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Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Mark 7.31-37; 2 Corinthians 3.4-11
30 August 2020
+ In the Name of Jesus +
The blessed Apostle St. Paul says in the Epistle today that some words kill – while others give life.
There is a ministry of the Law, of the old Mosaic covenant – a ministry “of death, carved in letters on stone” that came with God’s fearful vision of His glory on Mount Sinai – St. Paul calls it “a ministry of condemnation.” By the work of God’s Law, the sinner is punished. Murderers are put to death under the Law. In Numbers 15 [.32-36], the Law given to Moses went to such an extent that even a man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath Day was worthy of death by stoning, a penalty that says working on the Sabbath was the equivalent of murdering someone, not to mention committing adultery and blasphemy. As far as the Law of God is concerned, the whole world is guilty. A ministry of death, carved in cold, hard letters of stone. It is God’s Word to us, hard as it is.
Who then can be saved? Not a jot or tittle of the Law will perish, says Jesus. So some try to evade the sternness of the Law by trying to change the words, or twist their clear meaning, or tone them down to make them more palatable, more doable. But this is merely adding one sin upon another. The Law is God’s Law, it is holy. The commandments are truly holy and righteous and good. It is my sin and your sin against those commandments which makes the commandments, meant to give life, to be my death and your death.
Just before our Gospel today of the healing of the deaf-mute man in Mark chapter 7, we find the Pharisees criticizing Jesus and His disciples for their eating habits. “Why don’t your disciples, Jesus, wash their hands properly before eating a meal as we say they ought to?” Those words hit close to home nowadays – wash your hands! Wear your masks! Stand six feet away from anyone! Back then, the purpose was to be super-observant of the Mosaic Law. Today, it is because we are being made to feel that everyone you even come near unto could be a purveyor to you of death and disease! Sometimes with all the do’s and don’ts from health departments and governors, one wonders if we may be stoned to death for picking up sticks – maybe, for not wearing one’s mask just so.
Words mean something – they mean a lot. Some words kill. Some words kill the body. Some kill the soul, some kill hope and happiness in people. Many times words are well intentioned but nevertheless, kill hope, kill faith, kill trust, just kill. I fear we’ve had too much of that ministry of condemnation for the last seven or more months. I feel it in many of you. The Law is a weight, a hard and heavy burden. The Law, when it is used to keep people in line like the Pharisees hoped to – even when having a well-intentioned purpose perhaps, like Pharisaic attempts at pleasing God so as to entice God to get rid of Roman rule and prevent God from bringing about another exile; or in our case today, seeking to prevent the plague from spreading – they nevertheless do in reality condemn people in body and spirit. They do not bring life.
Sinners will never follow the Law perfectly. These words of the Law may have glory for a time, St. Paul says, but what once had glory has come to have no glory at all. The Law’s glory as something that we can do as imperfect people to make ourselves better and fix our own problems has indeed been brought to an end, and never has truly existed since the fall into sin by our first parents.
Jesus would go on to say to the Pharisees and His disciples, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him… For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (St. Mark 7.14, 21-22; ESV)
You’ll know a tree is good because its fruits will be good. A bad tree will produce bad fruit. You may honor me with your lips, says Jesus to the Pharisees, but your heart is far from me. The evil we speak and do, comes from our cold heart, and gives us a mouth inherently mute to God’s praises and ears inherently deaf to God’s Word. You do not speak rightly, after all, when your heart is full of condemnation of others around you, but you fail to recognize your own sinful, diseased condition. You’d cast the first stone as if you were without sin – and never cast a word of love or hope to your neighbor – if left to your own cold, stony sin-corrupted heart.
The ministry of the Law laid hold on the stick gatherer and stoned him. That letter carved in stone kills. But there has always been another great and holy Word from God, with an all surpassing glory that never fades, a glory that is permanent. “The Spirit giveth life.” The old covenant brought death and condemnation to the murderer and for the guilt of every other sin that comes from within sinful man. But the Gospel, when it lays hold on a murderer, enlightens and brings hope and gives life. St. John Chrysostom preached in the fourth century, “The Gospel – [the ministry of the Spirit that St. Paul speaks of] – takes hold on thousands of homicides and robbers, and baptizing them delivers them from their former vices… the former [the ministry of the Law] makes its captive dead from being alive, the latter [the ministry of the Gospel] renders the man it has convicted alive from being dead. For, ‘come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden,’ (St. Matthew 11.28) and, Jesus said not, ‘I will punish you,’ but [He said] ‘I will give you rest.’ For in Baptism the sins are buried, the former things are blotted out, the man is made alive, [and] the entire grace of God is written upon the heart…” (adapted from John Chrysostom – portions of Homily VI in Vol XII, NPNF (1st))
The Spirit and His Ministry of the Gospel makes men alive. Gives them open ears to hear the saving Word, and loosed tongues to sing God’s praises and confess His saving name to the neighbor next to them. The Spirit making alive does not mean that we give a new content to God’s Word that somehow makes the Law more plausible or doable or easier to me. It means instead that “…the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the Law of sin and death.” (Romans 8.2) Through repentance and turning in faith to Christ as Lord and Savior, the unglodly, the deaf, the blind, the lame, the mute, the demon possessed, the murderer, the adulterer, the blasphemer are saved by grace, through faith, for Christ’s sake, covered by the righteousness of Christ won by His holy death and glorious resurrection. You, being made new by the Spirit, are given the forgiveness of sins, brought into the Holy, Christian Church, the Communion of saints, guaranteed the resurrection of the body, drawn forward towards the life everlasting.
At the same time the Spirit works in you and creates a new heart within – a new treasury of right Words from God to confess and sing, out of which you can bring forth that which is good. A good tree that brings forth good fruit – of light, life, health, faith, hope, and love.
Jesus, by His Word, desires to heal you of your spiritual affliction just as by His Word He healed the tongue and ears of that deaf mute man. Man’s words are ineffectual and powerless; and the deaf and demon possessed cannot hear them. There is no glory for the Pharisees of this life, no glory for trying to fix things with the Law and our works of the Law.
But God’s Word of the Gospel, that news of reconciliation on account of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is mighty and powerful. It is the powerful means by which God opens the ears and removes the spiritual deafness of the unconverted, provided they do not continue to stop up their ears and stubbornly reject it in their congenital deafness. Just as in the beginning the Lord God created man through His Word, giving him soul, eyes, ears, reason, and all his senses, so that he would become a living soul (Genesis 2.7), so also He wishes by His Word to purvey to sin-sick man spiritual life, to renew his body and soul, and open his tongue and ears, so that he becomes a spiritual man. You see, this is the way Christ performs His miracles daily; namely, through His Word and Spirit He sets free men’s ears and tongues and restores them to the condition in which they were originally. (Borrowed and adapted from Johann Gerhard, Sermon on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity)
The healed deaf-mute man is described by the Evangelist as speaking “plainly” – but really, the word used is “orthos” – he now speaks rightly. (St. Mark 7.35) Both God’s Law and God’s Gospel, rightly understood, as revealed to us from God’s Word, are orthos – right words. They speak to us, and we do well to listen, and God in His mercy opens our ears to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them by the power of the Holy Spirit – and to ever hold fast to them in the hope of eternal life. Then we sing them and pray them back to God and outwards towards our neighbors – orthos doxos – orthodoxy – right praises. By God’s grace may He grant you to use those righteous words rightly and sing the right praises of God – the Law to guide you and show you your need for your Lord and Savior from sin and death and to call you daily to repentance – and the blessed Gospel to comfort and cheer you and to lift your burdens and give you rest in Jesus, here today, and the hope and assurance of your oncoming tomorrow in heaven’s glory.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +