O God, we are here – use us to accomplish your will. O God, we are here – open our ears and our hearts to your love. O God, we are here – teach us to be your hands and feet in the world. Amen.
One of my closest friends sent me a story the other day about a woman who baked a cake for a local bake sale. Alice Grayson agreed to bake a cake for the Women s Fellowship bake sale in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. But she forgot. She remembered here promise on the morning of the sale. Rummaging through her pantry at the last minute she found a single box of cake mix. Quickly she mixed the ingredients put it in the oven and raced off to get dressed for work. Sometime later when Alice took the cake out of the oven, she discovered that in her haste she had incorrectly mixed the ingredients, the center of the cake had fallen and it was horrible disfigured. She knew there was no time to make another one and she badly wanted to make a good impression with the women in the Fellowship. Being inventive and realizing there was little time she looked around the house for something to build up the center of the cake. After several minutes of searching she found exactly what she needed in the bathroom of all places a brand new roll of Charmin toilet paper. It fit perfectly. Dropping it in the middle of the cake she quickly covered the whole thing with icing and her cake looked wonderful.
Before leaving home to drop off the cake and go to work, Alice woke her daughter gave her some money and very specific instructions to be at the bake sale the minute it opened at 9:30 in order to buy back the cake before anyone else could purchase it. Her daughter did as she was told but when she arrived at the sale she discovered that the cake had already been sold. Immediately she called her mother. Alice was horrified, everyone would know and she would be the joke of the town. All that night Alice lay awake worrying about who would discover that her seemingly perfect cake had a not so delicious Charmin center.
The next afternoon Alice was scheduled to attend a fancy luncheon at the home of a very wealthy woman. She didn t really want to go. The hostess was an incredible snob but Alice needed to be liked so she went anyway. The luncheon was elegant and the company was definitely upper crust old South. But to Alice s horror, when dessert came around the missing cake was presented as the center piece. Alice felt the blood drain out of her face and she tried to rush from her chair to stop her hostess. But before she could get up another of the guests, the mayor s wife, proclaimed: Oh, what a beautiful cake! Immediately, with a proud grin on her face, the snobby hostess declared Thank you, I baked it myself! Alice simply sat back and smiled.
Some of us come to church afraid that we will be judged. We know that like the Charmin cake we are not always as whole on the inside as we appear on the outside. Maybe we are full of more sadness than we want anyone to see. Maybe we dislike ourselves more than anyone knows. Maybe we fight depression but we put on a cheery face in spite of how we feel. Maybe when it comes to our faith we are full of doubts, having more questions than answers. Whatever the case we wonder what others would think of us, what God would think of us, if anyone knew the truth.
In our gospel for this morning, judgement is exactly what the deaf man feared. In ancient Palestine if you had some infirmity, if you were deaf or blind, it was generally assumed that you or someone in your family had done something sinful and your blindness, deafness, whatever, was sign of God s punishment. It seems clear that the deaf man in today s lesson believed this about himself. Did you notice that he did not come to see Jesus of his own accord? He didn t feel worthy. He had no intention of approaching this famous rabbi and having his sins pointed out, his deafness lifted up for all to see as evidence of God s judgement. No, our lesson says that they brought the man to Jesus and they may have been two or three strong men who literally carried this man and placed him before our Lord. Perhaps his escorts thought it would be entertaining to watch Jesus pass judgment on such an obvious sinner.
But Jesus didn t pass judgement did he? In fact he sensed the deaf man s embarrassment and fear and so he walked the man away from the crowd, out of the public eye and met with him privately. Jesus was unafraid to be alone with this man, to touch him, to have contact with someone others saw as a sinner. Now, I think it is important to look closely at what Jesus says to this man. In those days Saliva was believed to have healing properties so putting spittle on his fingers he touches the man s tongue and puts his fingers in the man s ears and says Ephphatha which in Aramaic means be opened. Jesus doesn t say to the man be healed he says open up. Instantly the man who has been deaf since birth can hear and as a result he can also speak clearly.
What I want you to hear from me today more than anything else is that all of us who come here today are welcomed and received by our Lord just as we are. Many of us have gaping holes in the middle of our spiritual cakes but in Christ s company there is no judgment there is only love and acceptance and the invitation to open up. Open up to be changed, open up to be healed, open up to become more the person God would have you be. Maybe one day God will judge us all but that is not why Christ wants to come into your life.
I don t know what brought you here this morning on the day we begin our new program year but I want you to know that you are welcome just as you are. Maybe you always come to church and you are sitting in the same pew your family has occupied for years. Maybe you never come to church but today you have come here because you are curious. Maybe you are here because you want your kids to receive some kind of Christian education but you aren t sure you will find anything for yourself in this place. Maybe you are a young person whose parents are making you come and you are pretty sure you would be better off if you were still in bed. Maybe you are lonely, sad, afraid, or feel lost and you have come here this morning to feel better. Whatever the case, know this here you are loved and welcomed by God just as you are. I believe that the very fact that we are here today, regardless of what brought us here, is evidence that God is tugging on our souls, drawing us in, seeking to know us, trying to open us up to a life that is more meaningful and more complete. It is a life where we are no longer deaf to our spouse s needs, our children s needs, or the needs of our neighbors.
Today is another beginning in the life of St. James s. Today we begin again the yearly fall cycle of three services, Christian education programs, choirs, classes, Bible studies, and literally dozens of other ministries. Today marks the beginning of another opportunity for you to be drawn more fully into the life of this community if you are willing. Today you are being invited by God to open up to open up to new relationships, new understandings, new insights and new possibilities for your life Christ. Welcome, I am very glad you are here and I hope you will find this a joyful and God filled place. Amen.