Video of the Service of the Word here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There seems to be a lot of anxiety going around these days. Anxiety about the world, anxiety about leaders, anxiety about immigration, anxiety about violence, anxiety about terrorism, anxiety about who’s going to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Anxiety everywhere.
The root of the word anxiety, at least in Hebrew, is hurry or haste. Being hurried is anxiety. And if that doesn’t describe our culture, I don’t know what does! We are hurried everywhere, hurried from here to there, and back to here. Hurried by the clock, hurried by our over-full schedules, hurried by devices and anything we can cram into every open hour. We say it: there aren’t enough hours in the day. I just don’t have enough time.
And when we are hurried, when we don’t have enough time, we become anxious. And we are anxious not only because of all the things that press in on us, but, finally, because we don’t trust God. We don’t trust God to do what is right. We don’t trust God to bring resolution. We don’t trust God when He tells us that He is Lord of all things and God of the whole creation and everything in it.
And when we don’t trust God, that means we had better solve it, fix it. It’s up to us. If God’s still around, He sure isn’t doing anything about the problems we see in the world. So we try harder and do more, and the anxiety grows, and on and on, in a vicious circle. Deserts and wilderness; burning sand and thirsty ground.
Say to those with an anxious heart: be strengthened, do not be afraid. Anxiety and fear go hand-in-hand, of course. Be strong, be encouraged, do not be afraid. Why? Because everything will work out all right in the end? Because eventually we’ll be successful in fixing all the things that are wrong, if we resist long enough? Because things are going to get better and better as long as we all try hard enough? No. Be strong and do not be afraid because your God will come to save you. Will come? Yes, but also has come.
When Jesus preaches at Nazareth, He quotes Isaiah 61, that the Spirit of Yahweh had anointed Him to proclaim the year of Yahweh’s favor, good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, sight to the blind (Luke 4:18-19). Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, He says. (Doesn’t stop them from trying to kill Him, though.) When messengers from John the Baptist come to ask Jesus whether He’s the Messiah or whether they should wait for someone else, Jesus says, tell John what you’ve seen and heard: the deaf hear, the lame walk, the blind see, the dead are raised, the poor have good news preached to them. And here, in Mark 7, Jesus puts His fingers in a man’s ears and touches his bound tongue with His holy saliva, and says, “Ephphatha!” Be opened! And the man hears and sings for joy.
How do you know when your God has come to save you? When things like this start happening. And when Jesus appears, things like this start happening. Look, your God comes to save you! Here is the promise for anxious, frenetic, fearful, weak hearts. Here is the promise for all those whose eyes, ears, minds, bodies, tongues do not work as they should: Jesus has come, who is the beginning of the new creation. God has come to save you. That’s what His name means: Yah-shua. The Salvation of God has appeared. So Jesus will not give any more signs to the Pharisees when they ask, or even to John. He simply does what God says will happen when salvation appears, and people either believe it or don’t.
What we see, what we think is happening or not happening, what we think God is doing or not doing, has no bearing on what He says. Since when has our own hurrying, anxious behavior and work ever lowered our anxiety, let alone remove it? When the Israelites were in the “great and terrifying” wilderness, with fiery serpents and scorpions and the thirsty ground and nothing to drink, who gave them impossible water from a rock and bread from heaven (Deuteronomy 8:11-20)? Only God by His saving hand; only the work of the Lord did this, and will do this. Only the promise of Jesus does this, the death and resurrection for us, and also a pattern for everyone who is in Christ. We all die, but we will all rise. And the vengeance of God will be revealed, not against His people, but against the enemies of God and of His people: sin, death, the devil, and all the corruption of His good creation. And on that day, Jesus will shout the great “Ephphatha!” and the graves will be opened. All eyes will see. All ears will hear. All bodies and minds will be restored. All creation will be right again.
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, 9/7/18