Sermon – Reminiscere – February 24th, 2013
Grace Lutheran Church, Dyer, IN
“Feasting in Faith when Yes Looks like No”
I suppose there's a misison theme today in that the Cannaninte woman is an outsider, and at least previously, a pagan – an unbeliever in Christ whom our Lord encounters and helps and saves. He says he is sent only to the sheep of Israel, but shows by his actions that he welcomes all who come in faith. The message of the Gospel, it is clear, is not just for Jews or Germans or Americans, or even for only LCMS Lutherans. The true Israel includes all who believe in Christ, whether in Jerusalem, or Dyer, Indiana or far away Singapore. To that end, even now, He sends pastors to proclaim the word, far and near, to administer his sacraments in every place that His Spirit gathers people, and to give gifts freely as he wills.
You know that old saying about how God answers prayers either with a yes, no, or “wait”. I think of that as I read this passage about the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus for help with her demon possessed daughter.
Someone else in her shoes might be discouraged when Jesus initially ignored her. Maybe the answer to her prayer was, “not now”. But she persisted. After Jesus finally tells her, “it's not right to take bread from the children and throw it to the dogs”, another might have concluded the prayer was certainly answered, “no”, and move on in disappointment. But this woman persists. She doesn't take the apparent “no” for an answer. Here is the mystery.
Surely Jesus' actions are strange here, putting off this woman at first, calling her a dog, telling her it wasn't right for him to help her.... but take note of the strange persistence of this woman, who apart from the fact that she was asking for a supernatural solution to a supernatural problem, also had a supernatural persistence where others would have given up.
Jesus knows the heart. He knows what people need. He knows her and He knows what He is doing. So, too, he knows you. He knows your needs and problems better than you do. He knows what you think you need, and what you really do. He knows your timetable, but he also knows the “proper time”. And he means to do you good, even when it looks like he is ignoring you, putting you off, or even doing you evil.
And faith knows its object, that is, the Savior. Faith knows the character of this merciful Jesus who comes to help and rescue. Faith looks to Jesus for all good things, for daily bread as well as daily renewed life.
Now you. You have just as much right as this woman to expect good things from God – zero. She was an outsider, a pagan, and surely a sinner. The affliction of her daughter by this demon, who knows what caused it. Who knows what the cause of any calamity or affliction is in this life. But what we deserve for our sins is surely far worse. Your problems may be bigger or smaller. Your suffering may or may not compare. But what you bring to the table is the same – nothing good. Nothing with which to say, “Hey look, God, you owe me one here.”
Oh we try, in our twisted minds, to appeal to our own supposed merit. As if holding our temper for a bit against some annoying person impresses the Lord who is truly slow to anger. Your anger was likely sinful in the first place.
Or as if writing a check to support a good cause shows God how good your heart is, and now, He'll send you some benefit in kind. But just try to hide the darkness bubbling in your heart from the one who knows all. He's not fooled by a donation here and there. You can't pay off the debts you truly owe.
Or maybe you go out of your way for people who never appreciate all you do, day in and day out, quietly suffering their sheer ingratitude – surely God must look at all they put you through and reward you this time. A friend of mine used to say, “Get off the cross, we need the wood”. There is only one whose sacrifice is pleasing to God.
God isn't impressed with your martyrdom, your charity, your patience, or any other supposed merit you bring. Our best works are as filthy rags. Our shining example is a pile of garbage to him. Tainted and corrupted wholly by sin, we are beggars through and through, who can only ask and plead for what we don't deserve. Just like this woman.
Just like a dog, begging at the master's table.
But the dog knows, and the woman knows, and the faithful know – that the master delights in feeding the beggar. He joys to be patient with the sinner, to give heavenly riches to the poor in spirit, and to sacrifice himself for those who bring nothing. Christ goes to the cross for this very reason.
This woman's faith is truly a remarkable example. She doesn't become indignant with Christ, “who does He think He is? Calling me a dog.... we Canaanites were here before those Jews....”. She doesn't appeal to some imagined basis for his help, as if she deserves it - “But Jesus, I've been such a good mother.” Nor does she give up and go away discouraged. She simply persists in trusting the giver of good things for even the smallest crumbs, and finds herself lavishly blessed and fed.
God moves in mysterious ways. At least mysterious to us, fallen sinful people. But somehow, faith “gets” it. A hymn puts it this way, “Behind a frowning countenance faith sees a smiling face”. Behind the apparent “no”, faith sees the “yes” in Christ. You see your sins, but God sees Christ's righteousness. You see death all around you, but the Word says you are alive – and alive forever. You see shame and destruction and chaos and meaninglessness.... but the promises of God stand in the midst of the swirling mess and proclaim a sure, certain, profound truth – that God loves you in Jesus Christ and is busy blessing you now and for eternity. It is a great mystery that things which appear one way, with God, are so often another. Faith hears God's word, and contrary to what the eye can see, faith believes.
And the mystery is also to be eaten and drunk. For under the bread and wine are the most precious gifts of Christ's flesh and blood. Not crumbs from the table, or sips sneaked from the master when he's not looking – but a lavish feast, a spread unlike any other, and a foretaste of the feast to come. Here your sins are forgiven. Here your faith is strengthened. Here you receive Christ, really and truly, for your good.
There is no better remedy for what ails you than Christ. There is no other promise you can rest in, hope you can stand on, or future worth having apart from Christ. And there is no food for your faith but the bread of life that he provides, and the living water he gives to quench the thirsting soul. Jesus is everything.
Even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children's table. And even sinners like you, are welcome to feast in faith, in Christ our Lord. Even when it looks like a big “no”, “all the promises of God find their yes in him” (2 Cor 1:20)