Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity - Mk 7:31-37

                                                                                                      Trinity 12

                                                                                                       Mk 7:31-37

At the beginning of July I had a new experience in life – a first for me. I had to have a tooth pulled. Now I have known many people who have had a tooth pulled. But I myself had never had this done. And that was just fine with me. If I made out a “bucket list,” having a tooth pulled would certainly not have been on it.

However at the beginning of the year I was told that I had a wisdom tooth that was deteriorating. The dentist said that it would have to come out sooner or later. If we did it sooner, the removal would be easy and straightforward. However, the longer I waited the more difficult it would become.

I didn’t exactly jump at the opportunity to have the tooth pulled. In fact, I did nothing. But, when I went back to have my teeth cleaned at the end of June, I heard the same thing. Now mentally prepared, I scheduled it to be done in July.

I have heard horror stories about people having teeth pulled, so I will admit that I was apprehensive about what awaited me. However, I have to say – there was really no pain at all in the procedure. There wasn’t even any pain from a shot, since they had already numbed things with an analgesic gel. Apart from the disconcerting sound resonating in my head as the tooth was wrenched out, there really wasn’t anything unpleasant about it.

Needless to say, I didn’t schedule any visits with members for that afternoon. I did, however, go back into the office to get some work done since I felt fine. And it was then that I realized I had one issue. I was still receiving phone calls. The problem was that half of my mouth was numb. And on top of that, the hole where the tooth had been was now packed with gauze to stop the bleeding. The left side of my mouth bulged out like a chipmunk. This situation made it rather difficult to talk and people who called me that afternoon must have thought that either I had started happy hour early, or that I had some kind of speech issue.

In the Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus encounters a man who really does have a speech problem. Not only that, he was also deaf. Our Lord responds by healing the man, and in doing so he showed that he had come to overcome sin and all that it does to us as we live in this fallen world. Our text this morning begins by telling us: “Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had just healed the daughter of the Syrophenician woman who continued to seek Jesus’ help in faith, even when he seemed to reject her pleas. Now he had left the area around Tyre and Sidon which were north of Israel and had returned to the Sea of Galilee. However, he was on the eastern side of the lake, the area known as the Decapolis – which is Greek for ten cities. This was still an area that was more Gentile than Jewish.

We learn that they brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. It is interesting to see how their request focuses on Jesus touching the man. It is an important reminder for us about the incarnation of the Son of God. John tells us in his Gospel that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The One who created the universe took humanity into himself without ceasing to be God. He became true God and true man. He became a man at a real place and time in our world. This is no “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” He was present there with people and he could touch them. He was present in our world and he was here to do something about it.

Jesus took the man aside from the crowd privately. Then he put his fingers into man’s ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. Then he looked up to heaven and he sighed. Our translation says “sighed,” but this word also means “groaned,” and that gives us a good sense of how we should understand it. Jesus sighs – he groans – because he is in the presence of what sin has done in this world. Sin has brought illness and every other physical problem that is not very good. Sin has brought these things and they are all manifestations of sin at work as it leads towards its ultimate end – death.

Of course sin doesn’t only manifest itself in illness and physical problems. It also causes what Jesus called a “heart problem.” Earlier in this chapter our Lord said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Sometimes we fully embrace these sins and just go with it. Other times they seem to spring up out of nowhere as unwanted thoughts, temptations and inclinations. But either way they are sin that brings death. And even more significantly, they are sins that bring God’s eternal judgment. 

The Son of God entered into our world in order to provide the answer to sin and all that it has done. Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus declared that in his person and ministry the saving reign of God had entered into the world in order to overcome Satan, sin and death. The Gospel – the good news – is that God did not leave us in sin and death after the Fall. Instead he promised a descendant of Eve who would bring salvation.

That is what we see beginning to happen in our text. We learn that after Jesus sighed he said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” The man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Jesus had brought the reign of God to this man by reversing what sin had done to him. He made him whole again. When the crowd saw what had happened they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Jesus came to provide the complete answer to sin. Yet to do this – to redeem us and make atonement for sin – he had to go to the cross. Jesus said that he did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many. Christ received God’s judgment against sin in our place. He did not sidestep death, but in order to overcome death he passed through it himself. He died in the agony of the cross.

Certainly, on Good Friday Jesus’ death looked like defeat. It looked like failure. But Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, was the One in whom God’s saving reign had entered into the world. God’s reign was present to defeat death. And so on the third day the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. He emerged from the tomb with a resurrected and transformed body that can never die again. He began the change that will belong to all of us when he returns in glory on the Last Day.

However, that change is still a “not yet” in our life as Christians. We know that it will happen because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. But one of the challenges of preaching on the healing miracles of Jesus is that we are still waiting for our turn. Yes, Jesus healed a man who was deaf and had difficulty speaking. That’s great. But you are still struggling with chronic back pain or diabetes or congestive heart failure. Jesus healed this man in the first century A.D. near the Sea of Galilee. But what does that mean for us here and now, and the physical problems that still plague us?

The challenge of faith is the recognition that right now it does not promise any immediate answer. Our text today provides no guarantee that Jesus is going to heal you here before you go home. But then again, in the same way, not every unhealthy person in Palestine at the time of Jesus was healed by him. 

Instead, through this Word of God the Holy Spirit calls you to renewed faith in Jesus Christ. Through this Word of God the Holy Spirit nourishes and strengthens your faith in Jesus. The Spirit holds up again before you who Jesus is and what he has done for you. Because in Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, you have received peace with God. You have seen God reveal the depths of his love for you. You have seen that God has acted in power to defeat Satan, sin and death. And because he has done this in Jesus, you know that it will be yours too in all its completeness.

To keep you in this faith; to encourage you on the way in faith, Jesus still comes and touches you. That’s what will happen in a few moments in the Sacrament of the Altar. He will place his true body and blood into your mouth. He will give you the very body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Through this touch he leads you to continue to trust in him – to hold on to him in faith no matter what ailments you are experiencing. Through this touch he provides his guarantee that you will share in the change of the resurrection and that he is here to sustain you each step of the way until we all arrive at the Last Day. For on that day, we too will say, ““He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

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