Trinity 12 – August 18th and 19th, 2018 – Mark 7:31-37
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
There's so much crazy talk in the world today about what love is. And I know intellectually as a historian and a theologian that folks in this sinful world have always been messed up on what love is; this is why Paul and John in their epistles constantly have to spell out for us what love actually is. But it seems today our society and culture uses “love” to describe every sort of weird desire or lust folks might have. Over and against that, over and against what you might hear from the world about love, in our Gospel lesson today Jesus gives a tour de force demonstration of what love actually is. Let us listen to what Jesus does, and learn of love.
“Then He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.” First, the set up. This is the point in Mark's Gospel where the scribes and pharisees were so hounding Jesus that He ended up wandering around the gentile lands. Right before this lesson you have the Syrophoenician woman - “yes, LORD, but even little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.” And then right after today's Gospel lesson you have the feeding of the 4000, because everyone hears about this miracle even though Jesus tried to keep them quiet. So Jesus is there, surrounded by strangers, foreigners, non-jews. You know – folks that He'd be expected not to like, the sort of people that the good Jerusalem folks wouldn't dare associate with. And these people have heard rumors about Jesus, so they bring up a fellow – and they want to see a miracle. Go on, lay a hand on him and show us something cool!
I have great sympathy for this deaf fellow, not just because he had a speech impediment and I don't exactly have the cleanest speaking voice myself, but because he must have been utterly confused. What Mark describes here is not a calm, polite scene. The word here for “brought” is literally “carry”. It's not that they coaxed a shy volunteer forward, they wanted to see a miracle, so they grabbed some guy who was messed up. Hey everybody, whose the most messed up person in town – oh, it's that deaf guy – oh yea, quick, go grab him. And so a crowd rushes up and grabs the fellow – and he's deaf, he can't hear. If you can't hear, you don't understand what's going on around you as well as you might – like as some of you are finding out more than you'd like. So boom – they dump this guy in front of Jesus and say “lay hands on him.” Come on Jesus – we brought you someone, now go do that thingy with your hands and the waving and power and might.
Jesus doesn't give the crowd what they want. Instead, Jesus decides to love the poor deaf man. Listen. And taking him aside from the crowd privately.... Did you note that? Before there's any healing, Jesus gently pulls him away from the crowd, gets him out of that mass of confusion. And then, when the guy is calmed down a bit and things are less chaotic, Jesus moves into action. “He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” But that action isn't healing yet. The guy is deaf, so Jesus acts out for him what He's going to do. Your ears, I'm going to pop them open. Can't get stuff out of your mouth because your tongue is tied – well, I'm going to shake that tongue loose. Then one more pantomime - “And looking up to heaven, He sighed...” See, I'm praying here – and then, only then, does the healing take place. [Jesus] said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.' And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
There's a lot of hay we could make out of this. This is indeed creation restored – the Word of God who spoke all creation into existence restores creation by speaking. All things are done well, they are good again because of Jesus. And this also is a great depiction of how faith itself works – we who were deaf to God, dead in sin and trespasses have our ears opened by the Word and Spirit and we are given life.
But for today, let's focus on this. This is what love is, this is how love operates. This miracle stands out like a sore thumb in Mark's Gospel. See, Mark's Gospel has this incredible pace to it. The word “immediately” gets used over and over. It's the shortest Gospel, everything happens quickly. And then you get this miracle described – and everything just slows down. Everything becomes slow and deliberate. And that's what love is. When Jesus comes across this fellow, He shows Him deliberate care and service. He doesn't just lay a hand on him while the crowd goes wild, but instead Jesus takes the time to care for him individually as He knows is best.
This is Christ's love for you. To be in the Church is to be one whom Jesus has called, whom Jesus has pulled away from the rush and sin and chaos of the world, called out of darkness into His marvelous life. And over and over in His Church, Jesus deals with you gently and directly. You were baptized by name, you yourself were. God claimed you and washed away your sins. He places His own Body and Blood upon your tongue in the Supper. And yes, we do many things together, for we together are the body of Christ, yet there still remains that individual care for you. While we do confess our sins together and receive forgiveness together – if there is some fear or doubt or guilt that messes with you – I'll forgive you individually and specifically, because Jesus doesn't want you miserable and afraid and guilty. And if you want and need the Lord's Supper, give me a call, I'll bring it. Because Jesus wants you, yes you, to know His love and forgiveness and mercy is for you. Jesus doesn't lose you in the crowd – I might, I'm a sinful human being, so please do let me know when you need something – but Jesus wants you forgiven and cared for.
This is also how all our vocations work. Vocations are those special relationships we are given by God in which we are to love and serve people. Our vocations set up and show us people for whom we are specifically to care. And each of us have many of these that God has given us. I will use myself as an example. I'm not the pastor for every church in the world; I'm preaching here at Trinity because God has called me away from every other place and to this specific congregation and to you here. I don't supervise every single vicar in the vicarage program; I supervise vicar Weideman. God did not call me to be everyone's husband, He gave me to and joined me to Celia. I'm not everyone's dad – just two people. And so on and so forth. And this is not accidental – this is deliberate on God's part, shaping and forming the ways in which I am to show love – these are the good works which God prepared before hand for me to walk in. And likewise you – in order to see that His love and care for His creation is shown, God places you into relationships with other people – husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and student, employer and worker, neighbor, citizens, all these things – so that you may care for these specific people, and also be cared for by them in return. These are your vocations – and if you want to consider them, I'd recommend finding the Table of Duties in the Catechism, because it goes over specific Scripture passages dealing with all sorts of vocations. But remember, these relationships are gifts to you from God, opportunities for you to care for and serve others.
Yet we know how things so often work. We are attacked by sin and Satan – and do you know what sin does? It deafens us; it binds up our tongues. All too often we don't listen to the people God has placed in our lives, all too often instead of speaking words of love and care for them we say nothing or shout nonsense. And often we are on the receiving end, where folks don't listen to us, where they don't speak rightly to us. That's really what Satan is trying to accomplish with sin – Satan is trying to wreck and ruin the relationships of love and service that God gives us. And this is why, over and over, again and again, Christ Jesus comes to you with His Word of life. This is why He opens your ears with His Word and gives you faith. This is why He fills you with His love. This is why He opens your lips so that you mouth may declare His praise. Because He is a giver, because He loves you and wants you to enjoy your gifts that He has given to you. And so, He arms you with forgiveness and mercy to fight against sin – your own sin and the sin that is done to you. Satan would isolate you; Christ is with you and gives Himself to you and centers all your relationships and vocations in Him, in His love.
And the world doesn't understand this. The world keeps rushing on in its chaotic mess, the world keeps on rolling along in its selfish conceit, looking out for number one. But Christ Jesus is your Lord, and He has given you ears to hear. He frees you to love generously because you know with certainty how much He loves you. And should you ever forget it, should your own love ever flag – come here and hear again His love for you, for you are God's own baptized child, and He will never forsake you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.