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Sermon for Trinity 12

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ September 12th, 2011

Sermon on St. Mark 7:31-37

The Healing of the Deaf Mute

Trinity 12

11 September 2011

+ In the Name of Jesus +

“O Lord, open Thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.” – Psalm 51:15

The church year and the secular calendar are on an apparent collision course today. In the world, today is the tenth anniversary of the biggest news story of our generation, 9/11. In the church, today is the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, the healing of the deaf mute. These two items could be easily combined, preaching on how, as God healed the deaf mute, so He brings healing to a world bruised by Terrorism. However, since the anniversary of 9/11 merits its own service, I invite you to join us for Vespers at 3:30 today to apply the Word of God to human suffering. This morning, I’d like to stick with the appointed reading, the healing of the deaf mute, and see how it illuminates the words of the Psalmist, “O Lord, open Thou my lips; and my mouth will short forth Thy praise” (51:15).

“Then [Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” Tyre was seaport city in the northwest corner of Israel. Sidon was not far away, also part of the old Northern Kingdom. The “Decapolis” (literally “ten towns”) was a series of cities on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. At first hearing, this may seem like a passing reference with no theological significance. But in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ presence in the north country says something about those He came to save. Many Jews lived in the Southern Kingdom and expected a Messiah who would rule in Jerusalem. But Jesus, the Savior of the Nations, took His preaching and miracles to the north country. And after Pentecost, He would send His gospel to the ends of the earth. So Jesus is the Savior of everyone! He took on the flesh and blood of those in Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis. He died for the sins of people in North America, South America, and Asia. He rose from the dead for you and for your neighbor. And He is hard at work through the Holy Spirit to preach the good news of His cross and resurrection to all men, for He desires that everyone would come to the knowledge of salvation in Christ.

“And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.” The hearing impaired speak differently because of their lack of ear and tongue coordination. We all learned how to speak by imitating the sounds around us. But how does one imitate that which one cannot hear? This was the same place where Jesus once cast a legion of demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs. Could he help this deaf man as well? Here we see that our ears and mouths are full of sin. We use four-letter words. We take God’s name in vain. We curse our neighbor instead of blessing him. We let our children and our neighbor speak out of turn and out of the boundaries of the Ten Commandments. We put the worst construction on everything and spread our gossip and our accusations in the public world of electronic communication. Yes, I say, we are the image of this deaf man, unable to hear the Gospel and unable to worship the Lord unless we die to sin through repentance. And so we pray with the Psalmist, “O Lord, open Thou my lips,” for only the Lord can open lips that are otherwise bound to curse, swear, lie, and deceive by His name.

“And taking [the deaf mute] aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” Suppose you brought your friend to this miracle worker from Nazareth, expecting a “quick fix.” Yet Jesus spat and then had the nerve to touch the man’s tongue. What would you think of this Jesus? A street magician? A hoax? Maybe even a lunatic? But that’s how the incarnate Lord works. He’s down to earth. He is present with us. And he touches our lives in a deep and personal way. Here we see that God works through means. He doesn’t just sit in the heavens at the Divine control board to order the events of the world, although He can do that, too. Rather, as He healed the deaf mute through words and saliva, so today He works through the earthly elements of water, words, bread and wine. I ask you: where do you go to get the gifts of the Gospel? To the sinful heart? To the internet (virtual church)? To thinking nice thoughts about Jesus from the comfort of your home? No! Rather, you go to the earthly water of baptism. The “ordinary” words of absolution and preaching. The common elements of bread and wine. And through these earthly means, we receive new life with God, the forgiveness of sins, and even His very body and blood. We call them the “means of grace,” those mediate ways that God has chosen to give us the gifts of salvation and the healing of forgiveness.

“And looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened!’” The Aramaic word “Ephphataha,” be opened, does not just address the man’s mouth. Rather, it addresses the man’s entire being. Think, for instance, of how compartmentalized our approach to education is. PE and lunch for the body. Math and science for the mind. Music and art for self-expression. We tend to address one aspect of man at a time, usually in a different classroom with a different teacher. At the end of the day, Voila! an educated human being. However, Jesus’ “Ephphatha” takes care of the whole person, body and soul. It opens the man’s ears, pierces His heart, and even opens His mouth to speak the good news about Jesus. Here we learn that God care for the entire person, body and soul. Some people think that God only cares for the body. Think, for instance, of the feeding of the 5,000, were people enjoyed a free meal for the body, but tucked tail and ran when Jesus started preaching Himself as the Bread of Life. At the other extreme, think of the Christians in Corinth, who thought that their souls were in good health, yet assumed the body was nothing more than a personal plaything; a husk to be discarded when this life was over. Both extremes are wrong. God created you, body and soul. Jesus redeemed you in body and in soul. The Holy Spirit abides in your body, making it His temple, and He dwells in you by faith, healing your soul with the forgiveness of sins. So all that you are and all that you have is God’s gift for body and soul, just as it was for this deaf mute.

“And [the deaf man’s] ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” See how the creation responds to its own Creator! Ears that could not hear can now hear the rich and varied sounds of God’s creation. A tongue that could not speak is now open to communicate. And, above all, a sinner who was trapped in loneliness and despair receives the gifts of the Kingdom of God. St. Mark does not tell us if this unnamed man believed in Jesus, but the testimony of the miracle no doubt resonated throughout the Decapolis, and certainly throughout the church to this day. And the appropriate response is to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. See how our ears are opened, our tongues are released, and we speak plainly in Christian worship. It all starts with the ear. That’s why we need to learn to keep our mouths shut sometimes in God’s house. We need to hear the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the preached Word. Then, having heard the Word of God, we respond in Hymns and liturgy, declaring the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. It’s just like breathing, isn’t it? We “inhale” the good news that Jesus is the Christ (“O Lord, open thou my lips”). And then we “exhale” the Gospel as we speak back to God what He has already said to us (“My mouth shall show forth Thy praise”).

“And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” We call this the “Messianic secret.” Many in Israel expected a messiah. Unfortunately, their expectation was tainted by the ideas of the world. Instead of expecting a messiah or “deliverer” from sin and eternal death, many wanted a deliverer from suffering here and now, release from Roman oppression, and an earthly victory over the Gentiles. So for now, Jesus told them not to spread the word too quickly about this miracle, lest they force Him to be a false messiah. But after Jesus’ resurrection, the Faithful would understand the Messianic role of the cross, so there would be no need for secrets. See the good news this is for our efforts in evangelism! There is no one and nothing that can stop us from inviting our friends to church, from sitting next to them to help them through the service, and introducing them to the pastor to talk about baptism or first Communion. Nothing can stop us from speaking to one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, in the church, at home, and in the work place. Through you, the good news that Jesus is the Christ of God resonates throughout the world. So go and tell! Tell everyone that Jesus died for their sins, that He is risen from the dead, and that “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’”

And so on this Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, we pray with the Psalmist, “O Lord, open Thou my lips; And my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.” You know these words from Psalm 51, of course, as the opening versicles of Matins and Vespers, the daily, non-Communion prayer office. (Join us every Wednesday morning, by the way, for Matins at 10:50 a.m.) See how these words describe the healing of the deaf mute and our own life of prayer. The first half of this verse describes the work of God alone: “O Lord, open Thou my lips.” That is to pray, “O Lord, unclog my ears, cleanse my heart, and forgive my sins.” Then, and only then, “My mouth shall show forth Thy praise.” That is to pray, “Then my mouth shall speak the word of the cross and resurrection, pray hymns and liturgy, and proclaim aloud the mighty works of God in Christ.” As Martin Luther said of this very Gospel Lesson, “To this day the greatest miracle and mightiest work is giving a person ears that gladly hear God’s Word and a tongue that honors God and does not blaspheme.” “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rev. Brian J. Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

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