Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 12 and Baptism of Zachary Paul Bouvier

30 August 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 7:31-37

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what a great and glorious day! For just as the people of the first century Decapolis witnessed a great miracle through the Word of the Lord Jesus in restoring a man to wholeness through His divine touch and a little moisture, so too have we, people of the twenty first century Louisiana also witnessed a miracle.

Using the mere word of God and a bit of moisture, the Lord Jesus restored our little brother Zachary to wholeness.

And now, his ears have been unstopped to hear the Word of God, the holy “Ephphatha” of the Gospel that our Lord proclaims to all of us, his beloved baptized, every time we stand to hear His Holy Word, every time we bow our heads to receive the gift of Holy Absolution, and every time the preaching of the Word condemns us in our sins, and yet restores us to life anew.

Our ancestors and fathers in the faith saw a direct connection between Holy Baptism and this specific miracle of the touch of Jesus that opened this man’s ears and mouth and resulted in the Gospel being “zealously” proclaimed.

In the early 1520s, Martin Luther conducted baptisms that included extra rituals that included a part of the service called “The Ephphatha” – a ceremony that included the application of spittle to the child’s ears and nose and an exorcism. The priest would then bless the child with these words: “The Lord preserve thy coming in and thy going out now and for evermore.” Then the priest would have the child renounce the devil through the sponsors. He would then ask the child if he believes in the creed, and the sponsors would answer on the child’s behalf.

Does any of this sound familiar? The use of the spittle was discontinued, as I’m sure suits Zachary’s parents just fine.

And yet we still understand Holy Baptism to be an “Ephphatha,” a miraculous opening done by the Lord, using humble earthly means to bring people into the kingdom. We still asked Zachary to confess the creed, we still pronounced exorcism: “Depart, you unclean spirit…”, and God’s children still receive the priestly blessing in baptism: “The Lord preserve thy coming in and thy going out now and for evermore.”

And all of these rituals, which teach and confess the truth, finally build up to the miraculous sacrament itself. For the administration of baptism is the very work of God in space and time, the execution of His holy will to save and claim us as His own. The words of invocation of the Trinity, given to the apostles by our Blessed Lord Himself ring anew from Christ Himself, the Word made flesh who pronounces His Words upon sinful flesh by sinful flesh. The holy water splashes down on this newly-born again Christian in a holy and healing flood, an opening of heaven and an opening of the ears and mouth of this newly redeemed son of God.

Zachary’s parents, in bringing him to this font, are pledging before Almighty God and this congregation to raise this child as a child of God, to faithfully bring Him to hear the Word for which the Lord has opened His ears, to teach him to pray and sing with a tongue released to give praise to his Savior.

And, dear friends, it is our duty to keep this family in the faith, to pray earnestly for Zachary, who is now in the crosshairs of the evil one. Hear the words of Blessed Martin Luther concerning what we have done this morning:
In all Christian earnestness I would ask all those who administer baptism, who hold the children, or witness it, to take this wonderful work to heart in all its seriousness. For here, in the words of these prayers, you hear how meekly and earnestly the Christian Church concerns itself about the little child and how it confesses before God in plain undoubting words that he is possessed by the devil and is a child of sin and wrath, and prays very diligently for aid and grace through baptism that he may become a child of God.

Remember therefore, that it is no joke to take sides against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child, but to burden the child with such a mighty and lifelong enemy. Remember too, that it is very necessary to aid the poor child with all your heart and strong faith, earnestly to intercede for him that God, in accordance with this prayer, would not only free him from the power of the devil, but also strengthen him, so that he may nobly resist the devil in life and death. And I suspect that people turn out so badly after baptism because our concern for them has been so cold and careless; we, at their baptism, interceded for them without zeal.
Blessed Martin’s word “zeal” is also in our Lord’s proclamation of the Gospel to us this morning: Paradoxically, in disobedience. The people were told to keep this miracle quiet – for it was not yet our Lord’s hour to reveal himself. And yet, owing to the great miracle, the work and ministry of our Blessed Lord, “the more He charged them [to tell no one], the more zealously they proclaimed it.” Their mouths too were opened, their tongues released.

We, dear friends, are under no gag order. In fact, the Lord has charged me as a minister of the Gospel to zealously “preach the Word” in season and out; to call sinners to repentance, and to comfort the contrite with the gentle balm of the good news of God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy in Jesus Christ. And you, brothers and sisters, though you are not preachers under orders to publicly proclaim, you are a reflection of the Gospel by your words and works. You can confess your baptismal faith, and indeed you are instructed to be ready to articulate the reason for the hope of everlasting life within you.

For just as Zachary has had his ears opened and his tongue released by the Ephphatha of Holy Baptism, so have all of us. We are to zealously pray for Zachary and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to bring our friends and family members to likewise hear the miraculous Word. And we have been given the Holy Spirit at our own baptisms to likewise “release our tongues” to confess what the Lord has done for us by baptism and the Word.

And whether or not the Ephphatha rituals were carried out at our baptisms, whether or not the exorcism was explicitly pronounced, every Holy Baptism is an Ephphatha and is an exorcism. The water drowns the sinful flesh, the Old Adam, and fills the demons with horror, dispatching them, even as Pharaoh and his evil army were drowned in the sea.

Today is a great and glorious day, to be sure, dear friends. For we have seen the Lord work yet another miracle, a liberation of one held captive by the evil one, the opening of the ears and releasing of the tongue of a newborn child of God and eternal heir of the kingdom.

“And looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly…. And they were astonished beyond measure.”

And this astonishing work was done with the words of the Word made flesh, the divine touch of Jesus combined with a bit of moisture, by humble water and the mighty Word, the…

Word that caused blind eyes to see,
Speak and heal our mortal blindness;
Deaf we are: our Healer be;
Loose our tongues to tell Your kindness.
Be our Word in pity spoken,
Heal the world by sin now broken.


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


James said...

It's facinating that your historic description of Luther's additional baptizmal rituals are very similar to my daughter's baptism in the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Perhaps the early eastern and western churches commonly used these rituals.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear James:

I suspect you're right about that!