Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sermon for 9/11/11: Twelfth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

O Lord, Open My Lips

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is not incorrect to see the working of the devil in our physical troubles. It was through Satan’s temptations that sin entered this world, bringing with it sickness, and pain, and death itself. Such is Satan’s goal, to disrupt and tear down the lives and capacities of those who have been made in the image of God, to cause people trouble in both soul and body. He does this, of course, to turn our hearts away from the Lord. Nevertheless, our Lord uses even Satan’s destructive schemes to accomplish His own righteous purposes. The apostle Paul spoke of how although God wouldn’t take away his physical troubles, He taught Paul through those troubles to trust completely in His grace and power in Christ. In this way, the devil’s attacks are turned upside down so that they move us to hold even more tightly to the Lord’s salvation. Though we may be weak ourselves, yet we are made to be strong in the Lord because our trust is directed even more fervently to His strength and mercy. When Satan attacks us, the Spirit draws us to pray in faith, “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! Make haste to help me, O Lord!

However, we cannot pray in this way unless the Lord first opens our ears and turns loose our tongues. Like this man in the Gospel, we are by nature deaf and mute towards God. By our sinful nature our ears are closed off toward God. We do not naturally grasp His words or perceive what He says. We do not, by nature, speak God’s language. Jesus often said, “He who has ears, let him hear,” because many listening to Him still did not get what He was saying. And if there is an impediment in our hearing, there is also going to be an impediment in our speaking. Our words will not rightly reflect the Lord’s Words. Our mouths will not properly declare His praise.

The people who brought the man to Jesus did so that He might place His hands on him. Now, you and I need never feel deprived of that personal contact with our Lord. He is the One who consistently provides us with His healing touch, and it is a very literal and physical touch. For He Himself took on our flesh and blood, real eyes and ears and feet and hands, that He might deal with us concretely and on our level. Even now, our Lord comes into contact with us not only according to His divine nature but also according to His bodily human nature. We meet Him face to face in the Supper of His body and blood. He lays His hands on us in Baptism, and in the words of Absolution speaks to us His Word of forgiveness. Indeed, our Lord still attends to His people personally.

Jesus did two things to this man: first, He took his fingers and put them into the deaf man’s ears; second, He spit and touched the man’s tongue with it. He made direct physical contact with this man’s problems, in order to heal him. But, why did Jesus do it in this particular way? What can we learn from His actions? First, in the Scriptures, the “finger of God” is another term for the Holy Spirit. So, when Jesus puts His fingers into the man’s ears, He shows us that it is only by the working of the Holy Spirit that our ears are opened rightly to hear God’s Word. It is only by the Spirit’s power that we are made both able and willing to listen to and believe the Gospel. As Paul said: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, nor can he know them. But we have received the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” Jesus opens our ears by His Spirit, the finger of God, that we may hear and hold to His Words of life, as it is written, “Faith comes by hearing.”

Then, too, when Jesus spit and touched the man’s tongue, that is for us a picture of God’s Word being placed in our mouths, that our tongues might be turned loose to sing His praise. The Psalmist prays, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.” In Baptism, the Lord puts His name on us, that we may call upon His name in prayer. And the Lord places into our mouths His very own words, that our once muted tongues may sound forth with words of faith – the confessing of the creed, the singing of the church’s hymns, the proclaiming of His marvelous deeds and His life-giving teaching. By first opening our ears to hear His Word rightly, the Lord also opens our mouths to confess our faith rightly. First the ears, then the mouth. Speaking flows from hearing. Christ puts His Words into our ears, and they flow off our tongues back to Him in prayer and praise.

Jesus looked up to heaven, no doubt in prayer. He sighed, and then said to the man, “Ephphatha,” which means, “be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened and his tongue was loosed, and he spoke freely and plainly. And when Jesus said, “Be opened,” He spoke not just to the man’s ears and mouth, but to the whole man, for those words also mean “to be released.” Jesus was releasing this man from Satan’s bondage. This miracle is more than just evidence of Jesus’ power over physical ailments; it is evidence of His triumph over the devil. Jesus’ words shatter the chains by which the evil one binds his victim. Our Lord’s words also shatter the chains that bind and enslave you. He says to you, “Be opened! Be released!” And by water and the Spirit you are set free from the powers of darkness.

But that freedom does not come without a price. As Jesus spoke He sighed; He groaned as One who bore a great burden. And, indeed, He did because He took on Himself all the things that cause us to groan—the pain, the loneliness, the troubles—whatever binds and imprisons us. That He might release us from Satan’s captivity, the Lord put Himself under that captivity. He let Himself be placed into the hands of the powers of darkness, who finally killed Him. There on the cross He made direct contact with our sin, groaning and breathing His last, in our place. However, through that death He was victorious, for He took away the sin that gives Satan his power. And by rising bodily from the grave, He restored the bodies of all the faithful to a life that is whole and immortal and imperishable. That resurrection life will be revealed to us and the whole creation when our Lord returns.

God grant, then, that you who have had your ears opened and your tongues set loose by Christ may confess before all the world, with these people in the Gospel reading: “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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