15th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 18 – B)
September 5, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St Mark.
When God assembled our bodies, He considered an infinite number of variables and they’re really rather impressive. Think for a minute about our senses. Sight enables us to make split second decisions to avert danger. The smell of fresh baked cookies fills us with memories. Hearing enables us to communicate easily with others. Taste fills us with delight when we get a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie. Our sense of touch is remarkable: it can convey affection or love, anger or pain, comfort or compassion. Touch is crucial to the development of babies, and infants who aren’t touched enough may eventually pull away from touching. And when sight and hearing are gone, we can still communicate through touch. Today, Jesus uses touch to communicate with a deaf man, but there’s more to it than that. This miracle isn’t just a healing for healing’s sake, it’s proof that Jesus is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do. He uses it also to communicate something to you, that He also touches you.
Jesus frequently performed miracles simply by speaking. “Take up your bed and walk”, “The demon has left your daughter”, “Lazarus come out.” In other situations, He used some sort of physical contact: touched the eyes of two blind men and a leper who begged for healing. When Jesus is asked to help a deaf man who has a speech impediment, it’s not surprising that Jesus would touch his ears and tongue. We know what happened, but at the time the man didn’t. Jesus took steps to communicate to the deaf man what was happening: “Jesus put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’” The purpose of Jesus’ spitting is uncertain, but the source of Jesus’ power was revealed when he looked to Heaven. The touch helps the man understand what was going on, but what really heals is the Word. Jesus speaks and has He does things happen. The people were amazed at the miracle, who wouldn’t be? The point though is to show Jesus as God, and that this man can now hear the Word which healed him.
You don’t see Christ, but still He touches you. He touches you and opens your ears to His Word. His Word touches you when it’s combined with water and poured on your heads in baptism. From that baptismal Ephphatha, you can hear all that He has to say to you. Those brought to faith later heard the Word and the Holy Spirit stirred up a need to hear even more. The Word Jesus speaks isn’t only a healing Word, it’s also a breaking Word. When He condemns your sinful behavior and warns you of the consequences of not obeying what He says, when you recoil from His touch, He calls on your to repent of your sins, it’s the only way to find healing. But what happens when you don’t? After committing adultery and murder, King David says, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” When he hid his sins, when he pulled away from God’s touch, his body was falling apart from the weight of his sin. But you know the next thing David says: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” David heard the Lord’s Word, he confessed, and he was forgiven. When the hammer of God’s Law has broken your bones, His comforting Gospel heals the bruises on your soul. When you heard the words of the Absolution, He opens your ears to His forgiveness. Just by speaking, you are healed and forgiven.
The Word you hear is forgiveness and it brings the Word and Jesus’ touch to you in so many ways. The Lord says in the Old Testament reading: “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!’ Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’” The Word of God soothes your anxious hearts. The Word brings comfort when you’re sick. The Word wipes the sweat of fear from your brow. The Word wipes the tears from your eyes. Word touches your minds and reminds you of all that He has done for you. The Word touches you and forgives all your sins. The Word touches you with hope, for while sometimes you’re deaf to God, He’s never deaf to you. He hears your prayers and pleadings. He hears your cries of joy and sorrow. Jesus has touched you, and because of Him, you’ll never be the same again.
The man who healed was ecstatic and the people were amazed, but Jesus, for His own reasons, wanted them to keep what He had done a secret. “And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” You’re not all that surprised, are you? Could you keep that secret? I sure couldn’t. And that’s why we’re not sworn to secrecy. With open ears and loosened tongues we proclaim the wonders of God. We hear the Word, we’re transformed and forgiven by it, and then we confess that it’s what we believe. We’ve got the greatest news in the history of the world, and we have the obligation, and the joy, to tell others, whoever they might be. We especially tell our children and grandchildren for they’re the ones who will continue the story of Him who does all things good. Jesus is the one Isaiah writes of: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”
The sense of touch reveals so much: it tells us who loves us and who doesn’t, it comforts, and it hurts. The lack of touch can be detrimental, which the response to Covid-19 has demonstrated perfectly. Some people have gone a year without hugging their grandchildren, spouses were separated by illness and unable to hold hands. I think there will be long-term consequences because of the lack of physical contact. Touching can shows our love and uplifts our moods, it’s amazing what good touching can do. When Jesus touches us though, it’s so very different. His touch heals us because He isn’t someone who just does all things well, He does all things. You are touched with peace because He felt that brutal touch of the whips. You are touched with hope because He was touched with thorns. You are touched with forgiveness because He was touched with bloody, rusty nails. He suffered greatly, His sense of touch on that Good Friday was probably on fire, but He did it for you. He has opened your ears, touched your lips, and conveyed to you all the benefits of those set free to proclaim His amazing work for all people.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen