Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2)

17 February 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 15:21-28

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Every story has a hero. The hero of our Gospel reading is actually a heroine: the Canaanite woman.

But notice what is heroic about her. She isn’t the stereotypical hero. She doesn’t take the bull by the horns and achieve success – rather she begs. She doesn’t grab a weapon and force Jesus to bend to her will – instead she pleads. She doesn’t swagger and strut, she doesn’t put her hands on her hips and roll her eyes, she doesn’t curse and talk trash – rather she cries out, she makes a fool of herself by her pleading and begging, she becomes an embarrassing pest to all around her, all for the sake of her beloved child who is in need.

What makes the Canaanite woman a hero is her selflessness, her love that impels her to accept humiliation, her knowing where to get help, and her complete and total emptying of herself for the sake of her beloved.

In her humility, she ultimately gains victory over the devil. In her persistent prayers, God Himself inclines His ear to her suffering. Even when her faith is tested, and tested in a way that sounds shockingly rude, the Canaanite woman refuses to allow her ego to displace her love for her daughter.

She could have recovered her self-respect at any time. She could have maintained her dignity and walked away. She could have cursed Jesus and denounced Him, making a name for herself as one who just doesn’t put up with disrespect from anyone. But she heroically allows the humiliation, the disapproval, and even our Lord’s testing of her to roll off her back while she unswervingly continues to pray.

She prays, pleads, cries out, and refuses to be embarrassed into silence. She joins with us today even as we too humble ourselves before our Lord and cry out: “Lord, have mercy!” We not only say it, but sing it. We sing it together. And we sing it three times. “Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!” We have come this far, and we will not take “no” for an answer. We imitate the heroic deeds of this humble sainted Gentile woman.

And look at the result!

Her persistence, her love, her faithfulness in prayer is rewarded. Not of her own power, but by the grace of the One to whom she prays, the devil’s torment of the Canaanite woman’s daughter is at an end. Listen to our Lord’s blessing: “Great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” The Lord miraculously cures the sin-sick body and soul of the woman’s daughter. She, who was trapped by the devil, is released – and our Lord Himself credits the faith of the mother who prayed.

More than three centuries after this incident recorded by St. Matthew, another heroic woman named Monica displayed the same steadfastness in prayer for her family. After many years of praying “Lord, have mercy” to our Lord Jesus Christ, Monica’s Pagan husband embraced the faith, as did her rebellious and fiercely anti-Christian son named Augustine. Monica’s son went on to become a bishop, and one of the greatest minds in the history of the Church. The real heroic person in the story of St. Augustine is his faithful mother, a woman who refused to give up, to cease praying, to accept what seemed to be a “no” from the Lord. For Monica’s prayers were heard, just as were those piteous cries of “Lord, have mercy” of the Canaanite woman were heard. Monica is today known as St. Monica because of her heroic deeds – make heroic because of the grace shown to her by the One who hears our pleas for mercy.

In our fallen world, rare indeed is the family without problems, without family members who are under the influence of the devil to some degree or other. Often, parents feel helpless as their children spurn the Church, struggle with sins, and create havoc in the lives of their families.

A mother or father who doesn’t know what to do can take great comfort in this Gospel. For just as St. Monica would three hundred years later, the sainted Canaanite woman has it right. She was the hero in her daughter’s life because of her faith. Her faith enabled her to humble herself before Jesus, to plead in prayer, to cry out “Lord, have mercy!” again and again to the point of becoming annoying. This mother went to where she could find help. She sought out Jesus, and having gotten His ear, continued to fall down upon her knees and plead for mercy.

Her daughter was held captive to Satan. No amount of force, reason, tough-love, bribery, screaming, grounding, or threatening could fix the problem. The problem was too big for her to fix. But she knew Someone who could address the problem. She knew the One more powerful than Satan – and she sought Him out.

She was determined that she would plead for mercy until she got it.

This is not to say that the Lord will answer every prayer we offer up to Him in the way we want as long as we are stubborn. God’s will is a mystery to us. But we do have His promise that He will hear us. We are His dear children. And just as this mother was willing to humiliate herself, and just as no amount of sacrifice was too much for her to offer on behalf of her daughter, so too does our heavenly Father withhold nothing from us.

For the sake of redeeming His creation, in the interest of expelling Satan from His Kingdom, our Lord took human flesh, humiliated Himself, reducing Himself to pleading with His Father that this cup may pass from Him, and yet, in perfect obedience and in total disregard for His own comfort and self-esteem – empties Himself and gives all on the cross. No amount of sacrifice is too great for the sake of the Lord’s beloved. “All this He does,” says Blessed Martin Luther in the Small Catechism, “out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”

We Christians are at our most heroic when we are our most submissive. We Christians are most powerful when we are pleading “Lord, have mercy.” We Christians display great faith when we put no faith in our abilities, our merit, our power, or anything in ourselves – but rather placing our faith in Christ alone.

The Canaanite woman holds the Lord to His promise. She displays a persistence born of love and a stubbornness born of faith in the power and mercy of God. Her heroism lies in her lack of ego and pride.

And in the end, she doesn’t only receive the miraculous healing that she sought, she also receives praise from the Lord God Himself. In her emptiness, she is filled. In her humiliation, she is exalted. In her weakness, she is strong. In her powerlessness, she brings to bear the might of Christ Himself against the devil.

“O woman, great is your faith. Let it be to you as you desire.” May the Lord grant us such faith. May He show such mercy to us, and may He bring us and those we love to everlasting life. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

3 comments:

chaplain7904 said...

Permission to use this next year on Remimiscere?

chaplain7904 said...

Also need permission to put this on my blog.

Father Hollywood said...

Chaplain:

Feel free, bro!