WORSHIP SERVICE SEPTEMBER 5 2021 “Being Opened to Re-routing”
Join Holy Trinity church members for worship on Sunday, September 5, 2021 in person or via YouTube and hear Pastor Erik’s message, “Being Opened to Re-routing.”
You are welcome to join us inside the sanctuary at 9:30 and 11:00 and also during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday morning.
MARK 7:24-37 BEING OPENED TO RE-ROUTING
When my Father was a young man he worked as a youth minister for a few years. He and the pastor he worked with became friends during that time. As they got to know each other, they came to share a common dream of starting a church camp. Their original thought was to invite troubled teens out onto a ranch in rural Arizona. The goal would be to help them grow in a faith-based environment. My dad and the pastor were convinced this was a calling from God. They eventually found some property, used their meager savings to purchase that property, then left their jobs to start the camp.
Something happened along the way, however, that re-routed the direction of their calling. Along the way, they met a local family who had a son who was developmentally disabled. Over several conversations, they listened to the family’s concerns. Their son was capable in many ways, but he would probably always require some assistance. He would not be able to live independently on his own. At that time there were not many residential options which meant their son would have to move into a large institutional setting when they were no longer able to care for him. This was not the environment they wanted to put him into, but it did not seem like they would have any choice.
After hearing this family’s story, my dad and his pastor friend began to feel as if God was actually calling them in a different direction than they originally thought they were supposed to go. Instead of focusing on youth from the inner city, they were feeling led to reach out to adults with developmental disabilities. They would still use the property that they bought. They would still be a faith-based non-profit, but they would be working with a different group of people. Because they were open to how God might be leading them, they took a different route than the one they had originally planned to take.
Jesus gets re-routed in the Gospel reading today from the book of Mark. His change of direction happens when he meets a woman who has a daughter who is plagued by some kind of demon. She begs Jesus to heal her daughter. We might think Jesus would have responded right away by giving her that healing. Instead, he has an odd respond as he says, “let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs.”
This sounds a little harsh, but it seems to reveal what Jesus perceives his mission to be. The children would be those who belong to the house of Israel. Those who were the people of Jesus. The folks belonging to his tribe. The woman, however, is a Gentile. She is not of his tribe and people. Therefore, it sounds like Jesus is not as concerned about bringing healing to her daughter. The woman is insistent, however, and points out that even the dogs get crumbs from the table. In other words, she is pointing out that if God’s power is so abundant in Jesus, surely there is a little left over for her and her daughter.
Jesus is amazed by the woman’s faith, and it moves him to respond to her request. He brings healing to the daughter. The encounter also seems to open up Jesus to a new direction where he becomes open not only to serving his own people, but also those people who would be considered Gentiles or those outside of his tribe. We see this as he appears to get re-routed on his way back to his home territory. The passage tells us today that he returned from the region of Tyre and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.
If you look at map of where these cities were at the time of Jesus, you will see that the town of Sidon was not on the way back to Galilee. Rather, it is actually north of Tyre. It was further up the coast and deeper into the territory of the Gentiles.
If this is the route that Jesus took to get back, then he went way out of his way to go there. The Bible does not tell what he did in Sidon, but the fact that it says he went by way of Sidon tells us something about how his direction got re-routed. After realizing his calling was also for those outside of his tribe, he went further away from his home region and deeper into Gentile territory. He brought his message of healing and God’s grace to more people who were different from his own tradition. He didn’t just go back to his comfort zone right away—to the place with the customs and traditions he knew. He became open to going to a place that was different from what he had known and from where he thought he was supposed to go because he had been open to God’s calling in a new direction.
I believe Jesus was willing to be re-routed because he had put himself in a position where he was opened to it. He had already traveled outside of his home territory when he could have remained in the area just around Galilee. He had already experienced being driven out into the wilderness after his baptism. He had been opened to facing the difficulties of being by himself in the desert and the temptations that came with it. He had felt the assurance of God’s presence as he made it through that time and then started encountering the crowds as he began to teach. He had already been opened up to interacting with all kinds of people, even those considered unclean as they came to him for healing from many different ailments.
So it was not out of character that Jesus would take the long way back to his home territory. He had learned to trust the Spirit’s leading, even if it re-routed him in a direction he had not anticipated. This made him open to helping a little longer in a foreign land if it was needed. It made him open to assisting those who were not of his own tradition. Those who were not from where he grew up, but still needed God’s healing.
This last week in the news we have seen thousands of people literally re-routed from their homes as Hurricane Ida swept across Louisiana and then into the northeastern parts of the US and dumped record-setting amounts of rain in places like Philadelphia, New York, and parts of New Jersey.
People have been re-routed from unsafe roads and told to turn around and not go back to the towns they grew up in because infrastructure has been destroyed and their houses are no longer standing. Many have had their lives suddenly upended in a different direction because of this devastating natural disaster.
Others, however, have had their lives suddenly re-routed not because they were forced to, but rather because they have put themselves in a position where they were willing to go and help. One of these groups of people is the National Guard. These are folks who have signed up for service to their country in a way where they are committed to being ready to give assistance at a national or state level when called upon to do so. They are ready to go to where the need is, even if it means going somewhere they haven’t been before and working with different people from the place where they grew up.
I don’t know about you, but I think we have become so accustomed to hearing about the National Guard showing up to help in times of crisis that we can take their work for granted sometimes. I can’t remember how many times that I have been listening to a news report when I have heard the reporter say, ‘And the National Guard have been called up to assist’, and there they are handing out food or providing assistance in some other way.
It’s almost like we just expect they will be there, like magic. But it’s not magic. It is the dedication and willingness of thousands of men and women who are open to serving and following the order to go when and where they are needed.
The thing that amazes me about the dedication of this group as well, is that for most of them the National Guard is a part-time job. It is something that they do one weekend a month and for an additional two weeks a year. This means most of them have other full-time civilian jobs. Yet when the call comes, they have to arrange leaving their jobs temporarily in addition to leaving family and friends, many times on a short notice.
The motto of the Guard is, “Always ready, always there.” This last week they were ready as over 5,200 national Guard personnel were deployed to flood zones in Louisiana. They came from other parts of Louisiana, from Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. They helped with a variety of things including logistical support, water rescues, traffic control, and bringing in supplies. All of this support is being provided because these men and women were opened to being re-routed in service to those in need.
The word “opened” figures prominently in today’s Gospel story. As Jesus heals the man who is deaf, Scripture tells us that Jesus said the Aramaic word “Ephphatha” which means, “Be opened.” When Jesus says this, he means it in a literal, physical sense. Because he could not hear, it is as if the man’s ears were closed. Jesus wants his ears to open up so he can hear again. But I think Jesus meant that word “Ephphaatha” in a spiritual way as well. He wants the man to be opened to God’s presence in his life. He wants the man to be opened to the leading of the Spirit. He wants him to be opened to using his new-found gift of hearing to go and help others hear about God’s work of healing as well.
Today Jesus speaks to us from the Scripture and tells us the same thing he told the deaf man so long ago. He says to us, “Be opened.” Be opened to being re-routed if you are feeling led by the Spirit to perhaps go in a different direction. Be opened when you hear news of things like natural disasters that have placed people in need. Be opened to perhaps re-routing some of your physical resources through financial support. Be opened to re-routing some of your spiritual resources through prayer support. Jesus died and rose again so that you might be opened to using the gifts God has given you, and so that you might be ready to be a part of God’s healing work. Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner