"He Does All Things Perfectly"
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
St. Mark 7:24-37
September 10, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
"Ponder anew what the Almighty can do…." Where do we begin? Where do we end? The list of things God has done and done well is as never-ending as He Himself is. The Propers for today give us a mere sample of what He has done. In the Introit the Psalmist writes, "Blessed be the LORD, because He heard the voice of my supplications! The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped…. The LORD is their strength, and He is the saving refuge of His anointed" (Ps. 28:6-7a, 8). The prophet Isaiah writes in our Old Testament Reading, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water" (Is. 35:5-7a). James writes in our Epistle, "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" (Jas. 2:5). The Psalmist writes in the Gradual for this Martyrs' Tide, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all" (Ps. 34:19). In St. Mark's Gospel the people exclaimed, "He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak" (v. 37b). Even in the Psalm appointed for today, Psalm 146, the Psalmist exclaims the wonder of what God has done: "Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps truth forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD gives freedom to the prisoners. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; the LORD raises those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; but the way of the wicked He turns upside down. The LORD shall reign forever—Your God, O Zion, to all generations" (Ps. 146:5-10). The Proper Preface for Martyrs' Tide, drawing from scriptural truth, has us praying to God, "You choose the weak and make them strong in bearing witness to You. Your holy martyrs followed the example of Christ and gave their lives for the glory of Your Name. Their deaths reveal Your power shining through our human weakness."
Just within the Propers appointed for today do we hear of many things the Lord has done. Our text, though, is a tremendous exercise in understatement, for the crowds said of the Lord who healed the Syro-Phoenician woman's daughter and the deaf mute, "He has done all things well" (v. 37). That is the understatement, for the Lord has done all things PERFECTLY. Moses declared to the Israelites, "I proclaim the Name of the Lord: Ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He" (Dt. 32:3-4). King David himself exclaimed when the Lord rescued him from Saul's pursuit, "As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. …God is my strength and power, and He makes my way perfect" (2 Sam. 22:31, 33). The Lord Himself says in the Sermon on the Mount, "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Mt. 5:48). God is perfect, and He does all things perfectly.
God is perfect, and He calls us to be perfect as well. How do we know this? He has given us the Ten Commandments, which we have not kept. As James writes in our Epistle, we "commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas. 2:9b-10). We can do no thing well. We can do nothing well in the sight of God, for our hearts are darkened with the sin that kills us, sin that is borne of the greatest sin of all: unbelief, the one sin that will condemn the sinner into all eternity. Sin is a disease of the heart, for nothing that comes from our hearts is clean, namely, our thoughts, words, and deeds. Sin cripples and kills, for the wages of sin is death. We need to be cleansed; we need to be healed, but we need healing that comes not from within but without, for we are unable to cleanse our hearts before God, so that God's Name would be kept holy among us. As we heard earlier, when we read the First Petition to the Lord's Prayer, Martin Luther says, "God's Name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God's Word profanes the Name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!" We need God's protection. We need His touch, that we would be healed.
We have come to seek healing from the Great Physician of our souls, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He brought about our healing when He died on the cross to take away the sin of the world, including your sins and mine. For hours on end heaven was closed to the Son of God, forsaken by His own Father for our sake. From the cross the Lord cried, Tetelestai, which means, "It is finished!" It was as if He had said Ephphatha, which means, "Be opened," as He said to the deaf mute, for when our Lord died, the temple curtain was ripped from top to bottom, thereby giving us access to our heavenly Father through Christ. And on the third day Christ rose from the dead, giving us the promise of eternal life, opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The risen Lord bid Thomas to touch the sacred wounds of the Lord, so that Thomas would touch others with the Word of God that the Lord called him to preach, likely in the Far East. But wherever the Lord sends His messengers, He sends them to touch His people with His healing Word and Sacraments. Listen to the words of the ancient church father, Ambrose of Milan:
"Every Sabbath we witness the 'opening up' of a mystery. It is in outline form the type of that liturgical opening when the minister once touched your ears and nostrils [at Baptism…]. What does this mean? Remember in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ, when the deaf and dumb man was presented to Him, touched his ears and his mouth: the ears because he was deaf; the mouth, because he was dumb. And He said: 'Ephphatha,' a Hebrew word, which…means [be opened]. In this way the minister is now touching your ears, that your ears may be opened to this sermon and exhortation."
And again, Ambrose says,
"So open your ears and enjoy the good odor of eternal life which has been breathed upon you by the grace of the Sacraments. This we pointed out to you as we celebrated the mystery of the opening and said: 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened,' so that everyone about to come to the table of grace might know what He was asked and remember the way He once responded. Christ celebrated this mystery in the Gospel, as we read, when He healed the one who was deaf and dumb."
Our Lord has touched our foreheads and our hearts in Holy Baptism, marking us with the sign of the cross, marking us as those redeemed by Christ the crucified. He touches our ears in the Word which is in and with the water, as we became baptized in and into the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. He continues to touch our ears in the daily living of our Baptism, in the forgiveness of sins, as the Old Adam by daily contrition and repentance is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, and as the new man daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. He continues touching our ears in the public reading and proclamation of His Word. Our Lord touches our ears and our lips in His Supper, where He gives us His Word, which is in, with, and under the bread and wine, thereby giving us His body to eat and His blood to drink, as He bids us to do in His own testament. By a word, Ephphatha, our Lord opens our lips, and our mouths show forth His praise, having received the gifts He brings in His Means of Grace, namely, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. He gives us these gifts through these means, that our faith would be strengthened so that we would truly do the good works that are pleasing to God, works that are borne of the faith He has given us and strengthened in us.
By and of ourselves, we are not perfect, nor can we perfect ourselves. We can do nothing perfectly. But thanks be to God, for He sent His Son, who does all things well—He does them PERFECTLY—for He Himself is perfect, and He makes us perfect as, by faith in Him, we will be made perfect in heaven, regaining the image of God that was lost in the Garden of Eden. Until the day our pilgrimage on this earth ends, He gives us perfect strength for the journey, using ordinary elements and making them perfect, for He has attached His Word and His promises to them, for He Himself is perfect and holy. For this reason the Sacraments remain the same, and the Word remains the same, and the Lord remains the same, so that we would have the sure foundation that our Lord is perfecting us. The blessed Apostle St. Paul writes,
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." (Col. 1:24-28)
God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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