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Preserved in the Church
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Those who desire salvation do well to sever ties with those who encourage us in ungodly living, who tolerate anything that hurts our soul. Our Lord leads the deaf man away from the crowds to teach us that our life in Him is a life apart from what the world calls good and right. Our life in the Church is a breaking of communion with those who only want Jesus part-way or not at all.
But when our Lord took the man aside from the multitude, He was not simply separating him from others. Jesus was also pulling the man into Himself, so that He could bring him into His healing love and righteousness. Jesus did not want to teach us merely to break with our former life, but also to come into communion and life with Him. This is not some manufactured unity with Jesus. We all know people who believe that they can worship God anywhere because He promises to be everywhere. While it is true that God is everywhere, He has attached His promises to the gifts He gives “where two or three are gathered in His name.”
This is why we pray the way we do at every baptism. We pray our Father “graciously to behold” the infant or child or adult, and “to bless him with true faith in the Spirit so that…he may be separated from the number of the unbelieving, and preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of the Church.” We don’t simply want the newborn child of God to be cut off from the unbelieving. We want him kept safe in the Church. Our prayer recognizes that there is no salvation apart from the Church. And so we flee to the Church as we shun those things from which the Lord, by His Spirit, has released us. We must not return to them.
But as you well know, the pull toward wickedness, gossip, selfishness and envy is strong. Addictions of mind or body are easily formed, but they are resisted only by the Lord’s grace and the prayers of the faithful and much self-discipline and diligence. For each of us, the devil plays on what tempts us, and our society cheers us on to give in, to feed our desires, to live as we please and to do what we want. And our own mind rationalizes by saying, “God will still love me.” Yet how can God love the man who harbors anger, or the woman who loves to gossip, or the man who covets what another person has, or the woman who thinks only of herself?
The way out is given the finger of God, which is the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord healed the man in today’s Gospel. He put His fingers in the man’s ears, and He spat and touched the man’s tongue. What is the Lord’s finger but the Holy Spirit? And what is the spit and the touch, except the grace and mercy of God the Father given in the waters of Holy Baptism? And so the man is healed by God’s grace according to the pleading and prayers of his friends. And so are we.
But let us not leave it there. Again, let us not forget what Our Lord Jesus did first. First, He pulled the man aside. First, our Lord beckoned this poor man into Himself, drawing him away from those who wished to lure him back into his former ways. Our Lord brought and led the man into the safety and comfort of His own loving embrace.
And so it is with us. We have been separated from the number of the unbelieving precisely so that we might be preserved, safe and secure, in the holy Church. Our Lord has broken our ties with those who wish us harm. He has drawn us away from those who urge us to tolerate heresy, who pervert the holy Faith. And He has given us a place in His holy Church and a seat at His heavenly banquet. Let us not flee from His Church, nor let us seek compromise simply for the appearance of tranquility. Instead, let us flee for refuge to the infinite mercy He gives us in His holy Church; for that’s where our Lord is, eager to bring us more fully into communion with Him. 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.