Calendar Date: 3.20.2011
Listen to the sermon here.
He who has been born from the Spirit,
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Ephphatha,” that is, be opened. And so the senses are opened up to God.
Jesus spoke, and the man born deaf was healed, he could now physically hear; something was changed in the man, he could now do something that wasn't possible before. It was real, it was powerful. Jesus' Word did this.
So in the Baptismal rite, the pastor speaks Jesus' Word, Ephphatha, that is, be opened, and the senses are opened: not only to the hearing of God's Word, but the seeing and perceiving, the tasting and touching and smelling. We Christians experience God in real things: what used to be ordinary bread and wine, we hear the Words, “this is my Body, this is my Blood”, and so they are, we see how God has taught us to see / by hearing Him. Baptism opens the senses.
This, Nicodemus did not have. His Christianity was a knowledge of facts: an intellectual specimen which he could evaluate and judge. So Nicodemus looked at Jesus, saw the facts, that He was doing signs and miracles, and then came to the reasonable conclusion that Jesus must be from God. Well, that's great Nicodemus; actually, that's really great. But Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, they all see Jesus as “from God,” too. Nicodemus, you haven't gone far enough. You have gotten the point of the signs, of the miracles of Jesus, to show you who He is. But understanding who Jesus is only by seeing the miracles, is like going outside and recognizing that there must be a Creator because there is a creation. The facts tell you of this general truth, but that's not enough. There's something that is missing, yet. We don't know God fully from creation; in the same way, Jesus doesn't only reveal Himself in the things He does; He also speaks, / He teaches us.
God the Father so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus, the Word made flesh. Jesus is the Mouth of God, sent to speak to us. And that speaking does not go out or return to God void, empty, or without doing it's purpose. It's purpose is to create and sustain life. This is what a Creator does, He brings about and sustains life. On a smaller scale, you parents know this. After bringing forth the life of your child, you continue the care of your child, and in a very real sense, you continue this care even when your children are older because those skills and words of wisdom, remain with him, they sustain him even as your child 'creates' and sustains his own children.
This example is, of course, limited, because we know and believe that God is really the One creating and sustaining all life and that we are His instruments, His servants. But how do we know that? How do we come to believe that? Is it all so evident: / that God continues His Creating activity today? Is it common sense that nothing has existence, even now, that God does not hold and care for by His right hand of power? / Yes, actually, it is. Just ask any scientist who does not keep allowing lies and deception to stand as the norm in areas such as Evolution, Order of Creation, and the general study of biology and physics (with all the billions of little details), and that scientist can show you how, not only did there have to be a Creator, but that Creator must also still be active in keeping this world from deteriorating to nothing.
Yes, it is plain, it can be understood by reason. But that still isn't enough. And this is what Nicodemus did not get. He had the head knowledge, but he was missing one essential thing. One main thing that causes great divisions even within the Christian Church today. / And you'll be pleased to hear that we Lutherans / have it right. That's not arrogance; that's certainty, that's submission and reliance. / Jesus has come, He has spoken, His apostles received those teachings, those Words, and we Lutherans believe what they have written, what they have taught. So St Paul writes: “[salvation] depends on / faith”. We Lutherans express this by the three solas: sola fidei (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), and these are all summed up in solus Christus (Christ alone).
Nicodemus, you are missing faith. You can see all the miracles and signs you want, but if your senses are not opened to God, and you do not have faith, then you are not able to see the kingdom of God, therefore you are not able to enter it, therefore you do not have salvation.
The Father sent Jesus to speak, from whom the Spirit proceeds, to give us faith, so that the hearing, seeing, knowing, even tasting, / culminates in the believing. “Nicodemus, you know about Me,” Jesus was saying, “now believe in Me, for the Father has sent Me to teach you.”
So Jesus taught, and His disciples learned, then His disciples taught, and the Apostolic Church learned, and so the Church now teaches, not using our own words, but the very words of the Apostles, which are the very Words of Jesus, words which not only give facts, but they create and sustain faith. Ephphatha, that is, be opened. It's not just words or ceremony: it's Jesus' words and His ceremony. That Word actually does what it says. It opens, it heals: even children, even infants. It is God's work and who are we to say any different?
But who is saying any different, pastor? Of course those are Jesus' words, of course / this is what the baptized child needs, this is what we all needed when we were baptized, it is what we still need (Jesus' words of healing), it is what Nicodemus needed, but did not yet have. Who is saying any different? // Is there any way that we are saying differently, perhaps by our actions that we don't fully believe in the power of the Word to create faith?
Since the 6th century (and perhaps before that even), Lent has been set aside as the time for teaching, for catechesis. Sermons take on more of this teaching style, especially the midweek sermons. The particular Gospel readings throughout Lent have been chosen to match this general idea. More specifically, it is a teaching toward something, and that something is Easter. We prepare for the Feast of the Resurrection, the most important Day in the Church Year: we hear Jesus' Words, we let Jesus teach us. Fasting and other bodily preparation during this time serves this very thing, so that we get out of Jesus' way. Fasting teaches us that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from Jesus, the Mouth of God, by His Holy Spirit, in the Bible, God's Word. Fasting disciplines our body and gets us out of the way so we are free to hear more from Jesus. We are humbled to hear Him speak to us and teach us the truth, even if it goes against what we, personally, think is good, right, and salutary. We would rather believe Jesus and be in true light, then hold on to our own ideas and be in darkness, like Nicodemus (who came to Jesus at “night”, that is, in the darkness).
Who is saying anything different? // When a baptized person's senses are opened to God, that means he may receive God's Word through his ears / and so believe; he may see God's love and creative power through his eyes/ and so believe, he may also taste God's Body and Blood on his tongue and believe. What makes one truly worthy to receive Christ's Body and Blood? Luther got it right: faith. Does the Word create faith in children in Baptism? Is a child's senses sanctified to hear, see, touch and even taste Jesus, His only Savior? Is a child worthy to receive Christ's Body and Blood? Yes, because of God's action, because God has spoken and created and wants so very much to sustain the innocent faith of our children with His means of doing so: Word and Sacrament.
In the Sacrament, Jesus speaks and teaches without a sound: even the deaf can hear and believe, even the children can know and understand. And they do so better than we adults. Luther said in the Large Catechism: “Since the children are baptized and received into the Christian Church, they should also enjoy this communion of the Sacrament, in order that they may serve us and be useful to us. They must certainly help us to believe, love, pray, and fight against the devil.”
Perhaps this doesn't sit well with you; perhaps it does. Whatever the case, I encourage you to think about this, and ONLY this: what does Jesus say? Listen to His words; of which I am bound to speak: His and no one else's.
And this is not only true for children communing. Whatever we think, say, do, believe, it all must come from our Source of Truth, Jesus. Especially throughout this season of Lent, let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, dwell in us richly; just as the Father commanded us to do on Transfiguration: we must “Listen to Him”.
Nicodemus / eventually did listen to Jesus. Before the whole counsel on the day of the crucifixion, Nicodemus spoke out and defended Jesus, and Nicodemus was cursed for it, just like Jesus, he was called a Galilean. May we so boldly confess our Lord, / because that's what Christians do. We listen, we see, we taste, we experience our Lord and His gifts, and then we say and do and live out who He has made: courageous confessors. Witnessing what we have witnessed, speaking what has been spoken to us, loving the way we have been loved, encouraging one another.
God grant it for His Name's sake. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
[Artwork by Ed Riojas]