Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, September 7th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Grace and Holy Trinity Lutheran Churches, Three Forks and Belgrade, Montana
Jesus Does It All – Mark 7:31 – 37
When the Lord called this sinner to be a pastor, He knew what He was dealing with. So God didn’t stretch me too far, because He knew I couldn’t handle very much. He didn’t send me to some strange place, like Maryland, or Texas. He more or less sent me home. I was born in Roundup, and grew up in Forsyth. So when I served my vicarage in Billings, at Mt Olive, and then was called and ordained in Sidney, it was almost like serving in my home town, without all the difficulties of actually serving in my home town. I didn’t have a bunch of members who remembered my childhood. But, as we drove around Sidney and Fairview upon our arrival, I was amazed to see many houses that were identical to houses in Forsyth, even down to the same paint scheme. Apparently, back in the day, builders must have moved up and down the Yellowstone River, building the same houses over and over again. Even more, Sidney, Fairview and Forsyth share much the same economy, culture, and way of speaking. Ranchers, beet farmers, railroaders, oil workers instead of coal miners, but still, very much the same. The quirks and values and ways of life in Sidney and Fairview were all recognizable. Beginning my ministry in Richland County was an easy fit, meaning there were less challenges for our Lord to have to overcome as He sought to serve His people there.
When the Lord issued His second call to this sinner, this time to be an overseas missionary, once again, He didn’t stretch me too far. A bit farther, perhaps, but not too far. Some of my fellow missionaries in the orientation at St Louis are going to strange and difficult places, like Indonesia, and Hong Kong, Kenya, and Papua New Guinea. Not me. When the Lord decided He wanted to use me in overseas missions, He chose Spain. Where Shelee and I have lived before. In fact Sevilla, the city where we are to locate, is only about 80 miles from the town we lived in the 1990s. On top of that, Sevilla is a beautiful city, a place we know and love. Do I have to learn a new language? Well, no, I just have to get better at a language I have spoken off and on for 30 years. Not a huge stretch, which is good, because I need all the help I can get.
Kind of like the deaf and mute man that Jesus healed in our Gospel today. Jesus had to do everything, even to the point of getting involved in ways you might find, well, gross. I always hated it when my mother would spit on a tissue and spin around in the station wagon to clean my face right before we arrived to visit someone in their home. But Jesus has no qualms about putting His fingers in this deaf man’s ears, spitting and touching His mute tongue. The text doesn’t exactly say, but it sounds like Jesus spit on His fingers, then touched the man’s tongue. Ephphatha, be opened, Jesus sighs, calling to heaven. The Word and the actions together make the miracle. Our Lord does it all, whatever it takes, to unstop this man’s ears and give him a tongue capable of speaking properly. Which is the point. You and I can do nothing on our own. We are weak. Our ears are stopped up with the lies of the satan and the world, as well as with the self-aggrandizing thoughts we love to proclaim about ourselves. Self-esteem is the byword of pop psychology, but wholly unfitting to followers of Jesus who know that no one is good, but God alone.
We are not good; we do not do things well. Now, we may be good earthly neighbors, and we may even be able to do a few things of earthly value, like cooking a meal or doing a job or changing a tire. But we cannot do anything of heavenly value, not by our own powers. We couldn’t save ourselves if all it took was one pure thought, for we are sinners, through and through.
That’s why the crowds were so amazed at the Ephphatha miracle, of the opened ears and the loosed tongue. Jesus did something uniquely good. In fact, as bad as the English would be, I would prefer if we translated the crowds exclamation this way: He has done all things good. The Greek word for “well” is kalon, the adverbial form of the adjective kalos, which means good. “Well” is the proper English translation, but I prefer good, because it reminds me of what Jesus, along with His Father and the Spirit, saw in the first light, and in the first separated land and seas, and in the plants and the birds and sea creatures and the animals. God created these things, and saw that they were good. Tov in the Hebrew. Kalos in Greek. God did good, and then smiled to see His good creation, very good, even, when the man and the woman were added.
Jesus, in restoring the broken bit of creation in this man’s ears and tongue, also did good. Something new was breaking into this fallen world, so the crowds were amazed, because they knew no mere man could do all things well.
But Jesus could. Jesus can. Jesus has and He still does. Jesus does it all. This is the importance of the Incarnation, of the Son of God becoming a human being, becoming the one good man, come to live the full life of good deeds that God demands. That work is, in Jesus, done. Finished. Good. Jesus is the one sinless man come to make payment for sin, come to face the full wrath of God against all human sin, dying the eternal death we deserve, all packed into a few horrific hours on a Cross. That work is done. Finished. Good.
And Jesus didn’t stop working at the Resurrection, nor even after His Ascension, when He sat down at God’s right hand. Jesus is still doing it all, through the power of His Word.
The intimacy, the uncomfortable earthiness of this miracle is no doubt part of why the Church has always associated it with Baptism, where Christ joined you to His Cross, His death, and His New Resurrected Life. Drowning is even more uncomfortable to consider than having somebody touch your tongue, but that is exactly what God has done to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, drowning your sinful nature, your Old Adam, in order that a New Man, a new creature, a redeemed child of God, might rise to live in righteousness before God, forever. Baptism, like this deaf-mute’s healing, is a personal, uncomfortable miracle.
Of course, another connection between Baptism and the Ephphatha miracle is the unplugging of ears and the loosing of tongues. God does this work in Baptism as well, by using His Word of Promise to create faith, faith which makes alive because it trusts and receives the Living One, Jesus Christ, faith which naturally speaks the praises of our Savior.
Usually people don’t stand around astonished at a Baptism, but we should. I argue that the miracles of Jesus today are even more awesome than those of Biblical times. Today, in His Church, Jesus rolls a mystery and an awesome privilege all into one. Because, although our Lord doesn’t appear visibly at Baptisms anymore, nor at Lord’s Suppers, He is truly present. And mystery of mysteries, He chooses to work His good through the words and actions of sinners. Like me. Like Pastor Lehmann. And, as God moves you to speak His Name and do His Mercy in your daily life, Jesus also speaks and does good through you. Today, even though on our own, we are incapable of doing any truly good thing, God chooses to work His greatest good, re-creating the fallen world, through our words. Well, actually through His words, which He puts in our mouths. Jesus does it all.
And so I stand before you today to speak to you about supporting me as I go off to Spain. Our Lutheran Mission in Spain needs more preachers. I have been called to go and preach there, and I am very eager to go. To make that possible, God is sending me around to find the partners who will support this work, partners who will love the Lutherans in Spain, and all the people in Spain who so desperately need to hear the pure Lutheran Gospel. So, for Spain, you could say this sermon is kind of important.
And so, since this is kind of important, I could get all bound up, and nervous, because I need to do it right. I could stand here and think about how I need to be persuasive and winsome and convince you that this cause is worth supporting, with your prayers, and with your dollars. I could get all bound up… except that it isn’t true. If the work that needs to be done is truly good and important, I don’t need to do it. Jesus will do what needs to be done.
It’s kind of like our singing in Church. We try to sing well. Because of the who and what we are singing about, because of the words we are given to sing, because of the message, we try to sing well. Because the people of God are gathered here in His Name, that means Jesus is here too. For this reason also, we try to sing well. It’s important. To fail to try to sing well would be wrong. We truly want to sing well. But the value of our singing to teach and uplift and console does not depend on our musical quality, but rather on the Spirit of Christ, who works through the words we sing, whether we sound like a meadowlark, or more like an old crow.
In a similar way, I, like every pastor, have a call to preach well, truly, faithfully, in a way you can hear. And I want to do this. But the creating of cheerful hearts is up to God. That you should desire to not only support the ministry of Holy Trinity/Grace and Pastor Lehman, and the mercy work needed here, and also to cheerfully become a part of the effort to send me to Spain, that’s only gonna happen if Jesus does it. I pray that it does. I would be honored to go to Spain as your missionary. But I know that Jesus will do the good thing that needs to be done. He is the one that overcomes the frailties and weaknesses of every man called to preach. He is the Preacher we hear, the Preacher faith hears, the Preacher who will deliver His gifts to His people, whatever it takes, just like He did in the Ephphatha Miracle. Of this, you can be certain.
God will do all things well, in regards to my new call in Spain, as well as in regards to the ministry of your congregation here in Belgrade/Three Forks. Maybe you can only pray, or give just a little. Or maybe you can contribute a significant amount of time and labor, and a larger amount of money. Maybe you can support your church every week, and my work in Spain every month. Whatever God enables you to do, a little or a lot, when you focus on Christ and what He has done for you, when you are filled with His gift of forgiveness and new life, then whatever you do will be perfect, for Jesus will be working through you.
Your works will not yet be perfect in the sense that you won’t sin. Jesus will have to come to us again, and again, to unstop our ears and open up our hearts with His Word of Law and Gospel. That happy state of affairs when we won’t need to be corrected by the Law, the Day when we will need no more forgiveness, that Day will not come until the New Creation. We will need to daily confess our sins and hear the word of forgiveness, until we die, or until we see Jesus riding the clouds, flanked by the heavenly host, ushering in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
Nevertheless, right now, today, by faith in Jesus, your works are perfect, because you are caught up in Jesus’ Mission, and He does all things well. He has, is and will do everything well, everything needed, to deliver you into His Good Kingdom, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.