Open Ears, Open Eyes, Open Hands
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 7:31–7:37, James 2:14–2:18
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost [i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Mark 7:31-37; James 2:1-10, 14-18
So this weekend marks our Kick-Off Sunday and the start of a new year of Christian education in the life of our congregation – opportunities for learning and growing no matter what your age might be. It’s like a page flipping on a calendar with nothing but new beginnings ahead of us. I encourage you to take hold of this occasion to intentionally engage with God’s Word in your life, here on the weekends and at home and with other Christians over the rest of the week. While on my sabbatical this summer, I kept being reminded of the importance of having that Word as our foundation for life going from day to day.
Our life together this weekend also includes both a baptism of an infant and the public recognition of baptism for another young child. We Lutheran Christians understand Baptism to be a big deal, a gift from God. In your baptism, the Holy Spirit connects you with Jesus. You are marked with the sign of the cross, and nothing can take him away from you. God’s Word is put onto you and you are given a new identity. God’s Word speaks life into you, gives you faith that changes you – and changes the world through you.
The Bible points us to Jesus as the Word of God who has taken humanity into Himself, becoming flesh. He is the living, active Word, incarnate. We hear that again today in Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus continues to bring healing through the power of his word, delivering new life to people who were all too familiar with the brokenness of our world. As Jesus demonstrates when he makes this deaf man hear and gives him clear speech, Jesus is the one who can actually change the brokenness, something that no one else can do. He is the fulfillment of God’s promise through the prophet Isaiah, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” (v. 35:5-6) He is the Word who changes our brokenness.
You can’t hear when your ears are stopped up. If you’ve ever been on an airplane flight with a stuffy nose and had to deal with the aftermath of the up-and-down pressure changes, you know how the sense of hearing that you might normally take for granted can get thrown out of whack. If you make use of hearing aids to restore your ability to perceive the sounds in the world around you, you know firsthand how important clear ears are when interacting with other people. Similarly, if your ears are shut to God’s instruction, what are you missing out on? Chances are that the clearest voice that you’ll be able to perceive is your own. And if you’re listening only to yourself, how can you learn of God’s love for you?
Jesus opens ears. The living, active Word of God breaks through the deafness of our hearts to proclaim the good news of his grace. When you come here to this place, Jesus will confront the brokenness in your life. You know it’s there. But he doesn’t stop there. He speaks forgiveness. He assures you that he has taken your guilt and your brokenness onto himself. He opens your ears to hear the world around you, as you have heard him call your name, beckoning you to follow him. And he doesn’t stop with opening your ears. He opens your mouth, too, untying your tongue so that you might speak and share the Word with clear and loving speech.
But what if your eyes are closed? Have you ever tried finding your way around in an absolutely dark room? If you’re like me, you’ve probably stumbled around with your arms stretched out in front of you, hoping that you aren’t going to bump into something sharp, or run face-first into a wall. At other times, you might close your eyes when you risk seeing something scary, something that you’d rather avoid. How hard is it to get anywhere, though, when you’re peeking down at your feet through tightly shut eyelids? It’s certainly harder to help others if you can’t see them – or pretending that they’re simply not there.
Jesus opens eyes. The brokenness that we know as sin, the self-centeredness that shuts our eyes both to God’s love and to the world around us, blinds us. But by the power of His Word, Jesus restores sight. He shows you that he is here for you through his gifts – including Baptism and Holy Communion – and through his people, the Church. The living, active Word of God removes the blindfold that sin put on each of us so that we might live in the light of God’s love, acknowledging the people He has placed into our lives, recognizing the worth and beauty of our fellow human beings as His creatures.
If your hands are closed, though, helping those fellow human beings is pretty hard to do. If you’ve ever been on a road trip in a car with (or as) children, you may have heard (or said) the timeless phrase, “Keep your hands to yourself!” Funny thing is, though, that as human beings, self-focus is our default state. We keep our hands to ourselves – serving ourselves, that it. Our hands are naturally closed off when it comes to serving others. We Christians might even act like closed hands are a good thing when we say, “we’ll pray for you,” but leave simply it at that. This is what James is getting at when he writes, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
Jesus opens hands. The living, active Word of God frees our hands from slavery to self. God gives His gifts to you, caring for your needs, and He gives through you, too. With open eyes and open hands, God’s people change the world in active service to our neighbors. As a congregation, we continue to set our minds and hearts, along with our eyes and hands, to joining Jesus on his mission, and it is his word that makes it all happen.
Open ears, open eyes, open hands: this is living faith. Following Jesus, who has put his word onto you and given you a new identity, you are transformed by his gift of faith. The living, active Word of God is at work in you and at work through you. Opened, freed from slavery to sin and self, you serve in Christ’s grace. Faith isn’t merely a belief. It is a lifestyle of following Jesus in trust and selfless service. There’s really no such thing as faith without works, because God gives both together.
So on this Kick-Off Sunday weekend, I again encourage you to engage with God’s Word in one of the many opportunities for Christian education that our Lord is opening up to you. Because through His Word, you will have open ears, open eyes, and open hands.
Welcome back! May you be richly blessed as we grow together in Jesus, the living and powerful Word, who has done all things well for us all.
[i] This week’s memory passage:
And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” – Mark 7:37 (ESV)