The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – Historic Lectionary – Mark 7:31-37 – September 3, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today as our Lord opens the mouth of one man, He immediately seeks to shut the mouths of others.
After healing the deaf mute man, our Lord urges again and again, that the man’s friends be silent, that they not speak about what they have seen and heard.
And certainly that they would not go running through the Gentile countryside, proclaiming to Greeks, and Romans, and pagans alike the wonders of this Jesus; the one who makes the sick well, the lame to walk, and brings even life out of death.
Our Gospel reading should sound strange to us.
Jesus does not seem to act very ‘Jesus-like’ today.
Why would our Lord seek to dampen their proclamation? Isn’t something better than nothing?
Why would God not want His name spread throughout the Gentile nations, why would He want to hide His power and authority from those who have never known Him?
Not all publicity is good publicity.
The men running away with joy and wonder will certainly speak about exactly what they have seen. They will tell of Jesus the miracle worker, the one who comforts the suffering, and brings an end to disease and sickness, who rescues the despairing from the brink of death and restores them to life.
To be sure, there is certainly truth to what these men will go preaching. But they will fail to preach Jesus as He is, Jesus in His mission, Jesus according to His will and purpose.
This is why He commands them to shut their mouths.
For if in trying to speak the Gospel, we would miss the crucifixion – the very miracle of the Father, by which He has opened the ears of not only the deaf, but literally the dead, and has released the tongues of those found into the body of His Son, that they might hear His life, and speak His life – if we miss this, then we miss everything.
Something is actually not better than nothing.
To lose the crucified Christ, no matter how ‘Christian’ or ‘Gospel-sounding’ the message might be, is to lose the Gospel altogether.
The preaching of the man’s friends, will do something to the world, but it will not be good. As hard as it might be for us to hear, their preaching will actually make Jesus’ ministry more difficult.
And if that is perhaps too hard to hear, if we would respond with ‘Well Jesus is God and He can do anything, nothing is too hard for Him’, then perhaps an easier way of saying the same thing, is that the preaching of the deaf man’s friends, will make those who hear it, even more deaf to the true Gospel.
Their hearing will be impeded, they will not see Jesus coming, and they might even miss him altogether.
They will have believed in someone ‘like Jesus’, but ultimately they will believed in someone who is not Jesus.
This tragedy and deafness bears itself out eventually at the end of Holy Week, as Jesus comes to stand before Herod in the hours before His crucifixion.
Herod has heard much of Jesus, perhaps even the report of this man’s healing and the joyful preaching of his friends. He knows all about the miracles of Jesus and the power and authority that He has even over sickness and disease.
But He is not actually interested in Jesus. His ears are not open to the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.
Herod wants a miracle, and nothing more than that. He wants to see a trick, to be entertained, and to have something to talk about. He is blind and utterly deaf to the very flesh of God standing in front of Him ready and waiting to bear even Herod’s sins to the blood of His cross.
Not all publicity is good publicity.
‘Something’ is not always better than nothing.
And missing the boat on the Gospel, while trying to preach ‘Christ’, is not anything new to us.
You and I live in a culture that for centuries has tried to marry, and meld, and force together, what we might call ‘American Values’ to the substance of Christ’s Gospel.
To treat these things as one in the same, that whatever works for one culture or one truth, should work for the other.
The most obvious problem with this temptation is that American Values are of course, bound to change, and they certainly have in even the last two hundred years, but the Gospel does not change, in fact, it cannot change, it is the very Word of God, that Word which is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, that Word which endures forever.
Yet we are quick to ignore this, to brush it aside and treat our Lord’s Word as merely a book of antiquity that desperately needs an update; that needs to be finally brought into the context in which we live.
In this dangerous marriage, the only thing that seems to be winning is that of American Values.
The Gospel suffers under this marriage. It is ripped and gutted of its substance and authority.
Yet we as Americans love efficiency, we love pragmatism or practicality,
‘If it works, go ahead and do it’, and ‘If it works well, then it becomes the new standard’.
In our recent history, it has very much been these ideas and so-called truths, rather than the very Promises of Christ, that have guided and shaped and molded and forged ahead in the strategies of evangelism, witness, outreach and mission.
We are even somewhat blind and deaf, to the very Promises of Christ, who pledges His own faithfulness in drawing His Church unto Himself. That He does not need men to make His Gospel more attractive, and certainly not more efficient. Rather, through His Church He has simply opened its ears, and released its tongue not to listen simply to anything, nor babble simply about whatever, but to take up His Word, to hear it and speak it.
It is the lifelong tendency of our fallen nature, that we would not only ignore our Lord’s Word, but that we would even count it as arbitrary, as useless, as foolish, and as not exactly fitting our context.
This is our plight as sinful human beings, and it is not something new to humanity in the modern age to think of God’s Word as outdated and unnecessary.
In fact, we even find this temptation and sin in our mother Eve, who in the Garden, surrounded by every Good and Perfect gift, still, even newly created counted the Word of God as outdated, and wisdom as better than the Lord’s Promises.
If this was able to tempt and lure our first parents into sin, then how much more at risk are you and I who live and dwell in the murkiness of sin and guilt?
This is what it means every time we sin, that we are in fact making the judgment that we are smarter than Jesus, and that He is out of touch with reality, with our circumstances, and with our needs.
God’s Law is always Good, and it is always for you, and for your good.
And this is true, even when the Law of God is confusing to you, even when it seems arbitrary, outdated, and not exactly fitting your context.
For when the Law seems contrary to what is Good, like that of Jesus silencing the deaf man’s friends, our life lived in and through this very Word made flesh, is that we would repent and be opened again.
When we do not, and when we insist on our own way, we do actually end up hurting ourselves, and in fact, hurting our neighbors.
In the Lutheran Church, especially found in modern America, there is perhaps no other issue of doctrine and practice that is so un-American, so unreasonable to our own wisdom, and so contrary-sounding to what we think the Gospel should be as that of our practice and confession of Holy Communion.
And I don’t simply mean what we believe and confess is present for us on the altar. That here you will find not simply the spiritual presence of Jesus, but His true living, and physical body and blood, risen from the dead and given to you in real time.
No, what is perhaps the most un-American, the longtime hold-out on a Gospel +American Values Marriage, the most confusing and unreasonable, even to us, is that of our Lord’s command and promise that it is He Himself who admits and invites to eat and drink at His table, and that it is His Word, found on His own lips and testified through the apostles and evangelists that He has given to the mouth of the Church to say to others, “Not today, But Soon”
Our Lord desires that all men would be baptized into His name, given His Word upon their lips, and come soon to the Table of His Passion.
But that desire is not some blanket statement that we would take and run with any way we choose.
It is still His Work, still His command and promise, and sometimes even to us in His Church, that Word sounds confusing, perhaps very ‘un-Jesus-like’ or at least, optional.
At the font of Holy Baptism, Christians are made, sons and daughters are born out of nothing, and ears are opened not by the glamour of pastors or the attractiveness of a Church, but by the Finger of God Himself.
Yet the Journey in Christ, from the Font to the Table is never immediate. It flows literally through the Liturgy, through the Word of Christ and the hearing of that Word so that by His good Work, by Law and Gospel, deaf and mute men, might be given to not only hear His Word, but confess it in truth and in communion.
In concrete terms, this looks like Christian Instruction, it looks like First Communion classes, and Confirmation. And this work of Christ through His Church, is somewhat unreasonable to us, it isn’t very efficient, it takes time, we walk together in the Word of the Lord, letting He Himself do the Work, preach the Gospel, and bear the fruit.
This is actually the blessing given to your children who do not yet commune. It is simply the Word that says, ‘Not today, but soon.’
The Lord is present, fully, with and for His People, and not only at His Holy Supper.
He is fully present for His children in the waters of Holy Baptism. And the Service of the Word is not to us some extra or add on to the service, it is in fact, the viva vox Jesu, the Living Voice of Jesus, present for His people, opening their ears, loosing their tongues and preparing them for His Holy Communion.
He is the Lord of Compassion. Even though the deaf man’s friends will ignore and refuse Him, He is still moved to heal and to save, for He is the friend of sinners. He has Compassion, even on us, even on those who have ignored His Word and counted His promises as outdated.
And He desires to have you. It is this compassion that goes with you on the long but present road from the font of Baptism, to the mouth of the Teacher, and soon to the body of Jesus, drawing all men to Himself.
Indeed He does all things well, and whether today or tomorrow, sooner or later, He will draw you to Himself. To the feast that does not end, to the table that we will not depart from.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.