Sunday, August 10, 2008

Trinity 12

Sermon on Mark 7:31-37
For Our Father’s Lutheran Church, Greenfield, Wisconsin
August 10, 2008 (The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity)

The healing of a deaf and mute man is a great miracle. This man had been deaf from birth and therefore could not speak very well, either. Deaf people often have trouble learning to talk, because the sounds we use to make words are formed partially by movements on the insides of our mouths which cannot be seen. It is only as we hear that we are able to speak, not so much for strictly medical reasons but because hearing and speaking are the two sides of one form of communication, and we learn to speak rightly by hearing rightly. But this man could do neither. He could not hear, and so his speech was distorted as well. But as soon as Jesus opens his ears and his mouth, he not only can hear rightly, but he can also speak rightly. You would think that he would still have to gradually learn how to talk over the course of the next few weeks or months, now that he can hear the difference between how he’s talking and how others are talking. But, no, he immediately begins to talk rightly. It is as if he had never been deaf at all. This shows us how great a miracle it is that the man is healed. Not only is the medical condition that caused the problem healed, but all the effects of that medical condition are taken away as if they had never existed in the first place.
In this the healing of this deaf-mute is a picture of how God handles our sin. It’s not just taken away, its taken away in such a way that, as far as God is concerned, it never existed in the first place. We are transported to that place, which we will experience and enjoy in eternity, where all the problems and sufferings and sorrows that exist for us in this world because of sin, no longer exist. We become citizens of God’s kingdom and heirs of eternal life itself. And because the sin that is blocking our spiritual ears is taken away, our mouths are opened as well. We speak rightly, we confess, because we have heard. It is as if our sin never existed in the first place. Even newbies to the faith can at times show more theological insight than people who have been church members their entire lives, solely by God’s grace.
But there is another side to this picture. Notice how it is that Jesus heals the man, what physical elements he uses. A spoken word, his own fingers, and his own saliva. How commonplace. How ordinary. Indeed, in the case of the saliva thing, I can imagine most grade-school kids saying something like, “Eww, gross!” In any case, however, it’s not exactly what you would think would be a high, holy, and spiritual way of going about healing this man. And the fact that he speaks a word, “Ephphatha,” meaning, “Be opened,” makes no sense at all. How can a spoken word have any effect on a deaf man?
But here again, that’s how God works with us, as well. Words spoken to those who are spiritually deaf. Water poured on the head. Bread and wine touching the tongue. None of these things is particularly spectacular or spiritual, either. There have been many who can’t seem to grasp the idea that the high, holy, mighty creator of heaven and earth would, or even could, join Himself to these humble, lowly, ordinary things. Entire churches deny that Christ’s body and blood is really present in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper (even though they might affirm that Christ is somehow really present among us in our partaking of the supper), because it doesn’t seem fitting or right that the holy and almighty God would humble Himself in such a way. But He does. He comes to you, with all His power and glory and majesty to heal you, but He does so in this ordinary way so that you can be healed, rather than destroyed, by His power. He comes to you in the fullness of His Godhead, but cloaked in His manhood so that your healing, your forgiveness, life, and salvation, will be apprehended by faith and not by being scared out of your wits into it. He comes to you with the same powerful, creative word by which He called the heavens and the earth and everything in them out of the void, the creative Word that is addressed to things that cannot obey it (just like the word was addressed to a deaf man who could not hear it here) and makes them to be what the Word declares, by the power of that word alone. But He comes to you with that powerful word on the lips of a mere sinful human being like yourselves so that it will not overwhelm you but comfort you. The whole reason why God comes to us in ordinary things, the way he came to the deaf-mute, is because He comes to us in love and forgiveness and grace, not in wrath and judgment. It’s a matter of Gospel, first and foremost. The Law is only there to serve the Gospel, not the other way around.
Another odd thing we notice about this particular miracle is the fact that Jesus sighed or groaned aloud as He healed the man. What’s with that? Jesus is the Son of God, able to do anything. His resources aren’t limited in any way. Why would He groan or sigh when healing someone? Compared to the work of creating heaven and earth in the first place, this is a piece of cake. The answer is found in the reason why Jesus came to earth in the first place as both God and man. This man was deaf and dumb as a result of sin in the world. It wasn’t his own sin, of course, but the simple fact that sin had entered the world through Adam and therefore things in this world no longer work the way they’re supposed to. Jesus came to take away sin in this world, and in so doing He takes away the effects of sin as well. But He takes away sin by taking it upon Himself. He doesn’t just wave His hand and, poof, it’s gone. He bears it and carries it and puts up with it all the way to the cross. This is why Jesus sighed or groaned when He healed the man of his deafness. Here was another of the effects of sin which He Himself was bearing and taking away by nailing it to the cross. He was taking it off this man and putting it upon Himself.
And, of course, that is how Jesus deals, not just with the effects of sin, but with sin itself. Your sins are forgiven. They are no more. To God it is as if they never were in the first place. But it’s not that God’s just a nice God who doesn’t care about sin and will let us do whatever we want. Sin is offensive to Him. It is a denial and repudiation of His wisdom in setting the world up the way He did in the first place. It’s a failure to fear, love, and trust in Him. And so He can’t just wave His hand and make it go away. Instead, the price for sin is paid by His own Son, Jesus, on the cross. God in the person of Jesus Christ takes our sin upon Himself and dies a bloody, painful, miserable death for it. The price of your forgiveness is Jesus pain, suffering, and death. What He did so that your sins could be taken away is neither insignificant nor trivial. He gave up everything so that you could have everything. This is what should keep us from taking forgiveness for granted. It was won by our Lord by a lot of groaning and sighing, far more than just the one noise he made in today’s text. He gave up His life so that you could have life. He became sin for us so that our sin could be forgiven. He gave up His hearing, His speech, His vision, His ability to move around freely and on the cross became sin, sickness, and death, so that all the effects of sin in the world on us would be done away with. All this He did for us. Because He has now opened heaven to us, He has now opened our lips. Therefore we cannot help but thank and praise, serve and obey Him. Amen.
✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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