The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
St. Mark tells us that when Jesus miraculously healed the deaf/mute man, he spoke “plainly,” or as the original Greek more rightly declares, “he laleo’d orthos – proclaimed straight/right.” “Orthos” means straight/right. Orthodontists make teeth straight/right. An orthopedic surgeon makes broken bones straight/right. Orthodox means “right praise.” The response to God’s mighty working/Word was proclamation of right word/praise of God.
Okay… does this mean that there can be wrong praise? Can our words, proclamations, and praises be scoliosed or heterodox? Can they be bent, crooked, or opposite (hetero) of “right/straight” praise? Absolutely! Look no further than the crowd that had brought the deaf man to Jesus seeking a miracle. “He does all things well. He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak!” And the more they talk, the more Jesus tells them to stop talking. The more Jesus tells them to be quiet, the more they pipe up and proclaim. Why would Jesus tell them to be quiet? What they’re saying is right/true, isn’t it? Jesus does all things well/good, even making the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. Where’s the problem? How is this not “orthodox” (right praise/proclamation)?
Well… is that all that Jesus does? Is Jesus merely a miracle healer? Is Jesus merely the guy who can turn bad situations into good? These folks, with the best intentions and full of joy, were actually making wrong praise/proclamation. They were portraying Jesus as merely the guy who can cure what ails you. Such proclamation could give others the wrong impression about Jesus, who He truly was, and what He was all about—the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of all children of Adam. Jesus commanded the demons to be quiet when they called Him “the Christ/Son of God” because He didn’t want people getting the wrong idea about Him and His divine nature and mission. The same goes for these folks. That should tell you something.
But this whole situation got me thinking. I understand why these folks were so excited. I understand their amazed response to such an amazing miracle. I get why Jesus wants them to be quiet, but I also get why they can’t seem to shut up. There’s a reason it’s called a “miracle.” But… what if Jesus hadn’t worked that miracle? What would their proclamation sound like then? What if Jesus came into town, freely and fully proclaimed His Law and Gospel to all of them, pronounced absolution to all of them, but still left the guy deaf and mute? What would they be saying then?
Would Jesus still have to tell them to pipe down? Maybe. Maybe they would grumble and complain because their “magic man” didn’t come through. The genie in the lamp wasn’t able to fulfill their wish; their number-one priority. “We thought Jesus could do this. I guess we were wrong. Maybe He’s not all that. Don’t waste your time! It doesn’t work!” I’d try to silence such ignorance.
But let’s be honest: Who here’s not guilty of the same sort of behavior? We’ve all been there at least once before, if not more. It’s amazing how “religious” people get when something bad rears its ugly head. People start praying and showing up to church like never before. They ramp up their good deeds and their giving, really trying to win God over. Maybe if they scratch God’s back, He’ll scratch their back. But then… nothing changes; at least not for the better (like we’re hoping for). The sickness only gets worse. The ailing loved one doesn’t improve, but instead passes away. The marriage fails. The kids stray further and get into more trouble. The bank account gets lower. The layoff from work still happens. “I thought Jesus could do this for me. I guess I was wrong. Maybe He doesn’t care. Maybe I need to do more. Maybe He’s not all that. What a waste of time, effort, money.” Do you think such “witness” can be harmful to others?
And then there’s the flip-side (and far-worse side, in my opinion): What if Jesus came into town, proclaimed His Law and Gospel, pronounced absolution, but still left the guy deaf and mute? Would Jesus have to tell them to pipe up and rejoice? Sure, they didn’t get their particular itches scratched; sure, they didn’t get all that they had set their hopes on, but they did get Christ’s Word of absolution; His proclamation of peace. Isn’t that reason to rejoice? Isn’t that what really matters—the forgiveness of sins and eternal life?
I’ll ask you: Isn’t that reason to rejoice? Isn’t that what really matters—the forgiveness of sins and eternal life? Just look and listen with the eyes and ears of faith that God so graciously gives you. “The Spirit gives life.” Look to this cross. Look and listen to the Word made flesh and nailed to the cross for you and your sins (the wage of which is present and eternal death): “It is finished!” All sin for all time has been swallowed up and put to death in Christ. It is finished. By faith, through the working of the Holy Spirit, we believe this, and all who believe in Him will not perish, but have everlasting Life. Isn’t this reason to rejoice?
Look to this font. Here is where Christ Himself has brought His cruciform victory to you, putting His almighty, triune name upon your head and your heart, calling you by name and making you His own. No matter how bad things may get in life, you belong to Him. Nothing and no one can ever take this away from you. You are a baptized child of God. “Such is our confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient.” Isn’t that reason to rejoice… always, no matter the circumstance you find yourself in this fallen and sinful world?
Look to this altar/communion rail. Listen to the Word your Lord Himself proclaims from this altar as He kneels down from Heaven to feed and nourish you in the midst of this dark valley of sinful shadows and despair. “Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My body. This is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin; for the peace that surpasses all human understanding. As often as you do this, remember what I have said about all this.” Isn’t that reason to rejoice? Isn’t that what really matters—the forgiveness of sins and eternal life?
Listen to the Word of mercy, grace, and peace proclaimed to you in your very midst. How many times in the course of this single worship service will you hear Christ’s all-sufficient absolution? How many times will hear His peace spoken directly into your ears, your hearts, your minds? We begin and end in the triune name we’ve been so graciously baptized into, and everything in between proclaims the peace that is ours in Christ. We confess our sins, and Christ pronounces His forgiveness and peace. We come to the rail and receive Holy Communion, and Christ bids us: “Depart in peace. Your sins are forgiven.” Before we leave this place and enter again into that dark and shadowy valley of death we so foolishly call “life,” our Lord once again bespeaks His benediction, bestowing upon us His free and unmerited gift of peace. Again, no matter what this world may throw at you, you have the peace of Christ; the peace that surpasses all understanding; the peace that nothing and no one can ever snatch away from you. The very gates of hell can’t even prevail against such peace! We have our Lord’s Word and promise of this, such is our confidence. Isn’t this reason to rejoice?
I know you already know all this, and for this I give thanks. However, we all need to be reminded of it, don’t we? Our praises can (and do) sometimes turn to grumblings when things aren’t going as expected/planned. We can sometimes turn silent when it seems like God isn’t coming through. Our praises can sometimes become very scoliosed and crooked and curved in on ourselves. We can (and do) sometimes laud and magnify the wrong things; the many unrighteous things that scratch our itches and tickle our fancies, but do nothing in terms of offering forgiveness or true peace—Christ’s peace. Rather than “orthodox” (right and true Christ-centered praise), we praise and glorify things that have nothing to do with Christ and His means of grace. We may use the name “Jesus” to do so, which gives us the “warm and fuzzy” feeling we’re looking for, but such name-dropping doesn’t make our man-centered heterodoxy right and orthodox in God’s sight.
I’ll set things straight by saying it again: You are a baptized child of God! You belong to Christ, the same Christ who feeds and nourishes you with His own victorious Body and Blood; His gift of Life; the same Christ who bespeaks and bestows His divine peace upon you. You have every reason to rejoice in the Lord always, no matter the time, the place, or the circumstance. You belong to Christ. That, my friends, is reason to rejoice!
May your eyes and ears be opened to recognize this Christocentric peace in your midst and staring you in the face, and may your tongues be loosed to ever and always offer up true Christ-centered orthodoxy to Him for all that He has so graciously done for you in His life, death, and resurrection, and for all that He continues to do for you in and through His all-sufficient means of grace.
To Him alone be all the glory, praise, and honor… AMEN.
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