OT 23 – 16th Sunday After Pentecost

September 8, 2024

Lectionary Texts

Proverbs 22. 1-2, 8-9, 22-23 — God is maker of both rich and poor. Condemns injustice. Care for the poor.

Psalm 124 God’s grace alone has saved us when we were in danger.

James 2. 1-17 — Do not favor the rich over the poor…. Don’t judge one another…. Mercy triumphs over judgment…. Faith without works is dead.

Mark 7.24-37 Jesus and the Syrophonecian woman. He cures a deaf man.

Preaching Thoughts

The Syrophonecian woman
       Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there to see just how Jesus said that line? “It’s not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Maybe he said it teasingly, highlighting the rejection she would expect. Maybe he said it as a test, hoping she would push back. Maybe he said it almost as a question: he thought his mission was to Israel, but here this Gentile was asking for healing. Hm…
       But maybe he said it straight: it reflected the deep inherent bias he grew up with, that Gentiles were undeserving outsiders. “Dogs,” of course, was a racial slur. But her rejoinder is gutsy and persistent. She doesn’t back down. She jousts with him like a rabbi would: not just arguing, but using wordplay, and besting him at it. She takes his slur and turns it into a parable! All of these are qualities Jesus would appreciate. He basically says, “You win.” But most significantly, it’s not her cleverness that changes Jesus’ mind: it’s that she awakens him to the fact that she’s a person, not a stereotype. He recognizes his inherent bias and chooses otherwise. This is the work of anti-racism. This is the process we go through in overcoming bias around race, gender identity, poverty, mental illness and other forms of discrimination. We recognize our inherent bias, acknowledge how it hurts others and choose otherwise.
       The unnamed Syrophonecian woman is one of a whole cast of gutsy, “uppity women” who model true faith—faith not as religious certainty, but as tenaciously hanging on to life, healing, truth and justice. They love at great cost. They don’t give in. Patriarchal as scripture is, it can’t hide the long train of those women whose guts and faith enrich our lives, from Eve, Tamar, Rahab and Esther to the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet, the widow and her mite, the woman with the flow of blood, and Mary Magdalene. These are our confident sisters. Thank God for them.

The deaf man
       Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened!” Was Jesus asking for the man’s ears to be opened? Or heaven? Or the well of his healing powers? Or the hearts of the onlookers? Or our own hearts? Or the possibilities of the future? In so many ways these words are at the heart of Jesus’ message. He’s inviting us to open our ears (“Those who have ears to hear, listen…”) He’s inviting our open-mindedness. He’s asking us to open our hearts. He’s opening the grace of heaven to us. He’s opening up the future. Maybe Jesus would not define faith as certainty but openness.
      As always in stories about healing, watch out for implying that one’s disease, mental illness or disability is something that needs to be fixed. Some conditions are curable; some are not. Some arise from personal choices; most do not. Some people want their condition to change; others don’t. When you preach about a healing, be aware there are people in your congregation who are not healed—though they may want and even pray to be—and may have some feelings about that. And there may be some who are fine with their condition, and don’t need to hear about how they ought to be fixed. Take care not to imply that there’s something wrong with people as they are.
       And be careful about ableism. We can use “deaf” as a pejorative judgment, as in “she turned a deaf ear…” There’s nothing wrong with being deaf, and deaf people need to hear that. Yes, hear. There’s more than one kind of deafness, more than one kind of hearing. When we label people whose ears work as “deaf” what do we actually mean? Inattentive? Callous? Self-absorbed? Then say that. If you mean “turn away from” or “was unwilling to hear” then say that. Don’t lump defensive people in with people who have a hearing disability. A person can’t “turn a deaf ear” to something: that’s a choice. Deafness is not. And deaf people hear a lot, just not through sound waves. After all, what does it mean to “hear?” Attend… obey… receive…. Deaf people do hear in those ways.

Call to Worship

Leader:  God of ancient truth, our ancestors lead us to this place.
     All:  We open our minds to your Word.
Gentle Christ, your loving community gathers us here to be changed by your grace.
     We open our hearts to your love.
Holy Spirit, our thirst for you has brought us to worship.
     We open our lives to your power,
     and we open our arms to one another,
     that we may open ourselves to the world, in the love of Christ. Amen.

Leader:  Infinite God, Heart of Being, you draw us near.
     All: Open our lips to sing your praise.
Loving Christ, beloved Friend, you lay your healing hands upon us.
     Open our eyes and ears to see and hear your presence.
Holy Spirit, Word of new Creation. you burn within us.
     Open our hearts and minds to live in new ways.
     Your will be done. Alleluia!

Leader: Your Word creates the heavens and the earth, O God;
therefore we listen with open ears.
     All:  Your love gives us life; therefore we open our lips to praise you.
You give us your Christ who heals us, teaches us and calls us.
     With gratitude we receive him with open arms.
You give us your Spirit, that guides us in the wisdom of your love.
     We open our hearts to your presence and your grace.
Open our ears to hear you, God, and our hands to serve you.
     Alleluia!  Arise in us, Spirit of Life, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Leader: God of love, open our eyes to your glory.         
          All: Open our hearts to your grace.
Open our arms to your beloved children.
          Open the door and enter our lives
          as we worship you in gratitude and wonder.   Alleluia!

Leader: God of Life,
    All: you are as near to us as our breath.
Touch our eyes,
    that we may see you in one another.
Open our ears,
    that we may hear your voice in the cries of the oppressed.
Enter our hearts,
    that we may be filled with your love toward all people.
Come, O God of life and breath and wholeness.
    Be with us now. Show us the way to new life
    and grant us the courage to be people of your Way.

Leader: Loving God, you have opened our hearts by your grace;
All: open our minds with your Word.
You have opened heaven to us in the presence of Christ.
You have opened our graves by his resurrection,
so that death can no longer hold us
Come now, and open our eyes to your presence;
open our hearts to your grace.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your power. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Spirit of Love, when we can’t hear your Word, or see your Way, we feel deaf and blind.  When we can’t sing your praise we feel mute.  Heal us.  Open our hearts, and set us on a path of endless learning and growing in the Spirit of Christ.  Amen.

Gentle God, we come to you seeking healing, wisdom and life.  Bless us with your love, your Word, your touch.  Only say the word and we shall be made whole.  Have mercy, O Lord, and bless us.  Amen.

Eternal God, you who have created the heavens and the earth, create us anew in the power of your Spirit.  You opened up the space of the heavens, and set therein stars like eyes to shine on us.  Open our own eyes, that we may behold your glory and worship you.  In Jesus Christ you healed people’s bodies and hearts.  Open our hearts to your grace, that we may made new in the image of Christ. Your Spirit opened the lips of the mute and gave them good news to tell.  O Lord, open our lips, and our mouths shall declare your praise.  Amen.

Eternal God, your Word creates us; your grace orders our lives; your love guides and sustains us. Yet we lose sight of your presence; we grow deaf to your voice; we forget your promise. Open the eyes of our hearts, that we may receive and share your grace, for the sake of the world, in the name and Spirit of Christ.

Gentle God, we often hear voices telling us we are not worthy of your love, voices around us and within us. But your Spirit intercedes for us, and pleads for our wholeness. And in your grace, you open yourself to us. Give us faith to receive your grace, to allow ourselves to be healed, and to be made new in the power of your love. We pray in the ever-faithful name of Jesus. Amen.

God, I throw open the window of my heart.
Let the light of your grace flood my house.
Let the breeze of your Spirit freshen my air.
Let your love kindle the fire at my heart,
that I may live by your warmth and light all my days,
in the name and the company of Christ. Amen.

Healing God, you sent Christ to heal all people. Send your Living Word now to make us whole, to make us new, to make us yours. We listen with open hearts as your Scripture is read and your good news proclaimed, so that we may hear what you are saying to us today. Amen.

Listening Prayer  

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

God of love, you want to open our eyes.
You speak deep within us.
Give us grace to listen, to hear, and to be changed
by your loving presence, your living Word. Amen.

Jesus, Life-Giver, Whole-Maker,
healer of my soul,
you lay your hands on my heart
and pray “Be opened.”
My heart is open;
your heart is open;
all of heaven is open.
Let your grace pour in.

Prayer of Confession

God of wholeness,
we confess our ears are closed to your Word;
our eyes are closed to your wonder.
Our hearts are closed up, afraid of the pain.
Open us.
Heal us, forgive us, and give us a tongue of love,
by the mercy we know in Christ.

God of truth,
help us to acknowledge our inherent biases,
our judgments against those we think of as “other.”
Forgive us, and heal us.
Help us to see our biases,
to name them and repent of them,
and act in new ways.
Help us to see others, even those very different from us,
as persons, as your beloved.
Remove all in us that inhibits our perfect love,
which is our perfect loveliness.
We pray in the name of Christ,
who was radically open to your grace.

Gentle God,
the wounds we have suffered have closed over,
but they have not healed.
Like clutching fists, our spirits have closed around our fears.
We have closed our minds to your truth;
we have closed our hearts to your grace;
and we have closed off our lives from others.
Forgive us, God.
Heal us, and open us to your presence and your grace;
open our hearts to one another.

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

 God is with you.
    And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
    We lift them up to the Holy One.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One our God.
    It is good to give God thanks and praise.

Blessed are you, O God, for you create all things in love.
   You make us in your image and call us your Beloved,
   and continually re-create us by your grace.
   You know our struggles and bear our suffering.
   You judge the forces of oppression and set us free.
You guide us into a new world of mercy and justice;
   you heal the splinterings of race and clan, creed and status.
You draw us into the Empire of Grace
   in the company of Jesus your Christ.

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
   He taught and healed, and loved all people,
   calling us to repentance and offering new life.

He defied barriers and created a new community
   of love, justice and inclusiveness.
He opened heaven to us, that we might commune with God.
For his resistance to injustice he was crucified,
but you raised him from the dead.

[… The Blessing and Covenant…] *

With gratitude we remember your mighty acts in Jesus Christ.
    Therefore we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
    as a living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
    as we proclaim the mystery of our faith.

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

As the dogs that eat the crumbs that fall from the table,
we come not because we are worthy but because you invite us.
No one is turned away.
     We thank you for these gifts
     that unite us with all who hunger for your grace.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the Body and Blood of the Beloved, Jesus Christ.
     Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
     that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.
     Open us to your grace and to the new life you offer us;
     make us vessels of your love.
     Open us to one another; make us one in your Spirit.

Open us to the suffering of the world,
and to your healing flowing through us.
    By your grace in this meal
    prepare us to work for  healing and justice
    for the sake of your delight.
All glory and honor is yours,
faithful and loving God, now and forever.

     [Spoken or sung]

* The Blessing and Covenant

[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us,
he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples,
saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
shed for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”

Prayer after Communion

Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.  You have opened our hearts to your grace.  Now open our hands to do the work you give us, to work for justice and healing for the sake of the wholeness of all Creation, in the name and Spirit of Christ.  Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page.)

I Am Open (Original song)

Dear gentle Jesus, I open to you
the deepest chambers of my soul.
My heart is open, wounded and broken.
Heal and forgive and make me whole.
Open, I am open, open to your grace.

Beloved Jesus, my eyes are open;
your healing touch restores my sight.
Like open windows, they shine, and in flows
your glory filling me with light.
Open, I am open, open to your grace.

My wounded Jesus. Your arms are open,
our hurt and dying to embrace.
When I would close them, hold my arms open,
to be so loving by your grace.
Open, I am open, open to your grace.

Now risen Jesus, my life is open,
a flower unfolding in the sun:
by your light growing, and boldly showing
the love of God, as you have done.
Open, I am open, open to your grace.

Open Me Original song)
A dialogue between soloist and congregation.
Refrain may be used as a repeating chant.

Ears are stopped. Not listening.
Eyes of my heart don’t see a thing.
I need you.
Touch me and heal me and open my life with your love.

All, Refrain: Open me. Open me. Open me. Open me.

Mind is closed. Much to learn.
Love, how I need to change and turn.
So teach me.
Open my mind to the new and the whole and to you.

Hands are closed. Hearts are hard.
The Circle of Life is torn and scarred.
So heal us.
Open our hearts to each other so blessing may flow.

Love is here. Grace abounds.
Heaven itself is all around.
Enlarge me.
Open the doors of my soul and let light shine within.

With Open Hands   (Tune: The Water Is Wide)

O Lord, we come with open hands for grace we do not understand.
We simply take, and we are blessed that you receive us as your guest.

We open all our treasure stores in gratitude that freely pour
from open hearts that you have healed, so in our love yours is revealed.
You open wide great heaven’s doors; your love includes, heals and restores.
We share your feast, and we are called with open arms to all the world.

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