Monday, September 07, 2015

Sermon on Mark 7:31-37, for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, "The Secret that couldn't be kept"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today Jesus performs a miracle to heal a man who is deaf and mute, or unable to speak clearly. For people who are deaf or unable to speak, this passage may speak very clearly and with great comfort, to know that Jesus cared for and noticed these people—that they were included in His ministry. In everyday life, these people are often hidden, marginalized, or unnoticed by us. Did you know that only about 2% of deaf people in the United States attend church? Even today they are largely overlooked and unserved. However today’s reading shows Jesus’ compassion reached them and healed them. And in the story, it was partly because friends and neighbors brought the man to Jesus.
But do you here, as hearing and speaking Christians—does this passage speak to you? You’ve probably never imagined the world of total silence, and of having to communicate through sign language, lip reading, or writing. Does this passage stir a compassion and awareness to the deaf in our community and your neighborhoods, that you might not have noticed? Have we considered how we can bring them to Jesus, or bring Jesus to them? If a deaf person came to us, would we be able to help?
Beyond that possibility, how does this passage teach us who are part of the hearing and speaking community? Are there ways in which our ears and mouths also need to be opened? Let’s take a closer look at the healing. The people who brought the man begged Jesus to lay hands on him. Jesus pulled the man aside privately, and did something a little unusual, and some might even consider “gross.” He put his fingers in the man’s ears, spit, and touched the man’s tongue. Does that mean Jesus put His own spit on the man’s tongue? Well, Jesus rubbed His spit on the eyes of a blind man, in Mark 8, in order to heal that man. He may have been doing the same here, as it’s the only other miracle that describes Jesus’ spit. We don’t know why, but Jesus obviously was not “grossed out” by the human condition, or afraid to get near and make contact with those who were suffering or afflicted. His words and His touch brought healing. They also communicated His compassion.
There is something very physical and earthly about Jesus, as He doesn’t always “heal from a distance” as He did on one or two occasions. He literally got down in the dust and got His hands dirty. He came near to those who needed His help, and He touched them. Should it surprise us that the God who made us, and the hands that fashioned Adam from the dust of the earth, and formed Eve from the rib in his side, would grasp and heal the bodies that carried in them the brokenness and effects of sin in them? Should it surprise us that God wants to repair and heal in them what does not work as He designed and created it to do?
The New Testament is very clear that Jesus ushers into the world the new creation. The old world is corrupted and failing through the effects of sin. It won’t last forever, and God is going to make a new heavens and a new earth. The miracles of Jesus are some of the signs that the new creation is breaking into the old, that the work of Jesus’ new creation has already begun. They are like the labor pains signaling the start of childbirth. Yet the world continues to groan and suffer under the curse of sin. We glimpse the new creation, but it’s only beginning. It’s far from complete.
In our own lives we or others close to us suffer from the curse of sin in diseases, or loss of health, aging. Or our bodies may not be able to do everything that God originally designed them to do. Couples may wrestle with childlessness and the pain that brings. People may not have full use of their hands, arms, or legs—by birth, by injury, or by disease. Our internal organs may not all work as they are intended, so that people rely on other interventions—dialysis, or medicines, or corrective surgeries. In short, our bodies don’t all work as they were intended, and lack the perfection God originally made. As Paul describes it, we long and groan inwardly, groaning for our “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). We know that we are not yet experiencing the fullness and goodness of life as God intends for us, and we long for it. We wait in hope.
Do you notice what Jesus does after making physical contact with the man? He looks up to heaven—praying to God—and He “sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘be opened.’” The word “sighed” is related to that word “groan”, used several times in Romans 8. A sigh or a groan is usually a deep, wordless expression of emotion. We let out a sigh or a groan in frustration, or grief, or with intense pain or sadness. How does the God who lovingly made us, feel when He sees us under the curse and burden of sin? Jesus sighs or groans, moved with great compassion for this suffering man. But it’s not the groan or sigh of helplessness or despair or giving up. He says “Ephphatha”—Aramaic for “be opened.” And immediately the man can hear and he can speak. Jesus’ Word was a direct command of God, and restored the man to health and wholeness. Jesus’ Word undid the curse, set the man free from his affliction.
Does Jesus groan for us also? You bet. Romans 8:26 tells us, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” In our weakness, in the uncertainty of our prayers, in our sufferings and longing for the redemption of our bodies, the Spirit of God groans for us and prays for us. When we don’t have the words to express our need, Jesus knows our every need and sympathizes with us in our weakness.
Jesus groans and sighs for us. We need His prayers, His healing, His forgiveness. While we may not be deaf or mute, our bodies are weak with temptation. We struggle and fall into sin. Our health and mind fail us. We either cry out for help, or can’t find the words. But at an even deeper level, we need Jesus’ groans and sighs because spiritually speaking we are deaf and mute. We have ears that are consistently blocked from hearing God’s Word. We have tongues that are tied from properly praising our Lord and giving Him thanks. Too often our ears hear everything but the “one thing needful.” Too often our mouths speak sin, instead of blessing and praising. We need Jesus’ sighs and groans because we are every bit as helpless as the deaf and mute man. Sin and the effects of sin hold us captive. We need ears opened by Jesus’ good news. We need tongues to be loosed to praise and thank Him for what He has done to us.
We need to hear the secret that couldn’t be kept. We need to hear that Jesus is on the loose healing people. That He’s the coming of the new creation, breaking into the old corrupted order, and showing us there’s hope and a new world ahead. We need the message that Jesus is the Savior, come into the world. But the healings Jesus worked were just the earliest beginnings of His grand work. The real work lay ahead of Him. The groans and sighs of Jesus that we need the most, were those groans and sighs that He uttered as He hung on the cross. As He carried out the heaviest and most difficult task of His mission. He hung there with hatred poured out against Him, by people blind and deaf to what God was doing in His Son Jesus, hanging there on the cross. He hung there with tongues loosed to speak evil against Him, and mouths opened to spit and hands to strike. No hands or words to heal. Only to wound and to kill.
But Jesus endured it with groans and sighs of physical pain and agony—but even deeper, of the spiritual pain of sin weighing down on Him, and the great sadness of seeing His people attack Him in this way. But Jesus sighed and groaned and finally breathed out His last, not in defeat or helplessness or giving up. His work was finished. He had endured the awful suffering, to redeem sinners. Not a groan or a tear was wasted, as He longed for us to be forgiven and restored to Him. Jesus’ word is powerful and effective.
And with His Ephphatha—with His “be opened”—our ears hear again. Our hearts leap with joy at the news of His forgiveness, His victory, His resurrection! Our tongues are loosened to sing His praises, and tell what He has done. And we know, that the total redemption of our bodies is promised and near, when Jesus comes again. Amen! Come Lord Jesus.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      What does Exodus 4:11 tell us about the mute or the deaf? How did God provide protection for the deaf and disadvantaged, in Leviticus 19:14?
2.      How are God’s thoughts and ways, compared to our own? Isaiah 55:8-9. What reason did God have for a person being born blind in John 9:2-3? How did God’s purpose show itself in this healing story—Mark 7:31-37?
3.      Read Mark 7:32. How did the friends or neighbors of the deaf and mute man have compassion on him? How can we find those who need Jesus and His help, and how can we bring them to Jesus?
4.      Jesus’ actions are very physical and earthly in Mark 7:33. Cf. Mark 8:23. What can human touch communicate to another person? In Mark 7:34, why might Jesus have sighed or groaned (another possible translation of the word)? What emotions usually lead to a sigh or a groan?
5.      How does God groan for us? Romans 8:26-27. Why does the Spirit do so? What is all creation experiencing? Romans 8:18-23
6.      What kinds of signs and healings would the promised Messiah or Savior perform? Isaiah 35:5-6?
7.      Why couldn’t the crowds keep the “secret” about what Jesus had done? Mark 7:36-37. Why do we often find it hard to share the Good News about Jesus? Why shouldn’t we be afraid to do so?
8.      Jesus’ healing was a little glimpse of the “new creation.” Why does He say in Revelation 21:5, that “I am making all things new”? What is wrong with this current creation, and what will be different about the new creation? How is the comment of the eyewitnesses in Mark 7:37, like God’s observation of the original creation in Genesis 1:31?

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