Sunday, February 25, 2018

Reminiscere - The Second Sunday In Lent

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.
Reminiscere, remember – That is the name of this Second Sunday in Lent. In today’s Introit we called upon our LORD to remember, to remember His mercy and His steadfast love for us. The words come from Psalm 25, but they appear regularly throughout the Scriptures, both in the Old and the New Testaments. But, does God need us to call Him to remember? Is it even possible that God could forget? No, of course not. Nevertheless, your LORD and God wants you to call upon Him. He wants you to remind Him of His mercy and His love, and of the promises He has made to you, not because He has forgotten, mind you, but because this is your faithful worship and praise, and because you are His creatures, His children, and He loves to hear you call upon Him. Like a loving father, your heavenly Father loves to have His children remind Him of His love for them, for then He can see that you remember that He has been loving and merciful in the past and that He has promised to be loving and merciful today and tomorrow until there are no more tomorrows. No, your LORD does not forget, but you do, I do, we do. Therefore, it is good for us to remember, and we do so today by calling upon our Lord to remember, to remember His mercy and His steadfast love for us.
And, what we are to remember most of all is that the Word of our LORD endures forever, it cannot fail, and God always keeps His promises. Therefore, even when things seem very, very dark and evil, when you don’t know what to do and cannot see any way out of your troubles, remember that the Word of the LORD endures forever, it cannot fail, and God always keeps His promises. However, that does not mean that you will not face trial and tribulation. Indeed, your Lord Jesus assures you that you will, that you must! More than that, however, you have to wrestle with the fact that God permits these trials to fall upon you. It is His will, even if it is alien to His true nature of love. Sometimes God permits you to reap the fruit of your sinful sowing that you might despair and repent and receive His grace once again. Other times, He sends you tribulation to test you, to discipline you, to strengthen you in faith. As St. Paul confesses, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Today’s propers provide us a couple of examples of faith in the midst of trial and tribulation – trial and tribulation at the hands of our God and LORD! In the Old Testament reading, the patriarch Jacob, fleeing his brother Esau after having deceived his father Isaac and stolen his brother’s blessing – which was none other than the covenantal blessing of God to Abraham – wrestled with a man all through the night. As the men wrestled, however, we learn that it was no mere man who wrestled with Jacob, but it was God Himself, or, more precisely, it was the Angel of the LORD, the Second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, our pre-incarnate Savior. Although Jacob did not pick this fight, he was prevailing, effectively pinning the LORD to the ground. Then the man, God that is, did something surprising and unthinkable – He touched Jacob’s hip and put it out of socket! Jacob had Him pinned and would not let Him go, so God intentionally, willfully hurt Jacob, crippling him, putting his hip out of socket! The pain must have been intense! But, still, Jacob would not let Him go despite his pain and the LORD’s pleading, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But, Jacob held on tight and answered the LORD, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And, the LORD did bless Jacob, and He changed His name to Israel, which means “one who has wrestled with God and has prevailed.” Then Jacob named the place where the LORD had blessed him Peniel, which means “face of God,” saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared.”
Not only did the LORD permit trial, tribulation, and suffering to come upon Jacob, but He Himself was the one who afflicted him! What you must learn from this is that, when trial, tribulation, and suffering come your way, whether they come from your own misdeeds, from the sins of others, or because God permits them to come upon you, or even sends them Himself, like Jacob, you must hold on to God, His Word, and His promises and not let go without His blessing. This idea is captured well in a hymn we’ll sing in a bit called “What God Ordains Is Always Good”: “I take content, what He has sent, His hand that sends me sadness will turn my tears to gladness.” “No poison can be in the cup that my physician sends me.” “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.” In this regard, we may also consider Job, whom God permitted the devil to afflict tremendously, just short of taking his life. After Satan took his wealth, his children, and his health, Job confessed, “The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.” Whether the LORD is in a giving mode, or a taking away mode, nothing has changed, but the LORD is still good, loving, merciful, gracious, and righteous. Similarly, Jesus prayed three times that His Father would take the cup of His wrath away from Him and find some other way to redeem His people. Nevertheless, Jesus submitted to His Father’s will to crush Him.
Then, in our Gospel reading today, Jesus and His disciples were approached by a Canaanite woman, a Gentile, who pleaded for Jesus to heal her demon-oppressed daughter. The woman addressed Jesus as “Lord” and as “Son of David,” and she pleaded for mercy. Although the Scriptures state that the LORD hears and answers the prayers of the faithful, Jesus did not acknowledge or answer the woman’s plea. When the disciples appealed to Jesus to help her so that she would go away and leave them alone, Jesus answered them saying that He was not sent for the likes of her, but for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” First He ignored her, and then He said that He wasn’t for her. Many would have given up and gone away insulted or demoralized, but not this Gentile woman. Again she pleaded with Jesus, “Lord, help me.” This time Jesus answered her with a proverb saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Directly or indirectly, the Lord answered the woman this time with an insult. Indeed, there are times when it seems that God does not hear our prayers, or that He doesn’t care. And, there are even times when it seems that the LORD Himself is the source of our trouble. What do you do when it seems that God is ignoring you, that God doesn’t care, or that God is Himself against you? You do what Jacob did; you do what the Canaanite woman did; you hold on all the more tightly; you refuse to let God go without a blessing. The woman countered Jesus’ proverb with a proverb of her own: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus praised her for her faith, faith that He knew and saw in her all along. Because she had faith that would not let Him go, even when He ignored her, said that He wasn’t sent for her, and called her a dog, Jesus gave her a blessing, He healed her daughter and set her free. The Canaanite woman showed herself to be a true Israelite, one who “struggles with the LORD and overcomes.”
When you face trial and tribulation, hardship, difficulty, disease, and death, remember. Remember the faithfulness and the steadfast and unchanging love and mercy of the LORD. Cling to the LORD and His Word and promises and do not let go. Never let Him go without a blessing. For, He will bless you, no matter what. In fact, even your tribulation and suffering He makes a blessings as He works all things for the good of those He has called according to His purpose. Therefore, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” And, remind the LORD of His love and mercy. Remind the LORD of His promises in Jesus Christ. Call the LORD to remember, not because He forgets, but because He wants you to hold Him to His Word and not let go. Like Jacob, He has given you a new name as well, “My son. My daughter. My child.” Therefore, come now to your Father’s table where you are invited to eat, not just crumbs, but the very Bread of Life given for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, and for protection from the assaults of the Evil One. And, then, go, His children, forgiven and with His blessing, and be His blessing to others in your lives, words, and deeds, to the glory of His holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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