24 September 2017

Homily for St. Michael and All Angels (Obs.) - 2017

"God's 'Army Rangers'"
Matthew 18:1-11 & Revelation 12:7-12

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“Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.” That’s how we end our morning and evening prayers in the Catechism. So how do you envision God’s holy angels?

Our standard image of angels includes wings, of course, bright halos, flowing white robes, beautiful long hair, and even kind, effeminate features. But that’s not entirely Biblical. It would be far better to picture God’s holy angels as battle-hardened soldiers with gear such as breastplates, shields, spears and swords. Or, in 21st century parlance, let’s picture them with helmets and night-vision goggles, flak jackets and fully automatic machine guns.

Today we are talking about God’s “heavenly hosts,” the ranks of angel armies. Let’s call them “St. Michael and his Army Rangers” or “St. Michael and his Navy Seals.”

How do we benefit from picturing Michael and the angels as heavenly Army Rangers or spiritual Navy Seals? Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” God’s angels are spirit beings—not flesh and blood—created sometime in those first six days of time. God sends them out to serve. Whom do they serve? You, of course! You who are to inherit salvation. Just as a nation sends its soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to protect and defend its land and way of life, God also sends His angel armies to protect and defend you, His loved and redeemed children.

Why do we need God’s “heavenly Army Rangers” and “spiritual Navy Seals”? You and I are caught in the middle of a cosmic battle, a heavenly war, that makes World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the War on Terrorism combined look like a game of Tiddly-Winks. It’s the war of “Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels [fighting] back.” It’s the war that started with the serpent’s temptation of Eve and Adam in the Garden. It’s the war that causes you and me to doubt God’s goodness, to turn away from Him, to choose our own path, and to make ourselves “like God.” It’s the war that prompts each of us to live all of life trusting and bowing down to “me-myself-and-I” rather than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As St. Paul says: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). St. Peter gives a different image: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

It’s the cosmic battle that prompts you and I to think and act like the disciples—to worry about who’s the greatest in the kingdom. It’s the heavenly, spiritual war that leads you and I to look down our noses at becoming like children and humbling ourselves like a child. And don’t think we are passive victims in this battle! No, you and I actively, even ambitiously, take up arms and fight against God’s ways. You and I actively wring our hands and twist ourselves in knots as we worry, fret, and complain. We do it when we fret more over graying hair and varicose veins than we do over the demons lurking to sink their claws into us. We do it when we get more worked up over our AC quitting in the middle of July (or even this past week) than we do over the unquenchable fire that we truly deserve because of our doubts and despair of God’s goodness in all things. We do it plenty in the times of hurricanes, earthquakes, and racially charged protests in our city.

So God’s angels—His “heavenly Army Rangers,” His “spiritual Navy Seals”—are His guardian gifts to you. They help you and defend you on earth as they muzzle Satan and his demonic horde. But God’s angels really do not wield swords and spears, or even sniper rifles and Beretta pistols. Rather, they carry a concealed weapon. It’s in their mouths and on their tongues. Their angelic weapon of choice? The Word of God. As St. John says, the angels “have conquered [the dragon] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

The angels’ concealed weapon—the Word of the living God—is a bloody weapon indeed. It’s covered with and soaked in the blood of the Lamb—the Son of God who laid down His life, sacrificed Himself, and paid the ultimate price to conquer the dragon and his lying horde once and for all. And the angelic words shield you from the fiery lies of the dragon. They’re not trivial words. They’re very weighty and mighty words. They’re words that say, “Your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” So you really don’t need wing-ed angels; you need “word-ed angels.” Thus the psalmist teaches us to sing: “Bless the LORD, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word, obeying the voice of His word!” (103:20).

The same goes for those other “angels,” as Scripture calls them, those other messengers sent from God to serve for the sake of you who inherit salvation. Those other “angels,” those other messengers, happen to have flesh and blood. They are the pastors of the Church. They are the men whom God has called and placed among you. They live and work in the stead and by the command of your Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. And they also carry the same concealed weapon as Michael and his heavenly host: the blood-soaked Word of God.

When God sends these flesh and blood “angels” to you, He arms those little messengers with only a word—the Word of the Lamb. In fact, you can proudly say that your pastor is supposed to give you only the Word, only the message of Christ slain for sinners and raised to give life.

You see, it’s this Word that became flesh, dwelt among us, bled out on the cross, and rose again to bring life and immortality to light. It’s this Word that converts you into little children so that you can enter the kingdom of heaven. It’s this Word breathed into the water that gives you new birth from above. It’s this Word that cuts off the hands and feet that are your sins, that cuts to the heart and leads you to confess your sins and receive the Absolution. It’s this Word that comes to you in the Body and Blood of the Supper and makes you a partaker of His never-ending life. It’s this Word that makes each of you truly the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

That’s the concealed weapon of Michael, all the heavenly hosts, and even flesh and blood messengers standing in pulpits. And what a glorious and weighty Word it is! You deserve hell, but He—the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—gives you heaven. He defends and protects you from the dragon and his evil horde. Every time you hear Jesus Christ proclaimed and given out for you, “the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down.”

Now you get to sing:

Christ, the Lord of hosts, unshaken
By the devil’s seething rage,
Thwarts the plan of Satan’s minions;
Wins the strife from age to age;
Conquers sin and death forever;
Slams them in their steely cage. (LSB 521:1)


17 September 2017

Homily for Trinity 14 - 2017

"Cleansed to Praise"
Luke 17:11-19

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When you hear and ponder these ten lepers, you want to think of yourself—suffering the ravages of the leprosy of sin. When you hear and ponder Jesus’ healing of these lepers, you want to remember your Baptism—where Jesus cleanses you of what ails you most. And when you ponder the one cleansed leper, the Samaritan, who returned to Jesus—you want to put yourself in his shoes and take your cue from him on how to live all of your life in your Baptism.

First, let’s consider the ten lepers. Johann Gerhard said, “In these ten lepers is given to us a picture of the human race, which has been infected with the leprosy of sin; for sin is in many respects comparable to leprosy.” (Postilla 2:151). The Bible’s term “leprosy” no doubt refers to something like Hansen’s Disease—a bacterial infection that can affect nerves, skin, and eyes and lead to loss of feeling and even paralysis. Biblical “Leprosy” may also refer to something like eczema—more of a skin rash, or dermatitis, with scaly, flaking skin and itchiness. The real point is that leprosy is a most accurate picture for what ails us most: the infection and disease of sin.

To borrow more from Gerhard, our sin is like leprosy in several respects:
  • Leprosy affects and destroys the whole body. Sin also totally infects, affects and destroys our strength in both body and soul—nothing sound from head to toe.
  • Leprosy is a disease that spreads. So does sin, coming into the world through one man and spreading to us all. St. Paul calls it “the works of the flesh”—you know, all those nasty things of “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger” and so on—all those symptoms that even present themselves in us, at least from time to time.
  • Leprosy, at least in Gerhard’s day, could not be healed by man’s efforts. Today, treatments may prevent the disease from getting worse, but they cannot reverse the  damage. And remember the story of Naaman. He sought healing from the King of Israel, but the King of Israel cried out, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive?” (2 Kgs. 5:7). Sin, though, absolutely cannot be healed by human means—not by doctors, paramedics, or politicians. After all, those “desires of the flesh are against the Spirit.”
  • Leprosy, according to Gerhard, is a “herpetic contagion”—a viral disease—that spreads to others who are healthy. Modern medicine may quibble with just how it spreads. However, sin itself does spread its contamination. Just think of the many ways our fallen world infects us all in thought, word and deed to think, speak and act in ways that go against God’s Word in mistrusting God and not loving our neighbor—“rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.”
  • And leprosy, once it takes hold, eats its way more and more through the body. Likewise, sin. One sin leads to another, and that one easily to yet another. First, the misdeed; then the excuse; then the cover-up; then the lie; and so on.

If it weren't for our leprosy of sin, we would not need police officers and rulings of law courts. If it weren't for our leprosy of sin, we would not have protests, whether peaceful, disruptive, or destructive.

So, let’s imitate the ten lepers as Jesus comes passing along between the Samaria and Galilee of our lives. Let’s lift up our voices and cry out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” And let’s listen and heed Him when He bids us to show ourselves to the priest—no, not those priests at the Jerusalem temple, but a different priest. Which priest? Jesus, our great High Priest who has passed through the heavens (Heb. 2:14). “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 2:15). As Gerhard asked: “How can one be quit of his spiritual leprosy?…One must find his way to Christ, the sole physician for one’s soul” (Postilla, 2:152). “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 2:16). “Offered was He for greatest and for least, / Himself the victim and Himself the priest” (LSB 637:1).

Actually, we don’t have to find our way to Him. He has found His way to us! Just as the ten lepers were cleansed before they found their way to the priests—and not by their own reason or strength, nor by their decision or will—we are cleansed in the bath of our Baptism—not by our own reason or strength or decision or will. Our baptismal bath sprinkles us with the very blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ crucified. After all, He is the One who comes by water and blood; not by the water only but by the water and the blood (1 Jn. 5:6).

In Leviticus 14, cleansing of lepers happened, first, by killing a bird in an earthen vessel over fresh, living water. Then, a live bird, a piece of cedarwood, and a scarlet yarn were dipped in that blood and fresh water. And then, the priest, using the live bird wet with blood and water, would “sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease” (Lev. 14:7). Not only is Jesus both victim and priest for you, He is also the dead bird and the living bird for you. He is the One who cleanses you “by the washing of water with [His] word, so that He might present [you] to Himself in splendor” (Eph. 5:26-27), cleansed of your leprosy of sin.

So now we want to put ourselves in the shoes of the one cleansed leper who returned to Jesus. Now we want to take our cue from him on how to live all of life in our Baptism. I’m sure the other nine former lepers were generically thankful as civic courtesy and politeness would dictate. But they went on to live their lives apart from Jesus. However, the one cleansed leper—the Samaritan—“turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” He actually did more than just giving thanks. He gave Him praise, as Jesus said. He returned to the Giver of the gift of cleansing. He was not merely content to enjoy the gift; he wanted to enjoy and be with the Giver.

That’s living your baptismal life. Not just a generic thankfulness for a quick healing. Not just a slight nod and a mental note that something special happened some time along time ago, but then getting back to “real life” or “your life,” however you might define that for yourself. No, the baptismal life is about living all of life in Jesus, with Jesus, and in the presence of Jesus. Daily contrition and repentance. Drowning that Old Adam in you. Making him die with all sins and evil desires. And then—thank the Lord and sing His praise!—emerging and arising every day to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Your one-time baptismal cleansing becomes your daily routine—not a slogging-through-it routine, but a joyful living in the blood and water that continually heals and cleanses.

We all know how we wrestle with sin every day. That leprous disease keeps flaring up even in us who are cleansed by Jesus’ blood and water. We will keep wrestling with our leprous sin until Jesus returns on the Last Day. It’s not a matter of Jesus’ healing not fully doing its job. It has! But it is a matter of living in faith, continually receiving His cleansing, and thus praising Him as did the Samaritan.

Martin Luther confessed this in the face of those who deny that sin remains after Baptism. The fact that sin remains after Baptism quickly smacks down any perfectionism—that is, thinking you can be free of all sin or attain a sin-free life this side of heaven. It also topples any notion of “once-saved-always-saved.” While the healing for that Samaritan former leper, and the other nine, was instantaneous, Jesus chooses to heal us over the long-haul. The sin is forgiven, to be sure; Jesus’ healing, though, is ongoing. Here’s how Luther expressed it:

“This life…is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.” (“A Defense and Explanation of All Articles” [AE 32:24]).

And so we return to Jesus yet again, around His Table. “Draw near and take the body of the Lord, / And drink the holy blood for you outpoured” (LSB 637:1). We return to receive the healing He gives. We return to give praise to Him. “Let us praise the Word Incarnate, / Christ, who suffered in our place. / Jesus died and rose victorious / That we may know God by grace. / Let us sing for joy and gladness, / Seeing what our God has done; / Let us praise the true Redeemer, / Praise the One who makes us one” (LSB 849:3). Amen.

10 September 2017

Homily for Trinity 13 - 2017

"Christ, Our Samaritan"
Luke 10:23-37

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On January 17, 1546, Dr. Martin Luther preached what would be his last sermon in Wittenberg. He would preach five more sermons after that in other places before his death on February 18, 1546. In his final Wittenberg sermon, Luther focused on the text of Romans 12:3, where St. Pauls says, “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Luther began his sermon by highlighting two main points that are to be taught and preached in Christian pulpits. First, we ensure that “faith in Christ is rightly preached.” Second, we preach that “the fruits and good works are rightly taught and practiced” (AE 51:372). First, we preach the “good tree,” to use the picture Jesus gives; then, we preach the fruits of faith that grow from that tree. Then Luther appeals to and explains the parable of the Good Samaritan, our Gospel for today. Notice who the Good Samaritan is:

After baptism there still remains much of the old Adam. For, as we have often said, it is tame that sin is forgiven in baptism, but we are not yet altogether clean, as is shown in the parable of the Samaritan, who carried the man wounded by robbers to an inn [Luke 10:30–37]. He did not take care of him in such a way that he healed him at once, but rather bound up his wounds and poured on oil. The man who fell among robbers suffered two injuries. First, everything that he had was taken from him, he was robbed; and second, he was wounded, so that he was half-dead and would have died, if the Samaritan had not come to him. Adam fell among the robbers and implanted sin in us all. If Christ, the Samaritan, had not come, we should all have had to die. He it is who binds our wounds, carries us into the church and is now healing us. So we are now under the Physician’s care. The sin, it is true, is wholly forgiven, but it has not been wholly purged. If the Holy Spirit is not ruling men, they become corrupt again; but the Holy Spirit must cleanse the wounds daily. (AE 51:373).

Now there’s a Gospel-driven, Christ-centered reading of the Good Samaritan! It’s the very thing that many prophets and kings through the Old Testament desired to see, but did not have the opportunity; they just kept looking forward to it in faith. It’s the very thing that the disciples did get to see, even if they did not quite get it until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s the very thing that the lawyer who stood up to test Jesus needed to hear, but he thought too highly of himself.

Earlier in Luke chapter 10, Jesus sent out the seventy-two, instructing and authorizing them to preach His peace and heal in His name. When they returned, they were exuberant that even the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name (Lk. 10:17). But Jesus had to temper their enthusiasm, lest they think more highly of themselves than they ought. “Do not rejoice in this,” Jesus said, “that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:2). Then Jesus the Son rejoiced in the Holy Spirit that God the Father actually hides these things from the worldly wise and understanding folks, and instead reveals them to little children—that is, to those who receive Him by faith.

So the lawyer stands up to test Jesus. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Wrong question, Mr. Lawyer! Not only do you not do anything to receive an inheritance—after all, an inheritance is pure gift—but you’re also thinking more highly of yourself than you ought. But Jesus plays along. Mr. Lawyer asks a what-shall-I-do question, so Jesus gives a here’s-what-to-do answer. He points the lawyer to the Law—love God with every ounce and fiber of your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. “Do this, and you will live.” Oops! The lawyer knows he’s been caught. Can he truly keep all that law? What about those less-than-desirable neighbors? “There must be an exception, an escape clause, for who really counts as my neighbor,” he thinks. Then comes Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan.

You see, the lawyer thought more highly of himself than he ought, and even that height of self-esteem was not high enough. He did not realize that, actually, he was the man who had been robbed and beaten and was lying half-dead in the ditch. He did not realize that he was in need of a Good Samaritan to rescue him and bind up his wounds. After all, the priest and the Levite—symbols of the old law itself—could not and did not help. “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.” Only the Good Samaritan could help.

Only the Good Samaritan can help you and me. We too are that man who has been robbed and beaten by sin, death, and the devil. We are the ones lying half-dead in the ditch along the road. As Luther proclaimed, “Adam fell among the robbers and implanted sin in us all.” If we want to be like the lawyer—thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought—then we only “annul the covenant previously ratified by God” and make void God’s promise of rescue and healing in Jesus. If we want to think and believe and live as though our eternal inheritance “comes by the law”—asking the what-shall-I-do questions in our life with God—then we miss the point that Jesus makes in telling this parable about Himself.

You see, Jesus does it all. He is the Samaritan who comes to your rescue. When He was accused of being a Samaritan and having a demon, Jesus only objected to having a demon (Jn. 8:48-49). He never objected to being a Samaritan, because, after all, He is the Good Samaritan par excellence. Again, as Luther proclaimed, “He it is who binds our wounds, carries us into the church and is now healing us. So we are now under the Physician’s care.” Here we have the cleansing bath of His Baptism, the healing therapy of His words of forgiveness, the sustaining, life-giving medicine of His Supper.

This is the sober judgment of faith that St. Paul urges us to take on—the sober judgment of receiving Christ, our Samaritan and His healing care.

To our friends from Emmaus, this healing is especially for you this day. You have labored long and hard and faithfully to keep the Jefferson Avenue branch of the Good Samaritan’s hospital open and functioning. You have labored long and hard and faithfully to offer other people, robbed and beaten by sin, death, and Satan, the very healing of Jesus and His forgiveness. But this chapter of the Emmaus hospital had to come to a close. And now you no doubt feel much like the man lying half-dead in the ditch. But please do not beat yourselves up. Please do not rob yourselves of the forgiveness and peace that Jesus has given and still gives to you. “He it is who binds [your] wounds, carries [you] into the church and is now healing [you].” Good Samaritan Jesus binds up your wounds so that you may find healing in His wounds. He places you on His beast of burden as He bears your burdens. He still brings you into His inn—His Church, still takes care of you, and still pays for all of your care until He returns.

And I know I can speak for your brothers and sisters here at Hope. With sober judgment we say, “Welcome! We welcome you as fellow sinners being healed by Christ, our Samaritan. Please join us as we all convalesce together under Jesus’ compassion.”

The healing of Christ, our Samaritan, is also for all of us who are concerned over the recent hurricanes—first Harvey, now Irma, and possibly Jose yet to come. Some people are making news by pronouncing these hurricanes as God’s judgment—for our current president, for our decaying Western values, for whatever. Perhaps…but perhaps not. There’s just one problem with pronouncing these hurricanes as God’s specific judgment for some specific problem: God Himself has not clearly told us in His Word. What He has told us is that when tragedies like this happen, we do not point out other peoples’ sins. No, Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3, 5). Translation: do not think more highly of yourself than you ought in pronouncing such judgments on God’s behalf. Added translation: Don’t miss the healing of Good Samaritan Jesus. We all are that man lying half dead in the ditch, even as hurricanes roar. Jesus comes to rescue and heal us all. And, yes, as we convalesce, we get to be neighbors to those who fall prey to such disasters. We get to show the fruits of faith by showing charity and giving relief aid.

This is the Good News of our Good Samaritan, Jesus Himself. Amen.

03 September 2017

Homily for Trinity 12 - 2017

"First, the Hearing, Then the Speaking"
Mark 7:31-37

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You may be familiar with the “telephone game.” Perhaps you’ve played it a time or two. It starts with a simple sentence whispered into one person’s ear. Then, one-by-one, that person whispers the sentence to the next person, and that person to the next, and so on. The fun of the game is in hearing the giggles when the sentence suddenly becomes funny, or seeing the puzzled looks when the whispered sentence sounds odd. Then, by the time the sentence reaches the last person in the group, the sentence is completely different than the first sentence uttered.

Usually the “telephone game” is used to teach that gossip is bad, because details get twisted and lost in transmission. True enough! But it also reveals something else. Our ears and our mouths are not so reliable after all. You and I may not be completely deaf or have a speech impediment as the man in our Gospel, but we still need Jesus’ healing in our ears and our mouths.

The first thing we learn of the man in today’s Gospel is that he was deaf. He could not hear. And if you know anyone with a hearing problem, especially from early on in life, you’ve probably noticed a correlation. If that person cannot hear well, he/she cannot speak well either. The two go together: First, the hearing; then the speaking.

So, the deaf and mute man has two problems—a hearing problem and a speaking problem. The same is true for you and me. If you are not clearly speaking Christ and His forgiveness to people around you, chances are you are not hearing it all that well either. First comes the hearing; then comes the speaking.

You would think that speaking of Christ and His forgiveness would be easy for us Christians—second nature, in fact. After all, isn’t that what we hear and treasure week after week in the Divine Service? First, we confess our sins, and Jesus is gracious to forgive all our sins through the spoken Absolution: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We hear from each other when we sing these words: “O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.” We hear the goodness of Jesus in the sermon. We confess—speak together—the Creed to each other. We even get to hear these words as we sing them to each other: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people….”

So, if you and I have an impediment in speaking Christ to other people, it’s not because the words are absent or in short supply. It’s because we’re not hearing Him that well. You and I are intent on hearing other things, other news, other messages. Your ears and mine get filled with the sounds of the culture and the things we like to hear, rather than the things we need to hear. We so like the sounds of the radio or iTunes, so we can talk about the latest hit release or download. We like to hear the latest buzz, the celebrity gossip, the depressing news story, the latest gaffe from a politician, the Midwest Sports Report, the weather report, or the big rumor about someone we know. And then, quite naturally, we talk about these things. First comes the hearing; then comes the speaking.

And just how do you and I use our mouths? We complain. We moan and we groan. We put other people down—even for the slightest of slights. Perhaps some of those “colorful metaphors” of a four-letter variety come slipping or spewing out. Perhaps we love to tell the stories—whether true or false—about other people. Whatever the case, we are revealing the impediment in our speech. Our tongues are weighed down by the ball and chain of our sin.

So, Jesus must come and heal us in our ears and our mouths, just as He healed the deaf and mute man. Remember how Jesus healed the man. The details are crucial. First, Jesus takes the man away from the crowd. No distractions here! Jesus wanted the deaf and mute man to focus only on Him. Then, Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears. Not only would Jesus get that infamous ear wax on His fingers, but by touching the man, Jesus was identifying with him. He was taking the man’s hearing problem on Himself. He was also communicating to the man what He was about to do. Then Jesus spat and touched the man’s tongue. Excellent communication skills! How else do you tell a man who can’t hear that you’re about to unshackle his tongue as well? And finally, with a look up to heaven, and a sigh at how creation is broken by sin, Jesus said, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

And the man was healed—restored in body and soul. “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” The man got his ears and his mouth back—rescued from the bondage of sin and Satan, restored to the way that God had intended from creation, ready to use in hearing and confessing Christ.

Dear saints, Jesus heals you of your deaf ears and of your speech impediments too. He takes you away from the multitude of the world and brings you to this very place—a place that’s supposed to be different from the hustle and bustle of the work-a-day, shop-till-you-drop world, a place that’s supposed to sound different from the clamoring, pulsating din of everyday news and commentary, hits and downloads and text messages. Jesus wants you to focus on Him. You see, in this place He heals you. Every time you hear God’s Word read, proclaimed, sung, or even see it poured over someone with water, think of it as Jesus putting His fingers into your ears to open them. Jesus also touches your tongue with His very Body and Blood to communicate with you. Here’s what He says: “Be opened!” That is, “Ears, be opened to hear the goodness of My salvation for you. Tongue, be released to speak the forgiveness of Christ to other people.”

Not only does Jesus touch your ears with His words and your tongue with His Body and Blood, but He also took your flesh and blood on Himself. He identified so fully with you that He even took all of your sin, all of your doubts, and all of your fears on Himself. And He died on the cross and shed His innocent blood to restore you to life with God. Now that’s good news! Not only are your ears opened up to hear Jesus, but heaven is opened up to receive you. Not only is your mouth unshackled to speak Jesus, but the ball and chain of your sin is loosed and you are free from sin.

So how can you not speak Christ to people around you? How can you hold back on speaking the Good News of life and forgiveness in Jesus? Remember how the deaf and mute man came into contact with Jesus in the first place: “And they brought to Him….” Some friends brought the man to Jesus. They themselves had heard Jesus’ life-giving words, and they wanted their deaf and mute friend to enjoy Jesus’ healing also. Evangelism is just that simple. In John chapter 1 we see another simple evangelism story. Philip is talking to Nathanael. He says, “We’ve seen the Messiah, the Savior!” Nathanael questions him. But Philip simply says, “Come and see.”

That, dear saints, is what Jesus also calls you to do: bring your loved ones and your dear friends here to meet Jesus. Here, in the Divine Service, Jesus Himself takes you and other people away from the world. He puts His Word into your ears and theirs. He touches your tongues and theirs with His very Body and Blood—the same Body and Blood broken and shed on the Cross. Also remember this helpful little pearl of wisdom from The Lutheran Study Bible: “One of the greatest joys in life is that someone comes to faith in Jesus because they heard the Gospel from you” (On 1 Cor. 1:14, emph. added).

So, what did the man do after Jesus healed him? No doubt he enjoyed his new-found hearing. No doubt he enjoyed speaking plainly and clearly, especially of the One who healed him. No doubt, he spoke of Jesus the healer to all who would listen. Sure, some didn’t want to hear him. Some may have thought he was, well, wacko. But I doubt the formerly deaf and mute man would let that bother him. He was probably much like a young bride-to-be with her new engagement ring, or like a young man with his new car. He just couldn’t wait to let people know. He just couldn’t wait to bring other people to be healed by Jesus. That’s what happens when Jesus opens your ears to hear His Word proclaimed and releases your tongue with His Body and Blood. Amen.