22 August 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 7:31-37 (Isa 29:17-24, Rom 10:9-16)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
In this world “by sin now broken”, many things can, and do, go wrong.
Each one of us is laden with imperfections and faults. We are burdened with not only obvious sins and shortcomings, but also with physical crosses to bear. Many suffer with chronic pain, with cancer, with crippling disabilities, with mental anguish, and with the effects of trauma. One of the worst consequences of our life in this fallen world is the fact that some bear the physical burden of having one’s senses impeded, struggles such as blindness and deafness.
Being unable to hear is a particularly trying burden, for as St. Paul teaches us: “faith comes by hearing.” In fact, St. Paul asks rhetorically, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”
But before one gets to the difficulty of hearing the Gospel when no preachers are sent, one who is deaf has the more immediate problem of hearing the Word of God at all. As with all physical calamities, Satan delights in deafness, for it impedes the Word of God from doing its miraculous work of saving and regenerating, of bringing to repentance and forgiving. Moreover, a deaf person is likely also mute, thus making it difficult to “confess with [one’s] mouth that Jesus is Lord.”
But, dear friends, Satan and our own sin-corrupted flesh do not get the last word. In fact, the deaf-mute from the Decapolis is made able to confess the Word that is both first and last, the Alpha and the Omega. For that Word, the Word made flesh, the Word by whom all things were made, the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that was God, He Himself spoke a single word: “Ephphatha – be opened!” And just as in the beginning when the mighty Word resounded into the primal darkness with the command: “Let there be light…” the Word of God made reality happen. At the Lord’s command “Be opened,” the closed ears of the deaf-mute were made receptive to that very Word that resonates with the Good News of regeneration and re-creation.
Furthermore, once his ears were opened, his tongue was also released. And that which he believed and knew in his heart, that Jesus is Lord over creation, that Jesus is the One sent to make all things new, that confession was now to be articulated with his no-longer silent mouth: “and he spoke plainly.”
Education is based on the Latin verb “to lead out.” Scholars argue about the origin of the English word, but it is clear that teachers do perform this function of leading their students out of darkness and into light, out of the muteness of ignorance and into the plain speech of confessing with one’s mouth what one has internalized in one’s heart.
And while teachers are not preachers, there is certainly a parallel. For teachers likewise use the power of human communication to enlighten their students. And in a Christian school, that education includes the very Word of God. Teachers are not pastors, and yet teachers do shepherd those lambs placed in their charge – as is especially apparent among those who teach the very young, trying to herd them into a flock over and against their sinful nature to wander away from the rest of the lambs. Teaching – especially in a Christian school – is indeed a holy vocation, a service to one’s neighbor as well as a thank offering to one’s Lord.
And indeed, teachers do break through deafness and speech impediments, bringing knowledge of God’s world and of God’s Word even to the Lord’s beloved children who suffer such consequences of the fall.
Our students hear, really hear, God’s Word. Our teachers not only speak about the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel to these students, but they also are means through which our Lord Himself works – teaching through them, forgiving through them, and sharing the Good News through them – in word and in deed.
It is a daunting calling, one that must be entered into with fear and yet with joy, with prayerful trepidation and yet with reverent confidence, in godly humility and yet with holy zeal. For it is the Lord who is in charge, who shepherds, who speaks His “ephphatha” to His people both young and old.
The slogan: “Jesus teaches at Lutheran schools” is not just a clever quip, it is a profound theological reality. For even as the Lord Jesus uses the physical element of saliva in conjunction with His Word to heal, and just as He uses the physical element of water combined with His Word to baptize, so too does the Lord use the humble preacher, teacher, parent, colleague, and friend to convey His Word of truth, forgiveness, life, and salvation. Not all are given to preach, nor are all given to teach, but all “poor miserable sinners” who have been redeemed are empowered to confess, to pray, praise, and give thanks, to make known before beggars and kings the reason for the hope that is in us in Christ Jesus.
The Lord may or may not permit us to see physical miracles, such as the dramatic healing of the sick or the scientifically inexplicable ability of a deaf person to hear. But the Lord has given to us the joy of seeing students hear with joy and to understand, to speak with confidence and articulate what they have learned. We see them grow. We see them react to God’s Word – all through His work through us, His unworthy servants: preachers, teachers, parents, colleagues, and friends. For we have all seen people leave the dark and silent prison of sin and enter the bright and resonant glory of forgiveness. And that is an even greater miracle, a more profound and lasting Ephphatha, even more spectacular than that which Jesus did for the deaf man in the Decapolis.
For the holy prophet Isaiah not only prophesied that the Messiah would make the deaf hear, but proclaimed that “the deaf shall hear the words of a book,” divine words that would pull those hobbled and crippled by the ravages of sin, death, and the devil out of the “gloom and darkness” and enable them to “obtain fresh joy in the Lord.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Word of God is always fresh and the Gospel is always joy. Jesus has come to break through our stubborn ears that resist the Word of God, and He has come to tear away the speech impediments that stand in the way of our proclamation, confession, and articulation of the Good News.
For the burden of the cross of deafness will forever be lifted by the One who bore the burden of the cross of Calvary, the cross upon which the blood of the Word Made Flesh was shed “for us men and for our salvation.” For that same Ephphatha comes to us by the preached Word. And likewise, the burden of the cross of our own inability to open our mouths to confess the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world” will be forever lifted by the One who was lifted up on the cross of Calvary, whose body and blood are given and shed for us, placed and poured into our open mouths “for the forgiveness of sins.” For that same Ephphatha comes to us by the administered sacraments.
Jesus is here to liberate our ears and loose our tongues. Jesus is here to teach the children and announce the Good News among their families. Jesus is here to forgive us all our sins and give us eternal life.
For as our ears, opened by God’s mercy, have just heard, and as our tongues, loosed by the power of God’s Word, just sang to the glory of God, we pray yet again:
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.