Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 7:31-37
Dear hearers of God’s Word: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sin makes us deaf and mute. Certainly to varying degrees, but it is nevertheless true. Our bodies are not perfect as God created them to be. Because of sin, even our bodies suffer the consequences.
Some people are born deaf or with a speech impediment. Some people develop such disabilities through injuries or illness. Losing the sense of hearing has become a normal part of aging in this sinful world, which is shown by many of us who require hearing aids in order to hear.
But even those of us who have our speaking and hearing faculties in relatively good health do not hear or speak perfectly. We often must ask for something to be repeated to us. We stumble over words especially if we are nervous or flustered. We say things we don’t mean. We mean things we don’t say.
Even more than all of this, because of our sinfulness, we are by nature spiritually deaf and mute. We all too often resemble those of whom Jesus says, “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Mt. 13:13) How often are we deaf to the needs of others? How regularly are we deaf to the needs of mission work; even deaf to the needs of our own congregation?
And how often do we have a speech impediment when it comes to speaking up for the helpless and the needy; for the unborn and the elderly? How often do we hold our tongue from speaking God’s truth because we are afraid that it will make us unpopular? These symptoms are all because of our sin, because sin makes us deaf and mute.
Deaf and mute, Jesus has compassion on us as He had on the man brought to Him who was deaf and with a speech impediment. Jesus gave the man personal attention. He took him aside privately, away from the crowd. Then Jesus healed the man in a peculiar way.
We know the power of Jesus’ Word. He speaks, and whatever He says, happens. Jesus cast out a legion of demons with His Word (Mk. 5:8). He raised Lazarus and Jairus’s daughter from the dead with His Word (Jn. 11:43). In another situation with a boy who was deaf and mute, Jesus healed him with His Word alone (Mk. 9:25).
But here, Jesus takes a physical approach. For this man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, Jesus, after taking him aside, put His fingers in the man’s ears, and after spitting, touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Although Jesus could have healed the man with His Word alone, He chose to also physically touch the man’s ears and tongue. It’s almost a sort-of sign language for the man who could not hear or speak. The man could see Jesus reaching over and touching his ears and spitting and touching his tongue. The man could see Jesus’ chest rise and fall as He sighed and His head tilt up to look to heaven. Yet, with these physical signs, it was still Jesus’ Word which healed the man: Ephphatha. Be opened.
Jesus deals with us in this same way. He has given us His Word which heals us of our sin. Jesus sends pastors to absolve sinners, saying, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (Jn. 20:23) and “The one who hears you, hears me” (Lk. 10:16). So we have the Word of God proclaimed to us that our sins are forgiven; that our spiritual deafness and muteness is forgiven. The power is in God’s Word. God speaks, and whatever He says, happens.
Still, Jesus takes a physical approach. Although His Word alone is enough to make us whole, forgiven, and absolved, Jesus has still instituted physical means by which He gives us spiritual healing. Along with God’s Word – I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – water poured over the head and spiritually deaf ears creates faith, opening our ears. Along with God’s Word – Take eat, this is my body, and take drink, this is my blood – bread and wine given onto our mute tongues forgives our sins and loosens our tongues to confess the faith.
Yes, God’s Word is enough. But for us sinners who struggle with spiritual muteness and deafness, Jesus gives us these visible elements through which we can see what He gives us. Just as the Word enters through the ear in order to strike the heart, so also the Sacraments enter through the eye in order to move the heart. The Word and the Sacrament have the same effect. As Saint Augustine put it, the Sacraments are the visible Word because they are received by the eyes, a picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word (cf. Ap XIII:5).
In the water of Baptism, we see a sign of the washing away of sin that God has promised accompanies Baptism (Acts 2:38, 22:16). We can visualize the washing away of sin as the water washes over the head. We can visualize the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that God has promised accompanies Baptism (Titus 3:5-8). We can relate to all the times God saved His people through water – whether in the ark through the Flood or on dry ground through the Red Sea.
In the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, we see a sign of the spiritual nourishment that Jesus has promised accompanies the eating of His true body and blood (Mt. 26:28). Jesus personally takes us aside from the crowd and gives us His true body and blood which give us the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. We can relate to all the times God miraculously fed His people – whether with manna from heaven, ravens bringing bread, or providing oil and flour that never ran out.
God has given us these visible means by which He forgives our sins so that we who struggle with spiritual deafness and muteness can believe that He actually gives to us what He promises. God has given us these visible means so that each one of us can individually say, “I know that my sins have been washed away because I am baptized into Christ;” so that each of us can say, “I know that my sins are forgiven because I received Jesus’ true body and blood onto my tongue.”
The Sacraments are Jesus taking us aside from the crowd privately, giving us the forgiveness of sins through His Word, and then still giving us the forgiveness of sins through physical means that we can touch and see. Jesus opens our ears to hear His Word. Jesus forgives our sins and looses our tongues to sing His praises.
Ephphatha. Be opened. Whatever Jesus says, happens. He opens your ears to tell you your sins are forgiven because of His death on the cross. He opens your ears to invite you to the Sacrament of the Altar. Then He also physically gives you what He has promised in the Sacrament: His true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.