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Sermon for Trinity 12
2 Corinthians 3:4-11 + Mark 7:31-37
You heard in the Gospel how Jesus healed a deaf man, who couldn’t hear, and who also couldn’t speak. You heard it, because you have been given ears that work. And you have already confessed many things this morning about yourself and about God, for the benefit of those around you, because you have been given tongues that work. So, you see, there is a simple lesson here in the Gospel of the kindness and the power of Christ, who healed that deaf and mute man long ago. But there is a deeper lesson here, too, about an ear-problem and a speech impediment that affects all men, including Christians, and about an ear-healing and a tongue-healing that Jesus grants, in His mercy, to those who are brought to Him for help.
To be deaf is an especially serious problem. Do you remember what we confess in the Small Catechism, the First Article of the Creed? I believe that God has made me and all creatures, and that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them. Why do we single out eyes and ears? Why are they so important? Because with our eyes we see God’s revelation of Himself to us in nature, and with our eyes we are able to read God’s revelation of Himself to us in the Bible. But perhaps even more importantly, with our ears we are able to hear the preaching of the Word of God, which is God’s primary tool for bringing us to faith in His Son and for keeping us in the faith. Faith comes by hearing, isn’t that what God’s Word says? And what did Jesus once say? Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. You see, God has great gifts to give you through your ears.
The tongue, on the other hand, isn’t used for receiving, but for giving: giving a confession of your sins to God, and giving a confession of the Christian faith to your neighbor. But the ears have to come first. Hearing has to come first, to receive the Word of God so that you know what to confess and to be moved to confess in the first place.
The deaf man in our Gospel needed help. You can get by in life without the sense of hearing, but it sure comes in handy. His friends who brought him to Jesus shouldn’t be overlooked. They couldn’t heal their deaf friend, but they did all they could do for him, most importantly, bringing him to Jesus. Because they could hear, and so they knew who Jesus was, that He had the healing their friend needed. They could speak, and so they did speak up on behalf of their friend, pleading with Jesus to have mercy on him.
And Jesus did have mercy. He stopped everything, took the man aside from the crowd. And then communicated with the deaf man through his eyes and with his sense of touch instead of his ears. If you were listening before, you heard about the sign-language Jesus used to communicate to the deaf man what He was about to do. With mercy, with kindness, and with divine power, Jesus gave him working ears and a working tongue.
As always, the physical maladies in Scripture point to spiritual maladies that affect all people, just as the physical healings that Jesus performed point to the spiritual healings that Jesus offers to all people.
What’s the problem with people’s ears? What sin does deafness highlight? Well, sometimes people refuse to hear God’s Word. And those who hear often fail to listen. And that’s a much more serious problem than physical deafness. What did we confess this last week in our review of the Small Catechism, the Third Commandment? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.
God requires the world to fear and love Him enough to gladly hear His Word when it’s preached, because this is your God speaking to you. And not just to hear, but to learn, to think about, and to trust. But people come up with one excuse after another why they don’t need to hear the preachers whom God Himself has sent. And even when they hear, they act as if they didn’t.
That kind of deafness is complete among the unbelievers of the world. Among believers, it isn’t complete. But it’s still present in the sinful flesh. It still threatens. It still corrupts. And the temptation to not hear or to not listen or to not take to heart—to hear with your ears but to be miles away in your thoughts—is strong.
And without the ears, the tongue will never work quite right. Without hearing God’s Law that accuses you of sin and threatens you with death, your tongue will never be moved to confess your sins before God. Without hearing God’s Gospel of His grace and mercy in the Person of His beloved Son, His willing sacrifice on the cross for your sins, His promise of forgiveness for everything, not by works, but by faith—without hearing that Gospel, your tongue will never be moved to confess Christ Jesus as Lord, not with faith, not with joy, not from the heart.
But you’re here this morning, gathered around the Word of Christ, either because the New Man in you wanted to hear or because someone brought or invited you here for healing. In either case, the almighty Lord Jesus has sent His Holy Spirit with His very own tool, the Word of God, to show you your sins, but even more, to show you God’s mercy, to point you to the cross of Jesus, whose death on the cross purchased the healing of your soul, healing which He now offers in the forgiveness of sins.
And with forgiveness comes the gift of new ears and a new tongue. Ears to hear your Shepherd’s voice; tongues to confess both your sins and your faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins. Ears to hear His teaching eagerly; tongues to speak the truth you have learned from God in your every-day lives. Ears to hear the comfort of His promises of grace and mercy and daily providence throughout all the chaos and uncertainty of this earthly life; tongues to thank Him and to praise Him, and to invite the people whom God has placed around you, whom you know to be either partially or entirely deaf, in a spiritual sense, to come to this place where healing is, where Jesus is, every Sunday, with His Gospel, His Sacrament, His healing, His truth, His sacrifice, His love.
You Christians have been given ears. So use them for their intended purpose. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!, says the Lord. You have been given tongues. Use them, too, not to tear down, but to build up, to speak the truth, and to point men to Christ, so that every tongue may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.