Well, in the Gospel reading from today's lectionary, which I just read for you, we hear about two miracles, the healing of the deaf man, and the healing of the Syrophoenician woman's daughter. So today, we're going to put our focus on miracles.
You know, miracles didn't just happen 2,000 years ago, in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth. Miracles happen today. And they're happening all the time. They're all around us. We just have to be open to them, which is what the front cover of your bulletin says, today -- “Be Open.”
The word miracle comes from the Latin word mira, which means “to wonder.” When you live your life from that place of wonder, and you notice all the signs from Spirit, the synchronicities, the miracles all around you, you live in that place of openness.
Albert Einstein, who wasn't just a great scientist, but a great spiritualist as well, said, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. And the other is as if everything is a miracle.” Live, your life as if everything is a miracle. That's what it means to really live the spiritual life, to be open to seeing and experiencing all of those wonderful signs from Spirit that are with us and within us -- all around us, all the time.
Now, whenever we have miracle stories in the Gospel, there are always a few people afterwards who say to me, “Pastor Sal, did that miracle really happen? I mean, it seems a little bit far-fetched.” And my pat answer is always, “Well, I don't know, because I wasn't there.”
So I don't have a first-hand experience of it. But I'll tell you, what I do know from my study of the Bible, is that the stories from scripture are not to be understood literally. These are symbolic stories, spiritual stories. And so we are to take the miracle stories and understand them spiritually.
This morning, in our Words of Integration and Guidance, we heard about the four Semitic levels of interpreting scripture. Jesus, being a devout Jew, would have used these in his teachings.
Did you see that the first level, the lowest level of meaning, is the literal meaning? If I took today's Gospel literally, I would just come away saying, "There was a man who was deaf. Jesus put fingers in his ears, and the man was able to hear. Jesus is a miracle worker. Let me praise and worship Him."
Now, there's nothing wrong with that. Jesus certainly is worthy of praise and worship. But Jesus is not seeking our praise. Father, Richard Rohr says, “Jesus doesn't want fans. Jesus wants followers.” Jesus wants us to take his teachings, and to incorporate them into our own lives, so that we can experience healing and miracles for ourselves today.
That's why the fourth and the highest level of interpreting scripture is making it relevant to our own lives and putting it into action.
So I take this story today -- I didn't live 2,000 years ago, and I'm not deaf. But if I take this story, and I try to get to that highest level of meaning, I can reflect and say, “Yeah, you know, there have been times in my life where I have been closed to God, I've been closed to the signs and the messages from Spirit. We say in the UCC, ‘God is still speaking,’ but boy, there have been so many times in my life where I was not listening. I was not paying attention. I had closed my heart and my mind to people and to situations, and I had closed my ears from from listening.”
But Jesus says that beautiful Aramaic word in today's Gospel, “Ephphatha!” Be open! Open to the signs and the messages from Spirit that are all around you. The contemporary spiritual writer Paulo Coelho de Souza. He wrote a lot of books, but his most famous is called The Alchemist. And Paulo Coelho says, “Miracles occur all around us. Signs from God are always leading the way. Angels are always pleading to be heard. But we pay little attention to them.” And sadly, I think that is true.
Now the other half of today's Gospel reading, the healing of the Syrophoenician woman's daughter, is the one where Jesus needs to have his heart and mind opened. Did you notice Jesus is closed to the pleas of the Syrophoenician woman, he doesn't want to hear from her.
Now, I spoke about this at great length last year, in a sermon entitled “Nevertheless, she persisted.” You may remember that and you can watch it on YouTube if you didn't get to see it. But I mentioned that the Syrophoenician woman is one of my favorite characters in all of the Bible. Here she is. She's being dismissed by Jesus. And I know that's hard for us to watch -- a cruel Jesus. But Jesus refers to her as a dog, which was a great insult in Jesus's day.
She's coming to Jesus for help. Jesus doesn't want to hear from her. And he says to her, I have come for the Children of Israel. She was Syrophoenician, she was someone of a different religion, a different culture. She was woman! So he doesn't have any time for her.
But notice, due to her persistence, she opens up Jesus's ears, and his eyes, and his heart, and his mind. And he comes to the realization that, ‘Oh, I haven't just come for the children of Israel. I've come for all people.’ And so it's due to this woman's persistence, that Jesus’ heart and mind are transformed, and he is opened, open to a new understanding.
And that's what Ephphatha is all about. Notice the woman, because of her persistence, she experiences a miracle, her daughter is healed.
But Jesus didn't take credit for it.
Throughout the Gospels, whenever you read about a healing miracle, you'll see Jesus never takes credit for it. He always says things like, “Woman, your faith has made you well,” or “Go, your belief has made you whole.” He never says “I made you well, I made you whole.”
And that's really what Jesus is saying at the end of today's Gospel message where he says to the people, “Don't tell anybody what happened here.” Because Jesus is trying to avoid the attention. You see at the beginning of the Gospel, he's trying to hide from the people. Jesus does not want this attention, this praise, this fandom.
What Jesus wants is for us to take his teachings and to put them into action in our own lives, so that we can experience those miracles, and those healings, to see the signs, and awe and wonder that's always all around us.
For Jesus, it was never about him. It was always about us.
So my friends, Ephphatha! Be opened! Be open to the signs, the synchronicities, the messages from angels and Spirit that are always around us, if we would just be open to them.
Now someone I knew who lived with that openness of life, was Father Mychal Judge, and I thought I'd end my homily today with Father Mychal's prayer, because this week is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. And many of you know that I wrote a book on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 called Mychal's Prayer, praying with Father Mychal Judge.
Father Mychal Judge, is known as the Saint of 9/11. He is the very first recorded casualty of 9/11. He ran into the World Trade Center to help, and he died. There's a very famous photograph of the rescue workers carrying his lifeless body from the wreckage. I got to know Father Mychal in the early 1990s, when I was a young brother in the Catholic Church. I worked with him In the founding of St. Francis AIDS ministry, one of the first Catholic AIDS organizations in the country. I'm so honored to continue to speak about Father Mychal. This weekend, I got to be interviewed by the Associated Press about father Mychal. That article came out yesterday. And yesterday, I also was interviewed by the BBC Radio for a program that's going to air later today. I'm always so grateful that our lives connected for that short period of time, because Father Mychal taught me how to live with that openness that we were talking about today. And Father Mychal said a prayer every morning. It is so simple. It's only four lines. Every morning, he would say,
“Lord, today take me where you want me to go.
Let me meet who you want me to meet.
Tell me what you want me to say.
And keep me out of your way.”
I love that prayer so much, because it's that prayer of openness of ephphatha, just being open to whatever God has in store for you.
And my friends, when we live from that place of openness, and trust, and surrender, we begin to see God's presence and power more and more in our lives, we begin to notice those synchronicities and those signs more and more. When we live with an open heart and open mind, we begin to really see how miraculous life is and how much we are always being guided and loved.
Reverend Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
By Stephen Andrew Missick
In today’s Gospel, Jesus opens the ears of a deaf man. As he did with other such healings, Jesus used saliva and dirt to make a poultice with which to heal. With the deaf man, Jesus opened the ears and freed the tongue. When Jesus preformed this miracle, he used the Aramaic word ‘Ephphatha’ which means ‘Be Opened.’ In ancient Semitic tradition there are four levels of interpreting the scriptures. The first is the way of Knowing. This is the literal or historical meaning of the text. The second level is the way of Being, which is an allegorical or symbolic meaning. The third level is the way in which the text speaks directly to the reader. This is the way of Feeling. Here the spiritual and mystical meanings of the text are discovered. The final level is the way of Doing. Here we find the moral lessons and ethical principles within the text and apply them to our lives. Jesus was using parables to impart spiritual truths, and he was expecting his disciples to be ready to hear from God. Likewise, Jesus wants us to have our ears opened. Jesus wants us to open our spiritual ears so we can hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us. Jesus said, "Let he who has ears listen and understand." This is most likely an Aramaic idiom meaning, "Whoever can catch my meaning let him do so." When Jesus said "Ephaphatha!," he removed the veil that barred men and women from the presence of God.
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