Trinity XII - 2 Corinthians 3:4-11 - August 23, 2015

Order of Service - Pg. 15
Hymn #3 Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now
Hymn #30 O That I Had a Thousand Voices
Hymn #26 Praise the Almighty, My Soul Adore Him

Readings

Isaiah 29:18-19
2 Corinthians 3:4-11
St. Mark 7:31-37

Collect for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Almighty and Merciful God, of Whose only gift it cometh that Thy faithful people do unto Thee true and laudable service, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may so faithfully serve Thee in this life that we fail not finally to attain Thy heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Epistle


1)         St. Paul writes, “For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:9) St. Paul is comparing the Law and the Gospel, the ministry of Moses and the ministry of Jesus. He says that for as amazing and glorious as Moses’ ministry was, the ministry of Christ Jesus far surpasses it in glory. We may not think of the ministry of Moses as being that glorious, but consider what is written of it. In Exodus 19:18-19 it is written, Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. The children of Israel, standing at the base of the mountain, saw the flame of fire and the smoke ascending from Sinai. They heard the voice of God in their own ears. With God’s own voice they heard the Ten Commandments as the summary of all that was to come after. With God’s own voice they heard the Law, that which God the Lord expected from each one of them. But God’s voice was so majestic, so terrifying, that they said to Moses, You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die. (Exodus 20:19) So terrifying was the voice of God and His Law that they would have none of it. They needed God diluted. They begged for Moses to be mediator between God and man. Such was the glory of the giving of the Law. Not only this, but we are told at the conclusion of the Lord’s speaking to Moses, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. (Exodus 31:18) Such was the majesty and glory of the Ten CommandmentsBut for all this glory, St. Paul calls it the ministry of condemnation.

2)         He calls it this because that, ultimately, is its job. The Law is given to show mankind what exactly God prohibits and requires. If men were angels and were not conceived with inborn sin, then the Law would not be necessary. But being sinners from conception, being born in the natural way from the line of Adam and Eve, the Law stands over us and accuses us continually. That which is prohibited, we practice. That which is required we run from. The law, the Ten Commandments, always condemn the one who looks upon them in honest introspection. The law condemns those who flippantly gaze upon it as well, even it they don't realize how wicked they truly are. There are many who assume that they have no other gods if they worship in a Christian church on Sunday morning. There are many who assume that because they were brought up in the church in their youth that they have no need for its gifts later in life and so despise hearing the Word of God on the holy day. There are countless people who see the external demands of the law and confidently say along with the young lawyer, all these I have done from my youth. (Luke 18:21) But they haven't done any them entirely and completely and in true faith toward God and true, unselfish love for neighbor. Thus we stand condemned under the Law, written on cumbersome stone, by the finger of God Himself. The weight of the demands of the Law is far heavier than the weight of the stone. It's goal is to burden you. It's end is to crush you and show you your sinfulness. That is its glory, that it demands perfection and holiness which we cannot render. Rightly St. Paul calls it a glorious ministry, but a ministry of condemnation nonetheless.

3)         St. Paul’s point is not to crush us and leave us in despair though. He teaches us the glory and inescapability of the ministry of condemnation so that he may exalt the ministry of the Spirit, the ministry of righteousness, the ministry of Jesus Himself. For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:9) Surely this is an article of faith. The Law’s glory Israel could see with their eyes and hear with their ears. But Jesus’ ministry, the ministry of righteousness, seems anything but glorious. Born in a cattle shed. Raised in the Roman providence of Galilee far from mighty Jerusalem. Followed by fisherman. Pursued by prostitutes because He offered forgiveness and new life. Taking tax collectors into his fellowship and eating with them. The glory of the ministry of righteousness is hidden, is it not? In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus heads for the Decapolis, a region east of the sea of Galilee made of up of ten cities of the Gentiles. A deaf mute is brought to Jesus. Here is an opportunity for the glory of His ministry to shine forth like the sun. But Jesus takes the deaf mute aside from multitude so as to remain humble about His ministry. Then comes the miracle but still no glory. Instead we have a ministry of one word combined with physical, everyday things. He sticks His fingers in the man’s ears. He spits on the man’s tongue. The finger and spit are combined with the Word of Christ in sacramental fashion, Ephphatha, that is, ‘Be opened.

4)         And it was so. Plugged up ears hear. But they don’t just hear anything. The first thing these ears hear is the voice of God Himself saying “Ephphatha.” Whereas Israel at the base of Sinai could not bear to hear the ministry of condemnation from God Himself, this poor man, this deaf mute in a region far away from the presence of God in Jerusalem, hears that same voice of God. But God is not present for the ministry of condemnation. God is present for the ministry of righteousness which restores that which the Devil has so maliciously taken. In that moment the glory of the ministry of righteousness shines forth, because again the finger of God is at work. Before it was to engrave the Law upon cumbersome stones that would burden every sinner with condemnation for what they did and what they failed to do. But now, in the person of Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity, who has assumed our human flesh, the finger of God is active to open what sin had closed, to clear out that which Satan had stopped up. His hardened tongue is loosed by moisture from the mouth of God Himself. Ears open. Tongue loosed from its bonds. In this way, the glory of the ministry of Christ, which gives life, far surpasses the glory of the ministry of the Law given to Moses on Sinai’s heights.

5)         But Jesus’ ministry of righteousness is about far more than physical healing. It is about spiritual healing. What Jesus does to this man physically, that is what He does to all who hear and believe His Gospel spiritually. All humanity is the deaf mute. Our ears our stopped up from hearing the message of life because the condemnation of the Law is always ringing in our ears. We have tried to digest the stone tablets of the holy Law and found our mouths full of chalky gravel. We do not want to hear God’s Word because God’s Word is Law. He prohibits certain behaviors, sinful thoughts, and self-gratifying desires of the heart. He requires thoughts, words, and deeds that are far beyond our ability. We have no ability to do good works because by nature we are lost and condemned sinners. We have tried to bear the burden of the Law and found the words of St. Peter in Acts 15 to be true, that the Law is a yoke on the neck which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. (Acts 15:10) The Law always accuses us. You are the subject of all its verbs. Thou shalt. Thou shalt not. So we close up our ears to anything God has to say because if it’s true then it’s just too terrifying. Condemnation. Judgment. Eternal wrath. So we close our ears with self-righteousness, thinking we’re good enough for whatever reason. Our tongues stick the room of our mouths, unable to truly praise, praise, or give thanks because who can pray, praise, or give thanks to a God who threatens to punish you? The Law is not evil. But it seems that way to sinners.

6)         But the ministry of righteousness is all about unplugging ears stopped up with sin and loosing tongues hardened by hatred for God. He does not thunder from Sinai to perform this ministry. He assumes human flesh to bear your sin and be your savior. He does not boom His terrible voice from the heavens to preach to you His Gospel. He speaks soothing words of comfort to those who have tried to bear the burden of the Law. He says, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30) He does not use His finger to chisel His word into the hard, lifeless stone that is your sinful heart. He gives you heart of flesh and writes His gospel of the forgiveness of sins not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Corinthians 3:3) The ministry of condemnation terrifies the conscience with guilt and shame. The ministry of righteousness preaches consolation to our weary souls by preaching to us the forgiveness of sins on account of Christ’s sake. This is Christ’s ministry, to absolve sins, to restore to everlasting life, and to give eternal salvation to all who believe that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. For all the glory that the Law has, the glory of the Gospel is far greater. The Law says, “Do this and you will live.” The gospel says, “believe this and you will live.”

7)         The ministry of righteousness still doesn’t look very glorious today. But it is just as glorious today as it was in Jesus’ days on earth because it is still Christ present to forgive sins. The world scoffs at baptism, nothing but a Word of God and simple water. The world thinks little of a drink of wine and a piece of bread with a Word of God spoken over them. The world despises the absolving word because the world doesn’t want to see sinners forgiven. The world is out for blood. The world despises the Office of the Holy Ministry as Christ’s called and ordained representatives because the men in Christ’s office are no better than the ones they serve. But the Word preached is Jesus’ voice. The Sacrament put into your mouth is the very finger of God, touching all who believe in mercy for the forgiveness of sins. The Word and Sacraments, the ministry of righteousness still has no glory in the eyes of the world, especially compared the glory at Sinai. But it is glorious because it gives life to sinners dead in trespass and sins, because it resurrects souls who have withered away under the burden of the Law. This it he glory of Christ, to forgive penitent sinners, to wash them, to feed them, and to absolve them.  In this, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more than glory of the ministry of condemnation. Amen.

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