Sunday, August 30, 2015

What If God Keeps Score?

What If God Keeps Score?

Thirteenth after Trinity

Psalm 130 (BCP p. 436)
Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O LORD;
Lord, hear my voice.
O let thine ears consider well  
the voice of my complaint.
If thou, LORD, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss,
O Lord, who may abide it?
For there is mercy with thee;  
therefore shalt thou be feared.
I look for the LORD; my soul doth wait for him;  
in his word is my trust.  
My soul fleeth unto the Lord before the morning watch;
I say, before the morning watch.
O Israel, trust in the LORD;
for with the LORD there is mercy,
and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he shall redeem Israel
from all his sins.

In case you don’t keep up with such things, Ashley Madison is a website where people created accounts who wanted to have extramarital affairs. This website got hacked; the hacker is publishing the names of those with accounts. There are only 3 Zip Codes that have no accounts.  A Christianity Today writer estimates that today 400 church leaders will resign. Why? They signed up for Ashley Madison accounts and are being outed.

The internet keeps score.

1. Consternation

1.1 Desperation. The first three verses of Psalm 130 reveal a desperate man.  

You hear that in his voice. He cries, “O Lord,”  four times. A child who is danger and afraid, cries, “Daddy, help me! Daddy, I’m scared!”  When you’re in trouble, you call to whom you think can help, and hope he can and will. All of us recall times we have called out to the Lord, knowing only he can deliver. You get fired. You can’t pay your bills. The doctor gives you bad news. Your spouse leaves. Your close friend betrays you. “O Lord, help; O Lord, save me.”

You feel the desperation as he says, “Out of the deep have I called unto thee.” When we were with family in July, we swam in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the grandkids liked to go out till they were standing on tiptoes and then jump when a wave came. But you could tell when they were afraid. They clung to the nearest adult. The Psalmist feels he’s drowning in deep, threatening waters.

He calls: “O Lord, hear my voice. O let thine ears consider well voice of my complaint.”  Nothing is worse than to feel desperate, and call out for help, but no one is there.  When Elijah met the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, they agreed to a contest to determine the true God. He and they would prepare a sacrifice and call for their god to prove himself by sending fire to consume their sacrifice. From morning till noon the prophets of Baal called out, “O Baal, answer us.” Elijah started mocking them, saying perhaps Baal was thinking, or using the bathroom, or taking a trip, or asleep. They called out more frantically and cut themselves to try to get Baal’s attention. Nothing worked. The Scripture observes: “But there was no voice, and no one answered... there was no voice. No one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:26, 29). The Psalmist feels the desperation of a person who is crying out for deliverance right now, but fears that there is no hope for him.

1.2 Cause At verse 3 we discover the cause of the Psalmist’s desperation. “If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it?” Or, better, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (ESV)

Vester Lee Flanagan (or, Bryce Williams, his TV name), murdered a reporter and her cameraman during a live broadcast Wednesday morning. Two experts in workplace violence describe him as a “grievance collector.” Such people keep score of who did what when. But you don’t have to be deranged to keep score of wrongs. A couple went to see a Christian counselor. The counselor asked about the problems. The wife pulled out a notebook and put it on the desk. She had recorded every wrong done by her husband.

We can be like that wife. Some are quick to list every wrong as it happens. Others say nothing but never forget. Others keep quiet till provoked and then pour out all their grievances, great and small.

What if God were like that? God is present at all times in all places. His vision is perfect. His memory is perfect. Nothing hinders him from keeping a perfect record of everything ever done by everyone of us.

Someone says, “God is not petty. He would never keep score like that.”  God is not petty. But, that person often assumes that the things we do are not all that bad - after all we’re not Hitlers or Bryce Williamses - and the things most of us do are so insignificant that God would never be too upset about them.

That view misunderstands God’s nature. God is holy and righteous. As we read from Habakkuk, God’s eyes are too pure ever to look on iniquity with indifference. That view misunderstands the nature of ourselves and our actions. In Romans 1 Paul says Gentiles are sinners. “Amen,” says the Jew. But then he turns to the Jews, and says, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Rom. 2:1). He concludes that, “all, both Jews and Gentiles, are under sin” (3:9), that, “none is righteous, no not one” (3:10), and that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).

Who can stand if God keeps score? Not one human being.

2. Confidence

2.1. Forgiveness For only 3 letters, the word “but” is extremely powerful. “I almost failed that class, but I didn’t.”  

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness.” God forgives. If he did not, there would be no hope for any human being - not me, not you. He does not hold sins against us. He does not treat us as we deserve. He forgets them, not that there is anything wrong with his memory, but that he chooses to forget our sins.  King David well knew what he wrote about the Lord:

(He) forgives all your iniquity.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
(Ps. 103:3,10-12)

He promised through Jeremiah:

For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember
their sin no more. (Jer. 31:34)

No one who knows the holiness of God or the sinfulness of his own heart and life would ever come to God, if he did not believe God is a forgiving God. Like Adam we would hide and try to avoid any dealings with God. If God is not forgiving, going to God would be like a guilty criminal going before a judge who is bound to punish him for his crimes. But, you can go home, no matter what you have done - no matter if you have never believed or you have been a Christian from childhood. God forgives all who with genuine sorrow for their sins come to him and ask pardon.

2.2 Fear

How do you respond to such forgiveness? You can stand on your pride and reject it. Or you can receive it with gratitude and awe. That’s what the Psalmist means when he says, “With you there is forgiveness that you may be feared.” Forgiveness does not make us more ready to sin or to take advantage of God’s mercy. Forgiveness should not make us take sin less seriously, or make us less inclined to please God. God’s merciful forgiveness creates reverence for God, so that with the prophet Micah we say: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression?”

3. Conclusion What happens when the Psalmist’s consternation about his sins resolves into confidence in God’s forgiveness?

3.1 Waiting

He waits for the Lord like the night watchman waiting for morning. The watchman waits for the first glimmers of dawn that signal the coming a new day. What is the Psalmist waiting for? He is waiting for what we call ‘the “absolution or “the assurance of pardon.”

How will that come? It will come when the priest offers the sacrifice on the altar that will make atonement for his sins. He puts his hope in the word that assures pardon through sacrifice.

We know our sins are forgiven, not because we present an offering to God, but because Christ has presented himself to the Father, as “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction” for our sins. The sacrifices of the Old Testament could never secure forgiveness but only point to the sacrifice of Christ that would. The forgiveness of our sins is not in doubt, because Christ makes forgiveness certain. In his sacrifice we hear the sure word of pardon.

3.2 Exhorting

You don’t keep good news to yourself. You share it with others who have your need. Do you know a Christian who fears his sin is so grave he cannot be forgiven? Do you know an unbeliever who feels under condemnation because of his sins? You can say what the Psalmist said:

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
    from all his iniquities.

Martin Luther’s conscience troubled him night and day till he found peace in Christ. As he reflected on Psalm 130 he wrote these words:

From depths of woe I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication;
If Thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O who shall stand before Thee?

To wash away the crimson stain,
Grace, grace alone availeth;
Our works, alas! are all in vain;
In much the best life faileth:
No man can glory in Thy sight,
All must alike confess Thy might,
And live alone by mercy.

Therefore my trust is in the Lord,
And not in mine own merit;
On Him my soul shall rest, His Word
Upholds my fainting spirit:
His promised mercy is my fort,
My comfort, and my sweet support;
I wait for it with patience.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Satan Uses Animals to Attack Me

Plagues of Gnats, Ants, Bats, Dogs, and Wasps

Since Eden Satan has been making use of animals to carry out his attacks. I suppose then it is not altogether surprising he has used animals to carry out his attacks against me as a minister.

When I was first out of seminary I served two churches in a farming area of north Florida. Shade grown tobacco was still grown, but there were also cows, pigs, corn, etc. In August a plague of gnats descended upon the land. They were everywhere including the church building. As I was preaching one Sunday, a multitude surrounded me. As I opened my mouth to speak I got a mouthful of the little creatures. It was not so much the mouthful of the gnats themselves as the thought of where they had been on the nearby farms that troubled me. I believe this was a Satanic attack to try to force me to close my mouth. 

When I was a campus minster, and we lived in Hattiesburg, MS, we had a dog named Pokey. There were certain of our students Pokey did not particularly like. One day, when we were having a cookout at our house, I emerged from the kitchen to our back porch to find Pokey barking like he had treed a squirrel and a student standing on our picnic table. We also hosted a Thursday night Bible study for adults. One man who had had an army career was very faithful along with his dear wife. As they approached the back door one night, Pokey was lying in wait near the back gate, and suddenly attacked as though he were coming through that big wooden gate. Our friend was caught so off guard he let loose with a string of words he had probably not used since he got out of the army. Pokey no doubt was demon possessed, but we have had more than a few laughs as we have remembered that night.

In Louisville, Mississippi, a group of us one evening were working to get a building ready to use for worship. Toward sunset I was in the church yard when I had an encounter with fire ants. From past experience I knew this might not be good. We had a doctor in the church, but, he was inconsiderate enough to be home sick. When consulted on the phone, he told the pharmacist, who was also in the church, what to give me. When the pharmacist looked at me, he wasn't sure that the oral medicine would be adequate so, after talking with the doctor on the phone, he sent me to the emergency room. They checked my vitals to make sure I was not going to die on them, but soon they seemed to look at me less as a patient and more like something grotesque from which you cannot turn your gaze. Nurses started coming from various places in the hospital to get a look at me. My face and shoulders were the color of a fire engine, I was broken out in big hives, my lips were swollen to double or more their size, and even my ears were were swollen. All this from 3 or 4 bites on my legs. I believe fire ants are themselves devils.

In the Washington, D.C., area I was preaching away one Sunday night, when people started looking at each other and at me, breaking out into big smiles bordering on laughs. Thinking it was all about me, I tried to continue to preach while trying to review in my mind what I had said so far. I figured I must have said about the stupidest thing ever said by a minister while preaching and that everybody but me knew what it was. Then I looked behind me and bats were flying around the choir loft. 

There was our black Labrador retriever whose name was Hunter. For the same church one Saturday morning I was teaching an officer training course in our living room. I had concluded the teaching, and the men were visiting with one another before leaving, when the dog, having been trained in the importance of hospitality, came in to greet the men and promptly peed on an elder nominee's shoes. Later a pastoral search committee from Pittsburgh came one Sunday night. Before church Susan served them a light supper at our house. Hunter showed them warm hospitality, too, but it turned out that one of the female members of the committee was much afraid of dogs and did not regard his greetings as friendly. We got through that without the dog doing anything but causing her discomfort and probably some misgivings about the people with five boys and a big dog.

Then we went to the church for the service. The committee had a video camera so that they could tape the sermon and take it back to show to members of the committee who had not come. They decided to sit in the church balcony and to set the camera up there. I felt things were not going too bad with the sermon when the bats, which had not been seen since the choir loft incident a year or two before, emerged and began to fly over the congregation. Not content with the lower level they flew into the balcony where they began to swoop and dive bomb the two ladies on the Committee. They were bats out of the home of the devil.

Now we come to Roanoke. We have an English Shepherd named Murphy whom Susan got because I am not an adequate conversationalist. Last May I was instituted (or installed) by our Bishop who also is an old friend going back to college. Susan was showing some friends, who had come for the service, around town so after the reception the Bishop and I came to our place to visit until it was time for him to go to the airport. I let Murphy out of his crate, and was preparing to put him on his leash and take him outside, when he decided to welcome the Bishop by taking a dump on the floor. I am glad the devil waited to possess Murphy until after I was officially made Vicar.

This brings me to last Sunday. I preached the homily, which I thought, given the apparent attentiveness of the congregation, had gone better than I expected. I was actually feeling pretty good about it, when I began a brief prayer. Then, as I was praying, I was struck in the butt. I opened my eyes to see what was behind me, and I caught a glimpse of my colleague, Fr. Rich Workowski, sneaking back across the chancel to the Epistle side. While I was still praying I began consider what manner of action this was on his part. Was this pent up frustration as he realized what a mistake it was for him to suggest me as the Vicar? Was it rivalry he had covered up as long as he could? Or, more likely, had I said something he strongly disagreed with? Well, as it turned out it was none of the above. Doing almost the entire time I was preaching a wasp had been crawling on the front of my surplice. Several times as I folded my hands across my stomach I had come close to touching him. Eventually he moved from the front to the back, so, when I began to pray, Fr. Rich took the opportunity to deliver a blow which stunned the instrument of Satan (the wasp, I mean). 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Apocalypse Now in Mississippi?

Because Band Can't Play How Great Thou Art

That's stupid - this is still Mississippi
Oh gosh they really did the right thing and showed that stupid judge he couldn't tell them what to do!!!!! GO BRANDON, MS
It would also seem to me that a certain federal judge needs to be put on sick leave. i am sure he will be wearing a few casts and bandages....that should qualify for sick leave, right? NATION! GOD HELP US!!!
Screw our worldly leaders and let's stand behind our Christian leader! Amen! Let's all worship our Lord the way we want to people! 
      - Comments on MS State Senator Chris McDaniel's Facebook Page

When I was in high school, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a student read 2 Chronicles 7:14 over the PA system for that morning's devotional. Seemed appropriate. 

My first serious thoughts that having God in the public schools might not be such a good idea came, when I was a couple of years out of seminary, in Union, Mississippi. Union in the 1970s was like a lot of small Mississippi towns. There was a big Baptist Church. There was medium-size Methodist Church. There was a small Presbyterian Church. The Baptists pretty much ran things.

I was sitting in my study at the Presbyterian Church one morning - probably staring at the wall waiting for a sermon to appear - when the phone rang. It was a secretary at the public school. "Brother Smith, we need you to come to the school. Some of the kids are really upset." What was the problem? That week was spiritual emphasis week which, so far as I know, neither the Methodists or the Presbyterians had anything to do with planning. That morning some of the students were having a "sinners in the hand of an angry God" moment. They had seen a movie dramatizing the rapture and were afraid.

What was I supposed to do? Maybe I should have taken advantage of the moment and said, "If you don't want to be left behind, come to my church. I'll show you how to be sure you'll be caught up in the clouds before the tribulation." If it happened today, I would be pretty likely to say, "That rapture stuff is not in the Bible. It's crappy, novel doctrine." Soon it would be all over town that I don't believe the Bible. But, really, as a minister, you do have to worry about the kids, don't you? What should and could I say and do in that situation? 

My one (or was it two then?) son was a baby. I think there was one, maybe two, kids from our church in school. I wasn't too concerned about public school. But that incident did two things. (1) It made me realize that, if you are going to have religion in a public school, the majority religious culture will decide what it is. There is probably a pretty good chance it won't occur to them that anyone wouldn't believe what they believe, and, if it should occur to them, they will probably think, "Majority rules." (2) I made me understand what if feels like to be in a minority that does not want your kids exposed to what you don't believe. 

Last Friday the Brandon, MS, High School Band did not put on its half-time show. Why? Well the program included the hymn, "How Great Thou Art," and on Thursday the Rankin County School Board decided that song must not be played. 

The background is that the School Board had been sued because prayer assemblies were held at another high school in the same county. The school district agreed it was improper and signed an out of court agreement that included a pledge that it would not happen again. However, later the same school held an awards ceremony at which a minister prayed. Southern District Court Judge Carlton Reeves found that the district had violated the agreement. He imposed a fine and "permanently enjoined (the district) from including prayer, religious sermons or activities in any school sponsored event including but not limited to assemblies, graduations, award ceremonies, athletic events and any other school event. That means administrators, teachers and staff of the Rankin County School District may not participate in any religious activity, or solicit or encourage religious activities at school or while performing duties as a RCSD employee."

The School Board, perhaps being overly cautious,
facing another lawsuit and fearing being found in contempt of the court's order, told Brandon High School that "How Great Thou Art" could not be played. But, the fans, like David defying the God-defying Goliath, the three Hebrew young men defying the command to bow before the image of Nebuchadnezzar, Martin Luther defying the Pope, and Ross Barnett defying the order to let James Meredith attend the University of Mississippi, would have none of it. They stood and sang "How Great Thou Art" before the kickoff. It brings to mind the scene in Rick's Cafe in Casablanca when the French patrons drown out the Nazis and defiantly sing "La Marseillaise." 

Immediately the two leading true conservatives in the Mississippi State Senate, Chris McDaniel and Melanie Sojourner, jumped in, both posting more than once on Facebook. Senator McDaniel wrote:
Out of fear it might violate a a federal judge's order, the band was told it would not be able to
perform at halftime during the season opening game.This is absolutely ridiculous, and an absurd interpretation of the Constitution's establishment clause. The federal court is dead wrong. It's time to push back. Conservatives better wake up.
I'm proud of the people of Brandon, MS.
The Rankin County School District (out of fear of a federal judge) may have kept the Brandon High School Band off the field on Friday night, but they didn’t stop the parents and fans from voicing their support for the band’s intention to play the hymn “How Great Thou Art”...Keep singing. Keep fighting. We will eventually prevail.
The liberal chattering class is arguing that a high school band playing a religious song somehow violates the Establishment Clause. Don't fall for it. Pure ignorance, on display for the world to see.
Confusion over the legality of public displays of religion prompts government officials and "everyday people" to choose a "safer course" of purging "from the public sphere all that in any way partakes of the religious,"...Time to take a stand.
Senator Sojourner posted:
Enough is enough. Students don't yield their religious rights just because they go to school. I
understand the Rankin County Schools have an injunction against them for religious activities that are considered to have been "state sponsored". But, we can't let it end there.Two years ago, along with Sen. Chris McDaniel, we passed the Student Religious Liberties Act, which clarifies how a student can exercise their religious rights, even at school  Students absolutely can take actions and push back. In the coming weeks we will be scheduling student workshops with several church youth groups in Pike County to inform students on the language of the law that does help protect their religious rights.
God bless the parents and students at Brandon High who refused to yield!! If we are going to make our nation great again we must continue to push back on those in the system who failed us. No one should yield their rights because a federal judge misinterpreted the Establishment Clause. 

I keep up with Mississippi politics, and I find it very hard to figure out what to make of these two "no compromise" conservatives. When I read their comments on the Brandon High School Band and the comments they allow to remain on their Facebook pages, I get the impression that for them believing in Christianity, being committed to conservative politics, detesting Haley Barbour,Tate Reeves, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner, refusing to change the Mississsippi State Flag with the Confederate Battle Flag in upper left corner, and stirring people up about a high school band halftime show are all pretty much the same.  I wonder: "Do they really believe these things they say? Or, are they just feeding red meat to their bases which they hope to use for their longer term political goals?" A "yes" to one requires belief either that (1) they are simplistic thinkers, or (2) they are cynical politicians. I don't know. But the word "demagogue" comes to mind with increasing frequency.

But, why would a school in effect pick a fight by including "How Great Thou Art" in a halftime show? I mean, is the band music library so limited that you cannot help but use hymn arrangements? And, why would sincere Christians want to cheapen a hymn by its being played by a marching band with its flag girls on a high school football field? (Given the state of church services today, maybe I do get that.) And why would they turn a spiritual exercise (singing the hymn) into an act of political defiance? How many schools have hymn sings in the stands while they're waiting for kickoff? If you've got to engage in culture wars, aren't there better fields of battle than whether a high school band can use a hymn in its halftime show?

All this reminds me of how impossible it is and how unwise it is to try to have religion in the public schools. Whose religion? What sect? Why yours? Why not mine?

J. Gresham Machen wisely argued that, if you want school education mixed with religion, the place to do it is not the public school but the private. In other words don't ask the Presbyterian, or Methodist, or Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic, or Jew, or atheist, to pay for your Baptist public school. On Bible reading in the school Machen wrote: 
I think I am just about as strongly opposed to the reading of the Bible in state-controlled schools as any atheist could be.
For one thing, the reading of the Bible is very difficult to separate from propaganda about the Bible. I remember, for example, a book of selections from the Bible for school reading, which was placed in my hands some time ago. Whether it is used now I do not know, but it is typical of what will inevitably occur if the Bible is read in public schools. Under the guise of being a book of selections for Bible-reading, it really presupposed the current naturalistic view of the Old Testament Scriptures.
But even where such errors are avoided, even where the Bible itself is read, and not in one of the mistranslations but in the Authorized Version, the Bible still may be so read as to obscure and even contradict its true message. When, for example, the great and glorious promises of the Bible to the redeemed children of God are read as though they belonged of right to man as man, have we not an attack upon the very heart and core of the Bible’s teaching? What could be more terrible, for example, from the Christian point of view, than the reading of the Lord’s Prayer to non-Christian children, as though they could use it without becoming Christians, as though persons who have never been purchased by the blood of Christ could possibly say to God, ‘Our Father, which art in Heaven’? The truth is that a garbled Bible may be a falsified Bible; and when any hope is held out to lost humanity from the so-called ethical portions of the Bible apart from its great redemptive core, then the Bible is represented as saying the direct opposite of what it really says. (From "The Necessity of the Christian School)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Finger of God in the Life of Man

The Finger of God in the Life of Man

Twelfth after Trinity

Gospel Lesson: Mark 7:31-37 (KJV)
31 And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.
32 And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.
33 And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;
34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.
35 And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
36 And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it;
37 And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

We are sensitive to people who lose their sight. We understand they have a disability and are not to blame. Not so with people who are losing their hearing. Somehow we blame them. It irritates us to repeat things or to have the radio or TV blaring.  

Jesus encountered a man who had two disabilities that often go together. He was deaf, and he had a speech impediment.

1. The Circumstances

1.1 This incident is the second of two stories in a row that take place in predominantly Gentile area. North of Israel along the Mediterranean Coast Jesus cast a demon out of a little girl whose Gentile mother begged him to do so.

Then he traveled around the Sea of Galilee to region southeast of the Sea, called the Decapolis because it contained ten city-states. While Jesus spent most of his time inside Israel ministering to Jews, the salvation he came to accomplish was for the whole world, and these trips previewed the worldwide mission of his church.

Jesus had been in this region once before and met a man possessed with many demons, who was so demented and dangerous that he lived among the tombs where he went naked and shrieked and bruised himself with stones. When townspeople tried to bind him with chains, he too strong and broke the chains. But Jesus set him free. Soon he was clothed and in his right mind.

When Jesus, left he told the man, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  So the man “went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” If Jesus has done something for you, there is no greater gratitude than to tell others. Don’t get up on your moral high horse, but just say, “I was bound by the guilt of my sins and fear of condemnation, and Jesus set me free.”

1.2 Some in the Decapolis knew about Jesus saving the demon possessed man from the torments of the devil.  When they heard Jesus was back in the area, they thought of their friend who was deaf probably from childhood. Childhood illnesses like ear infections, measles, and chickenpox can lead to hearing loss. Hearing loss then causes speech problem because the child is not able to hear and reproduce sounds. Inability to hear and speak is very frustrating for both the sufferer and those who try to communicate with him.

The friends brought the man to Jesus and begged Jesus to lay his hand on the man to heal him. We can minister to people in many ways, but there is nothing more important we can do for others than to bring them to Jesus and to pray to him on their behalf. As important as this is for those with physical problems, it is far more important for those whose ears cannot hear the saving word of the Lord in Scripture and sermons and whose tongues cannot speak his praise.  

2. The Miracle

2.1 Jesus took the man away from the crowd of people. Sometimes Jesus did miracles before many, as when he fed the feed 5000 from 5 loaves and two small fish. But Jesus never put on a show the way magicians and modern faith-healers do. His purpose was not for people to say, “Wow! Did you see that? ” There was reason and purpose in Jesus’s miracles, but never just to create a spectacle.

2.2 Jesus had the man alone; he put his fingers into the man’s ear. I had an ear infection recently. I could barely hear in that ear, and it felt like it was stopped up and felt like it need to pop. I kept putting my finger in the ear canal and moving it around as though I might open it up. Jesus put his fingers in the ears where the man needed healing.

Then Jesus spit onto his finger and touched the man’s tongue. This is one of three miracles when Jesus used spit. (Please don’t get angry as did a woman who thought I said too much about spit when I preached on one such miracle.) In the next chapter Jesus spits into a blind man’s eyes before restoring his sight. In John 9 Jesus spits on the ground, makes a mudpack, and puts it on a blind man's eyes before healing him. I don’t know why Jesus did this. I do know that my mother was a great believer in the use of saliva. It was good for removing smudges and patting down cowlicks. For some reason, Jesus used spit in dealing with the man’s impediment. It may be he accommodated himself to beliefs that saliva could have healing effects, and so said in effect, “I am going to heal your tongue.”

2.3 Then Jesus sighed. Why?  Yesterday Fr. Rich told several of us to move some wood from one place to another. We sighed, and said to ourselves, “We really have to do that?” When I got home, I sighed both because I was tired and disappointed that so little work caused so much tiredness.  When I work on homilies I sigh in frustration as I try to form thoughts. When we got word of the deaths of two friends in recent weeks we sighed in sadness.

Deafness and speech impediments are just two of the things we suffer in this world because of the sin of Adam and God’s judgment on the human race. We sigh beneath the heavy load of suffering brought into the world by sin. Jesus is not indifferent to us but is touched with our weakness and infirmity. He identifies with us and tells us he shares our disappointment, weariness, frustration and sadness in this fallen world.

2.4 He not only cares, but he means to do something about it. He said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” That’s all it takes - a word from Jesus. He says to this man’s ears, “Be opened,” and they were, even as God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light,” and even as Jesus stood at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, already dead for four days, and said, “Lazarus come out,” and out walked Lazarus. Immediately the man could hear. He could speak plainly as though a string tied to his tongue had been cut.

Jesus worked miracles in more than one way. This time he used his fingers and saliva. But putting his fingers in the man’s ears was not a magical action, nor did his saliva have magical powers. Similarly the sacramental elements and actions are not magical. The two essential things in all  works of grace are the will and the word of Jesus. “He speaks and, listening to his voice, new life the dead receive.”

3. Aftermath

3.1 Jesus told those who saw this miracle not to tell anyone. Why?  Jesus knew two things: (1) He knew there was the danger of people hearing about his miracles and following him just to see miracles without any real understanding of his ministry or commitment to him.  (2) He also knew that hostility toward him was growing with the scribes and Pharisees in Israel, and King Herod Antipas had already killed John the Baptist. He knew the time for completing his work by dying for our sins had not yet come.

3.2 The people who saw that the man could hear and speak, they “were beyond all measure astonished” and they said, “He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.”

The prophet Isaiah foresaw when God would intervene in the world and overturn the works of the devil and relieve the consequences of sin. The Messiah would come and establish God’s kingdom of salvation. Isaiah wrote:

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.
Isaiah 35:5,6

All of Jesus's miracles point to him as the Messiah. The kingdom of God is breaking in to this world to set in irreversible motion God’s plan of salvation and deliverance. Jesus does not heal just to heal. He heals to show us that he is God in the the flesh - his finger is the finger of God at work to accomplish God’s salvation. Whether Jesus calms a raging sea, or cures the leper, or makes the blind to see and the crippled to walk, Jesus is saying, “I am the Messiah and Bringer of God’s salvation.”

What the world did not understand and we can forget it that the whole plan of deliverance meant that he would take responsibility for our sins and redeem us by dying in our place. “By his stripes we are healed.”
Jesus will not stop till he frees us from all sin’s ills. What Jesus did for a few during his ministry on earth, he will do for all his people at the Last Day. We will hear his voice and rise to bodily life without any sickness, suffering, or sorrow. Jesus will command, and instantly we will be truly, fully, and eternally alive.

Hear him ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb
your loosened tongues employ,
ye blind behold your Savior come,
and leap ye lame for joy.