Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Passage: Mark 7:31–7:37
†††In the Name of Jesus†††
Pastor Murray Keith
Text: Mark 7:31-37
Date: September 9th, 2018; Pentecost 16; Series B
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
- The prophet Isaiah prophesied this about Jesus long before our Lord was born of the Virgin Mary, “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 35:4-5).
- The New Testament is filled with historical accounts of Jesus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.
- Our Gospel lesson for this morning is one of those historical accounts, “And they brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] 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 7:32-35).
- This seems a bit strange, doesn’t it? Well, with Jesus putting his fingers into the man’s ears and the spitting and touching his tongue.
- It is interesting that this text was taken up by the church in the ancient baptismal liturgies.
- Before entering the church, the pastor would prepare the candidate for baptism (infant or adult) by touching his finger to his tongue and then touching the candidate's ear while quoting Jesus' words from our Gospel lesson.
- Here’s the instruction from Luther's Order of Baptism from 1523, "Then the priest shall take spittle with his finger, touch the right ear therewith and say: Ephphatha, that is, Be thou opened." (Luther, American Edition, 53.99)
- As a germaphobe I am really happy that the spittle and touching ears is no longer something that we practice.
- So what does our Gospel reading have to do with Baptism?
- It reminds us of the mystery that God uses physical and tangible elements (or means) to do his work of saving the world from sin and death.
- He used the blood of the slaughtered lamb, spread over the doorposts, to save the children of Israel from the angel of death. (Exodus 12)
- He used Moses' rod, lifted over the water, to divide the Red Sea and make a path of dry ground for his people to escape from the Egyptian army. (Exodus 14:16).
- He used the bronze serpent, lifted up on a pole by Moses, to heal his people. (Numbers 21:4-9)
- He used coal, taken from the incense, to purge Isaiah's sin. (Isaiah 6:1-9)
- He used the water of the humble Jordan River to wash away Naaman's leprosy. (2 Kings 5:1-14).
- And in the New Testament we learn that Jesus used spit, and mud, and the hem of his garment, and other physical means to deliver his gifts.
- And it is no different today.
- Today he uses the means of water, connected to his Word - to claim us, to give us the forgiveness of our sins, to rescue and save us.
- Through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism God adopts us to be his children and promises us the inheritance of salvation and eternal life.
- Today Jesus uses the means of ordinary bread and wine to give us the gift of his true body and blood.
- Through the Sacrament of the Altar God nourishes and strengthens us, forgives our sins, and gives us the promise of life everlasting.
- God continues to use physical elements today to give us his gifts and to assure us that we are his forgiven and redeemed people.
- The miraculous healing we heard about in our Gospel lesson, and all of Jesus’ healings and miracles, point us to the cross and resurrection.
- The healings that Jesus did during his earthly life are only signs - a foreshadowing of the greatest miracle and gift that will be ours on the Last Day in the resurrection.
- The man whose hearing and speech Jesus restored became deaf and mute again when his body died.
- And this is true for all of Jesus’ healing miracles. They lasted for a short time.
- But they all pointed forward to the greatest miracle that will last for eternity - the miracle of our resurrection.
- This is what God accomplished when Jesus took on our flesh to suffer and die in our place.
- God promises that our bodies that get sick and injured, that become weak, that suffer pain, that eventually die - will be restored to the point that we will be leaping like deer!
- I love that picture that Isaiah gives us of the health and vitality we will enjoy - we will be leaping like deer!
- In our Old Testament lesson the prophet Isaiah encourages us to, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’” (Isaiah 35:4).
- When God says, “fear not” we do well to listen and pay attention.
- When God says “fear not” it is not simply some empty platitude.
- When God says “fear not” it is far more than a command - they are words that cast out our fear and comfort our troubled hearts.
- They are words that God acts through to give us the comfort and peace that surpasses our understanding.
- In both the Old and New Testaments God announces his saving work and bids our anxious hearts to “fear not”.
- He comforts his people Israel, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1b).
- Through the angel, God proclaims to the astonished shepherds in Bethlehem, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).
- To the terrified disciples in the midst of a stormy sea, he says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50).
- The risen Lord speaks to those confused women on Easter morning: “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10).
- This is the same message that I have been called to announce to you this morning: “Be strong; fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4).
- The day is coming soon when the Lord will return and call all of the dead from the grave and give them the resurrection of the body
- Then there will be no more sorrows, no more evil, no more death.
- In the midst of all our troubles, this promise from God is our comfort and hope.
- And this is a promise you can trust, for God is faithful, and he will do it. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.