I am grateful to my friend and brother-in-office, Pr. Mason Beecroft of Grace Lutheran Church, Tulsa, for helping me with some key ideas and phrases for this sermon.
St. Mark 7.31-37
August 26, 2007
“O LORD, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.”
Unless the LORD opens our lips, they only drip corruption. Unless the LORD opens our ears, they only perk up for that which glorifies the self and tears down others.
Today Jesus opens the ears and loosens the tongue of a man. I invite you to consider what your ears have been hearing, what your tongue has been speaking. The word describing the healed man’s speech is orthoos – not “plainly,” as our English translation gives it, but “rightly.” “The impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke rightly.” The simple meaning is of course that a man who could only mumble and babble could now speak intelligibly – but the Holy Ghost through the pen of St. Mark invites us to consider what it would mean to speak rightly, correctly, as God intended. Is this a matter of diction? Good grammar? No. “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest possible way.”
Those words from the Small Catechism damn me. Do they not damn you? Does your tongue not find it easier to criticize than build up? Relish in revealing the truth about someone else’s sins? Mock those who are less privileged than you? Tell falsehoods and twist the truth so that it makes you look good and another look bad? Flatter others or badger them until you get what you want?
And what about your ears? Do they rejoice in hearing the Torah, the Word of God, the gospel of forgiveness? Or are they really attuned to listening to criticisms and gossip, perversion and frivolity? Do you delight in hearing the name of JESUS? Or is it really your own name being praised that your ears long to hear?
Our Lord JESUS Christ performs a miracle of healing on the deaf mute’s ears and tongue – but a more radical surgery still is needed on ours. St.
James was right. “Our tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell… no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” Indeed, they should not be this way with you, and yet they are. Repent!
Did Jesus do this man a favor by opening his ears, only to hear the filth of this world? Did he do him a favor by loosing his tongue, only to have it boast and tell lies? It does no good to have keen hearing and an eloquent tongue, if these gifts are used for sin. Would it not be better to stop up your ears, instead of inclining them to evil and itching to hear your own praises? Would it not be better to keep silent, then to keep on with your prattling, cackling foolishness? Has Jesus forgiven you, set you free from death and the devil, only to have you continue in your sins? Repent!
Repent, and see what our Lord JESUS does. With the power of His Word, and with the water that comes from Him, man is healed. Not by your words, not by your strength, comes healing. Only by His Words, His strength, His cross, His resurrection.
Next week we will have a Baptism, as the newborn daughter of Mark and Mollie is brought to the font. Again the word of Jesus will be spoken over one born in sin: “‘Ephphatha!’ Be opened!” I am sad and disappointed that I won’t be here next week for it – but it is a good lesson for us all that Baptism, as with all the holy things, are not gifts that come to us from any one Pastor’s strength, or holiness, or eloquence. The Pastor is not the one who does all things well. Jesus is. “He has done all things well,” He is doing all things well, He will continue to do all things well, for you.
But He does His good things to us, for us, on us, in us, in odd ways, unexpected ways, even uncomfortable ways. With this man, Jesus jams His finger in the man’s ear, and rubs His spittle on the man’s tongue. He groans. Weird! Unsanitary! Unconventional! If you get squeamish over the Lord’s Common Cup – how would you like Him spitting in your mouth?! But this is God’s way. Jesus doesn’t put on latex gloves – He comes right into our messes, our filth, our sin. He is a God who comes near to us, who takes on our suffering flesh, who groans along with us in our suffering, who is not afraid to touch the untouchable, to love the unlovable. He interrupts funeral processions, eats with prostitutes and tax collectors, breathes in the stench of Lazarus’s dead body, draws aside and focuses completely on a deaf, dumb man who has nothing to offer, nothing to say, nothing with which he can bargain.
He comes to you, too, in surprising ways, ways that make no sense. We will gladly swallow the pills our physicians give, submit ourselves to undignifying tests, accept the verdict of the computers and the labs. But Jesus comes with no such trusted remedies. Spit and fingers, water and words, bread and wine – and He says, “This washing and My Name will cleanse you, My Body and My Blood will heal you, My Words will give you life, I will raise you up at the last day.”
And that is all we need to hear. As surely as He cared for this deaf mute, so surely does He care for you, O you of little faith. God demonstrated His love for you in that, while you were yet a sinner, Christ died for you. So say to Him again this Lord’s Day, “O LORD, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise. Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O LORD!” For He who died for you will continue to do all things well for you. +INJ+