St. Paul and Grace Lutheran Churches, Sykeston and Carrington, N. D.
IN NOMINE JESU
"O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise." With these words the prayer offices of Matins and Vespers begin. We join the Psalmist in praying these words, words which come to us from Psalm 50 and which long have been included in these prayer offices. These words are not recited as mere mindless chatter, but we call upon the Lord to exactly that for which we prayed: to open our lips. When we pray, we offer up a petition to God, in this case to open our lips. With our petitions we also ask that we receive the benefit of His granting our requests; here we pray that, with His opening our lips, we would show forth His praise, that we would declare it, glorifying God as we tell the good news about Jesus, serving Him in both word and deed.
Our text for today is a prayer office of sorts. Some people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and who had a speech impediment. They brought him to Jesus, firmly believing He would restore his hearing and speech. The blessed Evangelist, St. Mark, does not indicate what conversation took place at the outset, nor was it necessary for him to do so. But it is possible that they might have said to Jesus, "O Lord, open Thou his lips, and our mouths, his included, will show forth Thy praise." Jesus took him aside from the crowd so that the deaf and mute one would not be excited or distracted by the crowd, so that he would fix his eyes on Jesus and Him alone. Normally, Jesus would just speak His word, and healing would come, but Jesus operated a bit differently this time. Here He put His fingers into the man's ears, perhaps to indicate to him just what the Lord was about to do. Then Jesus spits and touches the man's lips. We are not exactly sure what transpired, but some scholars put forth the notion that Jesus may have spit on His finger and placed His finger on the man's lips. By doing this the Lord was showing him that the Lord was about to enter into Him by His spoken word. Jesus sighed or, perhaps, groaned, our keeping in mind what Paul writes in Romans: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). We do not know the exact purpose of the sigh, though. Again, some scholars believe He sighed knowing the evil that existed in the hearts of mankind. Jesus also looked up to heaven, likely to indicate to the man from whence Jesus' power comes, as we hear the words of the Psalmist: "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth" (Ps. 121:1-2). This is not to say that Jesus needed any help, for He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. The sea is His, and He made it, and His hands formed the dry land: the Lord, our Maker. Then the Lord spoke His word of healing: Ephphatha! This is an Aramaic word, meaning "be opened." True to His word, the Lord brought healing to the man, just as the prophet Isaiah foretold in our Old Testament reading: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped...and the tongue of the mute sing for joy" (Is. 35:5, 6b). There, by the Decapolis on the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus manifested His glory to the crowd that had gathered to watch the proceedings. They realized immediately that this Jesus of Nazareth was no ordinary Man, and they could not wait to tell everyone they saw what Jesus had done. But Jesus, fully conscious of who He is and what His mission was here on earth, did not want the crowd to tell anyone what He had just done, for His hour had not yet come; it was not yet time for Him to fulfill His mission and reveal His full glory. It was not yet Holy Week, not time for His Passion. But, true to human nature, the more Jesus told them not to tell anyone, the more they talked. The Lord opened the man's lips and ears, and the crowds showed forth His praise, saying, "He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (v. 37).
On this day, the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Three, our Lord comes to us, speaking His word of healing upon us, commanding the evil spirits within us to depart, making room for the Holy Spirit, that our eyes may see our Lord's coming to us, that our ears may hear that He is near and even here (coming to us in His spoken Word, both in readings and sermon), that our lips may touch His healing in His body and blood, that our hearts may believe that that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that our tongues may confess that God raised Him from the dead. And so it is our goal, our hope, and our prayer that the Lord would grant us His healing, opening our lips, ears, minds, and hearts, that our mouths too would show forth His praise.
But for our Lord to come down to us and grant us His healing, we must first understand that we cannot be healed unless we are sick. And that is certainly the case with each and every one of us. We are sick. We are diseased. We are plagued with sin. It is our sin than renders us deaf to God's Word, mute to sing His praises, and stiff-necked in our rebellion against God. Our hearts are blackened by sin, and yet we roll merrily on as if nothing was wrong with us. When we sense something may be wrong with us physically, we tend to deny that anything is wrong with us. By the time we get to the doctor, we realize that we are in grave danger. Our treatment of sin is like our ignoring a pain in our bodies for many months, and then we finally go to the doctor and find out that we have terminal, inoperable cancer. We are going to die, the doctor tells us. The same is true with sin. Sin blinds our eyes from Jesus. It deafens our ears from God's Word. It closes our mouths, keeping us from tasting the Lord's gifts and from confessing Him as our Savior and Lord. What is worse is that, even as our Lord comes to us with His medicine for us, we do not want what He has to offer. Our sinful nature prefers that we remain spiritually blind, deaf, dumb, and, ultimately, dead. The devil would much rather not see you here today. But, since we are here, he plugs our ears so that we would remain deaf to the Word. Saint Paul writes, "But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?' So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:16-17). To prevent this, Satan seeks to shut off our ears when the Word of God is read and when the sermon is preached, rendering us perpetually stone-faced and expressionless, not reacting one way or the other to the Word. Our sinful nature has rendered us totally indifferent to the Word; we do not care what our Lord says. We do not want to hear that we are sinners. We reject the news that we face certain eternal death, forever separated from God. We ignore God's call for us to repent of our sins, to acknowledge the damage that our sin has inflicted upon us, and to ask God for the healing, the medicine, the gifts He so dearly wants to give us.
This is why the validity of God's gifts rests not on our faith but on the unchanging promises and Word of God. God attaches His words of promise to water, bread, and wine, giving us His blessed Sacraments. The Holy Spirit, constantly working in us, has brought us here, and by Him we pray: "O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise." He has given us the words to speak, words He has first given us in His Word, words that are true and sure. By this same Spirit, our ears are opened as well, hearing the very words of His forgiveness; our sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We have received the Great Physician's medicine aurally; that is, we receive this medicine in our ears as He speaks to us, announcing the Good News. Our Lord has spoken Ephphatha! into our ears, opening our ears to hear the Gospel. He opens our eyes to behold the sign of the cross, first placed upon our foreheads and upon our hearts at the font, placed upon us each time we live out our Baptism in the confession and absolution of our sins, and placed upon us as we prepare to depart in peace from His holy house. We behold the sign of the cross as the Lord opens our lips as we taste His salvation which comes to us in His body and blood and as we hear His words of invitation: "Take, eat; this is My body. Take, drink; this is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," the blood which cleanses us from all sins, the same blood which dripped from His wounds suffered on the cross. There on the cross our Lord's flesh was pierced; He was opened up for us and for our salvation. God the Father spoke to His Son Ephphatha!, and in willing obedience, Jesus' flesh was opened by nails and spear so that our eyes would be open to behold His life-changing and life-saving blood.
We are here this Lord's Day, this Sunday, this first day of the week, to celebrate the greatest Ephphatha! of all, the opening of the tomb on the very first Easter day. The stone has been rolled away; our sins are taken away. When Christ had overcome the sharpness of death, He opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers, to you and to me. The Lord appeared to the faithful eyewitnesses physically. When Mary the Magdalene wept, not knowing where the Lord's body was, He came to her. She recognized the Lord only when He spoke to her; likewise, we only recognize the Lord as He comes to us and as He speaks to us. And we thank God this day and always that He comes to us, speaking by His Word. He speaks to our Spirit-opened ears, and the Spirit moves us to show forth our Lord's praises, serving Him as we serve others out of the love He has first shown us, acting in thought, word, and deed. He opens our hearts for service, bringing others here to hear the saving words of the Gospel, that their hearts too would be opened to Him who comes to us in His Means of Grace. "O Lord, open Thou our lips, ears, minds and hearts, and our mouths and actions shall show forth Thy praise" in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Pr. Mark Schlamann Our Savior & Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Pettibone & Woodworth, ND
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