Do Not Fear

Text: Mark 7:31-37
Date: Pentecost XIV (Proper 18) + 9/6/09
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

In today’s Gospel, Mark the Evangelist clearly has in mind the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard earlier, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’…. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Is. 35:4a, 5). For the Jewish scribes had always said this would be a sign of the Messiah to come. Well, today, here He is. And so we repeat the comforting prophetic word at His coming to us today, “Do Not Fear.”

There are many kinds of fear. One is the fear of failure. It can probably be said of all of us that we can all do a few things well. Perhaps it can even be said that each one of us can do at least one thing well. But of none of us can it be said, “He or she has done all things well.” For, many times we fail. There is only One to whom that tribute can be paid, and we are here in worship on this day to join the chorus in the tribute that began in the region of the Decapolis, and has grown in great crescendo through the centuries to this day, saying of Jesus, “He has done all things well!” He is why God can say, and we can say to each other, “Do Not Fear.”

Or are we not so sure of that, yet? Certainly, we share the weakness of humanity, that is, that self-assertion in which we think we know the turns our life ought to take maybe even better than our Lord Himself could know. We often become bitter as we measure what He gives by what we get, when we compare the blessings or the seeming lack of them that He has given us with what He lavishes on others, when we contrast the way things ought to be, in our view, with what they really are. We have a way of concentrating mainly on our liabilities, and life becomes a look-at-my-unhappy-lot affair. God could have done much better, couldn’t He? We drag our shoulders in the gutter and hang our chins on curbstones looking for the pennies on the ground and we complain because we find so few of them.

So this word meets a need for us today—the need to straighten up and view the long-range plan of God, a plan that had its origin in love before the world began, and ends out there beyond the ticking clock in His eternal presence. And we need to see how in the middle of that vast plan God, nevertheless, concentrates on us, takes us sometimes apart from crowds that press on us, and wraps His love around us as though each one were the most important person in the world. Then, one by one, it’s possible for us to join the tribute, “He has done all things well,” and in that praise we can also pack our fears, pains, griefs, and even benedictions, that cannot be denied. We can sweep across the years of life and, while it’s possible to note those frequent times that we have failed Him, we can never name a single moment honestly when the Lord of mercy has failed us. He came to Bethlehem and went to Calvary and broke the seal of death and crushed the power of sin. He bore the cause of every misery humanity has ever known. As the risen, living Lord, then, He enfolds in his protecting arms each one who looks to Him in faith. So, then, today again we break the silence and sound forth the triumph song instead of protest growls, “He has done all things well.”

Now, sometimes we roller skate too quickly across the miracles of Jesus without giving much attention to the beauty and the power packed inside the Word. Like this one, for example, which is to be found only here in Mark’s Gospel, and which describes how every word Jesus spoke and every movement He made affirms that He does all things well. In the heathen country of the Decapolis, where such gods as Zeus and Athena and a host of other Grecian deities were worshipped, they brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they asked Him for a cure. The man’s affliction was a double one. Two senses had been affected—two channels of communication with the outside world had been closed off. The melody of song, the sounds of nature, the laughter of a family’s happiness, the sound of voices near and dear to him—he had not heard for a long time. And he could not respond to them either.

So as our Lord observed the man’s condition, he took him privately aside, and he enfolded him in his compassion. That’s the way God lays His hold on us—not in crowds, but one by one—a woman on her knees and in her shame before Him, dragged there by the righteous men who wanted her condemned, much like the crowds that titillate and feed on scandals of the fallen; or someone peering at him through the branches of a sycamore; or another drawing water at a well who had already swept six husbands out the door and now was shacked up with a seventh; or maybe it was you or maybe it was me in one of those dark moments on the way when suddenly we felt as though we had been stripped of everything our private universe was made of. That’s how His compassion works—not in a routine, wonder-working way, or in the form of mechanistic medicine, or on a clinical assembly line, but with each one of us as individuals, and in each case with that unique approach that met the need precisely as it was. He healed the servant of a humble, faith-filled army captain from a distance, gave sight to a man born blind with clay and spittle and a washing in the waters of Siloam. He touched the leper who had come to plead, “Lord, if you will,” and in another case he cured the lepers even as they hastened on their way to the health department. He saw each one of them, not only in the need that was the most apparent, but also in their total need that is not always so immediately apparent. He knew the disposition of the heart as well as the condition of the body, and He treated not just the symptoms but the cause that brought the symptoms on, not just the broken health of people, but the broken spirit of each person. Every one of us is different. Every one of us can feel the personal touch. God does not consider us assembly line productions or accidents of fate.

Here is the highest and the deepest, the widest angle and the sharpest focus, the strongest evidence we have that God moves always out of love for us: that He has come down here inside the middle of the human scene in Christ, our Lord. We have heard enough of men who would be god, but in the Gospel is the news of a God who came to be a man—a man among us, and God with us. That’s how big God is—much bigger than we could have dreamed of; and that’s how large his love is—much larger than we could imagine; that this Child of Bethlehem, this One crucified at Calvary is God FOR US in such a way that nothing can prevail against us. The most important word you hear as you receive Him at his holy table are these: “my body, my blood, for you.” And at those words the faithful respond “Amen.” He has done all things well.

There are many things that we will never understand, and that cause us to fear. What God is doing with us in our lives today, or what He did with us across the years, or what He yet will do with us tomorrow—can’t we simply trust that it is He who does it, and that He does all things well? He is, after all, bigger than the pain, the sorrow, the fear and the loss that seem to contradict Him; big enough to mark the death of every sparrow, big enough to put the personal touch on you and me. When Jesus took the deaf mute privately aside, He “spoke” in a language the man could understand, He called attention to the fact that He knew the man was deaf by putting His fingers in his ears, and that He knew the man had difficulty speaking by touching his tongue, and, looking up to heaven, He visibly sighed as if in prayer to God. And with one word, “Ephphatha,” “Be Opened,” the miracle of grace was finished. “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” The people “were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’”

You and I have heard the language of the praise of God, and we can speak it, too—our tongues have been loosened and our ears opened and our eyes awakened to the mercies that have been rained out on us every morning of the way—mercies in sufficient measure for another day of failure, and enough left over when the day is done to seek another day’s supply of forgiveness. You and I, too, have, at some time, been taken privately aside somewhere to experience the horror and reality of our own isolation, and there where everything appeared to fall apart and where life apparently hit bottom, we finally found the fumbling words of praise, “I once was lost, but now am found.”

Our Lord is not a happy wonder-worker, snapping off His miracles for our amazement or amusement as if on a fairground midway. He would not erect a building at the Epcot center, there to demonstrate His wonders. Rather, His miracles were signals of His Messianic mission, calling folks to faith in Him, not in His miracles, as the God from God and Light from Light, the One in whom the promises of God had ripened to fulfillment. So here we have a prophecy from this word. Let’s watch now what goes on in our lives on the way. Trusting Him, we will see the miracles and learn the sounds of praise, “He has done all things well.” We do not believe in Him because we see the miracles. We see the miracles because we first believe in Him! This is the faith that casts out fear: He has done all things well!