Sermon for Trinity 12
Mark 7:31-37 + Isaiah 29:17-24 + 2 Corinthians 3:4-11
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” Those words from Psalm 46 – in Spanish – served as the text for the sermon I preached to my congregation in Puerto Rico on the Sunday after 9/11, ten years ago. Some of you here weren’t born yet when the twin towers fell, others are too young to remember, but for the rest of us, it was a terrible, but memorable day in American history when the threat of militant Islam and global terrorism became more than a remote threat. It became a life-changing reality for our country.
But while that event is definitely on the radar today, it surely isn’t our focus this morning. Our focus is on God as the refuge and strength of His people, an ever-present help in trouble for all who trust in him. Especially, our focus is on the One who is God and who came in the flesh to reveal God to us, Jesus Christ. We, the saints of God, do not share the world’s delusion of earthly peace as the highest good, nor do we look for peace in the goodness of the hearts of men or in the amount of security and protection our government may or may not be able to provide. We, the saints of God, find peace in knowing that our citizenship is in heaven, purchased for us by Jesus’ blood, no matter what happens on this earth, even though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. Our comfort is in God and in the refuge and strength of the cross of Christ, who has promised that his Church will never be shaken or moved.
While the world commemorates today a horrifying event in American history, the Church Year and the Lectionary offer us some much-needed stability in this unstable world. We just go about our business, slow and steady, of following Jesus. As far as the Church is concerned, today is simply the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, so today we follow Jesus through the Gospel of Mark, ch. 7. We watch him today as the ever-present help in trouble – not for nations or countries or cities, but for one man, one man who needed him. And his help for that one man extends also to each one of you. Today we see Jesus, the humble healer of ears and tongues.
First we see the faith and love of those who brought the deaf man to Jesus and begged him to place his healing hand on the man. Although their friend couldn’t hear, they had obviously heard about Jesus, that he was kind and good and merciful to those who came to him for help, and powerful to heal all kinds of sicknesses and diseases. They had heard, and they believed. They had faith in him that he could and would help their friend. And where there is faith, there is love. They showed love for the deaf man by bringing him to Jesus for help.
That’s what Christian love does. Christian love is more than just helping out someone in need. Lots of people helped their fellow man when the towers collapsed in New York. Some made amazing sacrifices for others. That’s good for this life, but it doesn’t make anyone good in God’s eyes. Only Jesus is good, and only faith in Jesus makes a person good in God’s eyes. But where there is genuine faith, it will always lead to works of service and love, like it did in our Gospel, where people who trusted in Jesus for help served their deaf friend by bringing him to the humble healer of ears and tongues.
Then we see Jesus drop everything, as if nothing else in the world were as important as this deaf man. He halts his journey. His takes the man aside, away from the crowds, and deals with him one on one, with all of his attention dedicated to this one man who couldn’t hear or speak. He uses divine sign language to communicate with the man. With his fingers in the man’s ears and on the man’s tongue, he tells him that he knows exactly what his malady is. With his spit he informs the man that healing only comes from the mouth of Jesus. With his gaze fixed on heaven, he tells the man who it is that is healing him, and with his deep sigh, he tells the man that relief is on its way. Heaven’s Healer has come! Finally, he lets the man read his lips, “Ephphatha!” “Be opened!” And the deaf ears become hearing ears, and the imprisoned tongue is loosened. And the man begins to speak clearly and correctly.
See how humble and gentle is our Great Physician! – a gentle Savior who cares for each one and stoops down to address the individual needs of every individual, a humble Healer who isn’t the least bit squeamish about touching sinful, unclean people. Jesus isn’t the least bit deterred by saliva or germs or earwax – or by bedpans, for that matter. Nor is he deterred by the filth of selfish hearts or foul language or dirty deeds committed in the past. This Healer has not come to heal at a distance, but to get his hands dirty – and his body bloody in order to help.
This is the glorious ministry of the Spirit that the Apostle wrote about in the Epistle today. This is what the glorious ministry that brings righteousness and life looks like – humble, simple, personal, powerful, but not glory-seeking, not pretentious.
What did Jesus do next? He ordered the people who were there not to tell anybody. Why wouldn’t Jesus want that word to get out? Because the real glory of Jesus, the lasting glory of the ministry that Jesus has commissioned in these New Testament days is not the glorious ministry of physical healing, but the hidden glory of the ministry of spiritual healing.
Jesus’ physical healings were signs of the great healing that he will accomplish when he raises his believers from the dead on the Last Day and gives them new, healthy, glorious bodies like his glorious body. Until then, all people, including the saints on earth, will still be plagued by sickness and disease of all kinds, including ears that can’t hear and tongues that don’t work right.
But more than that, those physical healings were intended to draw us to Jesus for the spiritual healing of our spiritual diseases. There is a deafness that plagues mankind much more serious than physical deafness. We are all born with spiritual ears that cannot hear, because since the Garden of Eden it’s the devil’s voice that rings in our ears, “You can be like God!” And so no one in this world can stand to hear that sin infects everything we do. No one can stand hearing that Jesus is God’s Son, and that by his death and resurrection from the dead he has opened heaven to all believers in him. No one is able to hear the Gospel of Christ with believing ears.
There is also a dumbness that plagues mankind much more serious than a tongue that cannot speak clearly. No tongue in this world is able to speak about God rightly, or give him the praise that is rightly his – the praise of being the only one who is holy, the only one who is to be worshiped and served as God in accordance with his Word, the only one who saves through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Instead, what did the tongues of men say after 9/11? “Terrorists are evil, but all who love America are good.” What gibberish! “We all have to come together in peace – Christians, Jews, Muslims – because we all worship the same God!” Do you remember hearing all that after 9/11? What blasphemy! But such are the tongues of men that have not been touched by Jesus, the humble healer of ears and tongues.
But ears that do not hear the Gospel in faith and tongues that cannot speak about God rightly – those are the ears and tongues that Jesus really came to heal, not with big, impressive miracles, but with the humble, simple power of his Holy Spirit, working through humble, sinful ministers of the true Gospel, working through the humble, lowly means of preaching and baptizing.
God calls on this wicked, sinful world to repent and to seek him in Christ alone. That includes Muslim terrorists. It also includes the most patriotic Americans. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All. 9/11, like all disasters on this earth, was a call to repentance, a precursor to the great day of judgment on which every tower on earth will fall and every soul will be held accountable to God. 9/11 was a wake-up call, not to America, but to Americans to seek refuge from God’s wrath that will be much more terrifying than the scene in New York City.
But what 9/11 didn’t do was to tell anyone where to seek refuge from God’s wrath. That’s what the Church is for. Through the Gospel, Christ has opened our ears to hear his call to repent and believe. He has also loosened our tongues, to preach the Gospel of Christ rightly so that men know why these tragedies happen and where to find a safe place to hide – in the wounds of Jesus Christ, in the promise of forgiveness for his sake, in the truth of his glorious resurrection from the dead and in the promise of an eternal inheritance in heaven for all who trust in him.
You who believe in Jesus as your Savior from sin, who look to him for forgiveness and peace and eternal life – forgiveness is yours! Peace is yours! Life is yours!, no matter how much death surrounds you in this world.
And even now the Gospel of Christ continues to hold your ears open to his Truth. Even now the body and blood of Jesus are about to touch your tongues again and bring his healing to your troubled hearts.
Now you and I, as the Church of God, have a mission in this dying world, to love and serve our neighbor, to use our loosened tongues to bring the healing power of the Gospel of Christ to our friends and neighbors and community. You and I can be like the brave men and women who went up the stairwells of the twin towers on 9/11 instead of down, risking life and limb in order to save those who could not save themselves. We, too, risk life and limb and reputation and friends and career and income if we would speak the Truth of Christ in this world. But how could we not risk life and limb and everything else for the sake of the Gospel? Jesus, the healer of ears and tongues, gave himself on the cross and brought that healing Gospel to our ears and tongues, so that we could hear his Gospel, believe and be saved; so that we could speak his Gospel for the salvation of others.
Today’s Gospel is the perfect message for us today on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Jesus, the humble healer of ears and tongues, is present in this world through his Church to bring a great healing, a spiritual healing to you and to others, even the forgiveness of sins and salvation from eternal death. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear. Amen.