Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sermon -- 16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 9, 2018)

MARK 7:31-37

HERE IS A SIGN
THAT BRINGS SALVATION.

In the name + of Jesus.

     People are often perplexed by Jesus' instructions.  Following this miraculous healing, Jesus charged them to tell no one.  But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. (Mark 7:36)  It seems counter-intuitive.  You would think that Jesus would want everyone talking about him.  The more stories, the more people who want to see Jesus.  The more people who want to see Jesus, the more Jesus gets to preach the Gospel to them.  But Jesus didn't want this publicity.  Jesus charged them to tell no one.  But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. (Mark 7:36)  Some think that Jesus was using reverse psychology here, but I can't think of a single place in all the Gospels where Jesus used reverse psychology on anyone.  Jesus spoke very plainly and directly so that we do not fail to grasp his meaning. 
     The reason Jesus had charged the people not to talk about his miraculous healing is revealed in the confession the people made about Jesus.  St. Mark wrote: They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:36-37)  I'm sure it was meant as high praise.  But it fails to confess who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do.  While miracles brought healing, they did not bring salvation.
     700 years before Jesus entered the world, the prophet Isaiah had foretold this: “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:4-6)  Isaiah's prophecy tells us what we are to learn from Jesus' miraculous healing.  The miraculous signs that Jesus did were just that: signs.  The miracles were not only acts of mercy, they were signs to announce who he was.  The one who makes the deaf hear and the mute speak is God in the flesh.  Here were signs that bring salvation.  They declared that Isaiah's prophecy had been fulfilled.  God had come to save.
     We aren't any different than the people Jesus spoke to.  When we hear Isaiah's prophecy about what the Lord would come to do, we get excited about the miraculous signs, too.  Like the crowds, we are amazed that Jesus would open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, and give strength to the legs of the lame and the tongues of the mute.  Who wouldn't be impressed by that?  And who wouldn't want that?  We recognize that disabilities are just that—a lack of ability to see, hear, speak, walk, or whatever.  While we ought not shame anyone who has such a disability, we also know that it is not normal.  We make efforts so that a disability does not become an inability.  We want to love them, aid them, and include them so that anyone with a disability can be assured that they are precious.
     Therefore, the citizens of the Decapolis brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and mute.  This man wanted to hear and to speak, and his friends desired that for him too.  In mercy and in fulfillment of Isaiah's words, Jesus healed him.  And the people praised Jesus for his healing.  “He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:37) 
     Then how disappointing that such miraculous healings will not be done today.  It is not that God is incapable of healing whomever he wants however he wants.  It is that Jesus' reason for coming is not just to make our bodies whole.  Can you imagine what it would be like if we offered a pill or an elixir that cured every body of its ailment?  We would have lines out the door every single day of people who want to be cured of every disability, disease, ache, or pain they have.  Would you blame them?  The world would praise us for making the deaf hear, the mute speak, the disabled whole, and everyone pain free, just as they praised Jesus in the Decapolis.  But just like the people in the Decapolis, that is where their praises and desires would end.  We all desire pain-free, care-free, stress-free lives.  We look for all kinds of medicines and life hacks to make that happen.  And once our bodies are tended to, we go on our way to find our happiness in this world again—as if the best this world has to offer is the best we can get.
     When Jesus traveled from place to place, the people brought their sick and disabled people to Jesus.  In mercy, Jesus healed them.  But Jesus did not set up a clinic to cure all ills.  In fact, Jesus discouraged the continual talk about his healings.  That is not the reason he came.  Once again, the miraculous signs of Jesus were just that—signs.  They proclaim who Jesus is and what he has come to do.  He is God in the flesh who comes to deliver our flesh from sin and every evil.  Here is a sign that brings salvation.
     Every disability, every disaster, every ache and ailment, every violent and vile act—all of these are signs, too.  They signal that the world has been corrupted by sin, and that we ourselves have been corrupted by sin.  Evil not only dwells around us.  It affects our bodies, and it has corrupted our hearts.  The deaf and mute man who was brought to Jesus was affected by the evils in this world.  His disabilities did not make him a sinner, but they were signs that he was part of a sinful world.  On the other hand, the fact that he was going to die one day was a sign that he was a sinner.  Only sinners die.  And since all are going to die, all are sinners.  Having a disability is not what keeps anyone out of the kingdom of God.  Sin is what condemns us.  Sin makes us cursed and corrupted.
     Here is a sign that brings salvation.  Jesus is God in the flesh who has come to save.  Jesus demonstrated mercy to the deaf and mute man in a very personal way.  Taking him aside from the crowd privately, 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. (Mark 7:33-35)  He has taken a personal interest in you, too.  Just as he took the infirmities of this man into himself to deliver him from his disabilities, so Jesus has also taken every evil of yours into himself to deliver you from the curse of sin.  God came in the flesh to deliver you out of sin and death, and to restore your flesh to what God had originally created mankind to be.  Jesus gave his flesh into death at the cross, and he rose from the grave in his body to show you that your body will also rise from the grave.  On the Last Day, Jesus will declare his “Ephphatha!” to the grave, and every grave will open up for the resurrection of the body.  Jesus will conform your lowly body so that it will be like his glorious, risen body—forever free from sin and death, disease and disability, aches, pains, frailty, and whatever sin has marred us with.
     The healing of the deaf and mute man is a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom in which our Lord will restore all things to perfection.  Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come....  He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:4-6)  Here is a sign that brings salvation.  What Jesus did for people for his brief time on earth, he will do for his redeemed for eternity.  Your God has come to save you from the curse of sin—both is condemnation and its consequences. 
     Behold, here is a sign that brings salvation.  If you desire Jesus' salvation, he delivers it to you now.  In Holy Absolution, Jesus sticks his words in your ears to declare you free from your guilt.  In Holy Communion, the body and blood of Jesus which have overcome the grave are given to you now.  Jesus puts them in your mouth to deliver you from sin and death.  At the resurrection of all flesh, Jesus will finally bestow you with a body that will forever be free from every evil.  For, Jesus is the God who saves you.  Jesus has already delivered you from sin's condemnation.  When the Lord comes again, he will deliver you from sin's consequences.  He will make the deaf hear, the mute speak, and the disabled whole—all because he makes the sinner pure.  This is what Jesus desires us to tell others; for, this is what brings salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.