Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 6, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Texts: Isaiah 35:4-7a and Mark 7:31-37
Sermon Theme: “Be Strong, Fear Not: the Deaf Hear and the Mute Speak”
(Sources: Anderson’s, Cycle B, Preaching Workbook; Brokhoff’s, Series B, Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Online “Ten Healing Miracles”; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Online “Christian Doctors Testify of Modern-Day Miracles”; “Funny Doctor Jokes” Online; “The Meaning of ‘There Is Balm in Gilead’” Online article; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 25, Part 4; Harper’s Bible Dictionary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
As you well know, many folks in this congregation have had a variety of very serious medical problems this year. Members of our Prayer Chain have prayed for them, and Rev. Stallings, our Visitations pastor has visited them.
So I told myself that it might be inappropriate to begin a sermon on the Lord’s miracles of healing with some funny stories about doctors and patients. On the contrary, say modern psychologists, folks with serious medical problems enjoy funny stories about doctors and patients, and laughter is good medicine for the body and soul.
So here goes:
A patient went to the doctor and said to him, “It’s been one month since my last visit and I still feel miserable.”
“Did you follow the instructions on the medicine I gave you?” the doctor asked.
“I sure did,” the patient replied, “the bottle said, ‘keep tightly closed.’”
Another patient went to the doctor and said, “Doctor, when I press my leg it hurts. Then when I press my chest, it hurts. When I press my head, it hurts, and when I press my stomach it hurts. I’m worried, doc, what’s wrong with me?”
Calmly the doctor replied, “You have a sore finger!”
Doctor Khan was giving a lecture to a group of medical students at the city hospital. Pointing to the x-ray, he explained, “As you can see, this patient limps because his right fibula and tibia are radically arched.”
The doctor looked at the assembled students, and asked Sidney, a soon-to-be intern, “Now what would you do in a case like this?”
Sidney answered, “I suppose I would limp, too.”
We have had sickness, disease, and thorns in life ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden. Yet God never deserted His people and provided healing. Today, as in the past, the healing God provides is generally “natural” rather than supernatural. Even in New Testament times, He called physicians to help those suffering, Luke being an example of such. In both Old Testament times and New Testament times, God provided herbs, barks, and medicines for healing.
The most famous of the healing ointments or salves was “balm” produced in Gilead, the territory given to Gad and Manasseh. It was made from the resin of a bush. The balm of Gilead was so effective that it became a metaphor for something that heals, and was exported all over the known world, though the Israelites believed it only healed believers, not sinners. It was also used in embalming and in the making of cosmetics.
Both our Old Testament lection from Isaiah and our Gospel from St. Mark address the issue of healing, but not just “natural” healing but also miraculous healing. And not just physical healing but also spiritual healing. The Isaiah text is God’s Promise of the Messiah who is to come to heal, and Mark’s Gospel shows the fulfillment of that Promise.
Isaiah comforts the people by saying “Be strong, fear not,” — your God will come to save you, and the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the lame man will leap like a deer. No doubt that was something the Balm of Gilead could never do for them.
In telling about the fulfillment of God’s promise, Mark describes Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Mark says, “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into His ears, and after spitting touched his tongue,” and said, “Be opened.” The man was then able to hear and speak clearly. Mark said the people were astonished beyond measure and began to tell everybody about the miracle even though told not to.
You might even be astonished by Jesus’ healing techniques, — Why stick His fingers in the man’s ears and spit? I don’t know. God works in strange and mysterious ways, who are we to question His methods!
To the people who were healed, there was no question about it, — the Messiah had come into the world because the blind could see, the deaf hear, and the lame leap for joy!
There is a question on the minds of believing Christians today, — does Jesus still heal? We know that He calls doctors, nurses, lab technicians, physical therapists, audiologists, radiologists, etc., for the purpose of treating and healing us. We also know that He has given those whom He has called to do seemingly miraculous things, like kidney dialysis, stints, valve replacements, and even heart transplants. But those are natural “miracles”; what about supernatural miracles?
I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where it says God will end all miracles of healing in modern times.
After hearing about and reading about and seeing on TV the fake and phony faith healers in today’s world, we are naturally very skeptical, and we should be, because false hope offered by false preachers is the same as no hope at all.
Do healing miracles still occur? To try to answer that question, I searched doctors’ reports and medical groups to see what the medical profession has to say about this. Medical Doctor, H. Richard Casdorph, researched so-called “healing miracles” for 60 years, and he found ten cases of healing that could not be explained in any way except by God’s miraculous intervention. These were ten people, all prayed for by Christians who were true believers, who were all healed.
According to R. Leigh Coleman, in 2011, Christian doctors and medical professionals from around the world convened at an International Spirituality and Medicine Conference in Brisbane, Australia, to listen to shocking stories about “spiritual healing” as an answer to sickness plaguing the world today.
The World Christian Doctors Network uncovered many testimonies of how the power of God had healed patients when treatments failed. These were testimonies by Christian doctors, who by virtue of their profession are credible witnesses. These testimonies are non-scriptural hope that God still intervenes with miraculous healing.
It has been said that there is not a person in any congregation anywhere who is not fighting some battle. On the surface, many folks seem to be doing fine and without a worry in the world. Underneath, however, there is a concern, a hurt, a physical problem, a spiritual problem, a hardship, that is deeply troubling. Both of our sermon texts for today remind us that there is no need too deep for God to fill, no problem too complex for God to solve, no wound too serious for God to heal, and no sin too bad for Him to forgive.
Martin Luther once said that after the fall into sin, Adam and Eve would have been terrified by something as harmless as a leaf rustling in the breeze. Yet it is into this world that God comes in the person of His Son to save us and, in doing so, to restore us to life with Him in His creation.
The one thing we must always remember is our God is a God of hope. Think about that fact when we light the HOPE candle this Advent. There is no need for an anxious heart. His Holy Word gives us both His Promise and His fulfillment of that Promise. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Therefore, as Isaiah says, “Be strong, fear not!” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hears and minds through Christ Jesus.