Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church, Pastor Cinda Harkless, Barboursville, West Virginia August 16, 2020
Download Printable PDF of Sermon Here
Call to Worship
The heavens are telling the glory of God.
The firmament declares his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech
And night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard.
Yet their voice goes out through all the earth
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs his course with joy,
its rising from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and nothing is hid from its heat.
Hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Text: Robert Chisholm, Music: William M. Runyan, Hope Publishing, 1923
Great is thy faithfulness, O God, my Father.
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness.
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest.
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above.
Join with all nature Thy manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love. Refrain.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide.
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside. Refrain.
Affirmation of Faith The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty.
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Prayer of the Day
Great God of mercy, help us to forgive, as you have forgiven us.
Help us to trust you, even when hope is failing.
Help us to take up our cross daily and follow you in your redeeming work,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Reading Mark 7:31-37
The Morning Message
One of my fears on Sunday mornings is to step up to the pulpit to find the microphone dead. It is a great comfort to look back to the balcony and see Tim or Brennan operating our sound system. In years past, I didn’t have this anxiety. But, asthma has taken a toll on my voice. So, a good mic helps you hear what I’m trying to convey.
I am personally aware of the serious nature of hearing loss. Many of you are, too. It is a growing concern for me. My right ear works better than the left one. My mother turns the volume way up on her tv. I have actually walked into her house and right into the living room before she realizes she has company. Then, she is startled and that’s not really a good thing.
Hearing loss is frustrating, it can lead to misunderstanding and even anger. Hearing loss can be dangerous.
As I worked on this message, I was reminded of a time long ago, when we were raising our daughters. When Caroline was three years old, her pediatrician voiced his concern that she was not talking yet. She had said a few words around her first birthday, but, then she went silent. She managed to communicate with gestures. Her sisters interpreted for her. We understood her for the most part. She was a very easy child to raise. Compliant and pleasant.
But we knew there was something amiss in her development. So, at the doctor’s direction, we bagan a series of tests. We met with an audiologist to determine her ability to hear. I have to admit, I was very worried. The doctor had told us that it was urgent to reach a diagnosis because she would need intensive therapy at Marshall’s speech and hearing clinic. The whole family would need to learn sign language. We would have to adapt our home and family life according to her needs. But, we needed to find out what those needs were.
Ed and I felt the pain of grief and loss for the wonders of sound Caroline might never know. Our home was filled with sound like any other home with kids. But, the sounds in our home often came on the notes of song. It is part of who we are.
The first tests the audiologist conducted were inconclusive. They were administered with light sedation in a doctor’s office. But, now we would move on to a more invasive procedure, under heavy sedation, in the hospital, to test her auditory nerve. Our fears were stacking up.
We were referred to the speech and hearing clinic for initial enrollment.
All this was happening at the end of summer vacation. School was just around the corner for our two older daughters. They were excited. But it was hard to share that excitement. We had so many questions. So many fears about Caroline’s education and her future.
We were fortunate that the school bus stopped right in front of our house. So, on the first day of school, Caroline and I stood on the driveway with Katy and Sarah Beth. The bus stopped in front of us. The girls climbed on. The driver waved and they were off to Nichols Elementary.
As the bus pulls away, Caroline turned and looked up at me and said, “What are going to do now, Mommy?”
No kidding. Full sentence. Problem apparently solved.
We did consult the specialist, but we never unraveled the mystery of her lack of speech. Or its sudden appearance. But we were grateful, and our eyes and ears were more fully opened to the needs of children and adults with speech and hearing challenges.
In this text, Jesus travels toward the Sea of Galilee. The people bring him a man who is deaf and mute. The people beg Jesus to lay hands on him and heal him.
So, Jesus sort of complies. He has a different method, though. He puts his fingers in the man’s ears and then spits and touches the man’s tongue.
That’s unthinkable today, isn’t it?
Immediately, the man’s ears are opened, his tongue is released, and he speaks plainly. Jesus calls out a word in Aramaic, “Ephatha!” And, in case we haven’t studied Aramaic, it means, “Be opened!”
Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
Aramaic is Jesus’ original language, the language of his heart. The use of the word “Ephatha” in Scripture is unusual because the Gospel of Mark is written in Greek. But, all these many generations later, Jesus’ native language for this command is retained.
Writing for Christian Century magazine, Ladonna Sanders Nkosi reflects on her pastoral experience in Durbin, South Africa. In that culture, she learned that the biblical texts are understood to hold the quality of what they address. They transcend time and space to distill something of their essence to hearers down through the generations.
In other words, scriptures that speak of healing bring a healing quality to a person, place or situation. Scriptures about peace and God’s Shalom bring a real sense of peace when proclaimed in the Christian community.
If we follow that understanding, when we proclaim Jesus’ command, “Ephatha!” or “Be opened!” we should receive a sense of openness, or clarity.
Now, what implications could that have today? What are some issues that need to be opened up for discussion? What gates should be opened to help our community function in a better way? Whose minds might be opened to hear God’s word for them? Might you be open to something you have refused to hear? How might you be open to a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with Jesus Christ?
When Martin Luther composed the baptism liturgy in 1523, the rite actually called for the priest to take some of his own saliva and touch the ears and lips of the child being baptized. Then the priest would repeat the words of Jesus, “Ephatha! Be opened!”
Aren’t you relieved that we don’t practice that anymore? But the idea is a good one. The rite implies that we will hear the promises of faith from our earliest days and in time, speak of them ourselves.
Language lives deep within us. It is part of our formation. The words of scripture, the tunes of hymns, the movements of our worship liturgy are all part of our spiritual formation, our spiritual mother tongue.
There is something satisfying when we successfully communicate with another in a way we both understand. Ask a teacher. When a child learns that letters strung together make sounds and sense, their whole world opens up. I still remember the first book I read in first grade. The teacher let me take it home to read to my parents. They have a snapshot of me reading it to my infant brother. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to read another. When I learned the language of algebra, I had a hope of going to college. Sometime I’ll tell you more about that. If my mother hears her doctor’s words and advice clearly, she is more likely to follow it and her fears for her future are relieved.
True story. One of my colleagues made a home visit to his parishoner’s home. He had gone there because the church members had suffered an assault. The pastor rang the doorbell repeatedly. Eventually, he could see some movement through a window in the door. He could also make out the shape of a handgun.
So he spoke up in hopes that his church member could hear him. “John, it’s me. Don’t be afraid. I just came to check on you.”
Slowly, slowly, the door cracked a fraction of an inch, then a little more, until the door was opened wide enough to let my friend into the house, where he would sit and listen and bear witness to his friend’s pain.
Ephatha! Be open! And you will be blessed.
Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Gracious God, who has reconciled all things to yourself in Jesus Christ, hear our prayers.
We pray this day for peace among the nations, that the world may be free of violence, allowing all people grow in justice and harmony.
For those who serve in public office, that they may wisely work for the common good.
For people of faith everywhere, that we may joyfully proclaim the saving works of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For those who suffer from hunger, sickness, loneliness, bigotry, or poverty.
Bring justice that lifts them from despair to hope.
We pray for the suffering in our community of faith, for family, neighbors, and friends, that the presence of Christ may bring them to health and wholeness.
We commend ourselves, and all for whom we pray, to the mercy and protection of God.
We pray as Jesus taught us saying, Our Father…Amen.
Go now, proclaiming all that Jesus has done for you.
Be as one with each other in Christ.
Wait for the Lord, and be ready to hear God’s voice,
even in the sounds of sheer silence.