Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 12

26 Aug 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 7:31-37 (Isa 29:18-24, Rom 10:9-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is on a journey. He is in the land of the Gentiles, the people who have not been given the Word of God, people whose ears have not been opened to the promises of God.

In this land of the spiritually deaf, Jesus encounters a man who is literally hard of hearing and unable to speak. This man is not only a Gentile, he is physically unable to hear the Word of God. And since he can’t hear, he is bodily unable to confess the Word of God. This man is hopelessly lost in a world of silence, a world bereft not only of music and the voices of loved ones, but devoid of all hope.

As St. Paul asks rhetorically in our epistle: “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” Paul also proclaims: “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” This deaf-mute Gentile can’t hear, he can’t invoke the Lord with his lips, and he certainly can’t hear without a preacher.

There is no-one who could have less hope in salvation than this man.

But notice that our Lord doesn’t leave him in his silence and despair. He is the Preacher who has been sent in order that “the deaf shall hear the words of the book.” The “words of the book” are “glad tidings of good things,” good news, the “Gospel of peace,” the very Word of God the hearing of which is the source of faith.

The preaching of Jesus is effective once the deaf-mute’s ears have been unstopped. For Satan is the cause of all infirmity, all illness, all things that lead to decay and death, all things that impede the free reign of God’s Word. The devil hurts the body, for through the body, the Word of God is heard. Through the body, the sacraments are received. Through the body, “confession is made unto salvation.”

The Lord Jesus takes the suffering body of the deaf-mute and retools him so he can hear the Word of God, “believe our report,” obtain faith, confess the good news, and have salvation. Salvation is not some spiritual pie in the sky, but bodily reparation, a restoration of the perfection in which we were created in the first place.

So our Lord, prompted by compassion for the lost, the suffering, the imperfect, does one thing before anything else: “He took him aside from the multitude.” Jesus removes this man from the crowd, sets him apart, which is to say, makes him holy. He doesn’t do this in some kind of new-age spiritual way with astral projection and positive thinking. Rather the Lord’s re-creation and healing of the deaf-mute is gritty and earthy, fleshly and visible. Jesus touches the man and moistens him with his own spit. Jesus commands with His word: “Ephphatha. Let his ears be opened.” And they were opened.

Not only was his deafness removed, but also his inability to speak. For hearing goes hand in hand with speaking. Hearing the Word of God is what connects faith with confessing. For as Paul tells us, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Having heard this Word, we can repeat the same words: “homologeo” in the Greek, “confessio” in the Latin. We speak, we confess, we repeat the very same Word of God that the Preacher brought to us, because our ears have been unstopped, our tongues have been loosed, and we have indeed believed His report.

The Lord Himself has taken us Gentiles, people outside of the promise, people who once lived in darkness and silence, people who never heard the “glad tidings of good things,” and he came to us in the form of a preacher, opening our ears and mouths through his touch and water. Our baptisms are our own “ephphatha” – which is why the confession of the Apostles Creed accompanies the application of water and the word.

Thus we see in Word and in deed the power of the Word of God. It heals, makes whole, removes impediments to the working of the Holy Spirit to create faith. It brings hope to the hopeless. It opens the ears of those unable to hear, and liberates the tongues of those unable to speak. The Word of God empowers confession and grants everlasting life.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is why Satan seeks to deafen us. For deafness takes many forms. For most of us, deafness isn’t dead silence, but just the opposite. Satan deafens us to the Word of God by bombarding us with noise. We are constantly thrust in the middle of a cacophony of voices and racket that is either contrary to God’s Word, or simply drowns it out. Like the thorn-bushes that choke out the seed in our Lord’s Parable of the Sower, the Word of God implanted in us is constantly under assault by weeds and thistles of the evil one.

Satan seeks to plug up that which has been miraculously opened. Our attention is constantly pulled this way and that by all sorts of sounds that demand our attention – some of which sound sweet and pious (but only serve to lead us astray), while other noise is obviously racket – and yet we enjoy it just the same.

The noise pollution that competes with God’s Word is not necessarily high voltage rock and roll or the pulsating din of “second hand rap” blasting from the speakers of a driver who is so courteous that he wants to share his tunes with anyone within half a mile. Noise pollution can take the form of addictive TV shows (even the History Channel or educational programming). The racket that competes with the Word of God may also manifest itself as too many hours spent on the ever-present Internet, on hypnotic video games, or even in the form of loud snoring from sleeping in on Sunday.

Deafness to the Word of God takes many forms: laziness, misplaced priorities, being deceived by the seductive song of the world and our sinful flesh, being fooled into thinking all words are God’s words, or even by buying into the opposite error that no words are God’s words.

All of these things serve to stop up our ears and block out the very Word that brings saving faith. In his explanation to the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy,” Luther gives us Christians the explanation that “we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word.”

For how deluded must we be to despise the Word of Him who healed us? How sad is it to take for granted the Word of God that imparts faith in us? How evil is it to seek to absent oneself from preaching? For what does our Lord’s Word say: “How shall they hear without a preacher?”

In our do-it-yourself age of cafeteria Christianity, as self-sufficient rugged individualist Americans, as people who like to take the bull by the horns – we miss out on the very thing that succeeds where our efforts inevitably fail.

Dear former deaf-mute Gentiles, those who once sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, tune your ears to the Word of God. Tune out the noise pollution that threatens to drown it out. With “one little word,” Jesus has felled the old evil foe and has given you eternal life. Let that “one little word” always remind you of your baptism, where your ears were unstopped to hear and your tongues loosened to confess. Let the Lord’s “one little word” ring in your ears daily and drown out all other racket with the mighty rush of baptismal grace. Ephphatha. Be opened.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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