Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2) – 2014

16 March 2014

Text: Matt 15:21-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. Paul has famously linked faith and hope and love – while reserving to love the greatest honor.  And indeed, it is only by the creation of a God who is Love Himself that explains a world and a people capable of such abstract concepts which are also very concrete realities in the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve were created to not merely have faith, but to be defined by faith.  They believe in God because they trust in God.  There is no room in their innocent minds to doubt God or to doubt what He actually said.  And so they exist with hope, because they know with all certainty (thanks to their faith) that tomorrow will be just as perfect as today, even unto eternity.  And they live in perfect love, for the God who created them, for one another, and for the creation that fits together so harmoniously.  This triad of faith, hope, and love are man’s destiny according to the plan of our good and gracious Creator.

But of course, faith was to yield to doubt, as the serpent tempted our first parents into surrendering their faith.  Hope was shattered as uncertainty entered our existence after the fall.  And love diminishes as mankind falls into a kind of savage existence competing with one another for limited resources, which decays into theft and conquest and war and rebellion.

And this, dear friends, is our world.  And it is getting worse: doubt, despair, and hatred.  These are the rotten fruits of sin: that of Adam and Eve, that of our original sin into which we are born, as well as the damage we ourselves cause by our own sins in thought, word, and deed.

This world of doubt, despair, and hatred, this world of darkness and death, this world of the hellish separation between what God meant for us and what we have corrupted, is the broken world into which Jesus comes in His flesh. 

And on the occasion of our Gospel lesson, our Lord is wandering out into enemy territory, the land of the Gentiles.  For unlike the Sons of Jacob, the Gentiles lack the faith of the covenant, the hope of a Messiah, and are ignorant of the prophetic love of God made known through the temple sacrifices.  The diabolical stronghold of Tyre and Sidon are places one would least expect to find the Shepherd of Israel. 

And yet, He chooses to go there.  For the Sons of Jacob are not the only ones destined to receive the faith, hope, and love of Christ, but rather all of the Sons of Adam. 

And so Jesus finds someone who is as far away from the promises made to Jacob as you can get.  She has many strikes against her.  First, she is a woman – and by virtue of her sex, lacks even standing to meet with Jesus.  Second, she is a Canaanite – a Gentile of very low degree, for it was the Canaanites that the Israelites were told to eradicate from the promised land.  Her very existence is a reminder of the failure of the children of Israel to obey God’s Word.  She is despised by the Israelites.  And owing to her faithless, hopeless, and loveless state, her family has been made open to the realm of the demonic.  Her daughter is possessed by an evil spirit, a demon.

But something motivates her to take a chance, to risk making a long journey for nothing, to leave her distressed daughter behind and to look for help from her apparent enemy, from the Israelite preacher named Jesus.  She has obviously heard His Word through others proclaiming what He has done.  And in her dark world of doubt, despair, and hatred there is just a little glimmer of hope, like a tiny spark glowing faintly as it hits the straw.  Motivated by this little faith, she comes to Jesus and prays: “Lord, have mercy.”  She invokes Him as Son of David.  She knows who He is, as does the demon who oppressed her household.  And she knows what the Son of David can do.  And so in faith and hope she prays persistently for Him to hear her prayer and to grant her petition.

And Jesus ignores her.  Or that’s what it seems anyway.  He tests her faith and allows her to exercise it.  And in doing so, we have a record left behind that teaches us about faith and hope and love.  The disciples even offer a competing prayer to Jesus that He would abandon this woman in her need.  At first, Jesus seems to answer their arrogant prayer and seems intent on refusing to answer her humble prayer of “Lord, have mercy.”  Jesus points out that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  He says that it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.

And here, dear friends, is the turning point.  The Canaanite woman could have retreated into the darkness and bitterness of doubt, despair, and hatred.  She could easily have become cynical and turned aside from Jesus and fixed her eyes on the world of the demons.  But she doesn’t.  For the frail spark of her faith and the ever-so-slight glimmer of her hope are enough.  They are enough to ignite a flame that will consume the demons in hell.  And they are enough to create warmth where there was formerly cold, and light where there was formerly darkness.

She said, “Yes, Lord.”  She does not argue with our Lord’s assessment.  She yields to Him, confesses her unworthiness, and then and only then, does her great faith become visible to all – even in her desperate condition.

Then Jesus answered her, “O woman. Great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed instantly.

The darkness has been dispelled by light.  Sickness has been replaced by health.  The demonic has been upended by the good.  The excluded and marginalized have been included and embraced.  The devil’s curse of doubt has been exchanged for faith in the Word.  The despair that results from sin has been replaced by the hope of forgiveness.  And the hatred of sinful man for the God who is perfect has been replaced by love: love manifested by a sinless Man who is perfect and who is God.

This is St. Paul’s vision of faith, hope, and love, and especially of the triumph of love: the love of Christ.  The fall in Eden has been reversed, dear friends, reversed at the cross, where faith, hope, and love are on display before all the world, visible and invisible, to Jew and Gentile, to angel and demon, to Adam and Eve and to children yet unborn.  The Canaanite woman’s faith, hope, and love abide.  And the greatest of these is love, Christ’s love, dripping with the blood of the cross: the love of God for us poor miserable sinners, a perfect love that gives us faith and restores our hope, now and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

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