Be Open To
We say, "I am or am not open to" "He or she is not open to" To this text or more precisely to the Jesus described in this text be open.
Be open to the accidental Savior. The Accidental Tourist is a 1985 book and 1988 movie. It is about man who writes tour guides for reluctant business travelers. It's really not a story about tourists or travel guides; it's a love story. Our text is also a love story and it is about a savior and the apparently accidental, happenstance nature of His work. Jesus leaves the environs of Tyre, goes through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into Decapolis. The Sea of Galilee area excepted, these were all Gentile areas. He is going from pagan territories to pagan territories. What about being sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24)"? What happened to the charge He gave to the 12, "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter the towns of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 10:5)? This is Jesus' first venture to foreign soil except for His trip as a baby to Egypt. Aside from that trip too, this 100-mile plus journey was the longest of His life. Where Jesus ends up, Decapolis, a league of 10 cities, He has been before. Earlier He had fed the 5,000 and healed the Gadarene demoniac.
Jesus is the accidental Savior not that He saves reluctantly like a businessman is a tourist but that He saves where we don't expect Him. The region He is coming from, Tyre, is where the Canaanite woman's demonized daughter was healed. Read your Old Testament. Can you believe the most wicked king ever, Manasseh, repents? Can you believe Ahab does? How about the whole city of Nineveh at the preaching of Jonah? What about the centurions in Luke 7 and Acts 10? Just how, when, and where does the Savior enter their lives? We know the how' in that the Gospel of who Jesus is and what He does is what creates saving faith. So, wherever the Gospel is sown it may sprout. But the when may take a long time.
I said Jesus had been in this region before. After healing the Gadarene demoniac, the people of the area converged on Jesus and they begged Him to leave their region. Although He had delivered a man from a legion of devils, a man that was impossible for them to control and who terrorized them, it had cost them 2,000 pigs; that's a lot of pork. So, they want Him gone, but now look. Jesus is back and what are they doing? Some of them begged (same word) Jesus to help a deaf man barely able to speak.
Be open to the accidental Savior at work every place His Gospel and Sacrament are which bring what He finished on the cross in 30 A.D. into 2018 A.D. There is no place, no people, no sin that Jesus is not strong enough to save. Be open not only to the accidental Savior but the E-healer. Not that Jesus is an electronic healer but He is an eccentric one. Taking the afflicted man away from the crowd, putting His fingers in the man's ears, spitting and touching the man's tongue, looking up to heaven, sighing, and saying "Ephphatha" Jesus does only here. They convey to this deaf man who Jesus is, from heaven, and what He came to do, heal his hearing and speaking. And they convey, contrary to poetess Ella Wheeler Wilcox, when you weep you don't weep alone and your sigh is not lost on the air. No, in Jesus all of heaven sighs with you. This deaf man wouldn't have heard it but he would have seen it and could have felt it if Jesus was still touching him.
These things meant a lot to the early church. Saying Ephphatha, touching the ears and tongue were transferred to the Baptismal rite early on (ODCC, 462). The early church did this to signify that spiritual obstacles are no less removed by Christ in Baptism than were the physical obstacles removed by Him in this case (Trench, 379). Luther had them in his Baptism rite of 1523. But he added this cautionary remark: "Now remember, too, that in Baptism the external things are the least important, such as blowing under the eyes, signing with the cross, putting salt into the mouth, putting spittle and clay into the ears and nose. For most assuredly Baptism can be performed without all these" (LW, 53, 99-102). In 1526 Luther revised the Rite of Baptism. This time he removed the ritual acts of blowing, giving salt, the first of two exorcisms, the Ephphatha, and giving a candle. He retained, however, the second exorcism: "Depart thou unclean spirit and give room to the Holy Spirit" (Ibid., 106).
We retain the sign of the cross and the giving of the candle. There are other Confessional Lutherans who use the rite of 1523. When this is done, it can cause problems. "My child didn't have all of that at his Baptism; was his less?" No Confessional pastor would say that. And every Confessional pastor has the sense that more could outwardly be done to emphasize the power and promise that are in Baptism. Many laymen do as well. Several have asked about having a Baptismal font with running water or just open with water in it. One suggested we get a clear bowl and have a blue light shining up from below. You may think that's funny; I don't. Historically church art has put halos and nimbi around the holy Persons of the godhead and saints made holy by the forgiveness of their sins. Luther said all such external things, including liturgical gestures, ceremonies, and rites, were to aid the uneducated. My position is that in these latter days the uneducated in spiritual things includes us all.
Be open to the E-healer Jesus. In our text, His eccentric actions conveyed to the deaf man what he could not hear. Jesus was going to open his ears and free his tongue. He probably does hear the Ephphatha. It's for the man's sake Jesus says it. And it's for us and our salvation that God the Son took on ears and tongue and sighs under the accumulated weight of the world's griefs and sorrows. In Baptism, the holy life Jesus lived and the guilty, damned death He died, are joined to us for death and life, for forgiveness and salvation, for rescue and relief. Those ancient ceremonies attached to the actual Sacrament of applying water in the name of the Triune God convey to spiritually deaf people the power and the promise of Baptism and the retched state we are in: demonized, deaf, and dumb to spiritual things. But such ceremonies can go wrong. They can obscure the real power of Baptism. They can descend into superstition. They can go "wrong" even as this healing did.
To forestall this not only be open to the accidental Savior and the E-Healer, but be open to the Beautiful Savior. This 17th century German hymn was once regarded as an "ancient Crusader's Hymn". It's not (Handbook, 466). And talk about something going wrong. How often have you been challenged, criticized, maybe even attacked for the Crusades as if they were the greatest evil ever outdoing the Ottoman Empire's slaughter of Armenians, Hitler's Final Solution, and Stalin's Purge? But still we must admit; something was wrong. The word crusade literally means "the state of being marked with the cross" (Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, 129). That could also be called the state of being baptized. It belongs not to the baptized to wage physical war for Jesus' sake. No, Jesus defeated all of His enemies on the cross.
In our text the healing went wrong the way ceremonies can. The crowd was struck by the wrong thing, the outward healing. This led to them blatantly disregarding Jesus' command not to tell anyone. We even have the added note "the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it." Let your child do this to you one time and it won't happen again. But Jesus doesn't send a lightning strike or an earthquake. He suffers the gathering of 4,000 men plus women and children and again is faced with the need to feed them in a deserted place. But they came to Him for the wrong reason. Don't you know that medicine now can pretty much do the physical healing Jesus did in this text? An ear, nose, and throat doctor from 2018 would be in 30 A.D. like Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King's Arthur's court. He would be regarded as a magician, a miracle worker.
Jesus did not come to heal everybody. We saw in Luke Bible Class how He left Capernaum while hundreds, thousands, of people looked for Him to heal their sick loved ones or rescue their demonized ones. Jesus did come to save everyone. He came not to bear the sins of some but the sins of the world. He is the wrath removing sacrifice, says St. John, not only for our sins but the sins of the whole world. He came to call all who are burdened and heavy ladened not just some or most. It's true the physical healings point to that New Heaven and New Earth where there is no deafness, no difficulty speaking, and only perfect bodies, but we can be so enamored with the outward healing we miss the Healer and the heaven being pointed to.
Or worse, we can think the miracle of Baptism extends to the outside. Baptized babies are protected from physical harm and disease that the unbaptized are not. Read about the sons of Clovis 1 who reigned over the Franks from the late 5th to early 6th century. His wife was a Christian and wanted her husband to be. She secretly baptized both sons. The first died shortly after. The second got gravely ill and almost died. Of course, Clovis became even more resistant to Christianity. The outward reality of death and sickness trumped any spiritual promise in Baptism. The miracle is that Clovis did eventually come to the faith.
Isaiah 53:2 says, "There was nothing beautiful or majestic about Jesus' appearance, nothing to attract us to Him." Likewise, the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, doesn't come with beauty or majesty, although truly it is both beautiful and majestic. But if you dress the things of God up too much, you feed the desire to live by sight not faith. Baptism and all the Sacraments are miracles, but they don't look that way. Jesus is a beautiful Savior but crucified, bloody, and beaten in 30 A.D. He didn't look it. And today in Water, Bread, Wine, and Words He doesn't look it either. The miracle is having been touched by God's grace conveyed from 30 A.D. to 2018 A.D. by these ordinary looking thing we're opened to seeing and hymning Him as beautiful Savior today. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20180909); Mark 7:31-37