Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
Pentecost 14 – August 17th, 2008
“We are all beggars, this is true”. Some of the last words of Martin Luther – found by his secretary on a scrap of paper the day before Luther died. We are all beggars. We come with nothing to Jesus, and he gives us everything. We can't bargain or deal, purchase or sell. We can only beg for his mercy and grace that we do not deserve in the least. Beggars, all.
She had no earthly reason to expect help from Jesus. This woman wasn't a Jew, or from Israel. She was a Canaanite. A heathen. How did she know about David? And how did she know Jesus was the “Son of David”? Did she know that was a loaded term – indicating he indeed is the Messiah? Had she heard the good news of his kingdom, even before he arrived? Perhaps so....
The Syro-Phonecian woman was a beggar. Perhaps she had money and wealth, but she didn't have what she wanted most. Her daughter was beset by a demon. And when the great teacher and miracle worker, who some even whispered might be the Messiah, when he came to her neck of the woods, she went out to find him. And she cried out, pleaded, begged for mercy.
Like her, we are unworthy to ask for anything good from the Lord. We have no pedigree but original sin. We have no works of righteousness, only works of lawlessness. We have no holiness of our own, but only a life stained by sin and destined for death. We are helpless and hopeless without Christ. Beggars.
She cries, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon”
And Jesus does something strange. He doesn't say yes. At first, he is silent.
How often do our pleas and petitions meet with silence from our Lord? Often. So we can relate. Did he hear us? Is he ignoring us? Does the silence mean “no”? Or is something else going on?
The disciples are getting tired of it already. They want Jesus to send her away – that is, they want him to give her what she asks and be done with her loud crying and begging. (Notice, the disciples are beggars too, by the way). But still, he seems to resist.
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
To be clear – Jesus doesn't mean that he came as Savior of Israel only. But in his preaching and healing leading to the cross, his commission was to Israel. Only after the resurrection are all nations drawn into the kingdom. Still, a number of outsiders receive help from the Lord, even before his work is done. They would be a kind of first-fruits, a foreshadowing, of the many nations who would receive the kingdom.
The woman begs some more. She kneels down, in a show of humility. A good posture for the sinner to take before Almighty God. And if not physically, we should all bend low before God in the same humble acknowledgment of our own unworthiness.
"It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs."
“The children” are the Israelites. “The Dogs” that's what the Israelites called the Gentiles – outsiders. Dogs. Not a term of endearment. But Jesus isn't quite so harsh. He throws the woman a bone, if you will. When he calls her a dog – he uses the term for a house dog, a pet... rather than a mutt wandering the streets. A “little dog” or a “pup” might be a closer English equivalent.
And now the woman sees. Her faith, which had brought her this far – out from her home and to where Jesus was – following persistently, falling on her knees.... over against Jesus' silence and his protest, her faith begs, and begs. And she prevails upon Jesus...
Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table."
A beautiful confession of faith. One, that she is a dog – unworthy to sit with the children. Two, that he is the master. Three that he, Jesus, would grant her this request out of his mercy. And so he does.
And here's the mystery. He meant to all along. Why put her through all this before he grants the request? Why ignore her, put her off,
make her think he might say no?
Was it to strengthen her faith? Was it an exercise? Was it to teach us persistence in our prayers and petitions? Or was it to give her also the blessing of an opportunity to show her faith – to make a confession?
So often in our lives, we call on the Lord for help and hear silence. We are tempted to think he doesn't hear, or doesn't care. But “behind a frowning countenance, faith sees a smiling face”.
Faith holds God to his word of promise. Martin Luther said it well:
She catches the Lord Christ with His own Words. Yes, still more, with the rights of a dog she gains the rights of a child. Now where will he go, the dear Jesus? He has caught Himself and must help her. But know this well, He loves to be caught in this way. If we only had the skill of this woman to catch God in His own judgment and say: 'Yes, Lord, it is true, I am a sinner and not worthy of Thy grace, but you have promised forgiveness and didst not come to call the righteous, but, like St. Paul says, 1 Timothy 1:15, 'to save sinners.' Behold, the Lord must then through His own judgment, have mercy on us.
And one more thought. As we are all beggars, so we are all the dogs waiting for crumbs from the table. But as we receive faith, so we become children. And so also, share the food with others.
What child hasn't fed the family dog from the table – accidentally, and even with glee. So does the Christian share the Gospel. Accidentally, through works of love and service, by witnessing to the faith that drives us. Inadvertently, as we go about our callings in the world, doing all that we do for the Lord. Or even pointedly, as we have the opportunity to share the love of Christ in words, even the Gospel. Or else by supporting the work of the church with our time, talents, and treasures. Yes, in many ways, we throw the crumbs of the Gospel to those hungering for it. Just as we have received, so we generously give.
For what precious food this is! That even the crumbs are worth begging for. But he gives us so much more. He gives a lavish feast – a full course meal. He feeds us with his word, and even literally feeds us with his own body and blood. Not food we deserve, but the food of faith which sustains and strengthens us and delivers us forgiveness, life and salvation.
Oh, to be a beggar. Oh to be fed from the Master's table. Oh to feast on the fine food he gives. Faith begs, and faith receives, from Jesus Christ our Lord and merciful Master. Amen.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Pentecost 13 – August 10th, 2008
"Walking on Water - For You"
Jesus walking on the water. Here's one of those stories we learned about in Sunday School, and maybe remember those little felt figurine picture boards. Many people take it very simply to be an instance of Jesus doing a miracle to show his great power. And it is that, but more. As I've often said, everything Jesus does, he does for us, his people. So how does his walking on water have anything to do with you?
Well, like all his miracles, this one is a sign. The disciples read the sign correctly – it points to who he is. No one before or since has walked on water. No one demonstrates this command over nature. Truly, he is the Son of God. Miracles like this verify Jesus' identity. And if he is powerful enough to do healings and to command nature and turn a few loaves and fish into a feast for thousands.... then certainly he is powerful enough to forgive my sins and grant me eternal life.
But there is so much more here. Take, for instance, the disciples' superstitious reaction when they see the Lord's unusual approach. Thinking he was a ghost, they were filled with fear. But Jesus, true to form, says, “fear not”. And gives them a reason not to fear, “for it is I”. Jesus knows the fears of sinful men and always calms them. He knows that fear and doubt are the opposite of faith, and he wants us to calmly trust in him – even when what our eyes see doesn't make sense.
For his part, Peter gets a mixed review. He steps out of the boat in great faith. He shows his trust in Jesus against the odds and in the face of nature's laws. He responds to the powerful word of the almighty God – one little word - “come!”. And he takes his walk on the waves. So far so good. But then Peter does exactly what Jesus said not to do – he fears. He looks at the wind and wave, and realizes somehow, “hey, I'm walking on water! Humans can't do that!” And fear takes hold.
And isn't Peter just like us? One minute we are ready to step out in faith, the next minute we are beset again by fear. One moment we act like a selfless saint, the next we are surely a sinner again. The Christian life is not such an easy switch from absolutely outward wickedness to a perfected life triumphant over sin – at least not in how we see ourselves act. We are alternately faithful and fearful, believing and doubting. The struggle goes on. When our attention is fixed on Jesus, we are much better off. Only when we focus on the wind and wave – the troubles and worries of life – do we begin to sink.
But like for Peter, the good news is that Jesus comes to the rescue. When in his weakness, Peter begins to sink, Jesus immediately reaches out and rescues him. So too for us. Jesus doesn't let us flounder in sin and unbelief, but stands ready with his strong hand to snatch us from disaster. Where we go back and forth between faith and fear, he is always faithful.
His unlikely journey for us is even more amazing than a stroll across the sea. He walks the way of the cross. He treads the path of death. He crosses that river ahead of us, for us, only to return in triumph. For just as men don't walk on water, mere men don't live after death. And just as Jesus included Peter in the miracle, so too does he give us a part in his greatest miracle. We too will rise from the dead.
In a sense, we already have. By the almighty power of his word he has called us from the living death of original sin to the new life of faith beginning at our baptism. Christians are already living the eternal life promised by God. And one day even our bodies will catch up to this reality, in a resurrection like Christ's. This hope gives us calm in the midst of fear, and peace even in the face of death.
I mentioned how Jesus' command over nature here showed his true identity as the Son of God. And perhaps here a word about creation is in order. It's a common mistake for people today - to fall for the lies of evolutionary thinking, which supposes that we are here by accident, without a creator.
Christians know that, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. But we too are tempted by the ever-present evolutionary propaganda. For the Scriptures are clear not only who made it, but also how. The Lord by his word, created everything that is in six days, and rested on the seventh. And John's Gospel reminds us that Jesus, as the living Word of God, had a hand in it. “Through him all things were made”. In other words, Jesus is Lord of creation.
Many of us want to find a middle ground, where science is right, and the Bible is right – just each in their own way. This won't do either. It doesn't answer the question of how death got here – which Genesis makes clear – death is a result of sin, and doesn't belong in creation. Humans are not the byproduct of evolutionary “survival of the fittest”, but instead, we are the crown of God's creation, made in his own image. And Jesus comes, in part, to restore that creation that our sin had broken.
He who created us, has also re-created us. He who commands nature, even walks on the water, can and will command us to rise from death on the last day. He who calls Peter to walk amidst the waves, calls us to trust him as well, for he will not fail us either. His death and resurrection accomplish our salvation, bring us new life and the promise of our own resurrection.
And like the disciples who all witnessed these events on the sea, we too are drawn to respond in faith and worship. We must confess with them, “Truly, you are the Son of God”. And truly, he walked on water, and does everything, for you and me. Amen.