This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
In this reflection, I offer to you a prayer of illumination. Feel free to use it in your worship setting, and do not feel obligated to offer me credit.
The Revised Common Lectionary reading for September 5, 2021
Gospel Reading: Mark 7:24-37
“Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors,” has been the promise of the United Methodist Church since 2001. For twenty years the UMC has used this as a slogan in billboards, commercials, and websites. Today, if you go to umc.org, you will see the slogan at the very top of the page.
If you are anything like me, you have had misgivings about using the slogan. For many inside the United Methodist Church, it feels like false advertising. The exclusionary practices and policies of the United Methodist Church toward the LGBTQ community makes many wonder if the people of the United Methodist Church truly have open hearts, minds, or doors.
I still use the slogan, but I no longer think of it as a description. Instead, I see it as a prescription. I do not consider the word “open,” to be an adjective. Instead, I express it as a verb.
Today our passage includes Jesus healing two people. In the first story it seems as if Jesus himself is the one who is opened. This is a troublesome thought to many. They will use many dubious explanations about the diminutive form of “dog” to avoid what is clear in this story: Jesus acts in a closed-minded way. Yet this woman – a foreign woman from a foreign land – challenges Jesus and helps open his mind to the Gentile mission.
This is particularly poignant because this comes right off the heels of Jesus criticizing the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Now Jesus is confronted by a foreign woman and he does the unthinkable – he changes. In the second half of this passage Jesus is confronted with a man unable to hear or speak. Jesus takes him aside, gives him a holy wet-willy (not really, but it is shocking how physical this sign is when the previous one was done at a distance).
“Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’” (Mark 7:34). With this word, the man can hear and speak. Despite Jesus’ best efforts to keep this miracle quiet, word about him spreads even more.
These are two stories of opening. First Jesus’ mind is opened. Then the man is opened. Sometimes open is a verb. Sometimes we are called as a church to do the opening. This is where the power of our slogan truly lies. It is our role as pastors, lay people, and Christian ministers all of us – to open up pathways to God’s power. We are to open our hearts and the heart of others. We are called to open our doors. We must always be willing to open our minds.
In my congregation, we say this prayer every Sunday before the reading of the Scripture. It is our prayer for illumination and keeps us mindful of our task as a church: “Holy Spirit, open our hearts to the story of your love. Open our minds to new ways of knowing you. Open our doors to all whom you would welcome.”
Many of us have been challenged by our own versions of the Syrophoenician woman. We were forced to open up our minds through encountering people who we may have at first considered “other.” Many of us have been opened up by Jesus himself. We were given ears to hear and words to speak by the power of the Holy Spirit. May all our closed spaces be touched by the grace of Christ. When I think of the United Methodist Church, I can’t help but look up to heaven, sigh, and pray, “Ephphatha.” Open up.