Sunday, March 12, 2017

Reminiscere - The Second Sunday In Lent (Lent 2)

Matthew 15:21-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; Genesis 32:22-32

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Lord, how wonderfully You associate with Your own. You struggle with them not to conquer them but to be conquered.” Those words begin a prayer of C.F.W. Walther, the first President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and of the synod’s first seminary. Indeed, the patriarch Jacob wrestled and struggled with God all through the night and overcame Him. Thus, the LORD changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means one who has striven with God and has prevailed. The LORD blessed Jacob because Jacob would not let go of Him, even when the LORD Himself seemed to be against him, to be fighting with him, and even when the LORD caused Him to suffer. Indeed, Jacob walked away from that encounter with God blessed, but He also walked away permanently changed, permanently wounded and limping from the struggle.
Similarly, St. Paul complained of a thorn in his flesh, a messenger of Satan he called it (!), with which the LORD afflicted him. Three times did Paul plead with the LORD that He might remove the thorn, but the LORD answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” – yes, in your weakness. So also, there was a man who was born blind. Jesus’ disciples asked of Him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered them, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” And, who can forget the answer the LORD gave to Job concerning why he had to suffer so immensely? – Effectively, it was that God’s righteousness might be revealed. Truly, the LORD struggles with those He loves, He wrestles with them, He pins them down and permits them, He even causes them, to suffer, not to conquer them, but that they may conquer Him and receive His blessing.
Last Sunday we heard of the great battle between Satan and the Son of God, Jesus, and of how Jesus overcame Satan by the Word of the LORD, though He suffered mightily; He was hungry, and He was physically and emotionally weak. This Sunday we hear of Jacob’s wrestling bout with God and how the LORD wounded Jacob even as He blessed him, and also about a Gentile woman whom Jesus at first ignores and calls a dog, but who refuses to relent, accepts Jesus’ chides, and, refusing to let go and give up, is ultimately blessed and praised by Him for her great faith. Sometimes God is for you even when He seems to be against you. Truly, the LORD is always for you, but the LORD’s ways are not your ways, His thoughts are not your thoughts, and the foolishness of the LORD is wiser than your wisdom. “Oh, teach us today from Your Word,” Walther continues in his prayer, “how to struggle with You and conquer, that You can also someday gloriously crown and lead us into Your eternal kingdom.”
As Jesus arose from the waters of His baptism, only to be thrown into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, so too, upon your baptism, have you gained a relentless enemy who ceaselessly seeks to destroy and to devour you. The Canaanite woman was one of those heathen whom the LORD had instructed Joshua and the Israelites to destroy when they entered the Promised Land. Because they disobeyed the LORD and did not destroy the Canaanite women and children, in time they intermarried with them and they adopted the Canaanite gods, and fell into apostasy and the sorry, cyclical history of judgment, repentance, restoration, and apostasy again and again which comprises the bulk of the Old Testament Scriptures. However, this particular Canaanite woman was a believer of a sort. Seemingly, through the hearing of the Law and the Prophets, the Holy Spirit had created faith in her heart. And, for her faith, what did she receive, but ridicule and mockery from her countrymen, hatred and despising from the Jews and Jesus’ disciples, a demon-possessed daughter, and rejection and chiding from the Son of God Himself. As soon as faith is kindled and begins to burn and glow, Satan furiously seeks to stamp it out and destroy it. Indeed, God Himself begins to wrestle with you and pin you down and wound you that His power may be made perfect in your weakness.
For, it is not only Satan’s attacks upon us with which we struggle, but often God Himself struggles, wrestles, and strives with us, as He did with Job, and Jacob, and David, with Paul, and even with Jesus on the cross. Truly, as St. Luke records in The Acts of the Apostles, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Tribulations are good for you, for they drive you into more fervent and stronger faith, dependence, and trust in the LORD alone. Indeed, when you are at your weakest, God’s power is made manifest. Job’s trust was not destroyed, though God permitted Satan to reduce him to dust and ashes. Jacob’s faith was not crushed, but he held on to the LORD even when He afflicted him and sent him away limping in pain. David’s dependence upon God was increased as he faced seemingly insurmountable enemies and trials. And, St. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not removed, despite his pleas and prayers, even as he received the LORD’s grace to persevere and flourish in fruitful works and deeds.
We do not know exactly what the Canaanite woman believed about Jesus. The Canaanites were heterodox at best. They worshipped Baal and a host of other gods, and undoubtedly mixed a little bit of the Jewish religion in with their pantheon of gods. Nonetheless, she addressed Jesus by the Messianic title Son of David, which she had to have heard from the Law and the Prophets. Regardless of what she understood and the likely heterodoxy of her faith, it is clear that she believed that Jesus could help her, that He could exorcise the demon that oppressed her daughter. “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.”
We shouldn’t be surprised that there was demonic oppression and possession in Canaan, for Satan flourishes in lands and cultures where the LORD is not honored and His Commandments are not obeyed. Truly, there are no other gods, but all idolatry is the worship of demons. Foolishly does our own nation and culture believe that Satan and demons are not real, because we are an enlightened, scientific, and materialistic people. Indeed, we have fallen for the devil’s greatest deception, believing that he doesn’t exist. No, Satan and his demons are running rampant among us, perhaps even more so than in first century Canaan, for the devil does not need to make himself visible and obvious in a culture that so blindly immerses itself in all that is profane and immoral, hedonistic, wicked, and just plain evil. Today, people in our nation routinely call evil good and good evil. Demonic infestation, oppression, and possession are all too real and are regularly experienced even by Christians in their homes, churches, relations, and lives.
Why then did Jesus ignore, shun, and insult this woman of faith? Not to conquer her, but that He Himself might be conquered by her. Jesus put it another way elsewhere saying, “to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” The Canaanite woman had faith, faith that clung to Jesus even when He seemed to be against her. In fact, the more Jesus rejected her and chided her, the tighter she clung to Him, the more fervently she pleaded with Him, “Lord, have mercy on me!” “Lord, help me!” She would not let Jesus go until He blessed her. Truly, this Canaanite woman was also Israel, one who has striven with God and has prevailed. The Canaanite woman had faith, even if it was small and heterodox faith. Because she had faith, Jesus wrestled and struggled with her and even wounded her, and then He gave her even more faith, and He gave her what she pleaded for – He exorcised the demon from her daughter and He healed her saying, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” “To the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Faith trusts that what God ordains is always good, even when it seems to be bad, even when it seems like God has abandoned you, is not listening, doesn’t care, or seems to be the one who is afflicting you. “What God ordains is always good: He never will deceive me; He leads me in His righteous way, and never will He leave me. I take content what He has sent; His hand that sends me sadness will turn my tears to gladness.” “What God ordains is always good: His loving thought attends me; No poison can be in the cup that my physician sends me. My God is true; each morning new I trust His grace unending, my life to Him commending.” “What God Ordains is always good: Though I the cup am drinking which savors now of bitterness, I take it without shrinking. For after grief God gives relief, my heart with comfort filling and all my sorrow stilling.”
And so, God’s Word for you today is about faith and prayer: Faith that clings to the LORD come what may, and prayer that never wavers, even when it seems to go unanswered, or that God Himself is against you. Prayer is good for you, always. You don’t pray to get what you want. You don’t pray to change God’s mind. But, you pray because prayer is good for you. It’s a First Commandment thing. It is good for you to have no other gods but the LORD. You pray that God might change you, and He will, and He does. God will change you, God is changing you, through sorrow and suffering, through trial and tribulation, and ultimately through death – God is changing you back into the image in which He first made you, His image, the image of Jesus who is the express image and icon of God. Day by day, year by year, bit by bit, blow by blow, trial after trial, tribulation after tribulation – The LORD is chiseling you, carving you, shaping you, pruning you, forming you back into His image. It is a good thing! The LORD struggles with you, not to conquer you, but that He may be conquered by you. The LORD teaches you this day from His Word how to struggle with Him and conquer, that You may also one day, in His way, and in His time, be gloriously crowned and lead into His eternal kingdom. But a crumb from His table bestows forgiveness and life, and yet He gives loaves to those who trust in Him and do not let go. Come and eat the children’s bread from the Master’s table. Come and drink His precious blood of forgiveness and live. Let this be your desire. And, it will be done for you as you believe.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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