Sunday, March 8, 2020

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.
Your Lord Jesus teaches you a hard lesson in the Sermon on the Mount: “I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” And, then, He continues saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is a hard saying, indeed, particularly in these days when “your enemies” drive you out of your home and your village, enslave your wives and daughters, and relish to make a spectacle of cutting off your head, crucifying you, or burning you alive. Truly, it is very hard to love your enemies and to do good to those who hate you.
But, what if it is the LORD who is your enemy? What if it is the LORD who permits cancer to wrack your body, unemployment or underemployment to reduce you to dependence upon the charity of others, or who takes your child, or your husband, or anyone you love from you in sudden and violent death? The LORD would never do such a thing, you say? No? Well, just ask Job, or Jacob, or St. Paul, or, how about Jesus Himself. The LORD may not directly cause the suffering and tribulation that befall you and those you love, but He, nevertheless, does permit them to befall you. Indeed, Satan had to ask God’s permission in order to afflict Job. The LORD permitted Satan to take everything from Job, even his own physical health, just shy of killing him. And, it was none other than the LORD Himself, or, the Angel of the LORD, who wrestled all night with Jacob, finally putting his hip out of socket. Yes, Jacob got his blessing, but he limped away permanently wounded. Likewise, St. Paul pleaded three times with the LORD that He would remove the “thorn in his flesh” which afflicted him as a “messenger of Satan to harass” him. The LORD refused, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.” And, it is. It truly is.
Perhaps the Canaanite woman understood and believed this best. She didn’t ask for a blessing. She didn’t ask for healing. She didn’t ask for relief. But, what did she ask the Lord for? She asked the Lord for mercy. Above all else, she believed that the Lord was merciful. However, she also believed and knew that He owed her nothing. That is why she asked for mercy. If the Lord would only show her mercy, it would be enough. His grace would, indeed, be sufficient for her. But, the Lord didn’t answer her a word. He ignored her. Are there not times when the LORD seems to ignore your prayers? Indeed, there are. Mine too. Still, she persisted in crying out to Him and to His disciples. Finally, He did answer her saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” How’s that for an answer? It was better when He said nothing, right? Yet, even this rebuke did not deter her, but she came and she knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” Now, it’s important to note that the Greek word that is translated here as “knelt” is the same word that is translated “worshipped” in other places. So, the Canaanite woman knelt down and worshipped Jesus. Like the tax collector in the temple, the thankful leper, and a myriad of others suffering from various diseases, conditions, and demon possession, she asked for nothing more or other than mercy. However, once again, Jesus rebuked her saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Ouch! That one had to cut to the heart! A little study of first century Jewish culture reveals that the Jews hated the Canaanites, and that “dog” was a common derogatory term the Jews used to call the Canaanites.
But, here’s where the Canaanite woman’s faith truly shines. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t care what Jesus calls her. She knows He’s right. She is a dog, an unworthy dog, a dog sinner. And, moreover, Jesus knew that she freely confessed this of herself from the beginning. That’s why she only asked for mercy, for mercy is when God does not give us the bad things that we deserve for our sins. She knew that she was a poor, miserable sinner and that all that she deserved was temporal and eternal punishment, therefore, she pleaded for mercy, she prayed for mercy, in her worship of the Lord. “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” She had great faith in Jesus, that He was merciful. Her desire was for His mercy. Therefore, she received mercy – the Lord did not give her what she deserved, but He gave her what she did not deserve. That is grace, when God gives us the good things that we do not deserve. “Return to the LORD your God,” whether He ignores you, rejects you, or insults you, “for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
Jesus was for her, even when He was against her. And, Jesus is for you, even when He may seem to be against you. Paul Gerhardt expresses this concept so perfectly in his hymn “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me” saying, “When life’s troubles rise to meet me, though their weight may be great, they will not defeat me. God, my loving Savior, sends them; He who knows all my woes knows how best to end them.” Yes, you must accept the fact that, when you suffer trials and tribulations, “God, your loving Savior, sends them,” but, you must also trust that, because He sends them, they are also good for you in some way in which, perhaps, only God will ever know. Why is that? Because God is good. God is the very standard and measure of goodness. If anything is good, it is only good in relation to God. And, so, as blessed Luther has taught you, you must not call good evil, and evil good, but you must call a thing, simply and plainly, what it is. This is the Theology of the Cross, and this is the theology of Jesus. Suffering is, simply and plainly, that, suffering. God is not the cause of suffering, but He is the God and Master of suffering. That is to say that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” But, let’s face it, the way of escape the LORD provides is sometimes death. But, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that is precisely what death has become, a “way of escape.” For, if even death cannot hold you, then what have you to fear? And so, you face your trials and your tribulations, you face suffering, you even face death, in faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, that you may endure it. Moreover, you face these enemies in the sure and certain knowledge that God is the Master of them, and that He uses them for your good, and for the good of His children, often in ways we cannot imagine or know, in and through His Son, your Savior, Jesus Christ.
That is why St. Peter exhorts you saying, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, […] For, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that Name. […] Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” The point is that the LORD will enable you to persevere, to hold on, through suffering, and to not let go of Him – just like Jacob while the LORD wrestled with him all through the night, even putting his hip out of socket causing him lifelong disability and pain; and, just like the Canaanite woman who, even though Jesus ignored her, rebuked her, and insulted her, refused to let go, but cried out saying, “Yes, Lord, You’re right! I am a dog sinner. But, Lord, even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Master’s table.”
Truly, a crumb from the Master’s table is all that you need to persevere in this life, and to live forever thereafter. His grace is sufficient for you. Yet, your merciful and gracious LORD gives you so much more than that! He gives you His own body as bread to eat, and His own blood as wine to drink, not crumbs, but all of Himself, the very Bread of Life Himself, whose flesh and blood bestow the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to all who eat and drink and believe. Apart from Him, you can do nothing, but with Him, you are “able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Moreover, when you suffer, you participate in Christ’s sufferings, who suffered for you. Even more still, He is with you now to strengthen you and to be your strength. You can bear all things through Him who strengthens you. You can endure all things through Jesus who is your strength.
To be a Christian is not to have all things go easily for you. You know that the Lord never promised such a thing, but He promised the complete opposite saying, “If you would be my disciple, you must take up your cross and follow me.” But, to be a Christian is to bear all things, to bear your God-appointed cross, in patient hope and trust in the LORD who has promised to be with you always, to preserve and keep you through life and death, and to bestow upon you life that never ends. He, who has borne the cross for you, will strengthen you to bear your God-appointed cross through the valley of the shadow of death, which He has already traversed, through death, which He has already defeated, into life forever in His Father’s house. It’s not about success. It’s not about prosperity. It’s not about piety. But, it’s about faith and trust in the LORD and in His Word, even when He seems to be against you. He is never against you, but He is always for you. Even when He sends trial, tribulation, and suffering, He is for you. Don’t let go, but cling to Him always. He will bless you. Even if it sometimes hurts, He will bless you. He loves you, and He loves you so much that He will do whatever is necessary to have you as His own, even permitting you to suffer pain and loss. Christ be your strength through life and death. Christ be your sustenance along the way. Christ be your one thing needful, even your life.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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