Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2)

28 February 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 15:21-28 (Gen 32:22-32, Rom 5:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Canaanite woman has some nerve. First of all, she is a woman, and publicly approaching a man and speaking to Him was just not done in that culture. Second, she is a Gentile, one of the unclean people. And coming to speak to a Jew – a Rabbi even – was a shocking lapse of good taste and manners. Third, she refuses to take “no” for an answer, becoming a spectacle. Fourth, in getting an audience with Jesus because of her pushiness, she talks back to Him. What a scandal!

And unlike His response to the clean-as-a-whistle Pharisees, who knew the Law and the Prophets, who attended temple and synagogue, who gave to the poor, and who were fastidious in matters of Jewish etiquette – Jesus does not scold this woman. Instead, he praises her for her faith. He grants her prayer. He cures her daughter by exorcising the demon that oppressing her.

This is a remarkable passage of God’s Word that teaches us some unexpected things about the Kingdom. For this Gentile, this rude Canaanite, this pushy woman whose home has been disrupted by demons – has more faith than the Pharisees, and even more faith than the disciples themselves.

And it is her faith that makes all the difference.

Her faith trumps her ethnicity and its uncleanness. Her faith overcomes the influence of evil spirits in her family. Her faith eclipses her lack of respect for proper decorum and rules of social conduct.

Her faith is demonstrated in her persistence. She refuses to leave - even when the disciples scold her, even when Jesus ignores her. Even when our Lord dismisses her as not being one to whom He was sent. Even in the face of such bitter disappointments and discouragements, she clings to her belief that Jesus can, and indeed will, help her, answer her prayer, and heal her daughter.

For this is what faith is, dear brothers and sisters. Faith is belief. Faith is trust. Faith is holding onto Jesus and to the promise of His Word, come what may. Faith continues to hope even when everything looks bleak. Faith refuses to surrender or capitulate – no matter how bad things seem to be. Faith does not trust in one’s senses, reason, logic, or the discouragement that comes from the evil one. Faith looks past the brokenness of this fallen world through a prophetic window into eternity, trusting and even knowing that God keeps His promises, that God will save us according to His good and gracious will.

The Canaanite woman’s faith overcame every obstacle. She refused to be put off – even when God Himself seemed to have abandoned her.

Her faith is not only demonstrated in her persistence, but also in the way she responded to Jesus when He said that He was only sent to the children of Israel. Rather than shake her fist at Him, rather than accuse Him of being unfair, rather than walk away defeated, she knelt before Him. The word “knelt” is a weak translation. The text literally says she “knelt before Him in worship.” She did not kneel as a beggar before a judge. She did not bow as in an Eastern show of respect. No, she worshiped Him. She confessed Him to be God. When St. Peter confessed who Jesus is, our Lord told him that flesh and blood did not reveal this to him. Somehow or other, the reality of our Lord’s divinity was revealed to this women who came from outside of the covenant people of Israel. When she knelt before Jesus in worship, she was confessing to the disciples and to our Lord Himself that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is God. And she implores her God, the God in whom she has placed her unshakable faith, to keep His promises.

For indeed, the Lord came first to the children of Israel, but not exclusively for them. For He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. She has spoken rightly. She is worthy of the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table, for the Master came to die for her sins as well as for those of the children of Israel. “For even the dogs eat the crumbs.”

We too eat the crumbs. We feed on the Lord’s body come to us in the form of a tiny wafer of bread. Most of us cannot trace our ancestry to Jacob and the twelve tribes, and yet we likewise kneel before the Lord Jesus in His flesh, crying: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” We join the Canaanite woman in pleading for relief from the very real demons that plague us and our homes and families. We kneel in worship before our Lord asking Him to forgive our sins and grant us relief from all that ails us. We too pray “Lord help me.” And the Lord hears our prayers and shares the crumbs of His body and the sips of His blood with us poor miserable sinners, we who unworthy as we are, trust in Him, put our faith in Him, and yet approach Him in spite of our unworthiness in ourselves.

The Lord takes delight in the Canaanite woman’s persistence. He rewards her faith and acts on it. He praises her for rightly confessing Him. He is moved by the fact that she holds the God of the universe to His redemptive promise. She knows that Jesus is more than merely the king of the Jews, but that He is the King of the universe. She knows that He is more than a doctrinally-pure rabbi, but that He is the loving God come to earth in the form of a Man. She knows He has power over angels and demons, over sickness and health, and over life and death.

And she knows that He will hear her prayer.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is faith – and it is potent and powerful. St. Paul teaches us that “we have been justified by faith” that faith is instrumental in our forgiveness and in our salvation. Apart from faith, there is no forgiveness and no life. St. Paul also teaches us that we “have obtained access by faith into this grace.” Just as the Canaanite woman’s faith eventually got her a hearing with the Lord, our faith gives us access to God as well. And rather than allow the fallen world to beat us down and take away our faith, St. Paul encourages us to embrace the things that seem discouraging, for “suffering produces endurance” which “produces character” which “produces hope” – and that this hope “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The Canaanite woman had the hope borne of character and suffering, a hope given to her by grace, a hope rooted in faith, a faith founded on the confession that Jesus is God in the flesh, that He is to be worshiped, that He hears our prayers, and that He blesses us and beats back the work of Satan. This is not the work of a mere man, but the work of God.

And even as Jacob wrestled literally with God in the form of a man, we too wrestle with the Word of God. We contend with God. We sometimes fight back against His will and question His ways. But in wrestling with God, our faith is ultimately strengthened, dear friends, for God delights when we hold Him to His promises and demand His blessing.

Let us continue to pray to our Lord for mercy, for forgiveness, for healing, for power over demons, for endurance and character and hope, and most of all, for faith. In faith let us fall down and worship, let us be content with the crumbs from our Master’s table, and when we seek admission to the heavenly places, persistently pleading only the scandal of the cross and the Lord’s grace, let us also hear these words from our Blessed Lord: “Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” Amen.

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

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