Video of the Divine Service (at Our Savior Lutheran, Okanogan, WA) is here. Audio of the sermon only is here:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I don’t know exactly when it happens. Maybe it’s happened to you or maybe it hasn’t. But there’s a certain point where we start looking back at our lives up to this point and taking stock. Probably we always think of some regrets in our past, but it seems that as we get older, we think more about what we’ve done and left undone; about what we should have done, but didn’t, and what we should not have done, but did; about what we’ve done well, and what we’ve not done so well. And considering all that in the light of God’s law, we hear what James has to say: For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
But the last verse in the Gospel reading is one of the most comforting passages in the Scriptures: He has done all things well. He has done all things well. Of course, the context of that is not people looking back on their lives and facing all their sins and failures. The context is Jesus healing a deaf man who has trouble speaking clearly. But they may not be as far apart as it seems at first.
Some people come to Jesus begging Him, entreating Him, requesting that Jesus lay His hands on this man. He was probably born deaf, because he has trouble speaking clearly. If you can’t hear people speaking, you are going to have trouble speaking. In fact the word for “deaf” can also mean “mute.” They beg Jesus to lay His hands on him. In the Gospel of Mark, this kind of request is always directed to Jesus. And they know that when Jesus lays His hands on people, it means healing. When Jesus touches people, they are healed, and when people touch Jesus, or His clothes, they are healed.
So Jesus takes the man aside by himself, puts His fingers in the man’s ears, spits and touches the man’s tongue. It is not specific, but it seems as if Jesus spits on His own hand and then touches the man’s tongue. Jesus looks up to heaven, sighs, or groans, and says, “Ephphatha!” Be opened. And the man’s ears are opened, and along with it, his tongue is set free and he speaks clearly. And the crowd is astounded, abundantly amazed, and they say, “He has done all things well, even make the deaf to hear and the unspeaking to speak.”
This seems far from taking stock of one’s life in repentance, but what is the cause of this man’s inability to hear? It is not that some particular sin lead to this particular consequence. In John’s Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus about a man blind from birth, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned so that he was born blind, but this is for the glory of God.” It is not some particular failing for which this deaf man was being punished, but it is because of sin in the world. We know that not all the bad things that happen happen because we’ve done some particular thing. Of course, sometimes there are consequences to our actions; or things happen because of what we chose to do. But at other times, things just happen. It was not because people were more sinful on the East Coast that they were struck by a hurricane. It wasn’t because they were more sinful in Haiti that they had to face the devastation of an earthquake.
But it was because of sin: the consequences and symptoms of sin in the world, the wages of sin paid out in death. It is the curse on the ground that stems from the sin of two creatures, and sin continues in all Adam and Eve’s descendants until now. The whole creation groans, Paul says, groans with us and suffers agony with us until now. And we ourselves groan. We groan, being burdened—and the burdens are everything from our physical afflictions, sicknesses, debilities, to our grief, sorrow, regret, and the things we cannot go back and unsay or undo. We are burdened in this world, and we groan under its weight, in this earthly, bodily tent.
And where is Jesus in the midst of all this groaning? He is right next to the deaf man, touching him, and groaning. Jesus, too, is groaning and longing for the end of all the burdens of sin, sickness, and death. And He groans along with this man and heals him. But Jesus doesn’t just groan with us; it is not only sympathy, or pity, or being with us in the situation—though it is that. Jesus groans under the burden of our affliction and our sin, and He does something about it. He groans under the entire burden of this creation’s curse and affliction, and groans in death on the cross. In His death-groans, He is bringing an end to the burden of living in this creation subject to sin.
And then He rises from the dead to bring a new creation, un-cursed and unburdened. He takes the our groans and the groans of all creation, and transforms them: from groans of despair, of anxiety, of this is just the way it is, and He makes them groans of longing and expectation and hope. It is because we have the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit, Paul says, that we can groan in longing for the day when all things will be made right. We groan, not to be unclothed of our bodies, of flesh and blood, but to be further clothed, in the eternal life of Christ. We are expecting the day when all that is of death will be swallowed up by life.
Are you anxious? Are you fearful? Are you weary and worried? God tells Isaiah to say to you, “Be strong and fear not! Because your God is coming to you with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” And what is the sign that this God has appeared? The blind will see and the deaf will hear, and the lame will run and leap, and the tongue of the unspeaking one will be set free to sing songs of praise and joy.
That’s what Jesus is doing here. He’s letting everyone know that the groaning under the burden of this world is coming to an end. Now we groan in expectation and longing, because we know it’s coming to an end. This Jesus who joined you to His death has also joined you to His resurrection. The Jesus who shed His blood and died in the flesh now gives you His living flesh and blood to eat and drink. The Jesus we have now is the assurance of the Jesus we will have on the last day, when all our groaning is at an end. Now we have the promise, then we will have sight. Now we have faith, then we we will have the fulfillment.
But we still groan, and Jesus is still with us. And when we don’t even know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit of God, whom we have been given, intercedes for us. The Holy Spirit, who knows the mind of God, prays for you in groanings unspeakable. Jesus groans for you, the Spirit groans for you, and let there be no doubt that all this groaning will end in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This Jesus who did all things well—who healed and taught and raised the dead and died and rose from the dead—He still does all things well and will do all things well. And that word not only means “well,” as in “good,” but it can also mean “beautiful.” So it is: He has done all things beautifully. He makes everything beautiful in its own good time, Himself the firstfruits of the grave, and we will follow after. All things made right in our lives, in our bodies, in the whole creation. He has done all things beautifully, all things well.
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, 9/3/21