Saturday, August 31, 2013

13th Sunday of Trinity: A Feast for the Hungry

Aug 18, 2013; 13th Sunday of Trinity; Texts: Psalm 146; Isaiah 29:17-24; Romans 10:9-17; Mark 7:31-37; Title: A Feast for the Hungry; Rev. T Beck

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mk 7:31-37). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

The Evangelist Mark, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reports what seems mundane to us. Jesus is coming from the region of Tyre and Sidon and heads to the Decapolis. How many of us can place those spots on a map?  To the Jews of Jesus day, those names meant a lot. They wondered, “Why does Jesus go from one extreme to the other? Why does He just pass through the land of the chosen to visit the dark lands? Those lands deserve the judgment of God.” And the chosen people were right, after a fashion.         
          What does the name “Tyre” suggest to you, and we’re not talking about steel-belted radials. That ancient port, a geographic dividing line between topographies and an easily defended island on the Mediterranean coast, the Phoenicians claimed as theirs. Perhaps before 2000 BC the Philistines settled there, also founding the important sister city-state of Sidon. Around 1400 BC, under General Joshua of the conquest, the tribe of Asher was allotted land up to the fortified city of Tyre (Jos 19:29). By the time of David, Tyre overshadowed Sidon. Tyre’s long-lived King Hiram provided Lebanon’s timber and talent for King Solomon’s temple.  Some generations later, King Ahab made an alliance with Tyre and married the princess Jezebel, who with her hubby forced the Northern Kingdom of Israel to worship Baal (1 Kg 16). For the most part, with a brief exception or two, Tyre and Sidon were trouble for God’s people. Those Philistines almost constantly opposed the True God.  They were ripe for judgment, in part because of their lust for luxury and for          exporting that way-of-life to Israel - see Isaiah 23.
          A little after Isaiah, Joel prophesied …they have scattered (my people) among the nations and have divided up my land, 3 and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it. 4 “What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. 5 For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. 6 You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. 7 Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head. 8 I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the Lord has spoken.” (Joel 3:2f. esv)
          And a couple hundred years later Alexander the Great exacted the Lord’s payment. When Tyre refused to surrender to the Macedonian Greek, he built a mile long causeway into the sea and attacked the island fortress. After a 7 month siege the city fell and 2,000 civil leaders were hanged while 30,000 citizens were sold into slavery. More than once Jesus reminded God’s people why Tyre and Sidon fell, they were ripe for judgment. And yet, He said those cities would have repented if He had come to them. If they had heard, they would have repented. See Matthew 11:21. However, Where Jesus is coming from? The prophets not only spoke of judgment against these lands, but an outpouring of grace. What we read from Isaiah today was fulfilled.
          Look at our gospel reading. What is happening in Tyre, Sidon and the regions of Philistia, which includes the Decapolis? The light shined in the darkness to turn Lebanon into a fruitful field. For example, in the Decapolis the deaf hear God, the Word. The Decapolis, a word meaning 10 cities, is a spiritually lost region of Greeks, Canaanite remnants, and errant Jews. Unclean, like Lebanon’s Sidon, Alexander the Great’s veterans founded several cities in the Decapolis in the mid 4th century BC, marrying into the locals. Rome let that region keep Greek governance and leaders since they promised to defend Rome’s territory. The Decapolis culture was mostly Greek. That means Greek amphitheatres, poets, philosophers, teachers and gods, - just across the Sea of Galilee. Like Tyre and Sidon, what’s the shepherd of the lost sheep doing over there? The Apostle John tells us, he calls other flocks into His fold. He is making children of God out of His enemies. 
          Jesus is doing all things well, proclaiming the gospel and showing mercy to those in darkness, as too does the church that follows Him. At last, people in that true-God-forsaking region hear good news. Sinners are forgiven and repentant sinners receive the promise of eternal life. That’s what the Evangelist Mark records for our joy. We can stop the sermon, sigh in happiness and call it a day.  Only there’s more than everybody buttons on a yellow smiley face. Jesus doesn’t just wave his hands wildly, curing folk right and left, sight unseen and speech unheard. He could have. God in heaven could speak and all things would become new. But our redemption wasn’t so easy. It’s like remodel construction, more expensive and difficult than new. There’s a lot to tear down: our innate rebellion, spiritual blindness, hatred of the true God, love for false gods, self centeredness, lust of luxury, etc… It would have been easier to bring in a D-10 Caterpillar and plow the mess into a ditch. Instead, the Son of God became man, humbling himself even to death on a cross. He was buried, a mess of torn flesh and deep wounds. The Lord is in the business of redemption, a drastic remodel, a restoration costing an unbelievable price to freely and justly make all things new.
          Jacob shall no longer be ashamed, nor the ruthless rule with untrue words. There’s a debt to pay for the old place, mortgaged under every injustice, every gossip, every little white lie, every unholy compromise you and I have done. That’s why the Redeemer went to Tyre and then the Decapolis. He’s shopping at the junk store, paying a great price for stuff fit for the trash, to turn it into works of art. He’s in the business of re-creation by means of redemption, now showing what he’s up to by this miraculous sign. He’s done it before, so the Decapolis folks know about Jesus. They bring a man whom           Scripture describes in the politically incorrect terms of deaf and dumb.  He has a real problem - a real sign of the futility sin brought the world, a wound of decay and death oozing from the creation.  These gentiles, cut off from the Temple, surrounded by useless Greek goddesses and gods so like themselves, beg Jesus, “Lord, have mercy.” Notice that this petition isn’t asking for luxury, the lust that judged Tyre. They bring the devil’s handiwork, the evidence of Adam’s fall. They don’t like it. (Knowledge of our fallen state is particularly important for faith, don’t you think?) Then Jesus takes the man away, and in sign language privately shows him what he shall do. Then the Word of God speaks and it is done.
          Re-creation is a personal matter; a real encounter with God incarnate; and faith is personal, even if in thanksgiving it will publicly shout the praises of Jesus. This healing was not done for the crowd’s curiosity any more than for fame. This healing was not only for healing. It was for faith, and for faith to receive even more. Jesus came not merely to prolong earthly life, but to restore us to heavenly life. He came to give eternal life, so that after the grave even our bodies are restored. Through the redemption He is recreating you. Through joining you to His death in baptism He united you to His life. So too the church goes into the world, proclaiming and bestowing these gifts,           manifest in word, water and word, and upon the altar with the word. That’s the work of the church in the world.  By these means the redemption is applied and recreation begun. That’s the way of evangelism. It’s not about beating a bigger drum to entertain a bigger crowd, but beautiful feet bringing good news. Evangel-ism means sharing the evangel, the good news, the gospel. We are called an Evangelical Lutheran church because the gospel defines everything we say, do and are.
          Of course, speaking some bad news is involved. These Decapolis people already knew the bad news. They set it before Jesus, asking He do something about it. If we don’t believe in the bad news, that we’re born spiritually deaf, dumb, and dead, we’ll have no interest in redemption. When that fact hits home – then the good news of the incarnation, the bitter sufferings of Christ, a bloody cross winning eternal life for you, is good news. Then the joy of the Lord hits home, oh, we want to speak about it! But in this case Jesus says tell no one. We think He wasn’t getting the most mileage from his miracles; like when he fed multitudes with bread, then ran away from fickle adoration. We’re not surprised that the crowds all the more proclaim the deed; and say “Jesus does all things well.” Still he charged them even more, “hush!” That wasn’t a strategic missionary mistake. A theology of glory thinks Jesus should be no more than the divine fix-it man. That’s the spirit of Tyre talking.
          Why was Tyre destroyed? Alexander imagined he had reasons, but we know the bottom line from Joel, God’s reasons. Tyre was destroyed because that city said life is all about “me.”  They didn’t mind trading a boy for a prostitute and a girl for a jug of wine. Need we make contemporary applications?  So Jesus healed the deaf-mute away from the crowd, because the reason for healing was more than to stir up lust for the good life, for an end to pain and a life of pleasure. Apart from receiving the cross, the redemption, the atonement, we won’t benefit   from re-creation. We’d misuse it. That says something about why Jesus visited a humbled Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis where people believed they needed him. There the love of God re-created, healing a man’s ears and tongue. Then he heard           and spoke plainly, saying “Jesus does all things well.”
          Even if the folks didn’t yet realize it, that included Jesus’ death and resurrection. The re-creation is accomplished through Jesus’ suffering and death for sinners. The gospel is not just “enough bread,” “healed bodies,” “social justice,” “equal rights,” “what I need to feel good about myself.” The kingdom of God will indeed restore all things to justice, that is, the Old Testament word, God’s faithful/holy love. Only there’s a way it is done. Re-creation only comes through a death, through Jesus’ death in the stead of sinners. Hence it is received only by faith, by faith that Jesus’ death is our life. The only way the deaf man’s healing is going to last is that he hears Jesus in the most important matters. The healed man was silenced by the grave some years later. However, because Jesus died, that man will rise again to re-creation.
          As Isaiah uses an analogy of a fruitful field and forest to describe the work of the gospel, so Jesus’ miracle is an analogy of what He shall do for the spiritually dead. He re-creates through redemption, and doing this, even our bodies will rise. The Apostle Paul puts it plainly. With the heart one believes and is justified. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Those who are saved spiritually will also be re-created in body. So the church does acts of mercy proceeding from the redemption, from the good news of forgiveness, and faith in the good news receives salvation. So the church goes into the world from the font, pulpit and altar because that’s where re-creation is effected and completed.  The deaf shall hear the words of a book… the book. “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” That is a glorious promise. The people of Tyre and Sidon listened to Jesus. Now in the Decapolis they see a        great light. Those whose ears are opened confess, their mouths declaring His praise. “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” So He sends the church into dark places to proclaim the evangel and manifest the love of God through acts of mercy, and the church sends evangelists into dark places to gather in to the church those who hear. In this way Jesus continues to do all things well.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord (Amen)

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