In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Cast it from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.’ But the most offensive appendage, that which gets us into the most trouble, that stops our consciences and causes us to think of nothing but pleasure and self as the blood drains from our brains is not the hand. If something is to be cut off to keep us from sinning, if one member of our vile bodies causes more trouble and places us into more peril than all the others, we know which appendage it would be. It is not the hand. . . . It is the tongue.
The greatest and most dangerous temptations don’t come from our hands. Nor do they arise from our urinary and reproductive tracts. They come from what we say. By the mouth of man his heart is known. Our hearts soil our lips. It is not merely by the foul language we use. That is bad, too. But worse than that we dare to speak evil of those whom God loves. We fail to protect reputations or speak well of those who are kind to us, let alone those who are not. Sickest of all, we even betray our friends and our families. Could anything be more self-destructive than a husband speaking ill of his wife? Repent.
The healing of the deaf-mute was accompanied by quite a bit of ceremony. It is, after all, what his friends asked for. They begged Our Lord to “put His hand on him.’ So He took the man aside, apart from his friends, put His fingers into His ears, spat and touched his tongue, looked and sighed to heaven, spoke “Ephphatha,’ and it was done. The touching indicate what was broken, what was being restored and healed. The spitting transferred something of Our Lord to the man. They became blood brothers in ways that no wanna-be adolescent teens ever dreamed of (that is an old blood-brother making trick, spit in your hand and shake). Looking to heaven, Jesus showed where the healing came from. The sighing indicated the sympathy and compassion Our Lord felt towards this sinner. Then He spoke. And it was done. He opened the man’s ears, heart, and lips with a word.
But one ceremony gets less attention than the others. He took him apart from his friends. The deaf-mute was a man of unclean lips. He dwelt among a people of unclean lips. His friends were dangerous. Birds of a feather flock together. We know a man by the company he keeps. consider their conversation, how they delight in gossip and slander, how raucous they are in sin. You, too, must be pulled away from your friends. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.’ Now tt is not too bad to think of loving Jesus more than friends, even more than father and mother. We can usually handle that okay. But it is pretty tough to think of loving Him more than our children. And what about hating your children in order to love Jesus? Repent. Love God above all else.
Children play this game. They imagine some supervillain has their family and friends in a fiendish trap and they are the hero. Time or circumstances are such that they can only save one person. They spend hours trying to figure out who they’d save, dreaming up ways to sacrifice themselves so they can save two, and the like. You know what I mean. You’ve played this game yourself. So imagine it this way: the villain is Jesus. He says: “You can either have Me or your child.’ Which will you choose? Will you save your baby from torture and send Jesus to the cross? Will you name him Barabbas? t is only hypothetical, of course; unless, you are Abraham, or unless you take the words of Our Lord to heart.
But how can God be so cruel, so strict, so absolute? Does He really want us to cut off our tongues, to be separated from our friends, to hate mother and father, wife and children? Yes. He does. Repent. Don’t judge God. Don’t decide for yourself what kind of a God He should be. Who do you think you are? Repent.
And notice that all of these things have a spiritual sense. Our Lord removed the deaf-mute from his friends, but He gave him back to them. Cutting out our tongues might stop us from slandering out loud, but it would not stop sin. And it would deny the gifts God has given. It would keep us from praising Him. God seeks restoration and order, not paralysis or disfiguring. He does not simply desire that you don’t sin. He also wants good works for you. He has work for you to do in His kingdom, things He has prepared for you. He has a use for that hand that once caused you to sin, that tongue that once slandered and blasphemed. This work includes prayer, confession, and praise, as well as the nurture and care of children. Just because we are prone to abuse the good things God gives does not mean either that they are not good or that God does not want us to have them. Do not cut off your hands or any other members, but set them to use in service to neighbor.
It was not only the deaf-mute who was changed. Jesus also changed the praying friends. They were all astonished beyond measure at what He had done. They had asked Him to do i,t but when He did they were astonished. They were changed. So are all of you. God gave more than they asked, more than they imagined. He always does. He didn’t merely remove the impediment to speech. He also removed the impediment to praise and confession. He changed the man’s heart, declared it clean, took its filth and guilt upon Himself. And out of the man’s mouth, past his lips to make them clean came the great “Amen’ of faith. He had been touched, fingers in His ears, spit upon His tongue. He had been called out, but it had been for mercy’s sake all along. And the coal of of this love, the mercy of that spit, was also touched to the lips and tongues of the friends by faith. They were purified as well by the sacrifice and gift of God in the midst of His creation, calling it back into order, removing the curse, gathering the Church like a hen gathers her chicks, opening hearts and ears to receive Him and lips to again sing His praise.
Thus He causes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, the lame to walk and the blind to see. He setteth the solitary into families and the dead into life. All things He has done well for He is good. Hearing and speaking are metaphors of faith and of life, like seeing and believing, like eating and drinking. He does all these things for you, and all these things for free. Even though His ways are past finding out, He has made this love known to you. He loves you. He welcomes and is delighted by your prayers and your works. He gives you a family, true brothers and sisters, all with the very same Father. He gives you ears to hear and a tongue to praise. All these things, all that is you, heart and head and soul, have been washed in His Blood and covered with His Name. For His sake you are good. So too are the fruits of your lips and the sound of your praise, so too is the love of your family and friends. You have been healed and restored. You have been touched by God with water and Word. You are a blood brother with God in ways past finding out. So it is that He feeds you again this day in the grace and peace that passes all understanding. And who can be anything but astonished? Thanks be to God. He does all things well.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev. David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Ft. Wayne, Indiana