Jesus’s Hands. Our Hands. // Offering Wholeness

A sermon brought forth from Mark 7:31-37 preached on October 10, 2021

There’s a 17th century painting by artist Johann Melchior Georg Schmittdner hanging in the Church of St. Peter in Augsburg, Germany called The Virgin Mary, Untier of Knots. In the painting, people are stooping down to lay at her feet all their knots—those things that bind them and get the best of them. Mary stands in the middle of the painting in flowing robes, her hands busy taking all the knots handed to her, patiently untying each one.

I wonder what you’d hand over to Mary, Untier of Knots? There’s a lot that gets knotted up within us: there’s deep hurt inside of families, maybe the absence of peace and joy at home. There are the knots of substance abuse, sickness, depression, anxiety, unemployment, fear, loneliness. Who doesn’t have knots that need untying? We lead tangled lives.

The good news is we have a God who not only knows that, but enters our mess, even jumps into the disarray of it all with us.

This is the first Sunday of our Spiritual Gifts season. For the next few weeks leading up to Dedication Sunday on November 7th, we’ll spend our time paying attention to some of the gospels’ healing stories. Some, like this morning’s, will be straightforward healing stories. Others will challenge our common notions of what healing means. In all these stories, though, Jesus reaches out with healing hands or words, and with His touch and a divine proclamation,unbinds the bound-up, frees whatever it was that was keeping them from living full lives.

In the next weeks, we will see how Jesus answers the needs of the sick, the displaced, the forgotten, the lost, and the overlooked. In this morning’s story, Jesus reaches into a deaf man’s ears, and with a word, unstops them. Then He touches this mute man’s tongue and loosens it for speech. But if we look deeper, we’ll discover that this storyonly begins with the recovery of this man’s faculties, which is more of a cure than it is a healing. The story continues because the miracle comes after this man’s ears are unstopped and his tongue unknotted. The miracle is what happens next.

There’s a big difference between being cured and being healed. Curing has to do with the return of physical function, the physical mending of bodies. Healing, well, it’s bigger than that. Healing is a return to wholeness, wholeness of mind, a restoration of spirit or relationship. I know many who have been cured but have yet to experience healing. I also know many who have been healed even if a cure eluded them.

In this morning story Jesus both cures this deaf and mute man, but he also heals him. Mark isn’t done telling this story until he gives an account of both. It’s the way Jesus heals that makes this man come alive. These miracle and healing stories we will give ourselves to are about new creation and the arrival of the God’s new effort to reorder the world in Jesus.

In this morning’s healing story, it all starts with that strange word that emerges from Jesus’s mouth. Ephphatha. Mark leaves it untranslated to make it stand out. This word from the mouth of Jesus needs our attention.

Ephphatha. It’s a command that means open up or be opened. Mark tells this story slowly. He wants us in on everything that Jesus does. Jesus takes this man aside—in private, away from the crowd. All this body language Jesus uses. Thrusts his fingers into the man’s ears to unstop them, He touches this man’s tongue to unbind it. All those details grab our attention. Mark wants us in on this.

Then that word, Ephphatha: “be set free,” “open up,” “you are now unbound!” This is something only God can do. Ephphatha is a deafness-stopping, tongue-loosening word. Jesus is here to release this man from everything that gets in his way of knowing and celebrating full life. “Be released,” Jesus proclaims. This is real freedom. Healing has to do with being rescued from whatever it is that gets in our way of experiencing our full humanity. Ephaphtha means liberation. It’s Jesus’s entire mission, distilled down to one word. That word speaks as loud now to us as it did then, to that man and all there who were witness to what happened next.

Christ came so that we may hear and know the voice of God, that we might be freed into abundant life; that we too might be freed from whatever keeps us closed off and bound up. Christ still comes close to untwist our tongues, that we might live our days in breathless praise and use new voices to let our lives speak, sharingwith others the Good News of all that Christ has done, and is doing, for us. “Ephaphtha!” “Open up!” Jesus says.

Notice the crowd was ephaphtha’d, too. At the end of this story, Jesus tells this man, as well as the crowd looking on, to keep is God-identity a secret. But the crowd couldn’t keep all this a secret.

More than this one man gained his voice that day. With a chorus of newly untethered voices, how could anyone keep from singing! There’s no keeping to ourselves all the ways that Jesus reaches out to make us well. Jesus still comes around to free His people for more. Jesus always walks among us, offering to release us from all that has too tight a hold on us. Jesus still sets His people free from our old ways, He ephaphthas those clogged passageways within us. He unstops our ears and unravels our tongues, that, like the once deaf and mute man, we would speak plainly of the salvation life He has freed for us.

What among us needs ephaphtha’ing? What in your life needs opening? And how about our shared life? In what ways can we open our doors wider, that our neighbors might know the unbound life available for them in Christ? Why is this large building so silent and dark throughout the week. Shouldn’t we open it up for those in our community? This can be a safe place for many. Why couldn’t we invite in the stranger among us?

And how about our witness beyond these walls, when we go about our days, make our way through our relationships? Could we be more patient with others when they speak? Could we be those who listen only to understand and speak only to be understood? Could we listen well enough to others until their tongues are untwisted, until they gain their voice? And when we speak, could we be those who offer only life-giving words.

In what other ways can we be Ephphatha’d? Can we be freed enough from fear and suspicion that we might extend our unbound hands to others, offering wholeness of body and spirit. God is still working to reorder the world in Jesus. How can we be known among those in our community as Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church, the Untier of Knots?

People of God, how will we be set free?

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful! Alleluia! Amen.