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The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18B)
6 September 2009

A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume

Grant us, O Lord, we pray thee, to trust in thee with all our heart; seeing that, as thou dost alway resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so thou dost not forsake those who make their boast of thy mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:31-37

Jesus heals the deaf mute and the people proclaim, “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” The passage from Mark that we heard this morning is often talked about in metaphorical terms. In lots of ways it is easier. Rather than talking about Jesus’ power to heal the sick, we associate the deaf, and in other healing stories, and the blind with people of no faith. We are told that Jesus makes people see and hear things that they would not otherwise see; that Jesus makes people see and hear the power of God active in their lives. Jesus opens people’s eyes and ears to the love of God, he opens people’s mouths so that they may proclaim what God has done, proclaim Jesus as the Christ. And in many ways, there is nothing wrong with this interpretation. It helps people like you and me put ourselves into the place of the deaf mute whom Jesus heals. It shows that those who do not yet have the faith of Christ may, through Jesus’ power, come to the knowledge and love of God.

Mark, however, was not thinking in metaphorical terms. Mark had no doubt that Jesus went around the country of Tyre and Sidon healing the sick, cleansing lepers, opening the eyes of the blind, and unstopping the ears of the deaf so that even those deaf from birth might speak. Mark had no doubt in the actual physical nature of Jesus’ work as a healer. Mark believed that such infirmitiy was something caused by the powers of the cosmos, that illness was something that separated people from God. Jesus, therefore, is the one, the Christ, God’s anointed one, who has powers over the most profound forces of the Cosmos. And although people may not have recognised this power in Jesus, those cosmic forces did recognise it. Those cosmic forces knew who Jesus was and what he had come to do. Those cosmic forces responded to Jesus’ power, Jesus’ cosmic power, and the people were healed of their infirmities.

Jesus’ power to heal, really heal, was a sign into creation of his identity as the “Son of God,” a reality only recognised by humans at the end of Mark’s story, only recognised by the Roman Centurion when Jesus was hanging from the Cross. Only then, after Jesus’ death and resurrection did humans really see him in the way that the cosmic forces saw him from the beginning. Mark was keen on showing how Jesus’ power was evident in his work of healing, how the the great forces of the cosmos saw this plainly, how people were slow to recognise this, but that now in his day, in our day, the Gospel is spreading, that the Good News of the Son of God and his power to reconcile and heal, is at work and visible to all the world.

A little over a week ago we celebrated the feast day of Thomas Gallaudet. Gallaudet was a Connecticut Episcopal priest born in 1822, whose father, also a priest, had founded the West Hartford School for the deaf, and whose mother and wife were both deaf-mutes. Gallaudet felt called to minister to the deaf and founded Saint Anne’s Church for the Deaf, here in New York, which is still hard at work following its founder’s vision. Gallaudet and his father heard Mark’s words and took them seriously. They knew that Jesus had ministered to the deaf, that Jesus cared for them, and that Jesus had exercised his power as the Son of God to heal them. In a time when the deaf—as well as the blind and those suffering from other infirmities—were truly on the margins of society, Gallaudet brought the ministry of the church to them. Gallaudet sought out those on the margins and knew that they were worthy of being embraced
by the ministry of the church since they were already embraced by the love of God, as shown forth in the work of Christ Jesus. Gallaudet, like Mark, took Jesus seriously and responded to what he saw and heard God calling him to do.

Jesus’ healing ministry to the deaf and blind, to the lepers and the lame, and to countless others, shows us the power of God over the forces of the world. It shows us that God’s love is stronger than whatever forces and powers and circumstances might bring upon us and our brothers and sisters infirmities that will cause others to shove us aside. It shows us that the love of God is for all of God’s peoples, especially the sick and the suffering, and that we are all called to serve those whom Jesus served, serve and help those that the world would cast aside.

Andrew Charles Blume+
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 6 September 2009

©2009 Andrew Charles Blume