Welcome to the Church
Welcome to worship everyone. Days of celebration, that mark birthdays, anniversaries, and special days like today, Father’s Day, bring the reality of lock down life to the forefront. I hope that through the wonders of technology we all manage to make the Father’s in our lives, whether they be our biological parent or simply a man that we admire, feel special and loved. I am also thankful for the technology and for the volunteers who make this worship service a reality. May this time of lock down worship be refreshing, a little bit challenging and at the same time reassuring.
The Call to Worship this morning is based on the last verse of today’s reading from Mark’s gospel. In this reading we will hear about Jesus’ encounter with a brave woman of faith and a deaf man with a speech impediment, who is healed by Jesus, his ears opened, and tongue released.
Call to Worship
We come before our God,
astounded beyond measure,
because of what our Lord has done.
Hymn Tis 210 O for a thousand tongues to sing
Prayer of Adoration (based on Psalm 125)
Lord, when we place our trust in you, we become rocksteady,
we are unmovable.
You surround us like high and mighty mountains,
gently embracing us.
You bring justice, equity, and righteousness,
to our broken world,
and in Christ we see the possibility of a world at peace.
Prayer of Confession
Lord forgive us when we doubt your grace.
Teach us to see your grace in our daily lives,
and may it transform us into agents of your realm of peace.
Lord forgive us when we are deaf to your promises.
Teach us to trust you and to take steps out of our comfort zone.
Lord, forgive us for taking for granted the good things in our lives.
Replace our apathy with a spirit of thankfulness and compassion,
so that we strive to make the world a good and fair place for all living things.
“Lord, help us to do great things as if they were little,
since we do them with your power;
and little things as though they were great,
since we do them in your name.”
Declaration of Forgiveness
Lord, when confronted by the simple, yet impossible demands
of your realm,
we stand in awe of the God who asks so much
and gives all that is asked.
With a touch, we are healed, our guilt is gone,
and our sin is erased.
In you Lord Jesus, we receive forgiveness,
Thanks be to God.
Hymn Tis 414 There’s a spirit in the air
The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus Cures a Deaf Man
31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Sermon: Opening Up
For many years I have wrestled with today’s story about Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman because the Jesus I see in this story is nothing like the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” I heard about in my childhood. Jesus replies to the woman’s plea, to heal her daughter sounds dismissive and insulting. where is the compassionate Jesus always ready to heal? To figure out what is really going on in this story we need to take a look at Mark’s gospel as a whole.
If we read Mark’s gospel from beginning to end in one go, instead of in bits and pieces, it is much easier to see what Mark is trying to do. Today’s two stories are sandwiched between the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Feeding of the Four Thousand and in both of these stories there is an abundance of leftovers, bits, and pieces of bread in chunks and in crumbs. The main difference between the two stories is that the second miracle takes place in non-Jewish territory. This would have been very important to the people who first listened to Mark’s gospel. The early believers were a mixture of people from all sorts of backgrounds, including many who were not Jewish by birth. Just in case these non-Jewish believers ever doubted that Jesus, the very Jewish Messiah was also their Lord, Mark includes Jesus’ adventures in the gentile locations of Tyre and the Decapolis. Today’s story about the daring, desperate and clever Syrophoenician woman is like a gateway opening up to reveal Jesus as the universal Messiah, the saviour of all people, regardless of race, gender, culture, or background.
With Mark’s purpose for the telling us the story of the Syrophoenician woman in mind, it is easy to see why it has a place in Scripture, but this doesn’t explain Jesus’ seemingly rude reply to the woman’s bold and desperate request. In describing her and her people as dogs, Jesus is basically saying she is unclean, separated from those with Jewish heritage, the ones who get to have a seat at the table in God’s house, the ones who get to be fed first. There are two main ways to look at Jesus’ response to the woman in this story. First, we can assume that Jesus is simply testing the woman, challenging her to express her faith or secondly, we can consider that the woman does indeed get the better of Jesus, winning the argument and persuading him to release the crumbs of healing. Either way, the woman stands as a great example of simple faith borne out of a deep need. Her example of courageous and bold faith also stands as a stark contrast to the faith of Jesus’ disciples in the following chapter of Mark.
When the disciples mistake Jesus’ warning about the yeast of the Phariseess as a request for more bread, Jesus will remark, Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? Now, if we were to hear Mark’s gospel in one reading, the alert listener would probably have a light bulb moment and go, “that’s right only a few moments ago, Jesus healed a deaf man who couldn’t hear or speak properly and now it is the disciples who are acting as if they are deaf and cannot hear the truth of Jesus as Lord. Mark follows this little exchange between Jesus and the disciple with, guess what? the healing of a blind man. At this point, I wonder if the disciples start to get the message and open their eyes to see who Jesus really is and their ears to understand his teaching. We can see that these miracle stories point beyond the physical healings and act as metaphors for seeing Jesus for who he is, hearing the word and then speaking the word.
Mark is a master storyteller weaving stories in and out of one another with the intention of making us, his readers, wonder about Jesus. We too like Mark’s original audience are challenged to see and hear the truth about Jesus and ultimately to declare and proclaim it. There is another theme within Mark’s gospel that is present in todays’ reading that is both challenging and inspiring, the theme of secrecy. Did you notice that Jesus was trying to escape attention in the house in Tyre and that he heals the deaf-mute man in private, and what about his command to the healed deaf man to tell no one about the miracle? Mark tells us that the more Jesus ordered them to keep quiet the more zealously they proclaimed it.
This should make us wonder about our hesitancy to speak about our faith in Jesus. I know there are lots of reasons why we say nothing, fear of rejection, fear of offending someone, fear of humiliation or confrontation, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to be full of the kind of faith and enthusiasm we hear about in today’s story. Jesus literally could not shut the healed man and his friends up and he could not refuse a woman of great faith her request. Perhaps we are just not very excited about the fact that Jesus is the Lord and Saviour of all, the one who has healed us from a life without meaning, the one who has granted us a vison of God’s kingdom and the one who has allowed us to hear the words of grace. Today’s story shows us that God’s mission to heal and reconcile the whole world is ever expanding, unstoppable and inclusive. Heaven shall not wait for us to get out of our comfort zone, our apathy, or our fear, instead we just need to decide to either get onboard with God’s mission or not. The good news is that if we need a shot of enthusiasm and energy to enable us to get onboard we only need ask the one who empowers us to do all great and good things.
May God’s Spirit gives us eyes to see and ears to hear the good news once again, and forever and always. Like the deaf man’s ears and bound tongue we too may need to be opened up to the wonders of our Lord’s grace and healing.
Hymn Heaven shall not wait (When our Lord walked the earth)
Gracious God from whom all good things come,
accept our offerings for the glory
and for the service of your kingdom.
Prayers of Intercession
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,
We thank you that today is Father's Day. We thank you for the inspiration that Mrs John Bruce Dodd, a resident of Spokane, USA, was prompted with memories of her father to contemplate an instigate what we now celebrate, worldwide, as Father's Day.
O God, we thank you also for those who serve you in this present time, for selfless actions and generous spirits, for understanding and compassionate hearts. Forgive us Lord, when our vision becomes clouded by fear or anxiety, when enthusiasm falters or problems arise.
Creator God, this congregation is seeking to find some fresh way forward now.
Guide us, inspire us, shine your light on us through the gloom. Help us to remember that we are made in your image, the image of creative beings. Thank you for your presence, as we move into this new venture. Thank you for Mary Lou Redding’s thoughts.
All things come from God; everything happens through Him; everything ends in His hands. Always Glory! Always praise!
Thank you for the life of Dawn Nibbs in Derwent, Tasmania, who died last week. Please God and Jesus wrap your cloaks of comfort around her family in this sad time.
We pray for our church family members who are receiving medical care at this time, give them your comfort and support.
Lord, we pray that your healing presence be granted to those people of the world who are suffering because of the pandemic.
Hymn God is good (Jonathon McReynolds)
The love of God enfold you,
the wisdom of Christ enlighten you,
and the fire of the Spirit inflame you;
and may the blessing of the holy triune God
rest upon you and abide with you,
now and forevermore.
Blessing from Geoff Stevenson, Parramatta Nepean Presbytery Minister
Next Week: 12 September 2021
Theme: “Words out of Wisdom, Words out of Fear”
Proverbs 1:20-33 and Mark 8: 27-38
Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, James 3: 1-12 and Mark 8: 27-38