Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, August 18th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
The Preaching We Hear – Mark 7:31 - 37
Jesus really works at healing the deaf and mute man in our Gospel this morning, pulling him aside for a private consultation, putting His fingers into the non-working ears, even spitting and touching the mute tongue, sighing and calling to heaven: Be Opened! Ephphatha, for you Aramaic speakers in the congregation this morning. Why did Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears? Did He need to dig something out first, before He could heal them?
Could be. I can’t say much about what might have been plugging up the ears of a man in Galilee in the year 30 A + D, but consider this about our ears. There are 168 hours in a week. According to the American Time Use Survey of 2011, Americans age 15 and over averaged 8.7 hours of sleep per day, which sounds pretty good, a couple more hours a night than I usually get. Using the average, 8.7 hours per night equates to 61 hours of sleep per week, which leaves 107 waking hours, 107 hours per week when we are hearing, taking in information, talking, and thinking to ourselves, seeing and feeling and processing and reacting to all kinds of input, 107 hours per week to have our faith shaped.
Of that 107 hours, how much time do we spend listening to God? How much of what we hear and see and think and say is good and right and true, and how much is false, contrary to God’s Truth, and harmful to Christian faith? In terms of the quantity of hearing we do, how much crud might there be in our ears, that Jesus has to dig out first, before He can heal us?
Well, let’s keep doing the math. Let’s say you gather for the Divine Service every week; good for you! More or less, for 1 hour you hear God’s pure Word, your eyes see and your mind reads His true Scripture, your mouth sings faithful songs, 1 hour of seeing and hearing, confessing and receiving God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament. Then you head out, for 106 hours of what the world has to say.
Coming to Church every Sunday is good, but maybe you’re even more active. Maybe you stay another hour for Bible study, or Sunday School. Now the ratio of God’s Word to the world’s word in your life is 2 to 105. But maybe you’ve started some really good habits, adding another 15 – 20 minutes per day of personal devotions, maybe even using this insert, with its readings and devotions, and the brief order for prayer on the back of this bulletin. Now your ratio is 4 to 103. Think of it. For the every-Sunday worship attendee who adds nothing more, a ratio of 1 to 106. For the very most devoted among us, 4 hours of hearing God’s Law and Gospel, in and amongst 103 hours of worldly ideas, messages and images. Perhaps it’s no wonder if Jesus has to stick his fingers into ears to open them up.
After all, what is the content of those other 100 + hours? What does the world preach? What do our minds think about God, when left to their own devices? Does the message of Christ alone, of Christ as our only hope, of Christ crucified and resurrected for the sins of the world, does this message fill much of the 100 + hours of worldly and human messages we hear every week? Not hardly.
First of all, the day to day world we live in doesn’t work like the Kingdom of God. Earthly living is full of working for rewards. This is fine, but we should be aware that life in this world teaches you that you get what you deserve. Glory on earth depends on you doing what it takes, on you being the best you can be. Making it in day to day life is all about you and your works. Day to day life is all law, all commands and principles that bring rewards, or punishments, depending on how well you follow them. And that’s fine, for this life. But God’s Word is very clear – salvation for sinners, entrance into God’s eternal kingdom, comes only by God’s free gift, given to us in Christ Jesus. Standing before God, you don’t want what you deserve. You need His free gift. But, life on earth is not very often about free gifts. Indeed, as we all learn painfully, worldly things offered for free are almost never truly free. There’s usually strings attached, hidden costs. Simply living in this world contradicts the Good News of free salvation in Christ.
But at least this part of the world’s messaging might leave you broken and ready to hear some Good News about a Savior who comes to rescue you from your failures and pain. There is worse preaching out there, worse preaching, like the intentional atheistic preaching the world throws at you, day after day, hour after hour. Today in our world the denial and mockery of Christianity is rampant. Mocking the claims of the Bible is standard fall-back material for many stand-up comedians. Darwinian evolution, which is built on the rejection of God, is the official story forced down our throats in the public school system, from kindergarten through college. Mockery, insult and accusation of bigotry are the typical responses a confessing Christian receives in popular circles. And who doesn’t want to be popular? The favored pseudo-intellectual position in America today is to reject and ridicule Christianity and Christians, and there aren’t any public service campaigns urging us all to stop this kind of bullying. I dare say you never pass through 100 waking hours without hearing this preaching of godless atheism, many times, from many quarters.
The preaching of atheism usually wears a veneer of respectability and intellect. The peddlers of plain old temptation typically don’t concern themselves with the integrity of their proclamation. They just tempt, tempting us to lust, by changing clothing fashions little by little, till you can’t walk down the street today without seeing way more of the shape and skin of the opposite sex than you should. You can hardly play a video game or watch a movie or read a magazine without hearing and seeing just how much fun it supposedly is to give in to fleshly pleasures, regardless of the consequences. You know all the slogans: Just do it. You only live once. Don’t miss out on the fun. How many of your 100 hours are filled with such temptations to lust after momentary pleasures, after booze or drugs, thrills, or violence, pleasures that always end, sooner or later, in sorrow and pain?
It almost makes me think being deaf isn’t so much of a curse, spiritually at least. After all, if I couldn’t hear, or maybe if I couldn’t see well, it would be harder for the world to preach its lies to me. But that wouldn’t fix our problem, because, in the end, the biggest obstacle to faith is us, our sinful nature, which rejects God’s Law, and His Gospel. Our rejection might seem naïve – like living in the delusion that “people are basically good, and so God must be pleased with us, at least when we try hard.” Or, our rejection may be defiant – we may declare “no one, not even God, will tell me what to do. No one better tell me that my will, my actions, my life aren’t good. Certainly I’m not going to sit around listening to some preacher who accuses me of being so evil that God had to die to save me.”
I can turn off my computer, T.V., and radio. I can shut out the world and its lies, pretty completely. But I can’t escape myself, my sinful desire to stroke my ego, and pat myself on the back. I carry around a false preacher in my sinful nature, the Old Adam who plagues me, and you, 100 + waking hours per week, and maybe even preaches lies in our dreams.
I’m not sure why exactly, in this particular healing miracle, Jesus touched the man’s ears and spit and touched his tongue. Scripture doesn’t give us a clear explanation. And it is important to remember this is a healing miracle, not yet the miracle of salvation by faith alone. Jesus is helping a deaf-mute man, and, as always, He is also teaching. I will not downplay the striking fact that Jesus spitting and speaking combines Water with God’s Word. But still, exactly why Jesus did these strange things is hard to say.
Scripture doesn’t explain every detail about this, or many other things. But Scripture is very clear about the main points. Our sin-problem is just this bad: Nothing any sinner could ever do could overcome the chasm that sin has created between God and us. Our best good deeds do us absolutely no good in being saved. God had to do it all. God has to do it all, still.
God has to do it all. And so, because God is love, because God wants to have you with Him forever, God has done it all. Jesus put His fingers into the deaf-mute man’s ears, showing that He’s willing to get intimately involved in saving us. But even more, some 30 years earlier, God’s Son showed His commitment to His mission by putting Himself, His divine essence, into human flesh, becoming fully human, by the power of the Holy Spirit, conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, in order that He could bear all human sin and suffering.
The deaf-mute man suffered, like so many people, from physical disabilities, unable to hear, and so also, unable to speak rightly. His suffering was worse than some, but less than others. For we all suffer from this thing or that thing. The hard thing, however, about listening to God’s Word is that it tells us, quite plainly, that our sins and sinfulness make it impossible to argue that we don’t ultimately deserve the curses we suffer. The wages of sin is death, and we are sinners.
But God would not have this Word of condemnation be His last Word. While we each of us sinners bear our particular curses, Jesus, who had no sin, bore all our curses, all our suffering. The whole point of His life and ministry was so that He could die the death that we all face for our sinfulness, and suffer the punishment we all deserve for our sins. Now, risen from the dead, having destroyed the power of sin and death that loomed over us, Jesus has Good News – your sins are forgiven; God in Christ has made you worthy to enter His Kingdom, today by faith, and also for eternity.
We’d be fools not to hear this preaching as often as possible. We’d be idiots to let the preaching of the World drown out the Word of God, because it is by His Word that God gives us and sustains in us saving faith in His Son. But of course all too often we are, each one of us, fools and idiots, neglecting God’s Word, avoiding His services on Sunday, taking for granted His incredible gifts, meanwhile listening to the world’s preaching all too eagerly. Thanks be to God, salvation doesn’t depend on us achieving a certain ratio of hearing God’s Word vs. hearing the lies of the world. And thanks be to God, His Word, His Good News, is infinitely more powerful than worldly lies. God’s Word is divinely powerful, able to wipe away your sin, relieve your guilt, and sustain your faith.
If you’d like to build better habits to hear more of God’s good preaching during your week, I’d be very happy to help you. If you’d like to find ways to still gather with faithful congregations when you travel, I can help you with this as well. But today, right now, forget your foolishness, and rejoice. Rejoice, that right now you are on the receiving end of that grace filled chain Paul writes about, God’s chain of sending preachers to preach, so that you can hear, so that hearing, you can believe. This grace-chain of God is why you are here today, calling on the Name of the Lord.
Rejoice that you have been gathered by God here this morning, to hear His promise to you once again: Ephphatha, be open, your ears, and your heart, to hear and believe the Good News, that God forgives you all your sin, claims you as His child, loves you, and promises to keep you, today, and forever and ever, in Christ Jesus our Crucified and Risen Savior, Amen.