The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Mark 7: [24-30] 31-37
Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 07 September 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Holy Scripture was given in human language. The Old Testament was recorded in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in everyday, “koine” Greek with occasional Aramaic words and phrases thrown in. To determine what it says we need to apply the rules of language, such as grammar and logic. It is right to use reason as a servant of the text, but the guidance of the Holy Spirit is essential for its proper understanding. (SC Explanation 5)
Unlike all other books, Holy Scripture is God’s Word and Truth. It is wrong to question or deny the truthfulness of the sacred text as happens, for example, with historical criticism. (SC Ex 6) And that’s exactly the problem when reason, the “thinker,” is elevated above the Biblical text and is considered more authoritative. Reason is a wonderful servant of the Word, but a terrible and terrifying master.
Two hundred years ago, a man went through the New Testament and cut out anything that didn’t make sense to him, especially the miracles, Jesus’ references to His own divinity, and even Jesus’ Resurrection. This man claimed to believe in Jesus, but his edited “Jesus” was not born of a virgin, was not Son of God, did no miracles, and never rose from the dead. Thomas Jefferson may have been a great author, president, and dealmaker behind the Louisiana Purchase, but his edition of the Bible leaves much to be desired. All you have left is Jesus as a “good moral teacher,” and if that’s all He is, a pretty weak one at that.
Seriously, if one cut out all the signs, all the fulfilled prophecy, all the rebuke of sin, all the teaching about heaven, the divinity of Christ, and the miracles, you would have a short New Testament—two words—“Jesus wept.” And why wouldn’t He?
Today’s appointed reading from the Gospel according to St. Mark presents two miracles of our Lord. We will focus on the second one this morning. Our Church Body split in the 1970’s over so called “historical criticism” being used to interpret the Scriptures. Who are we to think that we’re wiser than Our Lord Himself? Why is the miraculous so hard to swallow? If it weren’t for the Resurrection of Our Lord, we would all be condemned!
In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod today, we often take for granted the opportunity we have to meditate upon the Biblical text at face value. Hearing the Bible as God’s Word and hearing a sermon with law and Gospel properly identified and distinguished are both rare in American Christianity as well as Lutheranism around the world.
Then [Jesus] He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.
Here is a man who could not understand Aramaic, the common language of the day among the Jews, any better than you could. He’d never spoken it, because he’d never heard it. He could hardly talk. He had a speech impediment. These are good translations of the Greek, “thick-voiced.” What sounds this man could make were unintelligible. He couldn’t even hear himself.
If Jesus were merely a “good moral teacher,” if this text was only intended to be taken as myth, as liberals claim, why would these people bother to bring Jesus to this man, or even to lower themselves to beg Jesus to heal Him?
And taking him aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
Put yourself in this man’s place for a moment. You’ve lived in a silent world since you were born. You struggle to communicate with those around you, often pointing, grunting, or moving your head to indicate yes or no. Now, all of a sudden, perhaps for the first time in your adult life, a multitude, a crowd gathers around you and some people among them bring a stranger to you.
It only makes sense that this ordinary, but kind-appearing man draws you away from the crowd to a place in private. It’s less stressful. This stranger would have your full attention. And He would help calm you down. But then, this stranger would do some things that would appear odd to a group of people. To you, though, they actually make sense. You appreciate the effort He makes to communicate with you. And, you realize later, do more than just communicate.
Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears. He was often startled by people walking up out of sight. He knew he was missing something. By actions, Jesus says, “I know about deafness. I love you.”
Then, Jesus spit and touched the man’s tongue. Perhaps this makes us uncomfortable. One does not spit in polite company. Nor does one do what Jesus did next. This sign did not make the final cut in American Sign Language. By actions, Jesus says, “I know about speech impediments. I love you.”
Jesus looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh… A look toward heaven speaks volumes. We all know what that means. And a deep sigh? A deep sigh moves the whole upper body. This reminds us of the groaning prayer of faith without words, when the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf. Jesus prays to our Father, Abba. We are blessed that St. Mark records for us the very word, the very vocable that Jesus used there in that deaf man’s hearing: And taking him aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
Dr. Lenski comments, “The man understood the sign language of Jesus. It is impossible to assume the contrary, i.e., that Jesus had failed in His effort to have the [man] understand these signs. We may say that this language of Jesus was intended to arouse faith in the man. But it would be unwarranted to make the miracle that now followed dependent upon the man’s faith. It depended wholly on the will of Jesus. Jesus sometimes tries to instill faith before the miracle. He sometimes lets faith follow after the miracle. It all depends on the case. [The man] may well have received [as gift] a spark of faith before the almighty word was spoken; but it was not his faith that enabled Jesus to heal him. It was solely the power and will of Jesus.”
Our Lord did what even speech therapy, cochlear implants, and years of Aramaic lessons cannot. The man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
The KJV has “dumb” rather than mute. My, how word meanings have changed since 1611! That is why having a current, accurate, understandable English translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek is so important. That’s why learning those ancient Biblical languages is so important for future Lutheran teachers and pastors.
Jesus makes both the deaf hear and the mute speak. And so much more! We have heard of Jesus as Physician, one who calls sinners, not those who think they are already righteous. When Jesus is your Physician, He is the Great Physician of body and soul. When He tends your illnesses, cares for your sins, He cares for you body and soul. Jesus has the big picture, the whole picture in mind.
A pilot explained to an inquisitive passenger how a huge airplane hitting the ground at 130 mph is stopped. The airplane uses three braking systems working together. One is the spoilers on the wings, which create a drag of wind resistance. Second are the brakes on the wheels of the plane. And third is the reverse thrust of the engines. As the aircraft lands, the pilot throws the jet engines into reverse. The thrust blows out of the front rather than out of the rear of the engine, pushing the aircraft backward and helping it slow down. Though Christ seemed to be putting on the brakes when He ordered the admiring crowds to tell no one about His miracle, it was, like the braking system of an airplane, for an essential purpose. The crowds would not yet be able to understand that Jesus’ healings were not ends in themselves, but a preview of His restoring all things. That would happen in good time—on the cross.
In the light of the cross, we better understand suffering. We are to yearn for the restoration of all things and not get too comfortable in this world. The Resurrection of Our Lord on Easter Sunday is an Eighth day of creation. The dead will be raised with bodies imperishable! Creation will be restored. Then, all will be healed.
In the meantime, we eagerly and earnestly pray for those with hearing impairments, for those with chronic pain, for couples who are unable to conceive or bear children, for all who suffer illness or injury, and for all who undergo or recover from surgery, that the God who by His miraculous might opens eyes and ears would grant patience, strength, and—according to His will—restoration of health, and grant grace to all who endure afflictions for a time.
In the meantime, we are also given opportunities to tell the good news about Jesus to those who do not know of Him, or do not know of Him fully, to those who can hear, and to those who cannot.
The story of LCMS deaf missions begins in the period following the American Civil War. Lutheran congregations involved in the efforts to provide homes for children left fatherless by the war established the Lutheran Children's Friend Society. An orphanage established in 1873 led to a school for the deaf, assistance for adults, and eventually, training to better incorporate the deaf into hearing congregations.
The 1896 convention of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Fort Wayne, Indiana, had the opportunity to witness the fruit of this ministry, as a pastor led worship in Sign, assisted by deaf members of his congregation. During that convention, Synod adopted Deaf Missions as an official mission program. That pastor was elected chairman of the new board, and within six months, four other men were called to work full-time with Deaf people.
Today the LCMS has 63 primarily Deaf congregations in 25 states served by 30 full-time pastors or missionaries, plus three pastors in part-time deaf ministry. About 200 "hearing" congregations have regular interpreted ministry for Deaf persons; less than a half-dozen of the pastors of those hearing churches are able to Sign. Profoundly Deaf communicant members in the LCMS number about 8,000.
Both LCMS seminaries provide sign language training to both students and members of their communities and provide interpreters for classes and daily chapel services. The Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, offers additional courses, which expose students to the church's need for deaf missions and various models for meeting those needs. The seminary also supports hearing churches with interpreted ministries through its summer Church Interpreter Training Institute. Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, is home to Synod's Deaf Institute of Theology, which enables deaf Lutherans to receive mentored training for service in their home congregations.
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has enjoyed a long and fruitful ministry among Deaf people, sharing the Good News of God's love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ with those whose primary mode of communication is Sign. One of the unique strengths of the mission has been the leadership of Deaf Christians in the ministry. In 1959 Rev. William Ludwig became the first Deaf Lutheran to graduate from the seminary and receive ordination into the pastoral ministry. Many other Deaf people have followed his lead, as they have given themselves to the Gospel ministry as pastors, teachers, parish assistants, and foreign missionaries.
Many, like you, have heard the call of Christ. But there are many deaf and hearing people around the world who have not heard the good news about Jesus, about the complete forgiveness of sins in Him, and about the restoration of all creation beginning in Him. Our Lord would have that all ears that have not heard the good news of healing through the Cross would be opened, fully opened, Ephphatha!
A mission hymn, number 831 (1, 2, 4) in Lutheran Service Book, reminds us of the mission of the Church and all Christians: “How shall they hear,” who have not heard News of a Lord who loved and came; Nor known His reconciling word, Nor learned to trust a Savior’s name? “To all the world,” to ev’ry place, Neighbors and friends and far-off lands, Preach the good news of saving grace; Go while the great commission stands. “Lord, here am I”: Your fire impart To this poor cold self-centered soul; Touch but my lips, my hands, my heart, And make a world for Christ my goal. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.