DEDICATION OF KIROSHA MATALA LUTHERAN PARISH,
There are six things which the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him, haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers. (RSV)
Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd. Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”) At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (NIV)
TELLING THE STORY OF JESUS’ LOVE
A number of years ago when I was a pastor in a Lutheran parish, I was told that a woman from my congregation was in the hospital and that I should go and see her. She had not asked to see me, but her family wanted me to go. I did not really want to go because this woman had caused a lot of trouble for me. She had a sharp tongue and she criticized me a lot. She was always complaining and from her standpoint no one seemed to do anything right. Perhaps you know this type of person. They are not pleasant to be around because they are so negative that they drag you down with them.
In any case, I went to see her in the hospital, and just sat at her bedside and let her talk. She talked for a long time. She told me that the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with her, but she always had pains in her stomach. So they were doing tests. First she did all of her complaining as usual, and told me what she didn’t like about me as well. After a while, she began to talk about herself, the hard times she had experienced in her life, the sadness she felt at the death of her parents and two children. She felt that God didn’t really love her, that he was angry with her and punishing her. I let her talk for about an hour and then I asked her if I could pray with her.
I aslo reminded her that Jesus loved her and had died for her sins and forgave her all of them. We prayed about her illness, but mostly about her sadness and her feeling that God was punishing her. The prayers helped her to know that God did love her and that she could trust in him.
Two days later, I heard that she had been released from the hospital and that the doctors didn’t find anything wrong with her. Of course, I knew that she had been cured, not by medicine in this case, but by Jesus’ love for her. And you understand this too. Knowing that she had been forgiven, she had been cleansed and made whole. And when I met her again, she was a much more positive person than she had been before. She was not so critical of me and others and she even volunteered to so some helpful things around the church.
I. Learning to Take Responsibility for our Negative Feelings
In the lessons appointed for this Sunday, we learn something about the use of the tongue, how it can be used for ill and for good The lesson from Proverbs reminds us that things like lying and giving a false witness or sowing discord among brothers is not only wrong, but it is hated by God. It is hated because it destroys the relationship that exists between members of his family. Out of broken relationships come mean-spirited thinking, plotting, scheming, fights, and, ultimately wars themselves. One does not have to be a genius to figure out that most of the wars in the world were unnecessary because they were attempts to resolve anger that could have been resolved in a better way.
The second text in Mark talks about a man who was deaf and dumb, he couldn’t hear and he couldn’t speak. So, of course, he couldn’t use his tongue to say negative things and create harmful relationships, but neither could he praise God. But remember what the Bible tells us in Isaiah 35: The Messiah will come to “open the eyes of the blind, to unstop the ears of the deaf and to make the tongue of the dumb to sing.” So it happened that on the day when Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, a deaf and dumb man was brought to the Messiah, and in his own language he said “Ephphatha” to him, meaning “be opened,” and made it possible for him to speak again. We don’t know exactly what his first words were, but we do know that all the people who heard of this praised God and said, “he has done everything well.”
This is a story which is very real to each of us because we know in our hearts that the kinds of things we often say with our tongue are wrong, wrong for us and wrong for others. And, if we think about it, we know where those thoughts come from. They come from deep within us, from the hurts and pain that we feel because of things which have happened to us. Like the woman in my congregation, we have experienced sadness, disappointment, criticism and many other negative things. And we aren’t sure what to do with these negative feelings. So, sometimes we let them come out of us as criticisms or hateful things toward other people. Perhaps we don’t even say these things directly, but when we are gathered together with others, we say things about our parents or our spouses or our children which are unkind. We don’t put the best construction on things. We say things which aren’t quite true. We cast others in a bad light. We make others believe that things have been said about them which were never said.
What results from this can be very damaging. I remember so well a story I used to read to my children. A little boy told a lie to his mother. Then he went upstairs to his room and he thought about this lie. But the lie took on visible from, like a cloud of guilt. So he took this visible guilt and stuffed it in a drawer in a cabinet so he wouldn’t have to see it.. But it came creeping out. It got bigger and bigger and it filled the room. It went out the window and started filling up the garden. Pretty soon, it was everywhere and he didn’t know what to do. So he ran downstairs crying to his mother that he had told a lie and asked her to forgive him. She put her arms around him and forgave him and suddenly all the guilt which had begun to fill the world disappeared, and he was made whole again.
This children’s story is real whether we are children or adults. The things we say with our tongues can damage people and the guilt we acquire from the things we wrongly say can swell up around us and fill our lives and our relationships. When then happens is that we who are children of God cannot express the love and joy which belongs to us because we are trapped in our sins and in our guilt. This is why one of our texts for today tells us that God hates such sins of the tongue; they are an abomination to him. They allow us to become what he never wants us to be—people who are controlled not by his love for us, but by the negative feelings that we have allowed to take control of us.
This is why it’s important for us to listen to our tongue when we speak to our spouses, to our children, to people with whom we work. If our tongue is saying critical things, angry things, deceitful things, lying things, we need to repent of this because God considers such things an abomination. They destroy our relationship with one another and make it impossible to develop the family of God in which we are meant to live together. We need to take responsibility for negative feelings and ask ourselves where they are coming from so that we can challenge and rebuke them and remind ourselves that we don’t have to be controlled by them.
II. Learning to praise God with our consecrated tongues
Our text makes it clear that Jesus has come to heal our infirmities and to make the tongue of the dumb sing. His love and forgiveness, purchased for us in his crucifixion and resurrection, set us free to not only to express a new attitude toward life, but to sing God’s praises in the church and in the world.
Of course, we continue to have troubles and burdens in our lives, but when we think of God’s love for us, that he ignored the shame of the cross in order to set us free really to live for him, then we ignore these troubles and burdens and instead seek ways to express the love now working within us.
In many ways, this is a simple thing to do. When I was growing up, I am sure that my father loved me, but he never, ever, said this. It was not his way. However, I decided to change this with my own children and now we daily remind them that we love them. We think of something each day to tell them that is positive, that is good. It is also true of our spouses. Perhaps there are times when we need to be critical or confrontive, but we never need to do this in negative or caustic ways. Each day we should remind our spouses that we love them, and each day find something to say which is positive and constructive. This is because our hearts have been claimed and made whole by a loving Savior and because our tongues have been freed to express his love.
Remember the lady who was known in my congregation for being critical and negative and whom God finally set free? It is also possible for us to be known as members of the congregation who are optimistic, positive and loving. Every congregation has such people. They are people who know that God loves them and who let that love shape what they say and do. They have a friendly spirit and they seek to reassure you even when they themselves are feeling some disappointment or despair. They are people who are trying to praise God with their consecrated tongues.
When I was studying in the United States, I came to know a certain church group called “Church of the Brethren.” They had an interesting doctrine called “Calling out Gifts.” Older, more mature people in the congregation would observe younger people, and in a friendly, loving way, seek to tell them what they thought God was calling them to be. Perhaps it was a pastor or teacher or evangelist. Perhaps it was a really fine mother or father, or a clever farmer or a skilled worker of some kind. It was a very positive thing when Christian people would look for good things to say with their tongue, things that were affirmative or supportive. All too often we say things about others or to others which do not reflect the love we know to be working in us. Today we have an opportunity to ask God to change us to let our tongues say and sing his love.
As you dedicate your church today, you have a wonderful opportunity to think about the things that should be taking place in this congregation. Here you will gather to hear the Word of God and to sing his praise. But this is also a training ground where you will learn how to say kind and loving things to one another and then to take these styles of Christian living back into the world. At the chapel of the Lutheran Bible College at Mwika, I have observed that at the end of the worship service, the students and the teachers process out into the world with their songbooks, continuing to sing what they were singing inside. Some of them sing all the way into the classrooms and continue to sing the verses there. To me this is a wonderful example of what we should be doing from this newly dedicated church all the time. We should be taking what we have practiced here out into the world with us, back to our homes, to our farms, to our schools. The love of God which claims us here as we hear and receive his Word, as we hear him say “Ephphatha” to us, should express itself on our newly-loosed tongues as we praise his name in our work and play. Jesus’ love is real to us not only here, but as we relate to those around us all day long. This is our privilege as Christians and the reason why others in our communities can say, as they watch us love one another, “He has done all things well.”
Rev. Dr. David Zersen, President Emeritus