know the little girl who was healed. It speaks for I am family of the one who cannot hear nor speak.

As I read the commentaries for today’s lessons it I am taken with the efforts to explain why Jesus healed the Gentiles. The writer we are told is reaching out to show Jesus love extends beyond the Jews. The writers are no doubt right. But there’s more.

Jesus is about the business of healing. My granddaughter turns backflips and dashes through this life as one who has been healed. My daughter has given birth to another child since then. She keeps telling me to quit spoiling them.

When you get down to the nitty gritty of this lesson it’s about a little girl and a deaf man in need of healing. I give thanks every day that my child woke from her coma, healed. And I practice and practice every day to get more proficient with that sign language so that I, until Chris’ healing comes, can do everything possible to penetrate that prison cell of silence.

Had A Sermon Fall Flat?
2009-09-02 by David Howell

If you are like the rest of us, you have. A speaker at the Festival of Homiletics this year suggested that one of the reasons our sermons sometimes fall flat is that we are answering questions that have not been asked.

So we created...

Pastor, Talk To Me About...

Lay people from across the country studying the lectionary texts each week and then sharing with us what questions pastors should answer, what issues pastors should address, and what people in the pews need to hear from the texts! In your preaching, make sure you are answering questions that are being asked (in the minds of the listeners). 

Of course, another responsibility of the preacher is to raise and address questions that are not in the minds of the listeners. That's why you have the rest of

Be Opened!
2009-09-01 by Stephen Schuette

First, I don’t want to get off on a tangent, but the more I pay attention to James and his phrases, like “law of liberty” and “…mercy triumphs over judgment,” I wonder how some very astute interpreters of scripture missed the grace inherent here.  It seems to me the “works” to which James is drawing attention are themselves acts of grace, lived grace, grace that’s not just between God and me but grace that broadens community as relationships are opened up.  And in that way how beautifully James is linked with the Gospel reading!

There are so many layers to the Mark passage, so many ways in which what seems set is changed, assumptions dislodged, and log jams opened up.  Do you believe the deaf can’t hear and the mute can’t speak?  Do you believe the way to get from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee is a direct route?  Do you believe things done privately and quietly will be held privately and quietly and will be contained?  Do you believe the blessing is only for those within the circle of the blessed?  And maybe most important of all do you believe that teachers only teach and don’t learn?  All these assumptions are blown open, and not just on the initiative of Jesus.  It seems that there is a larger movement here in which all the players are caught, including Jesus himself.

The last time Jesus was in Gentile territory he was asked to leave.  (Mk. 5:17)  Jesus initial response to the woman may then be honoring a boundary, dusting the shoes from his feet, and moving on.  But the Aramaic word Ephphatha, “Be opened!” seems symbolic not only in regard to geographic socio-political borders, but for Jesus himself.

Jesus was known as “Rabbi,” but perhaps this story is about the other side of being a competent teacher - that of being a good student.  Effective teachers are those who are learning themselves, exploring and coming to new understandings.  And Jesus is a good student.  Unlike the disciples, he’s quick on the uptake, turning on a dime at the woman’s response.  And so his faithfulness is not in having all the answers already worked out but in his openness to this larger movement that God has in mind for him.  (How could the church have ever asserted a doctrine of infallibility?)  This presses us not only to the end of this reading to where they are astounded not just by the miracles but by Jesus himself, but on toward (and here are the layers again) the end of the larger story in Mark where another Gentile, the centurion, gives the last and clearest ringing confession, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”  In a larger sense Jesus is the miracle as he opens himself in faithfulness to God’s movement and direction.

"A Desire that Overcomes Obstacles"
2009-08-31 by David Howell

See Alyce M. McKenzie's article on Mark 7:24-37 in Free Samples for this week.

Go to HomePage, Share It!, and then to Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics or click on the link above.

Dr. McKenzie's article goes nicely with John Killinger's suggestion below.

Subscribers have access to approximately 60 articles on the texts each week. These articles are not just exegetical articles but essays (and sermons) on the texts from theological, pastoral, arts, and homiletical perpectives. 19 years of groundbreaking articles!

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Preaching on the Health Care Issue (September 6)
2009-08-31 by John Killinger

We preachers have usually sat in the back seat when it comes to national issues and let the politicians do the driving. But health care for the poor is a vital issue that ought to be as high on our agenda is it is on that of Congress and the White House. If we have any responsibility at all beyond that of being pastors to our flocks, it is to be mindful of the poor.

The lectionary Gospel for September 6, which I have suggested ought to be named National Health Care Sunday, is Mark 7:24-30.  What could be more perfect a text for a strong sermon on caring for all of God's little ones?  For Mark, this is a pivotal event, when the Syrophoenician woman pled her case for Jesus to heal her daughter and he refused because she was not a Jew. "Let the children be fed first," he said, "for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."

Wow!  Is this Jesus, the Compassionate Leader of our faith speaking?  Or was Mark setting him up for the woman's rejoinder?  "Sir," she said, "even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

In the health care debate, is this like saying, shouldn't the poor of our nation get at least minimal care under the law, even if it isn't as good as members of Congress and other government employees receive?

For Mark, the point is that the woman's argument becomes the fulcrum on which Jesus' future ministry is lifted into a new dimension and he goes to the Gentiles with his hope and healing. A few verses later, he feeds 4000 people in the Decapolis area––Gentile territory––just as a few verses earlier he had fed 5000 people on Jewish soil.

In our national life, this moment is like the epochal moment for Jesus: it can turn us from our selfish preoccupation with our own health care to a new generosity of spirit in which we make sure that those who can't afford what we have receive new assurances of medical assistance when they need it.

As preachers, we don't have to take sides in the debate about what kind of provision to make for the poor.  But we are obligated by our calling, as followers of Christ, to demand help for them from our nation's legislators.

And if we all do it on the same Sunday, and let the legislators know we are doing it, we can have a real impact on the most important piece of legislation they will be dealing with when they return to Washington on September 15.

We may still be in the back seat, but we can at least make our voices heard when we say, "Turn here!"

The Reverend John Killinger, author of The Other Preacher in Lynchburg: My Life Across Town from Jerry Falwell (St. Martin's, 2009) and The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Harry Potter (Mercer Univ. Press, 2009)

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