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15 Pentecost (Anniversary Sunday) Mark 7:24-37

Why does Shepherd of the Valley schedule Anniversary Sunday on Labor Day weekend?

Arlene Fajnor had a theory.

"It's because marriages are hard work," she said.

Don't look at your spouse; you really don't want to see them nodding their head like that.

We will commend Arlene and her husband Vlad to God's eternal rest next month, but her wit and wisdom survive.

They labored together for 67 years, so she knew what she was talking about.

Other long lasting couples have told me that the key to making it so long is good, honest communication.

That means marriages need the miracle of Ephphatha.

Looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened."

It's a prayer for every partnership.

Sometimes resentments, repetitions, assumptions, and annoyances can build up like earwax, and after a while one person can't hear the other anymore.

Sometimes fear, shame, neglect, judgment, and dismissiveness can build up like phlegm, and after a while one person can't risk speaking to the other anymore.

Relationships get clogged like arteries, blocked with ego, scorekeeping, certainty and other toxic accumulations until the flow of life gets squeezed so thin that the heart explodes.

Forgiveness and fresh possibilities can no longer get through, and the marriage goes into cardiac arrest: unless the closed ears and silenced tongues and guarded hearts can be opened.

I think Jesus sighed before this prayer because he knows how risky being opened is.

He has just experienced it himself.

He now asks heaven for something he has just received from a Gentile woman.

There is no way to overstate how seismic that exchange was.

The Jewish healer and holy man, who bested every scholar in every debate, conceded to a

Gentile woman ... as unthinkably shameful in his day as the Messiah dying on a cross.

That's coming, of course.

That's the price God pays for being opened to the world.

Next week, Jesus will tell his disciples this, and they close their ears.

This week, Jesus orders the crowds to keep silence, but they remain deaf to his pleas.

Every week, every day, ears and hearts and minds, checkpoints and borders and homes, prisons and locks and meetings, windows and wallets and hands remain closed.

Being opened is too dangerous: you can lose everything, and Jesus does.

But the wild truth he realizes in a Gentile kitchen and shares with his disciples at a pagan shrine is that those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Jesus is God being opened to anyone and everyone, even women and children with demons, even Gentile dogs including most of us, even Romans with lumber and nails and other sinners who don't deserve half a crumb of grace, including all of us.

That breathtaking openness—we call it love—is the soul of the miracle we call marriage.

It is foolish and faithful, crazy and Christlike, daunting and divine, brave and beautiful, holy and hard.

Arlene was right.

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