Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sermon: Be Opened

Sermon for August 27, 2013 ~ 10:00 Healing Service
The Feast Day of Thomas Gallaudet
with Henry Winter Syle
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
For online access to the readings click here

Mark 7:32-37

I speak to you in the name of One God, Father Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

Today is the feast day of Thomas Gallaudet with
Henry Winter Syle. 
What do you know about these two? 

·        The bio in Holy Women, Holy Men begins,
“Ministry to the deaf in the Episcopal Church begins with Thomas Gallaudet. Without his genius and zeal for the spiritual well-being of deaf persons, it is improbable that a history of ministry to the deaf in the Episcopal Church could be written.He has been called The Apostle to the Deaf.”
·        He was the eldest son of the founder of the West Hartford School for the Deaf (Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet), whose wife, Sophia, was a “deaf-mute.”
·        He felt called to be a priest in TEC and
while he discerned his call, he taught at the
New York Institution for Deaf-Mutes –
where he met and married his wife,
Elizabeth Budd, herself a deaf-mute. 
·        He established a bible class for deaf persons at the church he served as a deacon.
·        After ordained, he established a church
specifically to be a spiritual home for deaf people.
1859 St. Ann’s Church for Deaf-Mutes.
·        One of his students was Henry Winter Syle,
who had lost his hearing as a child.
·        Syle, too, felt called to be a priest in TEC and
became the first deaf person to seek Holy Orders. 
He was ordained in 1876 and died just a few years after
he built a church specifically for deaf persons in Philadelphia.

Gallaudet heard Jesus’ words “Be Opened!” 
Gallaudet found his heart was opened by God
to serve those on the hearing/speaking margins.
His life reflects how he used his gifts and deep compassion
to deaf persons’ needs. 

Syle, also heard Jesus’ words “Be Opened!”
Syle found his heart, too, was opened by God,
despite his own hearing/speaking challenges. 
God called him to serve in ordained ministry,
despite the institutional stumblilng block
that would not consider him “ordainable.”

In the Gospel text today, we hear how
·        They brought a deaf man to Jesus
·        Jesus took him aside, touched his ears and tongue
·        Jesus *sighed* and said to the man “Be Opened.”
·        The man’s ears were opened and his tongue was released.

It’s not always that simple, though, is it?

For instance, in the fourth chapter of Exodus[1],
Moses is trying to get out of serving God.
He raises an objection to God, that he has never been “eloquent” and that he is, in fact
“slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
But then, “…the Lord said to him,
“Who gives speech to mortals?
Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind?
Is it not I, the Lord?
12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth
and teach you what you are to speak.”

And in today’s text from Isaiah, the prophet is pronouncing this very grace, that in the safe return of the redeemed to Zion, God’s power will be known:
“…Here is your God… He will come and save you…
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

In the Old Testament world, it seems that
there were ambivalent attitudes. 
We find in Leviticus an admonishment
against cursing the deaf, suggesting at least some people
were acting negatively toward handicapped persons.

And as we find in the New Testament,
deaf persons were also seen as a channel
for recognizing God’s presence. 

For example, when John’s disciples ask Jesus,
are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?

Jesus told them, in the Gospel of Matthew,
“Go back and tell John what’s going on:
The blind see, The lame walk, Lepers are cleansed,
The deaf hear, …[2]
And in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gives this answer:
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk,
those who have leprosy are cleansed,
the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.[3]..”

What is going on here? 
Deafness and healing towards hearing points to
God’s grace as a gateway of Spirit’s infusion of love. 

Perhaps we who are of the hearing population can
come with humility to the text and read it figuratively.
Jesus puts his fingers into our ears.  He looks up to heaven and sighs.  He says to us, “Ephphatha,” - “Be Opened”

To what is God calling us to be open? 
Is there a place in your life to which your ears have been stopped?

As I reflect, I think about a friend of mine who
trigger that inner wince when they call or leave a message. 
My initial reaction is “They always say …”
I wonder, though, if I simply hear Jesus sighing
and his healing, Be Opened!
If I might find grace to hear what my friend is saying –
really saying – and how that might draw me into compassion.

Perhaps there is someone in your life – or a situation in your life or in the news – that causes you to wince or be closed up.

To what is God calling you, today, to be open?

For when we hear, with open ears, open hearts, open minds – God’s love
silences the static,
tunes out the noise, and
softens our hearts. 

May we find ourselves astounded beyond measure,
for Jesus has done everything well.
He has even made our deaf ears to hear and
our mute tongues to speak.

Today, may we be filled with the Holy Spirit,
like Gallaudet and Syle, so that we, too,
can respond in love to the needs of all people,
confident in all that Jesus has done and keeps doing for us –  
opening us, healing us, reconciling us, forgiving us,
and loving us.

[1] Verses 10-12
[3] Luke 7:22-23

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