Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sermon: Reminiscere - 2011

20 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 15:21-28

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

At the Introit of the service, we sang: “Remember, O Lord.”

Of course, to a bystander, this could seem like an odd prayer. We are praying, after all, to God Almighty, who has no need of tying a red yarn around His finger, or covering everything with Post-It notes, or sending Himself reminder e-mails. And to someone unfamiliar with the Christian faith, it might seem bizarre, if not downright disrespectful, to give God an order – especially a command to “remember” as if we were a frustrated boss telling a sloppy subordinate not to mess up at work.

In the Gospel, we see a subordinate likewise demanding God’s remembrance, and we see God’s reaction to being spoken to in such a fashion. And like everything else in God’s kingdom – it isn’t what we might expect!

The Canaanite woman is even lower than a subordinate. Not only is she a woman living in a time and culture when polite women did not initiate speech with a man, but she is also a Gentile, a descendant of the enemies of God. She lives in the hinterlands of Tyre and Sidon – regions not inhabited by God’s chosen people, but rather populated by those whose religion was, at best, a mix of truth and error. And to top it all off, the Canaanite woman has a demon living under her roof oppressing her troubled daughter.

This is the last person who should be telling God what to do and debating Him. Which is exactly the point. God’s kingdom is made up of the humble, the weak, the unworthy, the despised, the lowly, those of little education, those who are looked down upon by people who think they are their betters. And yet, what is the ultimate cause of this poor woman’s misery? Sin. And the same sin infests all of Adam’s descendants. And in her lowliness and humility, she has as much right to stand before God and make demands as anyone: which is to say, she has no right to do so at all.

And yet she does indeed stand before God. And she speaks to God. And she gives a command to God. And God listens. And God praises the woman and blesses her!

For, dear friends, God’s kingdom is not about worthiness, but unworthiness; not about personal rights, but about imputed righteousness. God’s kingdom is not who you are, but rather, whom you know – or more importantly, who knows you, in spite of who you are.

Jesus knows this woman and her plight even before she asks. And yet she does ask for help. More accurately, she demands help: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” She does more than ask; she orders. And while her prayer is also a form of begging, it is an aggressive plea that takes the form of a command – much like our prayer that God “remember.” The Canaanite woman calls Jesus to remember as well – not to remember the ancient history of the Gentile people, not to remember her sins and the sins of her daughter, not to remember the old covenant that excluded her – but rather, she prays essentially what we have prayed: “Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your loving-kindnesses, for they are from of old.”

In invoking mercy, the Canaanite woman reminds Jesus that He is God, and she also reminds God that He is merciful. But along with reminding God, she is confessing to herself and to those within earshot just why it is that she can “await from the Lord great and abundant mercy” in answer to her prayers. For she is not so much reminding God as she is reminding herself, calling to mind God’s mercy, and doing so in faith in the promise that God has come to save not only the children of Jacob, but ultimately, all of His creation racked by sin and rent by death.

Jacob wrestled with the God-Man to a draw, and had a sore hip to show for it, but the God-Man defeated Satan at the cross, crushing His head and Himself suffering the bruised heel as a result. Jesus was not only crucified for the sins of the sons of Israel, but also for the sins of the daughters of Canaan. In His passion, our Blessed Lord feels the suffering of the Canaanite woman, her anguish over her daughter’s lost soul and possessed body. He has compassion on her struggle and depression, her desperation, her lovesick cry for help for her daughter. Jesus feels it along with us. And He is there with us in our family problems, our health issues, our anxieties, and our mortality.

And yet, how hard it must have been for the Canaanite woman to hear Jesus respond at first with silence. She has cried out for help, and God is silent. She suffers and God is silent. And the disciples even try to send her away empty-handed. But she patiently continues with her litany of “Lord, have mercy!” and she kneels where Jesus is to be found. She prays again: “Lord, help me!” And yet again, what disappointment she must have experienced as the Lord coldly brushed her off with something that must have hit her like a blow from a sledgehammer: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

How her heart must have ached, and how her head must have pounded. And yet, undaunted, she disputed with Jesus, turning His metaphor on its head and throwing it back in His face: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

The Canaanite woman’s retort is not impertinence, but rather faith. She is not showing disrespect to Jesus, but rather demonstrating respect for God’s promise. She refuses to take “no” for an answer because she knows that the answer is already “yes.” The Lord remembers His promise, and Jesus gladly hears the woman’s strong plea for Him to “remember,” to call to mind, and to act on the Word of God – which is powerful, effective, and always true.

“O woman,” our Lord pronounces, “great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And “her daughter was healed instantly.” The demons cannot abide God’s Word, and God’s Word cannot fail when it comes to faith. The demon flees, sin is forgiven, health is restored, and prayers are answered. This, dear friends, is the Christian faith and life in a nutshell.

For as the apostle reminds us: “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace.” For even as the Canaanite woman held on to faith in the midst of her sufferings, we are reminded that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and 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.”

“Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David.” “Remember, O Lord.” Remember! Amen.

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

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