Download or listen to the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, “To Those With Anxious Hearts,” (Mark 7:31-37)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is a lot of anxiety going around these days. If you didn’t already know it, you could catch a sense of it from watching the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. (I watched about as much of each as I could take.) The speakers all appealed to the anxiety of people. And it’s not an imaginary anxiety. They weren’t making things up. Listening to politicians, pundits, and voters, people are clearly anxious, mostly about jobs and the economy. People are anxious about whether this country is going in the right direction or where the country might go if the other guy is elected. People are anxious about the world in which we live, anxious about this country, anxious about the Church and her future, anxious about their families and their own lives. And if you are sometimes anxious, you might catch yourselves sighing about it all; maybe even groaning under the weight of the burden of living in this world: frustrated and anxious.
Back when Israel was in Egypt, they groaned under the weight of their slavery. And God heard their groaning and remembered His covenant—His promise—to them and to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God heard their groaning and came down to save them (Exodus 2:23-25; 3:8). And so God has heard your groaning, even if you thought it had nothing to do with Him. And He has come down, this time right into flesh, right into the sighing, groaning world of sin. And while He was on this earth, walking around in Northern Israel, some people brought to Him a man who was both deaf and either mute or had a great difficulty speaking, and they asked Jesus to lay His hands on him. The man never, as far as we know, says anything, but he may have been a little anxious. Maybe he didn’t know whether Jesus would really be able to help him. Maybe, like the woman with the flow of blood earlier in Mark’s Gospel, he had been to all sorts of experts promising him relief and help, and none of them had followed through. Sounds like election season to me. But Jesus doesn’t make empty promises. He never says one thing and does another. He’s not looking for a photo op or a sound bite. Jesus takes the man to the side, away from the crowd, and puts His fingers in the man’s ears, wets His fingers with His own saliva and touches the man’s tongue. Jesus sighs, He groans, and looking up to heaven, He says, “Ephphatha!” That is, “Be opened!” And the man’s ears are opened, and his mouth is loosed. Jesus’ Word goes out, and when He says something, it happens. There is no lag time between the Word and the action. He is incapable of empty promises. Be opened, He says, and things are opened.
But Jesus is not going to come down simply to groan along with us in the burdens of our lives. He doesn’t come to simply be with us in our suffering. He’s not just a shoulder to cry on, or an arm to lean on, or shoulders to carry us during the hard times. He is not content to simply heal a few people. He means to go on all the way. He carries the burden of the entire world, including the weight of your sin, and the sin of those around you. The consequences of that sin, and death, which is the logical end of sin. He carries it all the way to the cross. And there, Mark does not say that He groaned, or sighed. When Jesus dies, He cries out with a loud sound, and He “expires.” To us that word means that food is past its sell-by date, or it has gone bad. In Greek, it simply means “to breathe out.” Here it means that Jesus breathes out for the last time. But He breathes out. And when Jesus breathes out, His Body breathes in, and the dead come back to life. The deaf hear, the blind see, the mute speak. He breathes out His Ephphatha, and ears and mouths and graves are opened. And when that happens, people talk about it. Funny, isn’t it, that people in pulpits and books and newsletters tell us to go tell people about Jesus, but it seems like the more they tell us to do it, the less we do it. Forget a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise; I’d settle for one. One tongue loosed to speak, one tongue unashamed of the Gospel, which is the power of God to save people. And yet, here Jesus tells them to shut up, and they can’t. They have seen and heard. This man actually was deaf and mute, and now he hears and speaks. Who wouldn’t talk about that? If your ears are opened, if you have actually heard Jesus speak, you know other people need to hear Him, too. They need to hear about a God who doesn’t tell them to do their best, and He’ll do the rest; a God who doesn’t tell them to pay in before He’ll pay out; a God who gives His mercy to any and all, no matter what they’ve done. This is a God worth talking about.
But the fact remains, that we still groan in this life. In the tent of this body, in this existence, we groan, being burdened, longing to be clothed with a body that doesn’t wear out, and works the way it’s supposed to (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). We groan, longing for our sonship in Christ to be revealed, the redemption of our bodies. It was in this hope that we were saved, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:18-25). The day when everything is made right, and the ransomed of Yahweh return and come to Zion with singing; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:10). To you who have anxious hearts: be strong and do not be afraid, your God comes. The same God who groaned in flesh, who opened ears and loosed tongues, He comes to save you. He has done all things well, and His new creation is very, very good.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/8/12