Lord, if you open my lips…

In the name of the Father…

cure-tongue-bites-in-kids-01Riddle me this… I am often held but rarely touched, always wet but I never rust, I often bite and am seldom bit, to use me well you must have wit. What am I? A tongue. A small yet, significant muscle in our body. It holds physical and philosophical powers. The power to taste, the power to express emotion, the power to create and destroy. It has often been argued that the tongue truly is the most powerful part of our created body. Not our minds, which continually we can change. Not our hearts, which as hard as it may be to change, can still be controlled. Our tongues, which throughout Holy scripture and even ancient philosophy whether Greek or Oriental – the tongue has always been seen as an uncontrollable sword, a fire, which has power to destroy or build up.

In the Letter of St. James Chapter 3 we read, “the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Proverbs 10 “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the mind of the wicked is of little worth.”… “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off.” Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher says, “for nature has given man on tongue and two ears, in order for him to listen twice and speak once.” Even in Armenian we have sayings such as, “a kind word will help take a snake out of its pit”

Regardless, what language we use, regardless century we look at, the tongue has always alluded our control and been seen as a weapon or a tool. And in today’s Gospel we meet a man who was deaf but also who had an impediment in his speech. We read that Christ “put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, ‘Eph′phatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” (Mark 7.31-37 RSV) Now when we read this story by itself, we read of Christ Jesus performing a miracle. Yet, what is the deeper meaning of this miracle?

At the beginning of Chapter 7, we read of the Pharisees protesting against Christ and his disciples, who were eating with unclean hands. And Christ begins to teach them that it is not what they put into their body that makes them unclean but rather what comes out that defiles them. Now going back to the Gospel reading, I want to focus on the word mute or impediment in his speech. In Armenian the word used is hamr, showing that the individual is mute. In Greek, mogilalon – meaning someone who stutters. And in Greek this word it is used only in one other place, in the book of Isaiah 35:6 – “then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb [or mogilalon], sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;” The fact that this word is only used once, means it has a connection and we can assume that Mark had this verse in mind, strategically using the same word. And Mark careful use of this word,  mogilalon or this form of stuttering, is not merely a repetition of words but rather was understood as a mute, someone unable to express themselves. But we only see this at the end of today’s gospel, “And they [the people] were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” And what is interesting is what does the rest of Is. 35 speak of? In what context is this word found?

Is. 35, which speaks about the redemption of Zion and the revelation of the King, of God. Meaning that true freedom, true redemption can only come in the presence of God our King, Jesus Christ. And Mark intends for us to see this connection by using the deaf and mute man as a symbolism of all humanity – in our deafness and muteness to the divine message of salvation. Repeatedly we see throughout scripture Christ emphasizing those who have ears should hear, those who have eyes should see, and the chapter begins with the Pharisees blindly criticizing Jesus and without recognizing the King, their lips condemned them. Therefore, its no surprise that in the next Chapter, we read how when Christ asks the disciples who do people say I am, and Peter and the rest answer, “you are the Son of God”. An answer revealed not by man, but by God. Not one that can be heard by physical ears or said by plain tongue but through the Holy Spirit in the heart of a redemptive person.

My dear brothers and sister, true freedom comes from Christ our Lord. Before Christ came, humanity was deaf, we were not able to fully understand the teachings of God. That is why we constantly read in the Old Testament, of the people of Israel not understanding what God was teaching them. They looked but they could not see, they heard but were not listening. We were mute, for we were not able to control our tongue and we believed that what we “ate” was what kept us clean. Yet, Christ here is showing us that only through Him our ears have been opened to the true Word of Salvation and our tongues have been freed. Our redemption is in the revelation of Christ. And in that revelation lies our freedom, our healing, our ability to be cleaned. This is why we sing every Sunday, “Christ amongst us is revealed” (Kristos i mej mer Haytnetsav). For it is not what enters into our stomachs that makes us unclean but the wickedness that comes from us. And the reason we see the image of the tongue is because of how powerful it can be in its holiness and in its wickedness.

Our tongues builds up, spreads love, speaks with God and yet, in the same breath curses those around us and speaks hate. How many of us come to Church, take communion, leave Church and perhaps are filled with hate because of an argument with our spouse or maybe have a phone call that angers us? And in that moment we are filled with hate and God knows what words come to our mind or even fill our hearts. Yet, only moments ago, we were in here praying. We fast, we don’t eat, we read inspirational books on how to find God, yet, we try our best to avoid each other. Perhaps we begin our day with prayer and yet, because of a small negativity we then use that same tongue for wickedness. I can’t tell you how many times, after I have prayed and maybe 5-10 mins later I stub my toe and out comes not so nice words. Sure it may seem insignificant, yet, a blaze to a forest can be started with one insignificant match. That one moment of anger can ruin my entire day. That one moment of wickedness can fill my life with constant wickedness.

In English we have a saying for someone who curses too much? “You kiss your mother with that mouth?” Well my dear brothers and sister, do we praise God with this mouth, with this hearts, with this mind? The same mouths, hearts, and minds that do wickedness, that shows hate, contempt, anger and judgment? In Christ, we have been set free. In Christ we have been cleaned. Why do we defile ourselves, why do we make ourselves prisoners? We have heard the Good news of salvation, the deaf can hear and the mute can speak, the dead will rise again. These are not merely slogans for political campaigns. No, this is the truth, a truth found only in Christ Jesus, given to us daily.

Let us come to Jesus, our Lord, our King and ask for him to open our ears, our eyes, our minds and our tongues. So that we will recognize Him. A recognition not merely in words but in actions. Not merely in prayer but in the way we treat each other. For we have been saved through Christ Jesus. Տէր եթէ զշրթունս իմ բանաս, բերան իմ երգեսցէ զօրհնութիւնս Քո։ Օրհնեալ է Աստուած։ Lord, if you open my lips may they sing praises to you. Blessed is our Lord. Amen!

Know Thyself

In the name of the Father…

Know thyself – words often attributed to Socrates. Self knowledge from the very beginning of time even before Christ was important. Who are you? This is an interesting question and one that if we have not asked ourselves, others have asked us certainly. And one place this question is often asked of us is during our search for jobs and when we apply for college. The daunting task of applying for either is filled with hours of paperwork, resumes, application forms, and recommendation letters. 359588-Socrates-Quote-Know-thyselfFor me personally, talking about my strengths and weaknesses is one difficulty, but asking friends, family, acquaintances, and other people who know me to write a letter of recommendation is far more difficult. We naturally want to ask those who know us well but also those with whom we have a good relationship. Often times I remember when asking for a letter of recommendation, I was asked what do I want to be written. We want to show others the positive side of us, highlighting our strengths. Yet, a danger lies in if we become arrogant when we focus to much on our strengths.

The danger lies in when we do not know ourselves. We each have an image in our minds of who we are. Some of us truly believe we are perfect. Some of us believe we are worthless. To some a few extra pounds can be justified as muscle. To another it can cause a serious eating disorder. Knowledge of oneself is important especially for us here today. Because regardless of what we “may think” about ourselves. What the world sees can be very-very different.

Now some of us may say, well who cares what others say about us. In fact today’s society very much stresses this point, be who you want to be, be it how ever you want to be it, and don’t listen to those around you. However, my dear brothers and sisters, this kind of mindset can lead to only 2 possibilities, arrogance and an indifference or fear. And arrogance and fear are both debilitating in that they keep us from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all. It’s not about you.

We do not live alone in this world, and as Christians we are called to understand firstly its not about us. For if it was about the self God would not have created free willed creatures. But love demands a rejection of self-fulfillment for the greater good. Love – drives a parent to sacrifice hours of sleep in order to take care of their child. Love – gives strength to a soldier who goes out to make the ultimate sacrifice. Love demands a sacrifice, a rejection of self. Now does that mean, we need to throw away our health, or stop taking care of ourselves and conform to the ideas of everyone else? No of course not. That is why self-knowledge is important. Who are you?

St. Paul asks us, who will people say we are? In 2 Corinthians St. Paul asks us, are we becoming arrogant, are we becoming prideful? My dear brothers and sisters, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us” We began today by speaking about asking for letters of recommendations from those around us. And here we read that we ourselves are a letter of recommendation, written on our hearts. A recommendation of what and of whom? Of each other to each other, of God.

We each here, have gathered in faith and have gathered for the love we have for God and desire we have to be in communion with Him. But how many of us reject that same love, and desire and communion the moment we walk out the Church doors and live our lifestyles? How many of us can, if we are being honest, can say that when people look at us, our actions, our relationships, how many people would see the love of God and presence of Christ Jesus? Yet, arrogance and fear keep us from the truth. A desire for self truth rather than an eternal truth keeps us from our true potential. Because who we are is a child of God, created in His loving image, freed from sin through the blood of Christ because of God’s Divine Love which teaches us, its not about you or me, it’s about us.

That is why to find God, Christ does not say sing 1000 Der Voghormyas nor does he say write a check to the Church. No! To find God we must humble ourselves, pick up our cross, follow Him in everyway, which means we must love each other, treat each other with respect, care, dignity. Because if we accept who we are, which is a child of God, then we will know that everyone around us is likewise a child of God meaning our brothers and sisters. Therefore, who will people say we are?

Who are we? Know thy self, know thy brother – know God. Love thyself, love thy brother – love God. May the Grace of the Holy Spirit reveal to us our image, not of flesh and blood but of Divine Will and Love. Who are we?