Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sermon: Reminiscere – 2012

4 March 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 15:21-28

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

It is always amazing to hear and consider the account of the Canaanite woman, and her mini-debate with the Son of God. Everybody likes to cheer for the underdog, which means in this case, I suppose, cheering against Jesus.

But this is not a matter of winning a debate. This is a matter of faith. And while appearing to have been defeated, our Lord Jesus is the winner – and He shares His winnings with those for whom He came to save: like the Canaanite woman and her demon-oppressed daughter.

The Canaanite woman is being tested, sorely tested, tested to the point of desperation. Her daughter is under the control of a devil. And this upset mother, this Canaanite woman, has a couple strikes against her. Of course, being a woman, it is not normal for her to stroll up to the Rabbi and ask for favors. Second, she is a Gentile – a handicap the Lord Himself throws in her face as a test of her faith.

But, dear friends, what is a faith that is never tested? Can a person consider himself courageous if he is never confronted with something frightening? Can a person consider himself skilled if he only knows theories read from a book? Too often, we treat faith as though it were knowledge. And knowing the facts about the faith – such as the Nicene Creed – is important. Believing those facts is important. But faith is not something one holds in one’s head, and not something one treasures only in one’s heart, but rather faith is practiced, is acted out, carried out by hands and feet and mouth and deeds. Faith is the Nicene Creed put into motion in a believer’s life. We say it one day a week, but we live it seven days a week. Faith is the cross under the eyes and ears of one’s friends and foes in day to day life. Faith is what we have when it is all that we have. Faith is what is left after the storm has taken away everything else, when one’s trust in princes and in oneself has been purged away by the flames of trials and temptations. Faith is all that a person has when all other remedies have failed.

Faith takes risks!

The Canaanite woman risks rejection and humiliation in her quest to find Jesus and offer up her prayer to Him for help. She “came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” In her faith, she has abandoned her ego, her pride, her self-esteem. She comes before the Lord humbly, without guile, claiming no merit for herself. She bares her soul before the One of has created her, to Him who will make her well, seeking the mercy of the Lord, the Son of David, Him with the power to heal, to save, to draw life out of death, and to remove the harassment of the devil.

The Canaanite woman refuses to quit, to give up, to yield to the natural feelings of anger and resentment in the face of the harsh coldness of the disciples who say: “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” She does not lose her faith even when severely tested by God Himself, as the Lord Jesus seems to be rejecting her with the stunning words: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” and “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

The Canaanite women understood perfectly well how insulting the term “dog” is. For Jews hold dogs to be unclean animals. The term “dog” – especially when applied to women – is nearly universal among all peoples as a terrible insult.

But the Canaanite woman, like an ace pilot refusing to be shaken off the tail of her opponent in a desperate dogfight, locks in on Jesus, refuses to be deterred, does not let emotion get in the way of her salvation, clings to Christ with all the faith she can muster, and lets fly: “Yes, Lord.” For faith always says “Yes, Lord” – even when we are tried and tempted, disappointed and hurt, harassed and harried, beaten up and beaten down by the world, even when it seems God Himself has forsaken us. “Yes, Lord,” she confesses in faith, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

She does not deny her uncleanness and unworthiness. But what she holds to is the promise of the Lord, His mercy, His providence, His table with which He shares the crumbs of His very self, offered for us men and for our salvation! Faith enables her to confess boldly her worthiness according to the Lord’s promise at the same time that she confesses humbly her unworthiness according to her own sinfulness.

And this paradox is at the heart of faith, where the two arms of the cross intersect at the heart: our unworthiness and Christ’s worthiness, the Law’s demands and the Gospel’s promises, our earned wages of death and the Lord’s gracious gift of life!

And in her humble “Yes, Lord,” she does not win a debate, but wins eternal life. Jesus is not defeated in a battle of wills, but rather defeats the devil by the will of His Father who sent the Son, to give faith and hope and life to all of the dogs who await the life-giving crumbs that fall from the Master’s table!

“O woman,” declares the Lord, “great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” She has passed the test, not by being clever, but by clinging to faith. She has not defeated Jesus in logic, but has yielded to Him in faith. She has won because Jesus has won. The devil’s grip on her family was beaten into submission. “And her daughter was healed instantly.”

Dear brothers and sisters, how often we get discouraged! How often we feel like the Lord has left us to bless others instead of us. And yet, how wrong we are! For the Lord has come to save us, to heal us, to forgive us, and to give us eternal life! And though it is a paradox, our faith means the most when it is tested. Our faith is made the strongest when it is challenged. Our faith is able to make us well precisely when it is all that we have, and it seems so weak.

Let us never grow weary of praying with our Canaanite sister, with one another, and with our brothers and sisters in every time and place: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” And let us hear yet again the Lord’s mercy: “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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