[Picture: Mark’s Senses – 1 of 5, by John Christmas, SSS, courtesy of Catholic Theological Union Library, Chicago]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Twelfth Sunday After Trinity, 9/8/2019. The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Twelfth Sunday After Trinity, click here.
Way back in Eden, everyone could hear just fine. Adam and Eve heard the animals and the bugs, the wind and the rain; and like a good husband and wife do, they heard one another. More than all of that, they heard God Himself speak to them.
In their garden home, Adam and Eve heard because hearing is what we are meant to do. Hearing belongs to human nature; and it also happens to be quite enjoyable. Think of all the things you love to listen to… We could make a list and it would go on and on, but this is the necessary thing: when God put us together, when He gave us ears, it was for a reason. We are meant to hear because we have a God who speaks to us.
This is part of God’s design for us and it worked beautifully. God spoke and brought everything out of nothing. God spoke and His creatures were blessed by Him, guided by Him, and formed by Him. God spoke and told them what was best for them, and what was not.
But eventually Adam and Eve listened to another voice, a voice that spoke what seemed like a simpler wisdom; that told them what they wanted to hear, couched in phrases like “Did God really say?”
And as they listened, as they embraced that message, hearing went bad. Once they heard, listened to, and believed the lie, deafness entered the world – both spiritually and physically.
On that day in Eden, when Adam and Eve covered their ears, the world went deaf. But the deafness of the world has not silenced God. He speaks to us as He once spoke to the תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ, that formless void, that primordial chaos. This is how creation happened to begin with, and it is how recreation happens, too. God’s Word is a creative Word; something that is clear again today.
This morning, the Word Himself, Jesus Christ comes to the region of the Decapolis, to a crowd of anxious people. They’ve brought Him a man who has not heard a sound or spoken an intelligible word in his entire life. And knowing Jesus to be a healer, they reasonably ask Him to lay hands on the man. They ask Jesus for a miracle.
But Jesus has something slightly different in mind, something more; because Jesus is so very extra, as the kids say.
He could have healed the man by laying on a hand, or speaking a word, or praying a prayer, right then and right there… But He doesn’t.
Instead Jesus pulls the man off to the side, away from the crowd, and there He gets conspicuously personal. Jesus sticks His fingers in the guy’s ears. And then He spits on them and reaches into his mouth to grab his tongue! Another pair of reminders for us to keep church weird.
For most of us, our ears are functional, But they are… finicky; something your parents and spouses have called “selective hearing.”
It means that you and I tend to hear what we want to. Jesus speaks and says one thing, but we hear another thing; which, in a way, is worse than hearing nothing at all.
We choose to hear around what Jesus says. It’s a very handy trick when you want to justify yourself: your favorite sins that don’t appear to hurt anyone, your little lies and secret hate, your own private versions of Christianity.
Eventually, some can no longer stand to hear that Voice at all. They tune Him out. And they find preachers and teachers who will tell them what they want, who will explain away Jesus’ teaching for them. (2 Tim 4:3) Suddenly we are right back in the garden hearing those familiar words: “Did God really say?”
But that is not the life Jesus wants for you. God actually made us with ears for a reason. You and I were meant to hear His Voice.And even though we’ve been stubbornly covering those ears ever since we left Eden, God Himself has come to open them.
Again, back to the text: that is precisely what Jesus is doing today. For anybody who has imagined a God who is distant and unsympathetic, for anybody who has imagined a Church that is antiseptic and sterile, please pay attention to how gritty this whole situation is.
First Jesus touches the deaf man’s ears. But more than that, more than just touching, Jesus puts his fingers inside the man’s ears; and so Christ enters the deaf man on the same road by which He entered the Virgin Mary.
And then Jesus spits and touches his tongue. It’s not magic. It’s Divine sign language. It is Jesus speaking to the man in a way he can understand. Jesus’ gestures mean just what He says with His mouth: Jesus speaks “Ephphatha.” Be opened!
This is not a magic spell or a mantra. God’s creative Word says what it does and does what it says. It’s as it was in the beginning, when God spoke to the nothing and made everything.
Jesus speaks and Jesus touches, and just like that – the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he began to speak plainly. He can hear! He can talk! And all of this is fantastic…
But then Jesus does an even stranger thing than spitting on his fingers and grabbing your tongue. He addresses the man who He has just made able to speak, and immediately tells him not to speak. Because what would he say? He doesn’t really know that much yet. Hearing must precede speaking.
This, very simply, is the life of the Church. Jesus speaks to you, Jesus touches you, Jesus gives you His words, and then He has you share them with others.
It all starts there in the Font. Jesus touches you with Water and Word just as He touches the deaf man in today’s Gospel. In Holy Baptism, Jesus gets into your ears and your mouth, like when you jump into the pool; he gets into eyes and ears He and pries them open.
That’s why in Luther’s baptismal rite, he would put his fingers in the ear of the child, spit on them, touch the kid’s tongue and say “Ephphatha. Be opened.” Because he wanted to show that’s what Jesus was doing. (Side note — I dare you to be the first family to let me do that!)
Mind the order: ears first – tongue second. Which means that Jesus would very much like for you to hear with your new ears before going out and speaking with your new tongue.
It’s why you come to church and Bible study every week: you need to hear. It’s why you listen to God’s Word, learn Scripture and the Catechism by heart. You need to hear.
It’s why the prayer office of Matins begins, “O, Lord, open my lips.” That is Jesus’ job!
Because if you are opening your own lips, what comes out is bound not to be so great. Best to leave it to Jesus. His Word is speech therapy for us who do not know what to say or how to say it.
Here in this place, Jesus puts His Word in your ears, and then He draws it out again through your mouth.
It sounds a lot like the Liturgy, and praying the Psalms, and singing hymns. It’s saying back to Jesus what He first says to you. And then it is sharing that with others.
Sharing with them the news that by His cross and passion Jesus has purchased and redeemed you; that by His resurrection He has justified you; that by His Holy Spirit He has given you a new heart to receive Him, new ears to hear Him, and a new tongue to confess Him to a world gone deaf; so that all would hear Him and know Him, and that Jesus would bring all of us back home again to Eden.
Praise be to Christ. He has done all things well.