Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Are We Listening? - September 9, 2012 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: Mark 7:(24-30) 31-37
Hearing is just one of our five senses, along with sight, smell, taste and touch, and yet it is a very helpful and useful sense. If we could not hear, we would not be able to hear the beauty of the birds singing, the beauty of songs of praise being raised to our Lord, for us here at St. Matthew, and for some that would certainly include the beautiful sound of the train whistles out on the track in front of the church. Hearing is an important part of our lives. Maybe you have heard it said before, hearing is twice as important as speaking, that is why we have only one mouth, but two ears. Yet, we all like to talk. We all like to hear ourselves talk, and all too often, our own talking gets in the way of our hearing. Paul reminds us of one of the most important aspects of hearing as he says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). And still, there is another important part of hearing. It is only after we have spent much of our time hearing that we can begin to imitate the sounds we hear in order to be able to speak. Someone who is deaf has a difficult time learning to speak, because they cannot hear the sounds they need to imitate in order to speak.
Our text for this morning consists of the narrative of the healing of the demonic daughter of a Syrophoenician woman, and the healing of a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. In the first narrative of the Syrophoenician woman, we are told that she came seeking Jesus and we are most certainly informed of the fact that she was not a Jew, but she was a Gentile. She was a Gentile seeking this Jewish Rabi, Jesus. Accordingly she had no right to do what she was doing, yet, she came and I would say, she came in faith, believing in Jesus and knowing that He could heal her daughter. As the narrative plays out, even after being insulted by Jesus, she shows her faith and Jesus indeed healed her daughter and as the Gospel writer Matthew makes note “Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:28).
In our second narrative the first thing we might notice is that we are not told the man’s name, we are simply told that he could not hear and because he could not hear, he could hardly talk. Evidently he had been deaf for a long time and either had forgotten how to make the sounds which we know as talk or he had only learned a little how to talk. This man was deaf and yet he had some friends who were concerned about him. His friends had either heard Jesus or had heard about Jesus and they were confident that Jesus could help them and him. They too had faith which moved them to bring their friend to Jesus.
These friends brought the deaf man to Jesus and they begged him to “place his hand on the man.” I would suppose that they believed that all that Jesus needed to do was to touch their friend and he would be healed. Jesus took the deaf man aside, away from the crowd and we are told that Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears. Here I would caution us not to think too much of Jesus’ means of healing. Time and again Jesus healed simply by saying the word, as we saw in the first narrative of the casting out of the demon of the woman’s daughter. Jesus did not touch the daughter, He simply told the woman what had been done. We saw that He was able to heal even when He was a far way off. This time He chose to heal in a different way. First He healed the mans deafness by putting His fingers in the man’s ears.
Healing of the man’s hearing, however, was only a partial healing and this Jesus knew. Remember, we learn to speak by imitating the sounds we hear. If we cannot hear then we cannot speak, or at least we cannot speak well. When Jesus heals, He heals completely, thus Jesus also heals the mans speaking. We are told, in our text, that Jesus then spit and touched the man’s tongue. “He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!’”, which we are told means “be opened.” And what happens? Just what Jesus says. The man’s ears are opened and his tongue is loosed and he can immediately speak. He speaks plainly and intelligibly. Jesus brings complete healing.
This text speaks specifically about physical healing and I would suppose if we went around and asked the members of our St. Matthew family we might hear such responses as, “I wish the Lord would heal my spouses hearing,” or “I wish the Lord would help my children to listen better,” or even “I wish the Lord would make my parents listen to me.” We probably accuse each other of not listening more than once in a day. We live in a world which is filled with sound and I might even suggest is filled with noise. I think the term which has used is that it is called noise pollution. Yes, our text speaks about physical hearing, but as we look at this text in the context of the other readings we have this morning and in the context of how Jesus often describes the hearing of people and especially of the Pharisees we will come to a deeper understanding that our physical hearing has a lot to do with our spiritual hearing.
Most of us here can probably hear. But, do most of us here always hear when God speaks? Or do we tune Him out? God would like to speak to us everyday and He would like to speak to us many times in a day. He would also like for us to speak to Him, yet, how can we speak to Him if we do not listen to Him so that we will know how to speak to Him?
God speaks to us. He speaks to us through His Word. As we read our Bible, God is speaking to us. Of course, we can let our minds wonder as we read our Bible and thus not listen to Him. We can simply not take the time to read our Bible and in so doing we are not listening to Him. He speaks to us through the reading and preaching of His Word here in Divine Service. Of course, we can refuse and reject His Word by staying away from Divine Service and Bible Class. He speaks to us most especially at the beginning of almost every service as we confess our sins and here His most beautiful words of forgiveness through the Absolution. Of course, we can deny our sin and not confess and so refuse His forgiveness. He also speaks to us through His sacraments, through Holy Baptism and through the Lord’s Supper. As we remember our Baptism God speaks to us. As we come to the Lord’s Supper to celebrate and participate in His life, death and resurrection, He speaks to us. When we neglect to remember our Baptism, when we neglect to attend the Lord’s Supper, we cannot hear Him.
In much the same way in which we carry on a conversation with each other and with family and friends, so we can carry on a conversation with God. He speaks to us through His Word and Sacraments and we speak to Him in prayer. This is a two way conversation, and it does have a specific rhythm. The rhythm is very much like the rhythm of learning how to speak. First, we must listen to God. Only after we have listened to God can we imagine how to speak to Him. And, after we do listen to Him, He does give us the words to speak to Him.
Each one of us has friends. We have close friends and maybe some friends we count as acquaintances. Let me ask you this, if you spoke to your close friend only once a week and only listened to them for a few minutes once a week, how would that affect your friendship? Or if you only spoke to your friend when you needed something and yet never listened to your friend, how would that affect your friendship? Jesus is our best friend. He has shown that He is our best friend through the giving of His own life for ours. His desire is to be in constant communication with us. He is always there ready to listen and through His Word to speak. As we look at our efforts at communication with Him, how would we evaluate our relationship with Him?
In the case of our earthly relationships, I would suggest that if we spend more time way from our friends than we do putting time into our friendships, then we will eventually lose those friendships. The same is true with our relationship with Jesus. Spending time away from Jesus strains our relationship with Him and ultimately it could lead to losing that relationship with Him which translates into separation from God and could ultimately lead to eternal death.
Thanks be to God that just as Jesus brought healing to the daughter of the Gentile woman and to the deaf man in our text for today, He brings healing for us as well and that healing is what we call forgiveness of sins. That healing did not come without a price. The price was the shedding of His blood for ours on the cross. Again, thanks be to God that for us the price is free. He gives His salvation, freely to us without any cost on our part.
In our text for today, after healing the deaf man Jesus charged the crowd to not tell anyone, yet that is exactly what they did, they told everyone. Today, Jesus encourages us to speak out to tell everyone what He does for us, ironically today we have a tendency to not tell anyone and that is too bad. I know we live in a world in which it is harder and harder to be a Christian, yet, what a wonderful friend we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. How excited we are that He has given His life for ours, that He has given us eternal life, that He continues to give us forgiveness of sins, what better friend do we have to share with others, to get excited about our relationship with Him and tell others about that relationship.
In our second reading James reminds us to not simply listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves, but to do what the word says. My prayer for each one of you this morning is that you will be hearers of the Word, that you will take the time to read your Bible, to come and confess your sins and hear God’s Word of absolution, to remember your Baptism, to come to the Lord’s table and that through these times of listening that you might be strengthened in your faith so that you might be a doer of the Word so that ultimately, ultimately you might be able to share your faith with others so that they too might be a part of God’s kingdom, so that praise and glory may be given to His holy name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.