Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Installation of the Rev. Jesse Burns (Isaiah 52:7-10)

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this joyous afternoon is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fifty-second chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Dear friends in Christ: the feet are dirty, dusty, smelly. They are caked with mud, covered in callouses, afflicted with blisters. Every mile is revealed in those hardened soles, every step is reflected in the filth that dwells between the toes. The feet are a horror to look at, their stench causes many to recoil, it drives some people away. But not those who were waiting for just such feet. To them, these feet are the most beautiful sight of all. The mud and dust is a delight to the eyes, the stench is a pleasing aroma, for these feet carry a voice. The filth doesn’t matter, in fact, these feet are treasured despite their dirt and grime because it was their task to take a voice to those who were appointed to hear it, to those who needed to hear it. The voice carries words that he has been sent to speak, words that are not his own, but have been given to him. These feet are treasured, they are beautiful, because they carry a voice that publishes peace, bringing good news of happiness, publishing salvation. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news!” 

This voice, carried upon beautiful feet, speaks to ruins, to a desolate waste. This voice speaks to eyes that can only see destruction, a city that has become a desert. Eyes look around them and see tottering buildings, steeples falling, pews emptying, budgets getting tighter and youth groups dwindling. Eyes see a culture that has become a wasteland, that swallows up the unprepared and kills them slowly with its promises of freedom, freedom that is actually bondage. Eyes see a church that is increasingly marginalized, that is driven out of the public square into the wilderness. Then eyes look closer to home, and see the wasteland that is their own life. Their relationships are a barren land, torn by anger and enmity, shattered by divorce and break-ups. Their body is a ruined city, as their health fails, as they live in the bondage of disease and addiction. And every day spent trying to get ahead in the wilderness, trying to provide for their family, just shows how parched the desert really is. The eyes can see no hope of salvation; the ruins cannot resurrect themselves, the wasteland cannot make itself a fertile field. Scaffolding cannot save a tottering church or society, any solution that the ruins propose is doomed to failure. Government cannot legislate away the desert, medicine cannot overcome the wasteland, the church finds each of its own solutions futile against the wilderness.

It is to those very ruins, the ruins of a shattered society and shattered church, the ruins of shattered lives, that God sends a voice, a voice to speak His Word: “The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.” The voice is the voice of the watchman, who declares the return of the Lord to His people, who calls on them to make themselves ready for His coming. The voice calls for paths to be made straight, for mountains to be laid low, for rough places to be made a plain. In short, the voice calls for repentance. The voice calls on eyes who see the desolation around them so well to see the wasteland within and turn away from it. The voice calls out sins by name, specifically warning his hearers from the paths of the desert, from the bondage of the wilderness. He has a solemn charge from God: “Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.” Woe to the voice who does not speak! The wicked will die in his sins, but the voice will be held accountable; he is compelled by God Himself to speak.

But the voice is not only compelled to speak a word of warning; he prepares for the coming of the Lord by calling for repentance, but as a watchman on the ruined walls, it is his joy to announce the coming banners of the King. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” The voice cannot bring salvation, any more than the ruins can resurrect themselves, but it is his great joy to announce it. The King has returned, He has come in the flesh, and He has returned to resurrect the shattered walls, to renew the desert, to make the wasteland a fertile field. The voice announces that the King, Jesus Christ, came into the wilderness to overcome it, that He gave Himself up into death, even death upon a cross, to destroy the power that the desert of death had over you. He bore your sins, every one of them, to the cross; He laid them on His own back, and then exposed that back to the scourge and the whip for you to break your bonds. Jesus Christ came to His people, He came to you, in the midst of your distress, in the wasteland that fills your life, and He conquered it with His death and victorious resurrection. He comforts you in your distress, for He has redeemed you, He has paid the price for you with His own blood; the wilderness could not overcome Him, to the King belongs the victory, “Your God reigns!”

God reigns despite all the desolation that eyes see; God reigns, and the victory of Christ is given to all who are baptized into His Name. That is the message that the voice has been sent to speak into your life, in every situation: God reigns; look to the cross, not to the wasteland, to see the truth: sin, death, and hell, the wilderness, the wasteland, the desert, have been overcome, triumphed over by the King who returned, Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One. That is what the voice declares: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again! The voice tells you who dwell in the wilderness of sin that your sin is forgiven; when specific sins are condemned, the voice speaks specific forgiveness: Christ died for all sins, and the voice who hears your confession tells you that Christ died for that sin, too. The voice tells you, as hands splash water on your head, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and it declares to you with the words of Jesus, as hands place bread into your mouth and hold wine to your lips, “This is my Body; This is my Blood.” This voice comes into the midst of your lives lived in the wilderness, into your living room, to your bedside, holding your hand at the point of death and declaring, “Your God reigns!” The voice doesn’t bring salvation; all he can do is announce it, suffer for it, and die because of it. He cannot heal disease, fix every problem, or ‘save your congregation.’ He is only a voice, but a voice speaking of the victory that overcomes the devastation of sin.

And this voice calls on the ruins to rejoice in the salvation brought by Jesus, to celebrate the resurrection in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death. “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem.” The voice calls on the ruins to rejoice even now, even in the midst of the wasteland, because salvation has come, victory has been won, and the day of vindication is near. God reigns, despite the desolation that fills this world; it is not what the eyes see but what the ears hear that is true: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. The fact of the cross and empty tomb stand against the wilderness, they testify that the wasteland will one day be made fertile again, giving you hope as you walk in the desert. And so the ruins rejoice, they sing praises to the King, to Jesus Christ, their crucified and risen Lord, because they know that a Day is coming when eyes will see what voices speak and ears hear, when the victory proclaimed by the voice is seen clearly by the entire world. “The Lord has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

The feet are dirty, dusty, smelly. They are caked with mud, covered in callouses, afflicted with blisters. They have traveled from Montana to Nebraska, from Nebraska to Indiana, from Indiana to Iowa to Indiana and back again, then from western Iowa to central Iowa. Every mile is revealed in those hardened soles, but there is more to this grime than the lengthy journey. These feet are those of a sinner, they carry not only the dust of the miles but the corruption of the Fall, they are in as need of the absolving Word of Christ as you are. The feet of a sinner cause many to recoil, they drive some people away; they cannot imagine that God would use such an instrument to speak His Word, and so many reject such earthly means. But not those who were waiting for just such feet. To you, the saints of Redeemer Lutheran Church, these feet are a beautiful sight. These feet are treasured despite their dirt and grime because it is their task to take a voice to those whom God appointed to hear it, to those who need to hear it. He brought the voice to you, for the voice is His instrument, to stand as a watchman on the ruins, warning from sin and proclaiming the Savior who has overcome it. This voice carries words that he has been sent to speak, words that are not his own, but have been given to him by Jesus Christ Himself. These feet are treasured, they are beautiful, because they carry a voice that publishes peace, bringing good news of happiness, publishing salvation. Rejoice in these feet, rejoice in the family that these feet have brought with it, but rejoice even more in the message the voice speaks. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news!” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Kyle and Sarah Peters wedding (Genesis 2:7, 18-24)

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Kyle and Sarah, friends and family gathered from near and far: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Our text on this day of joy is the Old Testament lesson you selected from Genesis chapter two, the creation of man, the creation of woman, the creation of marriage. Dear friends in Christ: like a cadence, like a drumbeat, on each and every day of creation we hear the refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” The moon and the sun are good, the animals are good, the land and the seas are good. But on the sixth day of creation, when God is at the very end of His work, he finds one thing, and one thing alone, that is not good, that is incomplete. His creation is not yet finished. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’” The entire universe has been put in place; the planets have been set in order, the laws of physics have been established, the ecosystem is in perfect balance. But yet creation is incomplete, it is not yet very good, because the man is alone.

Notice that it isn’t the man who voices this concern; it is God who sees this deficiency and promises to take action to rectify it. “I will make him a helper fit for him.” Man doesn’t know it, man doesn’t quite realize it, but he is alone, utterly alone. He is one half of a whole, he is fundamentally incomplete, he needs a “helper fit for him.” He needs companionship in this world, one like him, but yet different, to be an object of his love, his care and compassion. He needs a helper, a savior from his loneliness. He needs assistance in fulfilling the great command of the Lord, which will be given by God Himself, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” It makes little sense for God to give such a command, such a privilege, if the man is left alone. He cannot bring forth the next generation by himself; he, like most of God’s creation, needs a partner. And after the Fall into sin, there is another reason man needs woman: he needs her as an antidote to sin, to help him control sinful lust.

It is God who notices this deficiency, not the man, and it is God alone who provides for it. For some, He provides with a gift of grace, the gift of celibacy, the gift of remaining unmarried without being overcome by lust. But for most, He provides as He did for the first man, with the gift of a wife, a bride, a “helper fit for him.” This is a helper corresponding to him, like him, yet unlike, like two sides of a coin, two pieces of a puzzle. It is a helper that fits together with him, that complements him in every way. God brought all of the animals to Adam, one after another, so that he could make an exhaustive search for the helper that God said he needed. “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” No animal, no matter how beloved, could complete humanity, no animal could provide for all that the man needed. God must give to him a special creation, taken from him to be the perfect complement. “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man.” God gives the woman as a gift to the man; he does not take her in the passion of sinful lust, but he receives her as she is: a gift.

And the man receives her with joy, breaking forth into poetry: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of Man.” She is the perfect helper, the perfect complement, the perfect savior from loneliness, because she was taken from the man himself. They are one flesh, and in their life together, and the lives of all their children, they will proclaim that reality. Moses reflects on this great mystery as he concludes our text: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Even though sin has corrupted this relationship of husband and wife, it does not destroy it. Woman was taken from man to be the helper corresponding to him, and thus for the rest of creation women and men will be joined together as one flesh for mutual companionship, for the bringing forth of children, and for restraining sinful lust.

This day, you, Kyle and Sarah, intend to enter this blessed estate, established even before the Fall into sin. This day you leave father and mother, separating from their households to form your own, publically taking up new vocations, husband and wife. You, Kyle, take up the vocation of loving your wife as Christ has loved the Church, giving up your life for her, sacrificing yourself, with your selfish desires and sinful passions, for her good. You, Sarah, take up the vocation of submitting to your husband as the Church submits to Christ, in love and joy allowing him to lead your household, knowing that he sacrifices himself for you. Here before God and the world you publically declare that you will live together as husband and wife, making promises, taking vows. It is this public act, this objective fact, that remains true throughout all of the ups and downs of your marriage, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. God has joined you together, here, in this place, on September 19th, 2015, and what God has joined together, let not man separate.

This day you declare your love to one another, just as Moses teaches us that a man leaves his father and his mother and holds fast to his wife. You hold fast to one another in love, and not just any love, but the very love of Jesus Christ Himself. It is this love that sustains a marriage, for this love comes from outside of you, from the cross itself, from the wounds of Jesus. It is a love that is self-sacrificial, always placing the other and their needs ahead of your own. It is a love that is forgiving, founded on admitting sin and forgiving it. This is the love that all Christians are to show to their neighbors, and this day you are publically declaring that you have a new closest neighbor—each other. You will love each other by denying yourselves, by putting your pride to death. Don’t think you can do this on your own. You cannot give to each other what you haven’t first received. Therefore it is in this very place that you will receive from Christ the love and forgiveness which you then pour into your marriage, loving and forgiving each other.

Moses teaches us that after a man leaves his father and his mother and holds fast to his wife, “they shall become one flesh.” This day, you publically declare that you will live together as one flesh. Only once man and woman have publically left their father and mother and have been joined together in the sight of God and man, do they become one flesh. They do not come together in the passion of lust, in impurity, but only as those joined by God. A man does not take a woman whenever he wants, but he receives his bride as a gift from God’s hand. And together man and woman then bring forth new life, they give expression to the Lord’s commission in the Garden, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Saint Paul was right when he said of marriage, “this mystery is profound.” The mystery of woman taken from man, only to be joined back to him as one flesh, is profound. But then he quickly adds, “I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” The mystery is that from this day forward, Kyle and Sarah, you are publically showing forth in your own lives the very Gospel itself. Man was alone on the sixth day, but humanity was left alone after the Fall, estranged from the God who created us and subject to death and eternal damnation. But the Bridegroom sought His bride, God’s lonely people, and Jesus Christ took flesh to buy us back from the bondage of sin and death, paying this price with His own blood. Now risen from the dead, our Bridegroom washes us, pure as Sarah’s dress, in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He presents us to Himself as a radiant bride, invited to the marriage supper that will have no end. This promise is for you, Kyle and you, Sarah, and your marriage proclaims that reality to a world trapped in the darkness of sin. You love each other as Christ loved you, and gave Himself up for you, dying and rising again to abolish sin and death for you and for the entire world. In His Name, Amen.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Trinity 14 (Galatians 5:16-24)

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this evening is the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of Galatians. Dear friends in Christ: even if you know almost nothing about poetry, you have probably heard these words, penned by poet Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” ‘The path less traveled’ has become a proverbial saying, part of how we speak and think. I’m no expert on Robert Frost, so I cannot tell you what influenced these famous lines, but I can tell you that Biblical theology, drawing from the Exodus and wilderness wanderings, has always described of the life of the godly as a ‘walk,’ a ‘journey,’ and like Robert Frost, the Scriptures contrast the ‘path less traveled by’ with another path, a well-heeled path, a path that is broad and easy. In our Gospel lesson, one leper took the path ‘less traveled by,’ returning to Jesus to give Him praise, while the other nine traveled together to the temple. Our Old Testament lesson from Proverbs calls the ‘path less traveled by’ the “way of wisdom,” and the other road, the broad and easy road, the “path of the wicked.” For Paul, one path is “walking by the Spirit.” The other? Gratifying “the desires of the flesh.”  

The path of the flesh is wide enough for everyone to fit, and there’s always room for one more. The path of the flesh is easy, even pleasurable; what can be easier and more fun than letting your natural desires run wild? The path of the flesh is selfish and indulgent, seeking only what I want at that moment, without thought of others around me or of the future. “The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” 

The first three sins Paul lists are against the Sixth Commandment—sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality; the path of the flesh is letting your sexual attractions govern thoughts, words, and behavior, letting them tell you when and how to act, indulging your attraction to others no matter their gender, age, or whether you are married to them or not. The next two sins are against the First and Second Commandments—idolatry and sorcery; the path of the flesh is letting your inclination to make gods run wild, setting anyone and anything above the true God. The eight sins that follow deal with our relationships with others—enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy; the path of the flesh is living a life of competition, the survival of the fittest, looking down on those beneath you and being jealous of those above. Finally, with the last two sins your flesh is out of control—drunkenness and orgies; the path of the flesh is letting sin run your life. Ultimately, the path of the flesh, no matter what form it takes, is the path of addiction, addiction to the flesh and its desires.

Solomon says about this path: “They cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence… The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” The path of the flesh is broad and easy, but its end is shrouded in darkness, its destination is hidden. When Paul says, “you will not gratify the desires of the flesh,” the word ‘gratify’ is probably better translated ‘complete, finish, end.’ The desires of the flesh have a goal, an end, and it is this end that is covered by darkness. The broad and easy road leads to apostasy, a fancy word that simply means the rejection of the faith and turning away from God. The path of the flesh smothers faith, it drives away the Holy Spirit, and it is completed only in death; this path has only one destination: eternal judgment. “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”   

Two roads diverged in a wood; the easy, broad road has only one destination, though it keeps this goal hidden behind the pleasures of the present: death, eternal death. The path less traveled by has only one destination as well, but that destination is as different from the end of the broad road as darkness is from light. The end, the completion, the goal of the path less traveled by is life, life to the fullest, life for eternity. Solomon says about this road, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” The full day is coming, when the road less traveled by will be bathed in light, the light as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. For this road is walked in Christ and its destination is the inheritance that Christ won by His death and resurrection, the destination we sang of in the Introit: “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints, for the courts of the Lord.”

The road to this place is not the road of moral perfection; that is the path that those who were deceiving the Galatians preached. No, the flesh secretly loves legalism as much as it loves sinning, because depending on the Law for salvation puts the focus back on us; the broad and easy road has plenty of room for those who are trying to work their way to heaven. Instead of moral perfection, Paul offers another way, the way of Christ Himself: walking “by the Spirit.” This is not a path of perfection, of legalism, but of repentance, going to war against the flesh, setting Christ against your sin. “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

Walking by the Spirit is the path of conflict, for the flesh cannot be trained, it cannot be reformed—it must be put to death. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” The flesh is put to death by Christ and with Christ, it is taken by Him to the cross and nailed with Him there. It is conquered, overcome, defeated at the tree, and then each and every day, through the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ Jesus puts your sinful flesh to death by taking you back to your Baptism, where He first drowned it by water and the Word. Why do we need the gifts of Christ? Why does He continue to pour them upon us? Because only they can overcome the flesh. The war against the flesh is fought only by repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Those are the only tools, the only weapons Christ uses. He calls us to repentance by proclaiming the Law, putting the sinful flesh to death, and He makes us alive in the Spirit by forgiving all of your sins. You have heard of the desires of the flesh this night, desires that you have indulged, that you are indulging? You have heard the stern words of the Law, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God”? Repent. Repent and hear these words, from Jesus through His instrument: Your sins are forgiven, each and every one of them. You are forgiven.

What flows from this forgiveness is what Paul calls ‘the fruit of the Spirit.’ “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” In the place of lust there is love and joy; in the place of competition and rivalry there is peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness. In the place of indulging sinful desires there is self-control. Living by the Spirit means controlling one’s natural desires and passions. This isn’t easy; it may bring suffering, as you run counter to the world and Christ does battle with the desires that dwell therein. You will bear the cross. But there is One who bore a cross for you, leading the way that you now walk, and it is only by His work that you can walk, because it is only by His work that you have a destination that awaits you.

“Two roads diverged in a wood,” Robert Frost wrote. “And I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Jesus chose not to take the easy path that would’ve meant safety and worldly glory, the path of victory that so many wanted Him to take. No, instead He took the road of the cross, the road that passed through darkness, darkness deep as death, but on the other side was light, the light of eternal glory. The broad and easy path is bathed in light, but its destination is darkness; the road less traveled by, the road of the cross, is covered with darkness, but its end is light. Jesus walked the way of the cross to redeem those dwelling in darkness, to set us on a path that seems dark to our frail human eyes, but has the promise of the light of eternal glory that He won for us. He took the road less traveled by, and it has made all the difference—for you, and for me, for the world. Thanks be to God! In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Trinity 12 (Mark 7:31-37)

“He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the seventh chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, “He has done all things well.” That is what the people said, that is what they told their friends, their neighbors, their children. “He has done all things well.” They saw with their own eyes deaf ears now opened, bound tongues now released, released to tell the world about Jesus. This man told them of Jesus spiting and touching his tongue, he recounted how Christ thrust His fingers into his ears. He couldn’t hear the groans of our Lord, he didn’t hear the Word which opened his ears; he couldn’t even vocalize to Jesus his plea for help. But even if he couldn’t hear the voice of the Creator standing in creation, that Word did what it said. Ears—opened! Tongue—loosened! “He has done all things well!” Jesus sternly instructed him not to tell anyone; the first words he heard was a command that he and his friends didn’t obey. They couldn’t stop praising; he who before couldn’t speak rightly now gave right praise to Jesus, he spoke the truth about his Lord. His ears were opened by the Word to hear the Word, to believe in Jesus, and His tongue was released from bondage to sing His praises: “He has done all things well!”

The world scoffs at these words, it mocks the joy of the crowd. Has He? Has Jesus truly done all things well? That’s a pretty big claim for people who have seen a grand total of one miracle. He has done all things well? Let’s do the math. There is one incident in all of Scripture, Old Testament or New Testament, where a deaf man has his ears unstopped. One man. Certainly, the Gospels allude to others; when Jesus receives the messengers of John the Baptist, He tells them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” All right, so we can admit that probably more than one deaf man was healed by Jesus, but how many deaf people do you think lived in first century Palestine? Certainly a lot more than Jesus ever healed. He has done all things well? All things? Did He heal every disease, did He stop every death, did He feed every hungry belly? No, His miracles, as amazing as they were, were only drops of healing in a bucket of suffering.

Consider the man formerly deaf. Did he live forever? Having been touched by Jesus, did he relax in comfort and security the rest of his life? He could hear and talk, certainly, but that was not the end of the dangers that would face him. How do you think he died? Did he starve, or was he killed by robbers, or did he perish in the violence of the Jewish revolt? The chances aren’t good that he died in his bed. He died like so many others did, those whom Jesus didn’t help, those whose town Jesus didn’t visit, those who missed his ministry by a generation or a century. He has done all things well? It appears He has only done a few things well, for only a few lucky people, and even they still died.

This line of thinking makes us uncomfortable, it makes us squirm in our pews. We mumble something about ‘spiritual healing,’ that Jesus is really only concerned about our souls, not our bodies, but that isn’t very comforting, is it? Doesn’t the world have a point? He has done all things well? It certainly doesn’t seem like it when you look at your own life. Has He done all things well when your nerves, or your joints, or your heart or your lungs decline and fail? Has He done all things well when you receive a diagnosis of cancer, when you suffer a heart attack, when you have a stroke? Has He done all things well when you are depressed, or filled with anxiety, or bound with the chains of addiction? Yeah, He healed a deaf man a long time ago, but has He healed you?

Has He done all things well when your spouse lies in a hospital bed, quickly approaching death? Has He done all things well when your friends betray you, leaving you alone when you needed them the most? Has He done all things well when terrorists blow up cafĂ©’s, when airplanes disappear, when tornados rip through churches? Has He done all things well when Planned Parenthood kills and then rips apart unborn children for parts? Every disease, every disaster, every instance of suffering cries out against the joyful words of the crowd in our text. He has done all things well? These people have seen a grand total of one miracle; you read of more suffering that Jesus doesn’t stop on the front page of the Lincoln Journal Star each and every day. A Jesus who seems to care only about your soul, who healed a few people in first-century Palestine, but does nothing about all the other suffering that fills our world—can you really say that He has done all things well?

Yes, yes you can. He has done all things well—all things. There is absolutely nothing that He has not done well. Your eyes cannot see it, the world cannot believe it, but it is true: He has done all things well. By the power of His Word He opens your ears to hear the truth that lies behind the mess of sin and suffering that is all your eyes can see. You are brought to Him, unable to hear rightly, unable to speak rightly, unable to even cry out to Him for mercy, and He acts in compassion. Your need is great: you cannot hear the truth of God’s Word, you cannot speak rightly about God; like the world all you hear and all you can speak are lies. But Jesus has compassion upon you, He looks up to heaven and He groans. He groans because He knows what it cost to heal you; He knows the price that was required of Him to open your ears and loosen your tongue. He groans because He felt the burden heavy upon Him, He knew what lay ahead, but He refused to be moved from the path set before Him and He went forth to accomplish the salvation He now delivers to you.

He touches you with water, splashing it upon your forehead, and He says, “Ephphatha—Be opened!” He speaks His powerful Word to deaf ears, and they are opened by its power. Your ears are opened by the Word to hear the Word, the Word which is truth. You hear the truth about your Jesus, what His groans mean, what it cost to redeem you, both body and soul. Water washes over your body, but it is not simply a bath. He cleanses your soul in Baptism, and He also claims your body as His own, promising you that all who are baptized into His Name will be healed, they will even live when they die. Your ears are opened to hear the Word which proclaims to you Christ’s victory over every evil that fills this world and your own life.

You hear of the Jesus who spat at the evil of this world, showing His contempt, His anger at what sin had done to those whom He loves. You hear of how evil spat back, as sinful men mocked Him and struck Him, scourged Him and nailed Him to a cross. What your ears tell you your eyes cannot see, that Jesus hung upon the cross to destroy the power of sin and death, to defeat every disease, to overcome every cause of suffering in this fallen, corrupted world. He took all of the evil of this world into Himself and put it to death with Himself on the tree, then left it behind in the grave, as He rose in victory. You hear of the resurrected, victorious Jesus, who passed through death and the grave and then rose, in His body, to guarantee your resurrection. The world tells us that Jesus healed only a few who happened to cross His path; Easter preaches to us that Jesus will heal all believers on the Day of the resurrection of all flesh. He has done all things well. He has accomplished salvation, groaning on the cross to conquer and destroy all that corrupted God’s perfect creation, guaranteeing perfect healing for all for all who believe.

The healings of Jesus are temporary, to be sure; all who were healed by Jesus during His ministry eventually succumbed to some other malady and died. But they received a foretaste of the healing and restoration to come; the healing they received was a preview of an eternity where disease, suffering, and death itself are no more. What Jesus demonstrated through His healings is that suffering will end, the reign of evil will be finished, victory is coming. The Creator stands in His creation, in the flesh, to heal it of its brokenness. He certainly cares about your soul, but He also cares about your body, and He died and rose again to redeem both and give to you the gift of an embodied eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. He has done all things well. Christ may in mercy bring a limited end to your sufferings here in this life, but a Day is surely coming when He will bring an end to all evil, raising you up perfectly healed and restored, never to suffer again, never to die again. He will wipe away every tear from your eyes. And until that Day, we will not cease saying, “He has done all things well!”

He has done all things well! He has opened your ears to hear the proclamation of His victory over sin and death, to believe what His Word says, not what your eyes see. And He has loosened your tongue to sing His great praises. “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Right hearing leads to right praise; when you hear the Word of God in its truth and purity, what you speak, the praises you sing, will proclaim that truth. Right hearing and right praise go together; wrong hearing always leads to wrong praise. Jesus makes deaf ears hearing ears, opening them with the very power of the finger of God, and He makes impeded speech, speech poisoned by the lies of this world, into right speech, speech that speaks the truth about God and gives Him great thanks and praise. He touches those tongues with His Body and Blood, loosening them to give Him the thanks and praise that He is due. Our eyes do not see the truth; that is what our ears hear, from His powerful Word, and that is what our tongues confess. They have been loosened for this very purpose, loosened to sing His praises, to rejoice with the great Te Deum of all the saints, joining an exuberant crowd in the Decapolis so long ago, saying to Jesus: ‘You even made me hear your Word and speak your praises! You have done all things well!’ In His Name, Amen.