The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
In our Gospel lesson for this morning, we are immediately introduced to a deaf mute. St. Mark doesn't take long in telling us that Jesus miraculously healed this poor chap. He unplugged his ears, giving him the gift of hearing and He also loosed the man's tongue, giving him the gift of speech. I know the text says that the guy had "speech impediment." Understand: This wasn't a simple matter of not being able to say his "r's and l's" nor was this was the common speech impediment that many hearing-impaired/deaf individuals typically have. The original Greek lets us know that this guy's tongue was essentially bound-up and dead. However, because of Christ this guy was now able to speak plainly. Be honest: When we hear this we tend to automatically connect some dots, don't we? We automatically assume that the man was now able to simply speak and sound like everyone else who has good, healthy hearing. Again…that's not what the Greek says. The Greek tells us that the man was now able to laleōs orthos.
So now comes the Lutheran question: What does this mean? Let's start off by addressing what this doesn't mean. To laleō doesn't mean to simply talk or converse. That's a different word (lego). Laleō, on the other hand, carries with it the meaning of authoritative proclamation—preaching, teaching, and evangelizing. This word is found throughout Paul's epistles, especially when he speaks of pastors and the Office of Holy Ministry. The one who speaks; the one who laleōs is the one who speaks, teaches, and preaches Christ crucified. The act of true and faithful evangelism; faithful laleō, is the very act of Jesus Christ speaking. "Those who hear you, hear Me."
Orthos carries with it the meaning of straightness and correctness, particularly moral/spiritual straightness and correctness. You can hear this root word in an English term like orthopedic or orthodontia; i.e., making bones and teeth straight and in proper alignment. Scripturally, orthos stands in contrast to moral/spiritual crookedness and error. Now, put these two words together in context and we have a wonderful message of right, faithful, evangelistic proclamation being spoken by a man who had previously never been able to hear or speak a single thing until Jesus Christ his Lord opened his ears and unloosed his tongue.
It is at this point that irony is introduced into this particular text. Irony? Yes…irony! You don't find it the least bit ironic that Jesus heals a man, giving him the ability to hear and speak, and then turns around and tells the rest of the healthy crowd to not say a thing; to actually be mute in their proclamation; a command they clearly don't hear and obey? Understand: As ironic as this appears when presented like this, the real irony comes into play when you get into the original Greek. You see, while the healed man is now able to hear—akouā—Christ and rightly proclaim—laleō—Christ, the rest of the "healthy" crowd instead proclaims—kāruson—their own message about Jesus. Two very distinct and different words. While laleō carries with it a very specific meaning of evangelistic witness and proclamation, kārusō simply means proclamation. It is used in connection with the pastoral, Gospel proclamation (e.g. 2 Tim. 4:2), but the message that is to be proclaimed is spelled out in no uncertain terms. Preach the gospel. Understand: You can kārusō anything. As children of God, we are called to kārusō the Gospel.
This is where the crowd's proclamation is all wrong. In fact, they're so wrong in their proclamation that Jesus actually tells them to be quiet. Why would Jesus do such a thing? Honestly: Is there really anything wrong with what the crowd is saying about Jesus? I mean, it's not as if they're blaspheming Him or cursing Him. They're singing His praises. In fact, they're even quoting Isaiah. Why on earth would Jesus want to muzzle this specific proclamation? Well…what exactly are they saying about Jesus?
Folks: Listen to the proclamation of the crowd. "He does all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak." While you may not hear anything wrong in their words, it's important to understand that the problem with the crowd's proclamation is in what they don't say; it's in what you don't hear. You don't hear a single evangelistic word about Christ. Remember: The Greek made it very clear that the deaf mute was now speaking and proclaiming what Christ had given him. This man's actions matched his confession. His practice matched his doctrine. He practiced and preached what he believed in his heart. No crookedness. No disconnect.
Ironically, the same thing can be said for the crowd. Their words and actions did match their confession; their beliefs. Their practice did match their doctrine. The crowd's proclamation had nothing to do with evangelism, salvation, or forgiveness. Why should it? That sort of stuff didn't concern them. It's sad when you think about it, but the crowds proclamation really had nothing to do with the reality of Jesus; the reality of Immanuel dwelling among us, taking on our flesh and sin in order to crucify that sin and completely redeem us. Their proclamation was selfishly grounded in the age-old understanding of "what you can do for me." That's what they cared about. "Hey, got a problem that ails you? Jesus can fix it! He can help you get a job. He can help you get out of debt and increase your wealth. He can you help you make friends and belong to an active book club or single's group. Yes! Jesus can help you get a date! Jesus is so good that He can even cure sickness and birth defects…even death! Imagine! The fountain of youth is real! His name is Jesus."
Here's the problem though. What happens when you're still unemployed, even after "giving yourself over to Jesus?" What happens when your marriage still fails, even after you decided to give Jesus a try? What happens when the medical test results are the worst news possible, even after you showed up to church and punched the clock for a couple of months straight, praying and putting extra in the offering plate? Do you think that these sorts of negative outcomes can kill real, faithful ministry? Do you think people can actually turn a deaf ear to Christ and His gifts; the Good News that they are completely forgiven and redeemed in Jesus' all-atoning death and resurrection simply because the other material things they were looking for didn't quite pan out? It's truly sad to say, but this sort of thing happens all the time. This is exactly what Christ didn't want to happen. This is why He told the crowd to be silent. They were doing more harm than good. They weren't presenting the "whole Jesus;" the true Jesus.
So now here's the real question for all of us: What do you say about Jesus? Understand: I'm not just talking about the words that come out of your mouth around certain people in certain settings at certain times. I'm talking about what St. James speaks of in the Epistle lesson. What do you say about Jesus with your words and deeds; with your whole life? Do your actions—your words and deeds—match what you believe in your heart? Does your practice display your doctrine, or does your practice instead contradict your doctrine? Would anyone ever accuse you of being a Christian?
Perhaps the fact that no one may accuse you of being a Christian—a Lutheran Christian, in particular—outside of Sunday services is because your actions are doing the talking. Maybe it's because your practice is matching your doctrine. Believe it or not, but the two always go together. There is never a disconnect. Perhaps the big problem isn't necessarily with our daily sinful practices—the good we want to do but don't do and the bad we don't want to do but keep on doing—but with what we truly believe in our hearts. Remember: "What proceeds from the heart is what defiles a person."
For example, it's awfully difficult to love and forgive people we don't care for in the first place, isn't it? We'll turn the other cheek a million times to someone we love…but the other guy? They get one strike and that's it, and sometimes they don't even get that! We say that we believe that Christ lived, died, and rose again for the entire world—everyone, unconditionally—and yet…do we practice this in our own daily lives, loving as we've been loved, forgiving as we've been forgiven? We say that we believe that we are but mere stewards who have been entrusted by God with all these bounteous blessings in our life, and yet…do we practice this by simply and joyfully returning the first fruits of this bounteous trust back to Him in true humble thankfulness? Do we instead take care of everything else first and then give God whatever is left over? Do we serve God by serving our neighbor with our time, talents, and treasures, or do we look around and show partiality, claiming that "so-and-so has more money, more time, more talent; let them do it!" What do these practices and actions say to others about the truth of what we believe in our heart? What do we say about Christ and Christianity in general?
Folks: It is this sort of spiritual crookedness (which we're all guilty of) that does harm faithful, confessional outreach and evangelism. This is how the devil raises hell in congregations all the time. He doesn't have to attack with crushing outside forces. Instead, he simply lets us tear it down from the inside. Our crookedness, our partiality, our sin makes the devil's job easy! Just ask yourself: How often would Jesus prefer that we remained silent in our words and deeds?
Let me be clear: I am NOT talking here about synergy or works-righteousness; that is, doing your part/your good deed in order to earn or merit God's favor. Nor am I saying that you must do this, that, and the other thing in order to meet the criteria for a "proper level of sanctification." That's not at all what I'm talking about. God gives all of us differing degrees of stewardship blessings. Some are given one talent worth of time, talent, or treasure. Some are given two. Some are given five. We're not all equal in terms of stewardship, but that doesn't mean that we're not all equally redeemed and thankful for what Christ has done for us in our stead. That's what sanctification is. It's our response—our own personal thankfulness to God for our free and unmerited gift of salvation, which is ours because of His grace alone; grace which He bestows upon us because of Christ alone. Our sanctification is our personal thanksgiving response to God for all that we have and all that we are in Christ, because of Christ.
And that's how we'll wrap this sermon up for the day. I pray that God continues to grant you the open ears and unloosed tongues and unbound lives of true, saving faith; gifts that He gives to you by means of His life-giving Word and Sacraments; the same gifts that He gave to the deaf mute—hearing and speaking; word and deed; doctrine and practice—that was grounded firmly and straightly in the truth of Christ Jesus. Remember: Faithful "hearing and doing" go together like two sides of a one coin. Scripture doesn't know of a faith that has one without the other. There is no disconnect…ever. What goes in the ears and the heart and the soul is, by God's design, also supposed to go out among the nations through what we say and do daily. Hear Christ-receive Christ-share Christ…in all our thoughts, words, and deeds. For He, and He alone, is the sole source of all life, forgiveness, and salvation. In Him, and Him alone, are we all unbound and made orthos and well—unconditionally and eternally orthos and well.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
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