Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, AD 2021

Mark 7:31-37

Imagine being the deaf mute man who is brought to Jesus by his friends. Your world is silent, you cannot speak rightly, then Jesus takes you aside privately and comes up close to you. He sticks his fingers in your ears and you see him spit and touch your tongue. You see Jesus look up to heaven and sigh and then “Ephphatha.” Ephphatha. Be opened. Not just a word, but the first word you ever hear. And the first word you hear is the word by which you hear.

What would that word “ephphatha” mean to you? It would probably be a word you treasured forever. It would be a word and a moment you always keep in your heart and remember. Like getting your first car, your first kiss, or the birth of your child. Ephphatha would be a word to dwell on, to treasure and to hold for the rest of your life. That first word, that wonderful word that opened your ears and released your tongue.

With your ears opened and tongue loosed, a whole new opportunity arises. Where before you could not hear anything, now you can hear many things. While before you could not speak rightly, now everyone can understand what you say. So what will you hear? What will you say? Christ has made your ears and tongue perfect and innocent – you would want to keep them that way.

Such is also true for us in our baptism. In baptism we are given the forgiveness of sins and a new heart. Christ came to us by water and the Holy Spirit and made us new. We are given ears and tongue and eyes and hands which no longer have to serve sin. We no longer are slaves to the devil with our various bodily members, but have become servants of God. Therefore, just as the deaf mute man with his new ears and tongue, we should want to keep what we have been given as perfect and innocent as the day of our new birth from above.

While we desire this to happen, it often doesn’t. This is the predicament we come to and our need throughout the Christian life. Our ears hear what they want to hear and our tongue says what it wants to say. Instead of taking the opportunity we have with new ears and tongue, we waste it. We follow what our itching ears want to hear. We would rather hear lies that confirm us and make us feel good than the truth of God’s Word. We don’t hear God’s Word, but spend most of our time listening to those who would twist it and speak against it. When it comes to troubles and decisions in our life we don’t turn to hear the Word of God first. We prefer to hear interesting gossip about others than things that build up. And this is also the problem with the tongue. Our tongue is loosed to praise God and speak His good news, but instead we speak about ourselves. We speak tearing others down and making ourselves always look best. We waste time speaking about idle and frivolous things when we could be encouraging, reconciling, and sharing.

We see this in the deaf mute man and his friends. Jesus tells them directly not to tell anyone of the miracle. Yet the more he tells them not to, the more they proclaim it. Why does Jesus tell them not to tell of the miracle? Maybe Jesus knows they would become conceited and think more of the fame of the miracle than their own. Maybe they would spread news of the miracle which would drown out the actual message of Jesus – his death and resurrection to save us from our sin. Whatever the reason was, it doesn’t matter. When God tells us something, we do it. To disobey is always sinful, regardless of the reason. Just because we assume there is no problem, doesn’t mean there isn’t. Just because we assume a sin is victimless, doesn’t mean no one will be hurt, including ourselves.

This is the history of sin – thinking that we know what is good better than God does. Yes, Jesus told the men to keep quiet, but they knew it was better to tell everyone about the miracle. It began in the Garden of Eden. God said not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but Eve knew the fruit was a delight to the eyes and would make her wise. Surely God would not really care if her heart was in the right place. Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden and bring the world into sin. Or when David and the priests bring the holy Ark to Jerusalem – no one can touch the holy ark or they will die. When the cart slips, the priest Uzzah grabs it. Surely God will make an exception knowing he was just trying to keep the ark from falling. Uzzah is struck dead on the spot. God wills that He is obeyed. You cannot disobey and have your heart in the right place. You cannot just be good enough for our Holy God. You must be perfect.

So it is to you, the imperfect, the not good enough, the ones who hear one day and betray the next, that Jesus comes. Jesus does not snub us for our sin. He does not keep away because we betray him every day. Jesus refuses to social distance. When we realize our need, He comes to us in compassion. Not for away, but right to us. He touches us. He sticks his fingers in our ears. He spits and grabs us by the tongue and says “Ephphatha.”

Jesus makes our tongue and ears right. The deaf mute does not just speak plainly when Jesus heals him, but the actual word is “rightly.” It is a word that means “right” or “straight” – the root of the word in orthopedics, orthodontics, and orthodoxy. What do those words mean? They are things which have a rule, which correct to a standard. Your doctor is able to heal you because there is a standard which your health should meet. He does not fix your broken leg by giving you a third leg, but by healing the one you have to how it was made to be. The orthodontist doesn’t work randomly but straightens teeth to how they will best fit in the mouth. Orthodoxy is the true teaching – it is the teaching of the word of God, the right way.

In your baptism, you are made right. Your sins are washed away and you are forgiven because the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross are given to you. You are made new as the benefits of Christ’s resurrection from the dead are also given to you. These promises in baptism are not just for one time. They don’t just forgive the sins you committed up to baptism, but you are forgiven of every sin you have committed and ever will commit. Like the deaf mute man did not just hear the word Ephphatha, but then remained deaf, you are not just forgiven in baptism with no more effect on your life.

We have a problem in our culture that even those who read, read widely, but not well. When books were rare a man might own three or four, but would make up for it by knowing those well. Now there are so many books and other forms of information, we move from one to the other without thinking about it. The point isn’t the enjoyment or knowledge of what we receive, but just to finish it so we can move to the next thing. This is unfortunately true with how we treat the Word of God. We think baptism is just something we complete and move on. We think church is just something to get through once a week as part of the completion of a Sunday. We hear Ephphatha but are ready to move on to the next word.

This is where we shortchange ourselves. This is where we fall into the same sins and problems again and again. We think we generally know who Jesus is and what he can do. We have the information. We know Jesus died for us and rose again. Then we move on. Then every other voice and source of information in the world takes our attention. We don’t meditate on that word again and again. We don’t value and cherish our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.

To cherish this word is to make it the center of your life. Remember when we began, thinking in place of the deaf mute man. How much did “ephphatha” mean to him? How much would he cherish that first word, that freeing word which made his ears and tongue right? How much does He value the one who came right up and stuck his fingers in his ears and mouth merely out of compassion?

You too hold this one who said Ephphatha to you. You know this one comes to you by His Holy Spirit, in your ears by the Word, by water, bread, and wine. This one is not driven away by your sins and wrong speaking. He is not less compassionate because you betray Him. He does not keep his distance because you gossip about others and usually are listening to false voices. Knowing that even your sins cannot keep Him away, you can cherish Him. You can desire to hold to Him and meditate on His goodness.

You may think, how can I do this? Many of you already do. The friends of the deaf mute brought the man to Jesus in faith. Their faith could not make him believe, but it brought him to the right place. Only a personal faith saves. You cannot believe for anyone else. The actions of your faith, knowing that Christ forgave you, are how people are brought to hear. And hearing creates their faith. So for you who bring your children, your friends to church, or who speak to them of your faith, or when you show love and service for family, other Christians, neighbors – you are like those bringing the deaf mute man. This is the work of God.

Knowing what Christ has done for you, you can say, I know there is way to speak and hear rightly and a way to do so wrongly. For I was in the wrong way, and I fall into the wrong way often. Yet Jesus opened my ears. He can open yours. He is not afraid of your sin but will get right up in your business and say Ephphatha. And that Ephphatha you will cherish both in memory and work for the rest of your life. Amen.

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