Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
September 11, 2011
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
Revised and updated August 19, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
In 1994, Pink Floyd (minus Roger Waters) released a song on The Division Bell album called “Keep Talking.” After a bit of guitar introduction, the song takes a sample of physicist Stephan Hawking’s electronic voice saying, “For millions of years mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk.”
Stephen Hawking, even though he was one of the most intelligent men ever to have lived, cannot place his faith in anything other than his own reason. He makes the brilliant observation that the ability to talk is what separates mankind from the animals, even though he attributes it to evolution. We, however, who place our faith in God’s revelation, know that this ability to speak is no accident from the universe, but a gift from God.
God creates by speaking. Let there be light, and there was light. Everything is on account God’s Word. But man He fashions in His own image. He takes more time. Of everything God creates, humanity alone is given the ability to speak, just as God speaks. Speaking is man’s dominion over creation; God brings the creatures to man, and the man speaks their names.
When sin invaded God’s creation, it corrupted the image of God that Adam and Eve enjoyed, and thus it also corrupted speech.
Today’s Gospel brings to Jesus a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Unlike many of the other diseases that were brought before Jesus, this one isn’t particularly life-threatening. No one has ever died from deafness or the inability to speak. It does, though, carve out a gaping hole in what is unique about human nature. Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who is deaf and mute? It’s difficult, although many deaf are good-natured about it, since it’s part of their life.
Sin manifests itself differently in each person, and it’s no surprise that in some people it affects speech. This particular man in the Gospel had no ability to speak, but other speech impediments simply hinder speech.
A good friend of mine has a stutter that he’s dealt with his whole life. He’s explained to me that often it’s because his mouth doesn’t move as quickly as his brain. If he speaks in rhythm, he can say what’s on his mind. By the way, I think this is one of the reasons why worship has historically been chanted. Chanting helps to connect the brain to words through tones and rhythm. I also find myself on occasion speeding through my own speech and chanting is a way for me to slow down and connect my brain to God’s Word.
Muteness and speech impediments are not the only ways that sin has corrupted speech. Even those who speak fluidly have a corrupted speech in what they say. St. James writes, “The tongue is a fire, a world of wrong! Set among the parts of our body, the tongue soils the whole body and enflames the course of life as it gets its fire from hell. A human being can tame and has tamed all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creatures in the sea. But no one can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. We praise the Lord and Father with our tongue and with it curse other people, who once were made like God. Praise and cursing come from the same mouth. We mustn’t do that, my fellow Christians.” (James 3:6-10).
Most faithful Christians do manage to avoid the gross, scandalous sins. But dear God! how we speak to one another. It’s as if we think we’ve done our job if we wrap our insults in platitudes or mask our hatred with politeness. But it is a thin veneer. You may have chanted on the playground when you were young, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But you don’t say that any more as an adult because you know that it’s not true. Words hurt more than sticks and stones and leave deeper scars. And we know this! Yet we continue to bless God at Church and then walk out these doors to curse others with our gossiping and griping at our barbershops and coffee shops, on our front porches and back alleys. The digital age has only made the problem worse. A recent study revealed that people are much less inhibited to speak evil when they are sitting behind a keyboard and an internet router. This is what fuels the Twitter mob.
Jesus said, “What comes into his mouth doesn’t make a person unclean, but what goes out of his mouth makes him unclean.”” (Matt 15:11). What comes from your mouth reveals what’s in your heart.
When the deaf-mute man meets Jesus, he meets much more than a man who can speak. The Son of God is also called the Word of God, and He has come to redeem us and our foul speech by speaking to us.
Jesus Restores Holy Speech
There are only a few places in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is recorded in His native language of Aramaic. Whenever it does happen, though, the evangelist is making sure that we focus on His words. “Taking him away from the crowd to be alone with him, He put His fingers into the man’s ears. He spit and touched his tongue and looked up to heaven and sighed. Then He said to him, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!” His ears were opened, his tongue was set free to speak, and he talked naturally.” (vv 33-35).
It was one simple word, but that word had the power to release this poor man from his afflictions. Although, if you notice, it wasn’t just the Word that Jesus gives him, but also physical signs. Jesus’ way is the way of sacrament—bringing His Word to bear in a very earthy manner: a finger in his ears, spittle on his tongue.
Though this man’s affliction is located in his ears and his mouth, Jesus doesn’t speak to those two members. He speaks to the whole person. “Be opened!” Not just your ears and your mouth, but your whole self. He speaks to your heart. Be opened!
The words of Jesus cut through the man as a surgeon’s scalpel, removing the malignancy that originated in Adam’s sin. The corruption that had stopped his speech Jesus removes by speaking. This was his Absolution.
Jesus’ Ephphatha is also a Word for you. He calls you to be opened, that is, to confess your sins before God, holding nothing back for your own attempts at self-justification. He places His Word and Spirit in your ears to daily drive you to repentance. But He also has a Word of Absolution. His forgiveness begins to restore the image of God in us—the image that will be fully restored in the world to come.
Luther baptismal first baptismal rite after the Reformation got rolling included a ritual where the pastor would touch the infant’s ear and say, “Ephphatha.” This ritual was symbolic of what happens when Lord combines His Word with water. He restores His image and the ability to hear and speak rightly. Today, when Cora was touched with water and God’s Word, she also heard God’s “Ephphatha.”
Because God’s image is restored in the justified, we are also set free from corrupted speech. After He healed the deaf and mute man, Jesus ordered the people not to tell anyone. But the more He forbade them, the more widely they spread the news. They were dumbfounded. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the speechless speak.” (vv 36-37).
When Jesus opens ears and mouths, He does so in order that they be used. The services of Matins and Vespers both begin with a verse from Psalm 51. “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will praise You.” (Ps 51:15).
Jesus touches your ear with His Word and your tongue with His body and blood, and He does so to open your lips to declare His praise. And not only in the church, but in the barbershops and coffee shops, on your front porch and in the back alleys, on your social media feeds and your emails. Don’t say anything harmful but only what is good, so that you help where there’s a need and benefit those who hear it. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit, by Whom you were sealed for the day when you will be set free. Get rid of all bitter feelings, temper, anger, yelling, slander, and every way of hurting one another. Be kind to one another and tenderhearted, and forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Eph 4:29-32).
Another recording of Stephan Hawking ends Pink Floyd’s song: “It doesn’t have to be like this. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.” I’m sure that neither Stephan Hawking nor David Gilmour had the Gospel of Jesus Christ in mind with these words. But it won’t always be like this because we have a God in Jesus Christ who keeps talking. And when He speaks, His words restore God’s image and holy speech.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard