Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2) – 2017

12 March 2017

Text: Matt 15:21-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“O woman, great is your faith!” says our Lord to the Canaanite woman. “Be it done for you as you desire.”

Jesus has come into our world to mend it, to restore it, to heal it.  He has come to repair that which is broken – especially each one of us.  We suffer physically: sicknesses that burden us, accidents that suddenly incapacitate us, pains from the toll of age, and even death itself.  We suffer mentally: depression, frustration, mental health issues, and emotional pain.  We suffer spiritually: temptations, doubts, demonic harassment, loss of faith, and fear of God’s wrath, or perhaps even worse, a lack of fear of God’s wrath.

No matter who we are, we suffer.  No matter how fine we are at times, we are catastrophically broken at other times.  And nobody gets out of here alive. 

And it isn’t just us.  Everyone on the planet, great and small, rich and poor, men and women, famous and obscure – all of us suffer this brokenness.

The Canaanite woman had a lot of strikes against her.  Being a woman in her day and age was not easy.  Her toil was hard and the rewards were few.  She was not respected by men of any nationality.  And being a Canaanite, she was outside of the covenant of the people of God – who looked down upon her because of her ethnicity.  She was probably raised to believe in false gods.  And her daughter was disturbingly sick.  And to top it all off, her daughter did not suffer with an ailment that could be cured by doctors and medicine.  For she was possessed by a demon.  And being a Canaanite, who can cast this demon out?  Could her pagan priests?  Would a Jewish rabbi or prophet come near her?

Somehow, some way, she knew where she had to go to get help.  Against her own religion, and contrary to the customs of her heritage and even the whole region, she knew that she had to go to Jesus, to beg for His mercy, and for Him to exercise the power He has to cast out the demon and restore her daughter to health and wholeness.

She indeed believes that Jesus can do this.  And yet this is only part of the picture of faith.  Just knowing that Jesus can do something is not the same as knowing that Jesus will do something.  And what of her faith when that faith is challenged?  Does the faith hold on, or does it wither away?  

This Canaanite woman teaches us the complexity of faith, dear friends, the kind of faith that conducts salvation from Jesus, to us, and heals, the faith that taps into the grace of Jesus and delivers.  

This kind of faith isn’t knowledge – for even the demons “believe” in this way, and they shudder.  This kind of faith isn’t even asking Jesus for mercy, for the demons do that as well.  This kind of faith isn’t even a hunch that Jesus will do something for us – for this woman is given no indication that Jesus will heal her daughter.  For when she knelt before Jesus and begged for His help, His initial response was less than encouraging: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…. It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 

Such a reply could easily have destroyed any faith of this woman.  But it doesn’t.  She argues with Jesus: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  She doesn’t argue her own righteousness, for she lays claim to the very derogatory insult of being a dog.  But rather she points to the pity of the dog’s Master, the Master’s natural inclination to love His dog.  She holds God to His promise to be merciful to His creatures – not because they are worthy, but rather because God is God.

And she acknowledges Jesus to be God, breaking through her own paganism and confessing the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  

But notice something about this faith of the Canaanite woman: her faith is stubborn.  It is unrelenting.  She refuses to take “no” for an answer.  She is spiritually clawing and kicking to receive the answer to her prayer – not unlike the stubborn Jacob, who wrestled God in human form, and refused to let go until he received a blessing.

This, dear friends, is true faith.  It is saving faith.  This is the faith that in a very real way compels Jesus to bless and heal and save the one who seeks His blessing.  Faith is not like answering a question on a test.  It is more like winning a wrestling match or a debate.  Faith – the kind of faith that heals the sick, casts out demons, and raises the dead is just this sort of stubborn faith.  It is faith that refuses to let go, will not take “no” for an answer, and somehow knows that Jesus has what we need, and is willing to make demands of Jesus by appealing not to our worthiness, but rather to His worthiness.

It is as though this Canaanite women were confessing Jesus as God so forcefully that she is almost daring Jesus to try not to be divine.  He cannot do it.  He cannot refuse her, because He is God, and God is love, and love will not refuse the one in need, the one who asks, the one who cries out to God in mercy.

Her confession is not rooted in knowledge or a theological education, but rather in her stubborn trust that Jesus is unable, by His very nature, to refuse her entreaties.  

And she is right.

Jesus tests her faith, and Jesus tests our faith.  True faith simply refuses to be shaken off.  True faith holds on for dear life – because that is exactly what we receive, dear friends: dear life.  We hold God to His promises, including the promise that is also a declaration: your sins are forgiven.  And because Jesus has come into our world to save us, because He went to the cross, because He shed His blood and died as the perfect ransom, we lay claim to eternal life, dear brothers and sisters.

So let us refuse to quit.  Let us refuse to give up.  Let us hold on to our Lord Jesus Christ with everything that is in us. Let us ever remind our Lord that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.  And let us receive an invitation to not just crumbs, but even to the Lord’s body itself, and the blood that saves us, and the Word that absolves us, and the Gospel that strengthens this faith into a holy stubbornness.  Let the Lord no longer call us dogs but rather His brothers and His sisters by virtue of His Sonship of the Father.

For He is God.  He is love.  He is merciful.  He is faithful.  We will not refuse your entreaty, O woman, nor yours, O man.  Your faith will make you well by placing your infirmities and iniquities in the nail-scarred hands of our merciful Lord.  He will cast out the demons that harass you and the doubts that assail you.  He forgives the sins that vex you and the weaknesses of faith that wear you down.

But He is not worn down.  He never tires of us or of our prayers.  His mercies are without limit and His grace without measure.  Hold on tight and remind Him of His Word and His promise.  And let us all hear this blessing as we refuse to let go: “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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