Trinity Twelve Sermon 2011| Rolf D. Preus| September 11, 2011| St. Mark 7:31-37
Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee. Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on Him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in 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.” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” St. Mark 7:31-37
They used to be called deaf and dumb. Now they are called deaf mutes. The word “dumb” has negative connotations. Its original meaning was mute. Someone who could not speak was dumb. The expression, “struck dumb” meant to be rendered speechless. But people who were unable to speak were regarded as less intelligent than people who were able to speak. Gradually, the word “dumb” assumed a new meaning. It meant not only “mute” but also “stupid.” The assumption was that people who cannot talk aren’t very bright.
That’s not true, but people generally believe what they want to believe and don’t give much thought to why they think the way they do. But the biggest problem that deaf mutes face is not prejudice. It’s the much more down to earth problem of not knowing what is going on around them. So much of what we know we know because of what we hear. We who hear take for granted the benefits of hearing. Not being able to hear shuts you out.
The Evangelist introduces us to a deaf man who also had an impediment in his speech. It’s likely that his speech impediment was a result of his inability to hear. It is very difficult to learn to talk clearly without being able to hear. This is why deafness and muteness go together.
We aren’t told much about the deaf mute that Jesus healed. We are told that Jesus had just left Tyre and Sidon and had gone through the region of Decapolis or the ten cities by the Sea of Galilee. He was just a few miles east of his hometown of Nazareth. The people who brought the deaf mute to Jesus and begged Jesus to help him knew something about Jesus. They knew that Jesus was willing to help this man and they knew that Jesus was able to help him. We don’t know how much they knew – or how much the deaf man knew – about Jesus but we know that they knew enough to bring their friend to the one who could help him.
There is no greater love than to bring your friend to Jesus. And it is not hard to do. It requires only that you have a friend, that you know where Jesus is, and that you bring your friend to where Jesus is. Your friend can be your husband or wife, your son or daughter, your neighbor, your teacher, your classmate, or coworker. Your friend needs Jesus.
You know where Jesus is. He promised to be with his Church until the end of time. There is no greater act of love than to invite your friend to church. The man who was deaf and suffered from an impediment of speech had some good friends. They were powerless to help him. They couldn’t do a thing for him. But they knew who could. So they brought him to Jesus.
You have friends who suffer from all sorts of problems. You can’t fix them. You wouldn’t even know where to begin. But Jesus can. And he will. He is both willing and able to help people in need. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And it is love, pure Christian love, to bring your friend to him who laid down his life for us all.
Here is Jesus. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” So we pray. This is called the invocation. We call upon God in the words of our baptism. We lay claim to the promises God made to us when he named us and joined his name to ours. Here we gather and here Jesus promises to be. As he said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:15) And again he said, “[A]nd lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Jesus is wherever his gospel is purely proclaimed and his sacraments rightly administered. So he says and so we believe.
And his ministry is glorious. It is, as St. Paul says in today’s Epistle Lesson, the ministry of righteousness. It gives life. That’s what that deaf man’s friends gave him. By loving him enough to bring him to Jesus they gave him life.
Note how Jesus responded to the man’s need. He took him aside from the crowd, Mark tells us. There you sit in church just a member of a crowd. But that’s not true. That’s never true. God is not like us. We must divide our attention between this one and that one. They say that mothers are better at it than fathers. I think they call it multitasking. I know I can’t do it. But God can. He takes you where you are as you are and deals with you as an individual.
The man could neither hear nor speak. So Jesus talked to him in sign language. First he put his fingers in the man’s ears. He did this to tell him he would be giving him the ability to hear. Then he spat and touched the man’s tongue. He did this to tell him he would be giving him the ability to speak. Then he looked up to heaven and sighed. He did this to tell him that the power by which he was doing what he was doing was God’s power. Then Jesus spoke.
“Oh, I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. I can spend time with Jesus wherever I am. As he song says, ‘He walks with me and he talks with me.’” Is that so? You can spend time with Jesus wherever you are? Just you and Jesus? You don’t need to go to church?
Then Jesus spoke. He said to him, “Ephphatha.” That means, “Be opened.” Then what does St. Mark record? He writes, “Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.” When was that? When Jesus spoke, that’s when. It wasn’t when Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears. It wasn’t when Jesus spat and then touched the man’s tongue. It wasn’t when Jesus sighed and looked up into heaven. This is not how Jesus opened the man’s ears and loosened the man’s tongue. Jesus did this by speaking. He said, “Be opened!” By his word he showed mercy. By his word he gave the man what the man needed. By his word his fulfilled the love the man’s friends had shown for him by bringing him to Jesus in the first place.
Jesus speaks and that solves our problems for us. Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is so simple. Why can’t we learn this lesson? Why do we insist on seeking God’s help somewhere other than in his holy word? Where else and how else has he ever helped us? Who else but God can give us the advice we need? Where else but in God’s word lies the answer to whatever problem we’re facing? How else but by hearing God’s word, listening to it, taking it in, will we be able to hear with the ears of faith and through that faith overcome whatever ails us?
Jesus told the crowd to remain silent. Tell no one. He had not yet fulfilled the law and redeemed the human race. By preaching about Jesus and leaving out the message of his suffering and death for the sin of the world they would be distorting his true work. He did not come into this world to provide healing as a prelude to death. What good are the faculties of hearing and fluent speech for people who will, sooner or later, lose all of their faculties in death? Jesus love and mercy are greater than that! He came into this world to save sinners from their sins by bearing all their sins on the cross. He came to do our duty as the righteous representative of humanity so that we, through faith in him, would receive his righteousness as our own.
Yes, he has done all things well. He made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. The crowd got it right. But they preached when they were supposed to be listening. That’s a common failure. We want to talk when we should be listening instead. First we learn to hear. Then we learn to speak. The order is very important, because if we start talking about God before we’ve listened to God talk about himself we’ll invariably get it wrong. We’ll leave out the most important thing.
“Be opened.” It’s a command. And it’s a cause. It does what it says. That’s why we gather together in Jesus’ name. God’s word does in us and for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God’s word is inherently powerful. It does what God wants it to do.
I don’t know that jokes belong in sermons, but this morning I’ll make an exception because it may illustrate this point. A man wanted to sleep in on a Sunday morning and his wife was trying to get him out of bed. “You have to get up to go to church,” she said. “I don’t want to,” he replied. “Come on,” she insisted. “You’ll be late. Church starts in half an hour.” “I don’t want to go,” he said. “Why not?” she asked. “It’s boring. I don’t like the people at that church and they don’t like me. I don’t want to go.” “Listen,” his wife said. “You have to go. You’re the pastor.”
Sometimes we Christians don’t want to go to church because we don’t think it will do any good. But where God’s word is there is Jesus and when Jesus speaks his words accomplish what he says. We come burdened by our sins. The ministry of death engraved on stones speaks against us and our conscience must agree with it. We have sinned against God. We have not set him apart as our greatest good. We have misused his name and ignored his word. We have not loved him with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. And we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. This we must confess because it’s true. But confession never removed a single sin from a single soul.
Jesus Christ alone can do that. And he does it. What he did so long ago when he went to Calvary to suffer and die is what he gives us right here and now every time we gather in his name. The sin that blocks our ears from hearing God and that keeps our mouths from singing his praises is forgiven whenever and wherever we hear his gospel, his words of absolution, and the words of the Sacrament, given and shed for you for the remission of sins. Jesus speaks. Be opened! Now we can hear our God speak and sing his praises. Amen