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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Tag: openness

The Risen Christ Says Yes

John 20:1-18 (The Message)

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.”

Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.

But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”

“They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him.

Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”

She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!”

Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.

Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God our Father, from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit who unites us in faith. Amen.

A common principle in mysticism and spiritual teaching across religions is that you cannot truly see or understand anything if you begin with a no.

We see only what we choose to see, consciously or subconsciously. We can’t say yes to everything; after all; there is simply too much stuff in the world for us to absorb and comprehend it all. Saying no is our brain’s way to avoid overstimulation. Think of it like a camera lens. When there is too much light on the subject that you are shooting with a camera, the lens aperture must restrict. So too, our brains restrict the input of our senses to allow only that which we already think we know, expect, and understand.

Any posture of humility must begin with an awareness that things exist even if we don’t see, know, expect, or understand them. If we are closed off to new possibilities, insights, or realities, we are no different than the baby boy who is confident his father is really gone when his face disappears behind his hands during a game of peek-a-boo.

“We see what we are ready to see, expect to see, and even desire to see. If we start with no, we usually get some form of no in return. If we start with yes, we are much more likely to get a yes back. Once we have learned how to say a fundamental yes, later no’s can be very helpful and are surely necessary. However, beginning with yes is the foundation of mature nonviolence and compassionate action. The Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything.”*

In the resurrection account from the gospel of John, we see Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple all respond to Christ’s resurrection from a position of no. Mary sees the empty tomb and the only logical reason she can imagine is that Jesus’ body was moved by someone else. Despite Jesus’ repeated announcements that he would die and rise after three days, Mary’s brain could not even begin to entertain the idea that what Jesus had said was even a possibility. Likely she and the disciples hadn’t heard him say this at all – their spiritual aperture was too restricted to let that in.

Peter and the beloved disciple ran to the tomb to witness its emptiness and John says the beloved disciple “went in, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). Believed what? That Jesus was raised from the dead? No, because the scripture continues, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead (John 20:9). The beloved disciple’s belief is not in the good news of the resurrection; rather, he believes that Mary wasn’t lying…Jesus’ body is in fact, gone. That is the extent of the bewildering scenario that he can process because he “did not understand.”

The great good news is that the Christ’s yes is able to break through their nos. No amount of denial or unbelief from the disciples would be able to negate the truth of Christ’s resurrection. Christ didn’t postpone his resurrection until people believed. Christ was and will forever be resurrected, regardless of whether our response to this good news is yes or no.

Despite starting with a no, something in the deepest depths of Mary’s mind wouldn’t let her walk away from the mystery of the empty tomb. Her spiritual aperture was opened just wide enough to allow one word from the gardener into her heart. “Mary,” he said. And with that one word her no became a yes.

It wasn’t just any word…it was her name. Not a judgy, dismissive, or frustrated use of her name; rather it was her name wrapped in the vocal inflection of loving invitation. Anytime someone who loves you utters your name, it is an invitation to deeper and more intimate relationship.

Have you ever lovingly uttered the name of someone whose posture is no instead of yes? It’s terribly difficult, but when it’s wrapped in the language of loving invitation, it is absolutely disarming.

On my best days as a parent this is how I respond when my kids’ behavior requires intervention. If they’re acting up, I have much more success in reaching them with a loving, calm, and inviting uttering of their names. When their emotions and volume increase, I find it best to respond with calm and quiet; invitation, never exclusion.

Of course, not all of my days are my best days as a parent. Sometimes I respond to their no with a louder and more demonstrative no of my own. However, I can’t remember a time when I responded that way and thought to myself, “Well done. That took a lot of courage to stand up to a 7 year old like that…you sure put him in his place. I’m sure he has newfound love and appreciation for you after that.”

Invitation over exclusion. Holding open over closing. Yes over no. Life over death. All of this can be communicated to someone simply in the way you say their name.

Perhaps on this Easter Sunday that is awash in the promise of new life, you are being invited to say someone’s name in a new, more open and inviting way.

Perhaps on this Easter Sunday that is awash in the promise of new life, you are being invited to hear God calling to you in a new, more open and inviting way – a way that can turn your no into a yes.

Your yes will open your aperture will be opened to allow the fullness of God’s glory to make its way into your heart and mind. Once we have learned how to say yes to the God of unconditional love we will start to see it everywhere.

Remember, the Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything.

And so we respond with the Hebrew word for yes: Amen.

* Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, “Beginning with Yes.” August 12, 2016

Open to a Better Story

Mark 7:24-37

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

Allow me to begin with a series of disappointing stories:

The other day my wife and I decided to go out to eat at one of the trendy new restaurants in Indianapolis that we had heard a lot about. We looked it up online and saw that it was closed.  So, we didn’t go.

I bought a book last year that I was really excited to read. I placed it on the top of my “to read” pile in my office. To this day I have not cracked it open. 

Some people were once presented with an idea that challenged them; so they did not even try to understand the idea, nor understand the person who posited the idea. These people successfully avoided having their minds changed and were able to go about business as usual. 

An archaeologist discovered a long-lost ancient Egyptian vault said to contain treasures of unparalleled value. The archaeologist never opened the vault to explore it and he never told anyone else about it. 

A new family moved into a community. The parents and the children all found it difficult to make friends in this new place because it seemed like everyone they met already had enough friends. The new family continues to feel sad and alone.

A child unwrapped a gift from under the Christmas tree and found the one present she wanted most. Unfortunately, it was one of those clam shell packages encased with thick plastic that is heat-sealed all the way around and nearly impossible to open by any mere mortal. So the present remained firmly encased in molded plastic until the family could figure out how to open the package. 

These are all pretty disappointing stories. I could unpack each one, add more details, and flesh out the characters, but it wouldn’t change the fact that these are not stories that resonate with us. They are uninteresting and fail to speak to the heart of the human condition because these are stories about things being closed. Restaurants, books, minds, discoveries, groups, presents – these are all things that are only worthwhile when they are open.

We love things that are open. When I say the phrase, “open it up,” it likely brings a smile to your face as you think about an experience of flooring the accelerator of a car or perhaps holding a wrapped gift. The only reason your friends are your friends is because you were all open; they took a risk in inviting you into their hearts, you took a risk in being vulnerable and reaching out. One of the appeals about buying things online is that the store is always open. And I venture a guess that your favorite book is one that you have actually opened and read.

Today’s gospel is ultimately about openness. However, to get there we first have to endure the disappointing story of Jesus NOT being open.

The Syrophoenician woman in the first half of today’s gospel has a daughter with an unclean spirit. The woman seeks out the notorious miracle-worker named Jesus. This is a radical decision because Jesus is a Hebrew man and she is neither of those things. She is a Gentile (that is, not Hebrew) and a woman, which means she has no religious or cultural right to ask a rabbi to heal her daughter. Jesus is well within his religious and cultural rights of his time to say no to her. And boy does he say no!

Did you catch that from the story? The woman begs Jesus to heal her daughter and Jesus doesn’t just say “No!”; he actually calls the woman and her daughter dogs, which is an unmistakable racial slur.  

This is a story about closed-minded Jesus, and it’s disappointing. This is a picture of the Son of God looking a suffering woman in the face and saying, “Sorry, but you’re not worth my time, my compassion, or my miracles because you are not the right type of person.”

The woman remains steadfast, however, and refuses to take no for an answer.  With some quick thinking, she turns Jesus’ prejudice on its head and points out an insight that fills her with strength and hope – the truth that God’s kingdom is more expansive than even Jesus had yet come to believe.

This desperate woman pushes Jesus, stretches his vision of God's grace, and makes clear to him that there is room in God's kingdom for all, for Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, insider and outsider, even so-called dogs like her and her daughter. Jesus’ mind and heart is open because of the woman’s bravery.

She persisted and her hopeful insight changes the nature of Jesus’ ministry. Recall that from there, Jesus then goes to the Decapolis, which is a Gentile area, and continues his ministry of teaching and healing among both Jews and Gentiles.  

Which brings us to the second part of today’s gospel, where Jesus restores the hearing and speech of a man who is deaf. He does so by putting his fingers in the man’s ears, then spitting (why, or on what, we do not know), touching the man’s tongue, sighing, and saying “Ephphatha” (Aramaic for “Be opened”). 

Sighing and saying “Be opened.” People, this is beautiful. A man who, just a couple verse ago, was hurling verbal dismissive close-minded insults at a Gentile woman is now in a Gentile land healing people by commanding them to “be open.” 

Fair warning to any of us who would be inspired to follow in Jesus’ footsteps: this openness takes a toll on Jesus. He’s still trying to figure out this new open version of himself. We see this in how he takes the man away from the crowd where no one can see. We see this in the way that he sighs before healing the man, which could mean Jesus is still a little hesitant. And we see this in his request that the account of the healing be kept silent. 

Another fair warning to any of us who would be inspired to follow in his footsteps: once Jesus starts down this path, he doesn’t stop. And this path leads to his conquering the power of death on behalf of all people, be they Hebrew, Gentile, man, woman, rich, poor, dark skinned or light skinned, old, young, master or slave. 

Throughout this next week, as you follow the footsteps of Jesus in your daily life, I encourage you to reflect on what it means that the Son of God moved from closed-mindedness to open-mindedness. I encourage you to adopt a spiritual posture of openness to new possibilities, new people, and new ideas. And I encourage you to be open to a better story.


All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.