Summer Travels

Mark 7: 24-37

From there Jesus 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 Syro-Phoenician 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.”

Summer Travels

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy . . .”  Or so go the words of the signature piece in George Gershwin’s blockbuster opera, Porgy and Bess.

I imagine for some folks, livin’ gets easier in the summer, unless they are planning a family vacation!  For me as a child, family vacations meant hours of boredom riding in the back seat of the car.  For my parents, it meant hours of planning, picking destinations, arranging for pit stops and meals on the road, packing clothes for two adults and four children, and picking the best and most scenic routes to our destinations, with planned activities at each one.

Despite the work, we know that family vacations are important.  As an adult looking back, I can see that.  There were memories to be made, experiences that changed us, connections that never would have happened with or without all that planning. Ironically, it was frequently those unexpected stops, wrong turns, and unplanned interruptions that created adventures never to be forgotten. They made the deepest impressions, transformative, if you will – – much like the travels we read about in our scripture today.

Samuel in his second book, invites us to join King David on his excursion to political destinations, battles, and transformation.  Our trip starts in Hebron, where King David has been ruling the tribe of Judah for seven and a half years, while King Saul ruled Israel.  Hebron is considered even today to be the holiest of cities, second only to Jerusalem. It is built on land that Abraham purchased after Sarah’s death, for her burial place. The land had a rugged beauty with hills and dry riverbeds and valleys and the Cave of Machpelah.  The Cave still contains the graves of Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah, and according to a Jewish tradition, Adam and Eve.

Hebron was the ruling city of King David as he governed the tribes of Judah.  He was perfectly content living there until leaders of the tribes of Israel approached him.  Essentially, they came to tell him that as King Saul and his sons were dead, it was time for David to step up to his full responsibility and take on leadership of all the tribes of Israel.

David made a covenant with them that he would.  In so doing, he decided to take a trip.  He left behind his old home for a new one in another city, symbolizing the transformation of his kingship. With his armies, he marched nineteen miles up the hill to take Jerusalem as his own.  On the way, he had to clean up that little matter with the Jebusites who inhabited the land, which he did in short manner.  He built a new city that he named the City of David.  And to add to the perks, his neighbor King Hiram of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar trees and carpenters and masons to build David a house.  Without David’s journey of battle, victory, and transformation, he would never have made this new and unexpected friend.

You see, Tyre did not have the greatest of reputations.  Tyre, along with Sidon, and Sodom had long been cursed by Old Testament prophets for their wickedness, but it didn’t keep David from accepting the generous gift from a Gentile kingdom, which was a miracle in its own right. 

It also did not stop Jesus from complimenting Tyre and Sidon in Matthew, saying they were more receptive to him and the miracles he performed in their midst than the Jewish cities where he had been dismissed and criticized.

Which takes us to our next travelogue.

In our second reading, Jesus is on his way to the Sea of Galilee when he stops to rest at a house in Tyre, hoping to slip in unnoticed.  Not a chance.  You may be familiar with my assertion that Jesus favored uppity women.  Well, here we are again, another uppity woman and a gentile to boot. She interrupts his plans for a quiet entry into town.  She blocks his path, bows at his feet.  He wasn’t going anywhere.  He couldn’t ignore her.  She pleads. She begs.  She calls on him to cast out the demon in her daughter. 

And all this from a Gentile?  Who does she think she is?  It’s no wonder, Jesus lapses into metaphor, and talks about children and dogs and the order in which they should be fed.  Clever as she is, (I can almost see her grin, just a little), she stays in metaphor, and responds, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 

I can almost see Jesus looking to the side, sharing her grin when he says, “For saying that, you may go.  The demon has left your daughter.”  Like I said, Jesus likes uppity women.

But he’s not done.  These interruptions seem inevitable as Jesus continues his trip to the Sea of Galilee by way of Sidon, another one of those accursed cities.  It is in Sidon, where a group of people bring a deaf man with a speech impediment to Jesus.  They asked him to heal the man.  Jesus did, and then ordered them to tell no one.  And in the words of Mark, “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.”

David and Jesus had travel plans; they had a clear starting place with a destination in mind.   And both experienced transformations in the unexpected interruptions in their plans.   David was transformed from a small-town king to King of all Judea and Israel, ruling from Jerusalem, growing greater and greater.  And Jesus as he traveled through Tyre and Sidon on his way to the Sea of Galilee, was transformed from an itinerant preacher to a healing, transforming Savior while transforming the lives that he touched and healed. 

That was miraculous in itself. Yet, it was Jesus’s impressions as he traveled that give us a powerful itinerary as we travel through life.  Do we travel with vision dimmed, hearing impaired and speech impeded, much like Jesus’ former neighbors in Galilee who dismissed his teachings in the temple, jeering “Isn’t this the son of the carpenter Joseph?”   Or, like the pharisees who criticized from a distance, dismissing and discrediting the miracles of Christ?   We do the same thing when we are in a state far from Tyre and Sidon, where people witnessed in gratitude, awareness, and awe the miracles of Jesus right before their very eyes

In our travels through life, what will be the next state we visit?   Will it be the state of annoyance when there is an interruption in plans?  Or when we take a wrong turn off the highway only to find ourselves in the state of Peace in a valley filled with lush fertile lands and streams giving us quiet contemplative places for spiritual, mental, and physical renewal?   Or will it be when we find ourselves in the valley of dry bones and are too impatient to wait for the miracle?  Will it be astonishment as we are drawn like Moses and the apostles to mountain top experiences, feeling the closeness to God the higher we climb?  Will it be the state of Awe, walking the beach as waves and water reach endlessly beyond us? 

Every day, we are surrounded by miracles in life and nature and people and death.  God gives us miracles, and he wants us never to take them for granted, especially the miracle of our own transformation in Christ.  He wants us to receive these miracles zealously, astounded beyond measure, thrilled, and exhilarated.  He wants us to be transformed into receptive vessels of his love and healing as we travel this life in his love and generosity. 

Let us open our eyes, find our glasses, put in the contacts!  Let us turn down the radio, the television, the stereo, the noise of life, so we can hear in the silence the voice of God.  Let us quiet our own voice when it keeps us from hearing the crying voices of those in pain and the healing words of Jesus.  Be amazed when you read the miracle accounts.  Be awe-struck when you hear the Easter story.  With wonder in your voice, sing a lullaby to the baby Jesus at Christmas.  Sing a new song every day to the sunrise and the sunset.  Let us see this miraculous world in a whole new light of awe, zealously singing, “Splendor and honor and kingly power are yours by right, Oh Lord our God, for you created everything that is.  Amen.   Bon Voyage!