31 August 2020

Homily for Trinity 12 - 2020

"Freed from Isolation"

Mark 7:31-37

The deaf and mute man was cut off from everyone around him. Other people could talk, but the deaf man could not hear them. He could try to speak in his muffled, muted speech, but people around him could not understand a word he said. This poor man was isolated, alone in his own little world. Quite the lonely life. Until Jesus. When Jesus healed this man, He freed him from his life of lonely isolation. When Jesus restored this man’s hearing and speech, He also ushered him into a new and vibrant life of hearing and talking with God and other people.

Just as our gracious Lord healed the deaf and mute man, He also heals us. What He did physically for the deaf man in Gentile territory, He does spiritually for us week in and week out. Not only does He open our ears to hear Him and His message of mercy, but He also rescues us from our isolation. Not only does He loose our tongues to sing His praises and confess Him to others, but He also ushers us into vibrant life with Him and with each other.

The man’s deafness was certainly a result of Adam and Eve not listening to God in the Garden. His physical state of being tongue-tied was surely a result of Adam and Eve using their tongues to taste the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge—that one tree for which God said, “You shall not eat of it.” So when Jesus takes this man aside, puts His fingers into his ears, spits, and touches his tongue, our Lord reverses the age-old plague of sin and death. It’s a plague that closes our ears and shackles our tongues. It’s a plague that isolates us from God and from one another.

Perhaps you’ve noticed this plague of isolation when you talk with other people. Think of times when you and a family member are just not communicating well. You’re both speaking English; your mouths and ears are functioning fine, giving and receiving sound waves. You can hear and understand each other’s sounds and syllables. But for some reason he or she is not hearing what you’re saying; you’re not getting what he or she is talking about. You’re isolated from each other.

Such conversations lead to frustration and misunderstanding. Then, instead of listening to what the other person is actually saying, you’re planning your response to something just said, or you’re strategizing how to make your next point or “win” your case. Or, worse yet, as the other person is talking, your mind is off in a galaxy far, far away, wondering what’s for dinner. Your ears and tongue may be functioning just fine, but you’re still in isolation.

Our isolation really shows up when we get upset with what other people say to us. A friend may say something as a matter of fact, but you take it as a put down or an insult. You might take it as an obstacle to some dream or hope that you have. Perhaps you invite your friends over to play cards. They respond, “Sorry, we can’t make it. We have a prior commitment.” In your isolation, you start wondering, “Am I not good enough?” or “What’s wrong with me?” It’s the isolation of our sin and death.

This isolation especially separates us from God. When we get so wrapped up in our own little world of daily demands and hectic schedules, listening to God in His Word is far from our minds. We may talk a lot with loved ones, friends or colleagues, but talking with God in prayer? We tend to put that off, tell ourselves we don’t know how to pray, convince ourselves we’re not that good at it. Do you ever feel like your tongue is shackled when you pray? It’s our isolation of sin and death.

It’s the isolation that Jesus comes to heal and wash away by His blood. As Jesus healed the deaf-mute man, He also heals you. As our merciful Lord had compassion on the man isolated in his deafness and silence, He also cares enough to rescue you from your sin and death. This same Son of God joined Himself to our human flesh and blood to restore it to God’s original design. This same Lord of mercy endured the isolation from His closest disciples as they fled from Him. This same Lord hung on a cross carrying the full weight of humanity’s sin all by Himself. This same Savior plunged into the deep, dark isolation of death in order to open the graves of Adam, Eve and all the dead so that His vibrant life might burst forth for all to enjoy.

This same Jesus comes to you in your Baptism. He puts His fingers into your ears, spits, and touches your tongue even as the Spirit-filled waters cleanse you from sin and give you life. With your ears opened and your tongue loosed, you are brought into the Lord’s Church. Here you are no longer alone, no longer isolated. Here you get to enjoy the vibrant sounds of God’s Word and the joyous notes of praise sung by people around you. Here you learn how to live in harmony with others healed as you are.

This same Jesus comes to you in Confession and Absolution—and not just the general Confession on Sunday mornings, but especially when you come to receive the Holy Absolution in private. Here you get to confess those specific sins of not listening to God or to your loved ones, friends, or co-workers. Here you get to confess your many ways of isolating yourself from God and your fellow Christians by your self-centered thoughts, words, or deeds. And when you confess, your pastor speaks our Lord’s healing words into your ears. Yes, your pastor is a sinner like you, but what matters is what your Lord does. In the words of Absolution, your Lord Jesus again puts His fingers into your ears to open them up. And when your ears are opened in the forgiveness of your particular sins, you get to enjoy the vibrant sounds of life with God and renewed life with people around you.

And in the Eucharist, your Lord Jesus again touches your tongue so that it can speak and sing His praises and then build up your neighbor. Think of that as you come to the Lord’s Table this morning. With His very Body and Blood under the bread and wine your Lord looses your tongue from those unkind, bitter, even judgmental words you speak against someone near and dear to you. Unshackled from such sins, your tongue has new life to thank and praise God. Your tongue has new life to speak kindly to and graciously about people around you. Strengthened and fortified by Christ’s life-giving Body and Blood, you may use your tongue to declare the wonderful deeds of our Savior. As the hymn leads us to sing:
“Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of Thy name” (LSB 528:1-2).
The daily prayer liturgy of Matins begins with these words: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.” That’s what our tongues were made for! “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:10). But we don’t do that in individual isolation. No, we get to speak, sing, and praise in the Lord’s Church even when we pray alone at home. The Matins liturgy also sings what our ears are made for: “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells.” When our Lord opens our ears and looses our tongues, we are rescued from our isolation. We are restored to life with Him; we are rejoined to the people around us. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Now we get to listen well to our loving Lord and to our neighbors. Now we get to speak God’s wonderful deeds and build one another up in love. Amen.

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