TEXT: MARK 7:31-37; 2 COR. 3:4-11; ISAIAH 29:17-24
GOD GIVES YOU THE TREASURE OF A FREE TONGUE!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


To the Church of God that is at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Dear hearers of the Word made flesh:


This man was living in the silence of deafness.  Consider also that his tongue was bound - not free to utter plain speech.  In that binding he lacked a marvelous gift that you possess!  What a uniquely astounding gift God has given you in your tongue.  That small member in your mouth is no accident patched together by time and chance.  Good heavens – did you know that the muscles in your tongue run in all three directions – front to back – sides to the middle – top to bottom.  This design is unique in the body!  Your tongue is so marvelously attached and yet so freely suspended as to be extremely movable – extending – retreating – bending – shaping - working with your lips and teeth and mouth to form speech even as it serves you also in tasting and eating and swallowing.  What a uniquely created and amazing gift you have!  You would be right in using your tongue to speak aloud words of thanksgiving to God - just for your tongue. 


Such speaking the man in the region of the Decapolis could not do.  He did not have the ability to hear or to speak plainly.  But he did have, friends who had heard of Jesus and who could speak.  They brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – AUGUST 23, 2015

TEXT: MARK 7:31-37; 2 COR. 3:4-11; ISAIAH 29:17-24
GOD GIVES YOU THE TREASURE OF A FREE TONGUE!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


To the Church of God that is at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Dear hearers of the Word made flesh:


This man was living in the silence of deafness.  Consider also that his tongue was bound - not free to utter plain speech.  In that binding he lacked a marvelous gift that you possess!  What a uniquely astounding gift God has given you in your tongue.  That small member in your mouth is no accident patched together by time and chance.  Good heavens – did you know that the muscles in your tongue run in all three directions – front to back – sides to the middle – top to bottom.  This design is unique in the body!  Your tongue is so marvelously attached and yet so freely suspended as to be extremely movable – extending – retreating – bending – shaping - working with your lips and teeth and mouth to form speech even as it serves you also in tasting and eating and swallowing.  What a uniquely created and amazing gift you have!  You would be right in using your tongue to speak aloud words of thanksgiving to God - just for your tongue. 


Such speaking the man in the region of the Decapolis could not do.  He did not have the ability to hear or to speak plainly.  But he did have, friends who had heard of Jesus and who could speak.  They brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.


Jesus did not say “Be opened!” – tongue in cheek.  One of the many idioms that apply to the tongue is tongue in cheek.  Present from the 1800’s it means something is spoken without seriousness – said as a joke or in a mocking way.  Consider the extreme difficulty you would have of saying anything while holding your tongue in your cheek. 


What Jesus spoke with His tongue He spoke with clarity and with all seriousness – knowing that all things were given into His hands by our Father in heaven!  And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said…“Be opened.”…And…his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. One of the first things his newly opened ears heard was Jesus saying not to use his tongue to tell he had received this astounding gift!  The Giver of the gift did not want it broadcast just yet.  But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.


Jesus did this and other kind and merciful signs to point to the new heavens and the new earth that He brings – the new creation in Him where bodily life will be perfect.  But the signs were not the main gift – He was!  He once healed ten lepers (Luke 17) but when asked about the coming of the kingdom of God said it was not with signs to be observed.  Rather He spoke of His suffering and rejection and then of the days of Noah and of Sodom as picturing the condition of the world when the Son of Man is revealed.  Concerning signs, He did feed a few thousand with bread.  But in twice working that sign He proclaimed for all time that He is the Bread of Life!  He did raise a few from death and the grave.  But in working those signs He proclaimed for all time that He is the Resurrection and the Life!  He who restored the hearing and speaking of this man – is the Word of God come down to earth - the Word made flesh!

 

Fellow-redeemed, this miracle proclaims Jesus as the Gift that heals your hearing of God’s Word and sets free your speaking to God.  By nature that is not possible for you.  So you confess from the catechism – I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with is gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. 


Like the man in the Gospel all human beings are by nature deaf and mute towards God. When God speaks, you don’t hear it with your native ears! This obstruction in your hearing also causes a barrier in your speaking of God and your praying to God.  You would never pray for God’s name to be holy in your life as the first priority without the Holy Spirit’s direction.  And even with His presence, your Old Adam works mightily to tune your tongue to other temporary tunes.  That’s why Jesus continues to stick His fingers in your ears through the preaching of His Word. In Scripture, the “finger of God” refers to the Holy Spirit and His work. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to testify to Christ – for faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word (the speaking) of Christ (Romans 10:17).  God’s word – spoken into your ear lodges in your heart and faith in Christ comes forth in your life.  This has its effect also on your tongue.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Romans 10:10). This simple work of your tongue is of more value than any scientific or political or economic or academic or legal vocabulary you may ever attain. 


It is therefore no small thing that you gather in the presence of the Word of God come down from heaven.  He comes to heal you with the touch of His word – audible and visible.  The Holy Spirit continually bears witness to Christ and thereby continues to free your tongue. The greatest miracle and mightiest work of God in you is giving you ears to hear His Word and a tongue that honors His name. That’s the reason God sends out ministers of the New Covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit who gives life – not the ministry of condemnation but the ministry of righteousness. Such ministers have no sufficiency in themselves. The sufficiency is from God – in the Word of God come down from heaven!


And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said…“Be opened.”  So many things cause us to sigh in this troubled world.  Jesus knew how deep our brokenness is and what price He would have to pay to fix the misguided tongues of sinful mankind. Along with Jesus a sigh is proper over all tongues - including ours - from Adam to the last human being to be born. Like us, so also this man would not be able to tame his newly freed tongue. There is good reason for Jesus to sigh and groan over that little piece of flesh that flaps behind the teeth.  He had heard the tongue of Adam blame Eve.  He had heart the tongue of Cain deny being Abel’s keeper.  He had heard the cursing, complaining, careless tongues of His people down through the ages.  He has heard all the words your tongue has ever formed.


But the compassion of Christ caused Him to do more than sigh over our lost condition and our untamable tongues.  Come down from heaven, the Word made flesh, is hands-on to help us! When Jesus stuck His fingers into that man’s ears, they were the fingers of God. When Jesus touched that man’s tongue, God was touching His tongue. 


Jesus also personally touches you - for your Baptism is water and words from the mouth of God!  In your Baptism Jesus, in effect, says to you “Ephphatha,” - “be opened!”  This Aramaic word was later used in the church’s baptismal liturgies to emphasize the Spirit’s power to open ears to the Gospel. Its meaning can also be stated, “Be released.”  He releases you from bondage to sin by washing away your sin!  He releases you from uncertainty about your standing with the Father by clothing you with Himself! “Ephphatha!”  Ears and tongue and conscience are released!


As Jesus took this man aside personally to touch and heal Him, so at His Table Jesus takes you aside to personally touch you!  The body of Christ is given to you in particular with the bread.  It is His Holy body “for you” that your tongue receives.  The blood of Christ is given to you in particular with the wine.  It is His cleansing blood “for you” that your tongue receives.  In this heavenly food Jesus says to you “forgiven” – that is “ released!” 


It is His forgiveness alone that frees and releases your tongue to confess Him as gracious and merciful and full of steadfast love –love for you!  That steadfast love is known chiefly from tongues speaking their native language at another time.  The tongue of St. Peter formed these words – “ Lord I am ready to go with you…to death” (Luke 22:33) – and later these words “I do not know the man”  (Matthew 26:74).  The tongue of Pilate formed these words – “I do not find this man guilty of any of your charges” (Luke 23:14) – and later while handing Him over – “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matthew 27:24).


As other tongues flailed and failed as they always do, the tongue of Jesus formed these words – “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…” (Mt. 26:39) – and then later – while drinking the cup of wrath according to God’s will – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (23:34). 

 

What incredible release spoken by the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sin of the world!  Beloved – what incredible release for all the harm your tongue has ever caused even when you did not know it!  From that tree of death the tongue of Jesus then formed a most wondrous word of life – “tetelestai” – “It is finished!”  At the death of the Word of God come down from heaven a mighty “be opened” was shouted through heaven. On that side – there was reconciliation - peace with God for us sinners through the blood of the cross (Col. 3:19, 20).  On this side the temple curtain was torn in two (Mark 15:38).  It is why He came – to open heaven again.  There is eternal reason to stand in awe of the Holy One!  He sent redemption to His people.  Holy and Awesome is His Name!

 

So sure and final was His payment that on the morning of the third day another “Be opened!” was shouted!  The seal of Pilate’s governing was brushed aside.  The entrance stone was opened wide!  Death itself was swept away. The tongue of the living Christ was speaking again!  “Peace be with you!”  “See my hands and feet!”  Ascended to God’s right hand – the tongue of Jesus now ceaselessly forms words of perfect intercession for you as your High Priest.  Present also in your midst He continues speaking His words of total release into your ears – “Peace be with you!” 


And unlike the day in our text – Jesus no longer charges you to tell no one.  Indeed God’s Word leads you to bear witness with gentleness and respect to the hope that you have in Him (1 Peter 3:15-16).  The actions of the friends of the deaf man are a template for our own concern for those who are deaf to the Gospel of Christ and whose tongues do not confess His name.  This man’s friends brought him where help was to be found – to receive Christ’s healing gifts. 


So fathers and mothers are to use their tongues in care for their children.  So friends are to use their tongues to care for friends.  So also our congregational care for students and for those from other lands is not to be done tongue in cheek but with will all seriousness and all thankfulness.  Do you know how many tongues of those from other lands while here at Luther Memorial Chapel have asked questions concerning Scripture and concerning God’s work in Jesus?  Do you know that some of those tongues have confessed Christ here and continue to do so in their own lands – sometimes at great danger? 


Our tongues are uniquely created and amazing gifts.  In Christ they are free – released by Him!  It is good and right that we continue to use our tongues to bless the Lord at all times and praise Him continually.  It is also good and right that in our vocations we use our tongues to pray for others to hear the Gospel and to point others where God’s sure help is found – in the word and touch of Jesus.

In His Name, Amen.  

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
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