Sometimes the smallest thing in the text can inspire a thought. Here it is the travel notice -“He returned from the region of Tyre through Sidon…”. Jesus goes north to return south. But the travel notice state or implies a much longer journey, something of a great circular route, a long way. But even when you take the long way, you eventually end up where you are going. And that is what confronts Jesus when he completes the circle. It is often what confronts us on our spiritual walk-abouts. When we’ve taken the long way, the spiritual question remains, and how we are going to answer it. That is what this sermon is about.
This was our “Rally Day” or recognition of the start of School week. (We delay a week typically due to the labor day weekend.) So, there are parts of the service – like the installation of Sunday School teachers, and blessing of backpacks – that I couldn’t get on the recording. Physically we did them down in front where our various mic’s don’t capture too well. That blessing was probably the key to thinking about this sermon unfortunately.
In my head the sermon is an existential one. It points out a common thought, looking up at the night sky and what do you see? There are naive answers, but nobody really holds those long. That is the purpose of the Lion King reference. The existential question of that sky (a sign) is: is their order or is it all just chaos?
The answer revealed to us by the Word of God is that there is an order. In our sinful condition we are like the deaf and mute man in our text, unable to hear the music of the spheres. But Jesus has come to give us back the ability to hear. That same Word that tells us of God’s loving order, opens ears and loosens tongues. And in the application to educating, learning/education/wisdom which is based on that word is a worth endeavor, because God desires to be known just as we are known by Him. The universe makes sense, the foundation of which is revealed to us in the Word of God, so we can grow in Wisdom just like Jesus. It is not the dark forest nor the great filter that haunt our minds when we tune out the music of the spheres.
This sermon is based on a “level 2” reading of the Gospel of Mark. What I mean by level 2 is that to make the connections necessary you have to look at the locations, characters and actions of what is being told and assume that the writer picked this story specifically to carry meaning. The deaf and mute man was chosen because his disabilities and their healings are symbolic for what the Kingdom of God is doing on a larger level. The first part of the sermon hopefully establishes at least the plausibility of that level 2 reading. The second attempts to apply it to our situation.
Doctrinally this puts me in the realm of election and sanctification. The sermon is about the tension or specific actions that these doctrines call for.
This is the second part of the Jesus’ discussion in Mark chapter 7. The first part (last Sunday) focused more on the centrality of the Word of God. In the words of the Lutheran confessions that would is the sole norm of life and faith. It is the norming norm. All of our traditions must conform to the Word of God. The second part Jesus turns from false source of authority to the source of our problems with it. It is not that we don’t know the Word of God, but that naturally, out of the heart of man, come evil designs. What we take into the body cannot defile us as Mark comments settling the question of foods once. But we naturally take part in wickedness and fall into foolish ways.
The sermon examines Jesus’ comments on both wickedness and foolishness and puts it in the context of the larger bible’s discussion of understanding and foolishness. It then bridges into the good news. Out of our natural hearts come wickedness, but God is about replacing those hearts.
The text is one of those that is actually real easy to apply today, but preaching that sermon to this congregation isn’t matching audiences. I think you have to look a little to correctly apply it. Putting it in doctrinal terms the text is one about the simplicity of scripture or the perspicuity of scripture. What that means is simply that the meaning of scripture is plainly available to those who read it fairly. That doesn’t mean we accept it, just that we can understand what it says. What Jesus gets mad at in the Pharisees is not that they reject it outright, but that they end up putting forward theological arguments and rationalizations that negate the simple word of God. Their higher theology allows them to break the law yet claim they are keeping it. And this is done with the blessing of the institutional form of the religion. The easy marks are in the introduction. To correctly apply though means understanding the simple or catechism word and then looking at how we might deny it.
We had VBS last week, so what I used as the simple Word were the daily slogans from VBS which told the really simple faith – creation, comfort, healing, forgiveness, eternity. And then it mulls these over a little deeper and takes a look at how we, not others but ourselves, might elevate a higher theology against that simple faith. The bottom line is that any higher or deeper theology must be consonant or allow the simple faith. I’ll make a physics analogy, Quantum mechanics must allow for Newtonian Physics. Quantum mechanics can never completely negate Newtonian Physics. We are being Pharisees when we negate portions of the law yet say we aren’t because of complex rationalizations. Like the response line to the simple VBS statements, we Hold On to the simple word.
It was rally day at church this week. For those who might not know, that is the day we install the Sunday School teachers for the year and try and “rally” everyone back from the summer’s diversion.
It also turns into something of a mission festival. Rally Day doesn’t just issue a call to return to church, but issues a call to be witnesses. The lesson is the healing of a deaf and mute man. Jesus’ miracles, in John’s gospel called signs, almost always point to something greater. They might be signs of his being the messiah. They might be signs point to his Godhood. They might also be signs of the disciples or our own spiritual state, or our calling. I think that is what is happening with this miracle. It does function as a sign to Jesus being the messiah. That is why the OT Isaiah lesson was matched up with this Gospel text. But in the context – which the sermon proclaims – they are also a sign to the opening of new ears and a call for tongues to the loosened. Rally Day calls for ears to be opened – come back to the sabbath and the Word. Rally Day also calls for tongues to be loosened – teachers installed and witness in the community renewed.
When ears have been opened, not even Jesus could stop tongues from proclaiming the grace received. That is the call to us. Are our ears open? Are our tongues ready to proclaim?