Summary: In this Gospel lesson Jesus "opens" a deaf and mute man. Jesus still performs "openings" today.
I’m sure most of you remember the blackout that rocked the Northeast a few weeks ago. On Thursday August 14th about 4:30pm the electric power supply completely shut down. All the major cities and all the small towns across 4 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces were without electricity. Detroit, NYC, Cleveland, Toronto, Ottawa, Toledo, Newark NJ, Buffalo NY, and all points in between; all of them were completely without even a spark of power.
The subway systems, street lights, air-conditioning, computers and TV’s they all just stopped working. So did elevators. I don’t know about you, but I can live without a street light being on. I can deal with subways not working. And depending on who’s playing-I might (maybe, just might) even be able to live without a TV for a few hours. But one thing I couldn’t deal with would be getting stuck in a pitch dark elevator for 5 hours. Can you imagine? Hanging suspended by a few cables, no telling how many floors from the ground, in a locked metal box with no way out and no way to tell anyone where you are at?? (Cell phone towers were out too) That would freak this Vicar out.
This actually happened to a man in NYC that day. He got trapped between the 52nd and 53rd floor of the Empire State Building!! That’s over 525 feet straight up in the air. To illustrate how high up in the air 525 feet is, I tried to find out how far it is from the floor of the sanctuary here to the roof. I called a guy who knows just about everything, no it wasn’t Pastor Poppe, it was one of our Elders. He informed me that is was approximately 35 feet from the floor to the ceiling you can see here, and it is approx. 50 feet from the floor here to the top of the cross on up on the roof. So, if you take this church from the floor here to the top of the cross and stack it on itself 10 times and then add a little bit more, that’s how high up in the air this guy was hanging! Trapped in a metal box with no lights, no cell phone, and being held up by just a cable, maybe two. Think that would get to you?
When CNN interviewed this man after his rescue, they asked him what it was like. The following is his quote, “I have never been so terrified or so alone in my life. Those 5 hours were a living hell. I was trapped and I couldn’t get out. That’s a horrible feeling, you know? I was trying to open the doors with my hands and they wouldn’t budge, so I tried yelling but nobody could hear me. I couldn’t see anything. It was like death in there. I knew I was never gonna get out. But when Detective Moran repelled down from the 57th floor and opened the hatch on the roof of the elevator, I felt freedom like never before. All I wanted was that door to BE OPENED (remember that, be opened) When officer Moran pulled me up in the harness to the solid ground of the 57th floor I looked at my watch. It said 9:15pm, I will never forget what time it was, I felt alive again.” The man in this story was set free from his elevator prison. The only thing that could set him free was a dramatic rescue, that door had to BE OPENED. And when it finally was, this man was free indeed.
There was another man similar to this guy in NYC who lived about 2000 years ago. No there weren’t blackouts, elevators or electricity back then. But even so, this man was trapped. He was shut-in a place where he couldn’t hear anybody. No one could perceive his cries for help. And he too just needed to BE OPENED. We see this man in our Gospel lesson today. He had been born deaf, or at least had been deaf, from early childhood. His deafness had led to an inability to speak. You see, we learn to talk through a process called mimicry. We mimic the sounds we hear, and through that process we learn how to speak. Any of you that had ever had children, or been around them, know that this is true. That’s why toddlers “goo-goo and gaa-gaa”, they are trying to mimic our words and learn to talk. This man was unable to hear the sounds of others. He never went through the process of mimicry because in his ears there were no sounds to copycat. He lived shut-off from the world of sound-he couldn’t hear sound and he couldn’t make meaningful sound.
He had a fully functioning mind though. Can you imagine his thoughts and frustrations? Knowing that there was something going on out there, but never being able to be a part of it. He could see people talking, see them laughing, but he could never join in. And the times that he did try and speak and join in with the others, all that came out was monosyllabic grunts and unintelligible mumblings. Kids probably laughed at him. The adults most likely discouraged his efforts because they were embarrassed and ashamed for him whenever he tried to speak. He knew full well he was locked inside of his own world, alone with the thoughts that only he could hear. We can only imagine his hopes and wishes of maybe someday being set free. That maybe some day the door would be opened. Perhaps there would be a way for him to hear and then he would learn to talk and he could be a part of the world around him. Perhaps it would happen, he hoped, but not likely. Like the man in the elevator he may have even thought that he would never get out.