Perhaps Mum has found some food that has been lost at the back of the refrigerator. What does she do? First she looks at it. If it is a funny colour or has green fungus growing in it, she throws it out. But if it looks OK, she next smells it. If it smells all right, she might taste a bit of it. I know a man in this parish with no sense of taste and he finds it a surprisingly big limitation.
We sometimes try to pretend what it must be like to be blind. There are a number of blindfold games. But no matter how hard we try to imagine, we keep thinking of the world we have seen and will shortly see again. A few years ago I had a minor eye operation in the Princess Alexandra hospital in Brisbane. I saw and talked to many others with serious problems. One man had lost the sight in one eye through an industrial accident. He was still very emotional about it. "My little light has gone out!" he said.
In our service last week I put ear muffs on. For a little while I was deaf - almost! Actually, I could just hear what was being said, though I pretended not to!
Helen Keller was born in Alabama, USA, in 1880. She became deaf and blind when she was 18 months old. At the age of seven she was a "wild and hidden" child. Then her tutor, Anne Sullivan, began to communicate with her through her sense of touch, holding her hand under a running tap. By the time she was ten, she was able to read and write in Braille. Later she learnt to speak, and after graduating from college, dedicated her life to helping the deaf and blind all over the world. Her story has been made into a television documentary. It represents an amazing triumph over difficulty.
Probably the most amazing part of her story is that she learnt to speak. How can a person deaf almost from birth learn to speak? Only as technology enables someone to hear does it seem possible. So we think of the two problems together - "deaf and dumb", the "deaf-mute" as the heading in the Good News Bible puts it.
I remember being in Festival Hall, Brisbane, for a large rally at which Leighton Ford. I happened to be close enough to where the deaf people were sitting together. A lady with good hearing was sitting in front of them. The deaf people watched her intently. Her hands were flying as she translated the message into sign language!
The Greek word that is used in our Bible reading suggests that this man could only speak with difficulty - "could hardly speak" (GNB). He had been deaf for a long, long time, though perhaps not since birth.
We notice the faith of his family or friends. Living in his world of silence, he didn't know much about Jesus. He hadn't heard the stories of his power to heal. He didn't really know about the wonderful teaching of Jesus. He hadn't heard! Did his friends shout in his ear? or did they scratch a message in the dirt? not fully understanding what it was all about, was he a bit reluctant as they brought him to Jesus? had he given a grunt of approval?
We don't know the answers to these questions. But we do know that they brought him to Jesus, begging him to place his hands on him.
We notice that Jesus didn't engage in a dramatic public display. Mostly he avoided performing miracles in public. He didn't trust people who followed him on the basis of his miracles (Jn.6.25ff). In fact he said that "a wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign" (Mt.12.39; 16.4). So, with this man, we see Jesus taking the man off alone, away from the crowd.
The actions of Jesus in healing this man conveyed to him what was happening, as if Jesus was miming his need. He "put his fingers in the mans's ears, spat, and touched the man's tongue." Then "he looked up to heaven and gave a deep groan." Jesus had a deep love for this man and what we used to call a burden for him. Sometimes our prayer for people can be superficial and flippant - we don't come to God with earnest longing and faith. Then Jesus spoke the Aramaic word, "Ephphatha!" "Open up!" At once the man was healed. Not only could he hear, but his speech impediment was removed and he began to talk without any trouble.
Of course, a great deal happened to this man besides the healing of his hearing and speech. His whole life would have opened up - his ability to respond and react with people around him, to express his loving care. No longer would his life be isolated from others. No longer would he have had a sense of isolation from God. His whole life must have opened up.
That is how I see it. That's my bit imagination about what it must have been like. If it hadn't been so, we wouldn't have heard the story. Oh, people might have said, "Remember how old ben Isaac was healed?" But we wouldn't have heard the details - because no one else was there! A whole spiritual transformation must have taken place in his life. His whole life must have opened up.
Jesus is alive, and he still heals today! I know - because years ago as a boy of six or seven he healed me! I was given a fortnight to live and a group of people gathered to pray for me and I was healed! I didn't know about their faith or their prayer until much later in life. But the reason I call tell you about it is because God did much more in my life than that. At sixteen I consciously affirmed Jesus as my Saviour and Lord. God was opening up my life to him. Well, I had to do something about it. I had to be willing to respond. There was the faith of others. There was what God was wanting to do in me. But I had to open up to him. We can't get ourselves right with God. We can't get ourselves to heaven. But Jesus says, "Open up!", we can open up our lives to him as our Saviour and our Lord. We can open up our lives to his gracious and loving Holy Spirit who will enable us to live for him.
I spent some time yesterday with the members of a family whose loved one had been prayed for and for whose healing they had believed - a lovely Christian lady whose love and faith have spoken to many. But last Friday she died. I know there are others here this morning who have been in the same situation as this family.
In affirming the power of Jesus to heal today, it is possible to go far beyond what the Scriptures teach about healing and to leave people with a massive problem - on the one hand questioning the faithfulness of God, on the other bearing a load of guilt for their lack of faith.
I had visited this lady many times, and saw her as a person whose life was beautifully "opened up" by the Lord. We know that she is now released from the burden of cancer and suffering, and that the Lord has received her into his presence.
The question is - what about us? Are we open to the Lord? to open up those areas in our lives distorted and twisted by selfishness and sin? to free us in those parts of our lives that are shut off from others? to lead us into a whole new relationship with him?
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