Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
September 7, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
He’s the most interesting man in the world. People hang on his every word, even the prepositions. He could disarm you with his looks, or his hands. He can speak French…in Russian. He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels. He lives vicariously through himself. His organ donation card also includes his beard. And Dos Equis wants you to buy their beer because that’s what the most interesting man in the world also drinks.
The most interesting man in the world is a character that’s a play on the Renaissance man. A Renaissance man is a person who excels in a wide variety of disciplines—intellectual, artistic, physical, and social. He can recite histories of nations and make a perfect roast duck. He can sculpt from bronze as easily as he can build his own house, if need be. He can pilot an airplane and knows 17 different ways to tie a neck tie. He is the star of any sport he plays, and he always has an engaging story to tell at a party.
The Renaissance man—who is more accurately called a polymath, or one of many disciplines—gets his more common name from the period of the Renaissance, when men like Leonardo da Vinci propelled the disciplines of art, architecture, anatomy, and physics ahead by leaps and bounds. Some of history’s best sculptures and most impressive structures and finest paintings were produced by the Renaissance. The venerable King James Bible got its start during the Renaissance. A Renaissance man truly does all things well.
The Renaissance—and thus the Renaissance man—is fueled by a philosophy called humanism. A Renaissance polymath by the name of Leon Battista Alberti summed up the humanist approach with the following words: “a man can do all things if he will.” Humanism believes in a limitless human capacity for development and achievement.
Humanism is important for us as Lutherans because much of the Protestant Reformation was driven by humanists. Luther’s most intellectual opponent, a man by the name of Desiderius Erasmus, was a humanist. Erasmus wrote a Diatribe on free will, to which Luther responded with his own Bondage of the Will. It’s been said of Erasmus that it wasn’t that he lost faith in God; it’s that he never truly lost faith in man.
We’re now 500 years beyond the Renaissance, but humanism is still with us. Alberti said, “a man can do all things if he will;” we encourage our kids by telling them that they can do anything they put their minds too. And there are still seem to have the Midas touch—everything they do turns to gold. My dad had a grade school and high school classmate that played baseball with him. He went to college and set a record for the most single-game strikeouts for Central Missouri State, had a chance to go to the big leagues, blew out his elbow, opened a trucking business, made millions upon millions, and is now the owner of the Houston Astros.
Most of us don’t have that Midas touch. If work hard, study hard, and put our minds to it, most of us can do one or two things well; the rest we leave to professionals. Then there’s the kind of folks I identify with—the jack of all trades and master of none. I like to try to do everything, but I don’t do any of them particularly well.
Even if you’re particularly skilled in one or two areas, whenever you put your hand to a task the world is against you from the outset. With hard work and determination, you can overcome challenges and succeed, maybe even become a true Renaissance man. But in spiritual matters, it’s a different story. Not only is the world against you, but also the devil. From the beginning he has been a liar and a murderer. He is against the good works of God, and therefore he is also against your good work. He wraps his deceptions in sweet-sounding spiritualities. His temptations sound like they come from God, but are variations and mutations of what God has actually said in His Word. In spiritual matters, the devil and the world work to break down anything that you might build.
But then add to the world and the devil your own sinful nature. It’s not that the devil and the world mutilate otherwise good works from good people. You yourself are actively working against your best spiritual interests. Despite what the humanist philosopher says, there is a limit to your will. The only limitless capacity you have is the capacity for evil.
This is not a conclusion you can come to by way of reason. When you see reports on the evening news about ISIS brutally beheading an innocent journalist, you find it unbelievable that someone could be so cruel and evil. But believe it. The only way to comprehend the depth of the depravity of sinful man is to believe it, and to believe that this same capacity is also located within your own heart.
Even polymaths have a limit to what they can do well. Even a Renaissance man can find something that comes unraveled when he puts his hand to it. And every man has a limit to what he can achieve in spiritual matters.
And then there’s Jesus. The crowds on the day that He healed a deaf-mute were prophetic. And they were astonished beyond all measure, saying, “He has done all things well; He even makes the deaf to hear and the non-speaking to speak” (v 37). The crowds speak, but the Spirit inspired their words. Jesus is the Man who does all things well. Bring Him a deaf man, and that man will hear. Bring Him a speech-impeded man, and that man will sing. He is what a Renaissance man only dreams to be. He is humanity restored, humanity raised at God’s right hand. He has done all things well.
Actually, the word well is not rich enough for what the crowds said that day. A few weeks ago I told you about the two different words that mean good in the New Testament. One simply means good. The other—the word the crowds use today—is a word that means, beautiful, noble, self-sacrificial. He has done all things beautifully. His work on the deaf-mute is a work of art, a thing of beauty. And His work is also for you.
The Beautiful Work of Jesus Is Giving You Ears to Hear His Word and Tongues to Sing His Praises
Listen again to what prompted the crowd’s reaction. And they brought to Him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and beseeched Him, so that He would lay His hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd to Himself, He placed His finger into his ear, and after spitting, touched his tongue. And looking up into heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his hearing was opened to him, and the binding of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke rightly. And He charged them for His own benefit, that they would tell no one. But the more He was charging them, they all the more were proclaiming (vv 32-36).
At first glance, Jesus might appear to be a showman more like Miracle Max than the Son of God. He had quite the ceremony—fingers digging in the man’s ears, spit on the tongue, looking up to heaven with sigh, and then the magic word. But this was no magic trick. This was the Spirit of God working through the Son of God to bestow the gifts of the Father of God.
The man’s ears were opened and his tongue was loosed at the Word of Jesus. For all the ceremony of this healing, St. Mark draws our attention to Jesus’ Word by putting His Word in His own native language. Ephphatha. “Be opened,” that is.
It’s interesting to note that in the account of creation, everything that is was created by a Word from God: “Let there be…” and there was. Except man. Father, Son, and Spirit made man in their own image. They did not say, “Let there be men.” God’s Word was only added after man’s creation—after God formed his ears, his tongue, his nose, his innards; after He took bone and flesh and made woman. Then He blessed them and spoke His Word over them.
He still speaks His Word of blessing. This Man who does all things well, this Man who is humanity restored, restore humanity with His Word. Broken ears hear again. Bound tongues are set free. And He doesn’t reserve His Word for only physical ailments. His Word open ears that are deaf to the Word of grace. His Word looses tongues to sing His praise.
This is the beautiful work that Jesus is doing for you, right here, right now. His Ephphatha is also for you. He opens your ears to hear His Word of forgiveness. He opens your lips to show forth His praise. You are also Jesus’ work of art, a thing of beauty. As the Scriptures say, He has done all things beautifully.
The beautiful word of Jesus is begun in you today, but it’s not yet completed. The ugliness of sin still defaces God’s good work. Even after God begins His good work in you, things you think you can handle come unraveled in your hands.
But He who has begun a good work in you has also promised to bring it to completion. As St. John writes in His epistle, Beloved, we are God’s children now, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. We know that when He appears we will be like Him, that we will see Him just as He is (1 Jn 3:2). Christ is the completed work, the work that He is working in you.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard