The Gathering: speak my language

READ: Mark 7.31-37

Have you ever tried to talk with someone who doesn’t speak your own language? Or maybe their English isn’t that good, and you can’t understand them hardly at all? And even if they do have a slight handle on English, they don’t understand all the colloquialisms and other sayings. Tell someone new to the English language that they are “cool,” and they might think you’re talking about the their temperature. And maybe it’s not even if they’re from a different land, but just a different region. I remember going to a grocery store in the South, and a buddy of mine from there told me to grab a buggy. I had no idea what he meant. I looked around for a bit, puzzled by his request. He meant a shopping cart. And one day, I told my boys to dial a certain number on my cell phone, and they thought I was crazy. What dial? And I never knew what “yinz” meant until someone saw I was struggling with its meaning and just flat-out told me it means “yous guys” or “y’all.” And the churches are full of stories about how their missionaries were sent out to preach the Gospel to people in other lands. Often times, there just simply were no words in their language to convey the ideas of sacrifice, baptism, forgiveness or charity. Often, the missionaries had to invent words out of a native word that kind of had a similar connotation, sort of… The point here is pretty obvious: We cannot communicate well with others if we assume they know what we’re talking about. We have to speak a language they can understand. Mark In our reading in Mark 7 this evening, we see Jesus healing a man who can’t speak well and cannot hear. Mark tells us that Jesus is in Gentile territory, and it’s early in Jesus’s ministry. Folks — non-Jews — have heard of the miraculous healings that Jesus has performed. And there are many shifty sorcerers around who tried to make a buck by pretending to be able to heal people. Jesus’s reputation precedes him, though, and the people ask him to heal this man. So that Jesus doesn’t become some sort of circus act for people, he brings the man to a private place, away from the crowd, and he heals him. As he touches the man’s ears and tongue, Jesus looks up to heaven and says this Aramaic word, “Ephphatha.” (eff- faatha) That means “Be opened.” Mark keeps the Aramaic language for this word, although the Gospel was written in Greek. The man who received Jesus’s healing words was a Gentile. He didn’t speak or know Aramaic. He was deaf. But as soon as Jesus heals him, Mark tells us that the man spoke plainly. He now could speak, and he now could hear. Dialect Does it matter the language? Does it matter the dialect — those intricacies of language? This Gospel lesson here teaches us something really interesting: Jesus prays that the man be opened. Not healed. Not fixed. But opened. Time and time again in the Gospels, we see Jesus healing people. What does it take to heal someone? Faith, right? They have to believe. It’s why Jesus couldn’t heal many people or perform any miracles in his hometown (Mark 6.5). They were too familiar with him, you know, Mary’s boy… The people being healed need to make an effort to believe. The centurion who tells Jesus, “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed…” (Matt. 8.8) Or Peter’s mother healed… (Luke 4.38) Or the bleeding woman who simply touched Jesus’s hem and was healed. (Matt. 9.20). See, we have to take a step — or a leap — of faith before we can be healed. And in the case of the man without begin able to hear or speak, Jesus prays not that the man be healed, but that the man be opened. Once the man is open to Jesus, he can hear and he can speak. The metaphor Today, our communities suffer from sort of a metaphorical deafness and muteness. We suffer from a communication problem. We believe the best way to help people is to tell them over and over again how to do it the right way. It’s tantamount to a guy wearing a sandwich board that reads “REPENT!” and carrying bullhorn, screaming that the wages of sin is death. That’s the Good News? Really? Because the Christ I know is a life-giver, not a life-taker… The problem is, we often just don’t have the right words. Saying it louder or slower doesn’t help at all. The words are lost in translation. And here it is: Jesus doesn’t just speak louder or slower; He prays for openness. And then he acts in love. How do we act in love? We are able to touch someone’s lives. Nelson Mandela once said it this way: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head; If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I swiped that quote from LaDonna Sanders Nkosi in The Christian Century this week… There may be no better quote to illustrate this point… Jesus is showing us that we don’t need to speak into a person’s head; but into his or her heart. Who on earth will ever be open to us just yelling at someone, commanding them to change the way they think? Last time I looked, everywhere from the TV news, to Congress, to Facebook points 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Speak into the head, and we’re just telling people how to be fixed. Or worse, we’re telling them how broken they are. No; we must speak into the heart instead. Only by speaking into the heart can we truly heal. Just do what? Over the last few days, there has been a certain new division playing out in the news and on social media. It’s this: The athletic-gear giant Nike chose former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick to represent the company in its latest ad campaign. If you don’t know the back story, Kaepernick was the first one to take a knee during the National Anthem before a football game. Nike’s new slogan is this: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” That slogan is a reference to Kaepernick’s lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly colluding to keep the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback out of the league over his protests against police brutality. That’s why he, and hundreds of other players since, refuse to stand for the National Anthem; they are bringing attention to the epidemic of police brutality — especially against African-Americans — in our country. As of Tuesday, 684 people had been shot and killed by American police officers so far this year, according to The Washington Post’s police shooting database. Does that mean police officers are bad? Absolutely not! But does it mean we have a problem in this country? Well, yeah! Others, however, don’t see it that way. In fact, there’s a boycott of Nike merchandise underway as we speak. People believe that Kaepernick did not sacrifice anything, and that everyone should stand for the National Anthem regardless. To do otherwise is unpatriotic. It really doesn’t matter to me what side of the argument you lean toward or jump behind: All I see is Nike and Kaepernick making a boatload of money with all the free publicity, but more, I see a nation dividing and polarizing wider and wider. Is police brutality a fact? It is. Hundreds of people die at the hands of police every year. Many of them were innocent, and the ratio of those killed were African-American. Kaeoernick believed someone needed to make a statement for the victims and the issue itself. Someone needs to listen to that side. And others who have sacrificed everything for the protection of everyone in this nation — including you and me and Kaepernick — also need to be heard. Is there a way? See, the point is that that gap — that wound — will never heal because we refuse to speak one another’s language. We refuse to listen. And more, as Jesus shows us, we refuse to speak the language of God. Jesus spoke his native language — Aramaic — not the language of the Gentile he was healing. But he was speaking to someone who couldn’t hear anyway. It really didn’t matter. What mattered was that Jesus was opened to healing a non-Jew. And the Gentile was opened to Christ. Ephphatha. Be opened. Only then could Jesus heal; and only then could the man be healed. The language Jesus was speaking was a language of love, compassion, understanding and openness itself. Healed communities. I used to be a fixer. Do you know what I mean? I used to have to try to fix everyone’s problems. They would tell me something that was wrong, and I’d immediately launch into my knowledge of their predicament and try to “fix” them. Until one day, a friend told me, “Just stand with me. Try to understand me. You don’t need to fix me.” Up until that time, I’d never thought of that. But as Americans in this world, especially, we have the blessing of being in a position to fix things. We have some of the greatest wealth, skills, knowledge and experience in the entire world. We see a problem, and we deliberate whether we want to help (because we don’t always). But if we do, we try to fix it. We don’t really stand in solidarity so well. In fact, we often are thinking of the solution when those pleading for our solidarity are still formulating their words. We’re not good listeners. That’s our ethnocentrism here — that is, making ourselves the center of what the world should follow. If you want our help, do it our way. Our way is the right and only way. All we’re doing is fixing — putting a band-aid on something instead of empowering people. Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he has food for a lifetime, the old adage goes… When we’re so busy formulating our response in a conversation with someone, we’re not paying attention; we’re not listening. We’re too busy thinking about what we’ll say to fix it! Faith is the language It’s interesting when you think about this story in Mark. Jesus wasn’t really speaking a common language; then again, the hearing-impaired man couldn’t hear or speak anyway. The language Jesus was speaking was faith. Do you see that? That’s why it’s such a beautiful story. It was faith born out of love that Jesus acts; it was faith born out of love that the man is healed. The common denominator here was love. That was the language they both understood. That was the bridge that would unite them. The man had to walk across that bridge of faith. Love was — and is for us, too — the common ground. Touching If we want to touch someone’s lives and heal them — not just fix them — we have to speak the language of faith and love, as Jesus shows us. Handing $10 to a homeless person on the street gets that person fish for a day; finding a bridge to help that person gets him or her food for their entire lives. This is what the Gospel is. This is how the Gospel heals. This is how the Gospel unites. I’m daring you to try this: When you see divisiveness where ever it exists, rather than trying to fix the other person, try instead to find a common language. We truly all have more in common than we really know. And God honors our actions in love. But we will never find that common ground unless we faithfully try — and try hard — to understand one another. That’s what Jesus is teaching us. That’s what Jesus wants us to practice. That is the only way to true healing. #

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