03 September 2017

Homily for Trinity 12 - 2017

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

Listen here.

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.

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