Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the twelfth Sunday after Trinity 8/30/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity12 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and epistle lessons. To read the Bible texts for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
Years ago, I was in Spain, backpacking my way towards the ocean. And I was passing through Leon when I had this distressing experience:
As I walked through downtown, I spotted a man crossing the street. He was by himself, but that was fine. He looked like a local who knew where he was going. The only reason he really drew my attention was the sound coming from up the road.
Less than half a block away, quickly closing distance, was a loud car with a screaming engine; and it was coming straight for this man crossing the street. I did the half-second calculation, the one you do when crossing Berkeley at Newbury. And in that moment, I knew it wasn’t going to end well.
I screamed to tell him to look up; Danger! Car coming!
But he did nothing. It was lunchtime, and he had his eye on the corner café. I screamed again, louder; but I got the same non-response.
I was sure that I was using the right words for “danger” and “look out!” – I wondered if, in a surge of adrenaline, I had reverted to English, and that was why he didn’t listen to me.
You’ve likely already guessed at the problem. Loud as I was, he couldn’t hear me. The man was deaf. And because of that, he was also about to be dead.
It is precisely the same with this man from the Decapolis. He was deaf and in grave danger. Based on where he was from, odds are that he was not a Jew, but a Gentile. That would mean that he wasn’t part of God’s covenant with Israel, and that he likely had little to no awareness of God’s Word and promise.
This man is completely helpless. He doesn’t have faith. He doesn’t have God’s Word. He hasn’t heard about Jesus, because he can’t hear. And even if he were somehow told about Jesus, he has a speech impediment. He can’t even open his mouth to make a request.
This man is a picture of who you are according to your fallen nature. “Sinful and unclean” is also expressed biblically with other words:
According to your fallen nature, in your natural state, you are deaf to God. You are not programmed to hear His Voice. You are not equipped to talk to Him. And you cannot approach him.
You need Him to approach you. You need Him to touch you. You need Him to communicate to your whole person. You need Him to make your ears hear the Gospel and create faith.
You are just like this man; and that is not an insult. Look at what kind of a God he has. Look how Jesus loves him.
He pulls the man aside. He gives him personal attention and care. Jesus goes out of His way to touch Him. He even uses a sign (the spit on his fingers) to show the man what is happening.
On a side note, this shows us that the use of symbolism in the church can be beneficial. Jesus doesn’t need to spit on His fingers and put them in the man’s ear. He could say one word. He could lift one finger. He could think one thought, and all would be well. The spit and the fingers, then, are not necessary; but they do show the man what is happening.
The same goes for all sorts of things we do in church. I don’t have to wear a robe or vestments; though I suppose I must wear something. But these things do allow your eyes to see what your ears hear: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News!” Romans 10, verse 15
Ever since the sacrificial system was fulfilled in Christ’s perfect Sacrifice on the cross, incense has been an option, and not a command. But it is a reminder to our eyes and our noses, both of which are tied so closely to our hearts and minds, that the prayers of the faithful rise to heaven as incense – (Revelation 8; Psalm 141) that they are a fragrant offering, pleasing to God, making haven smell like fresh-baked cookies when you come home from school.
Back to the text. This man has a Jesus who does everything for him. Jesus takes on flesh for him. Jesus uses that flesh to approach him and touch him. Jesus prays for him and heals him. Jesus opens not only his ears, but also his mouth, and brings forth clear speech.
This is the same Jesus you have. You have a Jesus who has taken on flesh for you. You have a Jesus who has looked for you and found you. You have a Jesus who has singled out you.
In Holy Baptism Jesus touched you not with water from His mouth, but from His side. Baptism has its institution in Matthew 28, but it receives its efficacy from the cross. When Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for sin was accomplished, from His side came blood and water (John 19:34). It is this water that baptizes you into Christ’s death and resurrection.
You have a Jesus who has opened not only your ears, but all of you. You are opened. This is why in the old baptismal rites, the pastor would start by saying to the child “be opened.”
Your ears are now opened to hear. Your eyes are now opened to see. Your lips are now opened to speak: life and love and mercy and grace for the sake of Jesus Christ… for everyone. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is the Lord of all…” Romans 10 verse 12
All of the above should also inform how you to live your life in the world. I could not get through to the man on the street by yelling more loudly. And that is a painful lesson for people to learn. Mobs don’t get it, and many Christians don’t get it either: you don’t get through to people by yelling more loudly.
This is doubly true when it comes to the Gospel. We will not help anyone to hear by screaming into their ears. After all, they are deaf.
But that is not a call to quietism. “[For] faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10 verse 17) Did you get the order of that? You need to follow the sentence backward. The sequence goes this way: Christ → Hearing → Faith. And then faith’s fruits, which we can all enjoy together.
That is a call for all of us as Christians, and all of us as a congregation to live as people who have been opened: open eyes to see our neighbors. Open ears to hear their hurts. Open hearts to suffer with them; to have compassion. Open hands to touch and heal. Open mouths to share Christ’s words, which create and sustain faith.
If you’re still worried about what happened to the man crossing the street, that means you are the sort of person who genuinely cares for folks. So, you should keep in mind that very soon you’re going to have a chance to care in a big way, as you participate in the life and ministry of this congregation.
We are privileged to be in a place absolutely crawling with deaf people; that is, people who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love Him not; especially young adults (students and professionals), so many of whom have been raised without knowledge of God and His promises.
This year we will call a full-time church-worker to pull those folks out of the street, out of the way of the car speeding so quickly toward them. After all, how will they believe in Him of whom they’ve never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
So, this is our chance to send a person whose full-time calling is to invade the Decapolis, put spit in their fingers and rub the Gospel into young people’s ears. We hope you’ll come play along. This should be fun.