11th Sunday After Pentecost August 16, 2020

Pent 1120 – “The Persistence of Faith!” Matthew 15:21-28

      Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

      The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St Matthew, the 15th Chapter.

      “21Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

      These days are indeed troubled times. This past week we heard of wars and rumors of wars taking place on the streets of major cities in our country. We heard of earthquakes in places that had not known such happenings for many decades. We are facing a rise in cases of COVID virus infection. People are inciting violence in once quiet communities.

      In addition to everything going on outside our homes, there is trial and trouble within our homes. Having to be sequestered and quarantined has put a strain on many families. Individuals have become pressured by the isolation to become despondent and wearied of their situation. There is a sense of loss and perhaps even hopelessness for some. There is a bleakness that seems overbearing.

      Our time is not the only time when bleakness loomed on the horizon. Such times are experienced in ever generation. We see such a time and bleakness for the Canaanite woman who seeks relief from her trials at home. Her daughter is possessed by an evil spirit. Such possession weighs heavy on her heart and home. There is desperation in her pleading with Jesus. She is looking for a measure of relief not for herself, but for her afflicted daughter.

      If you were to only look at this account superficially you would not recognize the mercy of Jesus poured out upon this woman and her daughter. You would only see Jesus as mean-spirited and condescending. Look at how he first treats this woman. Jesus does not respond to her pleading. In fact he continues to do what he is doing and gives no indication that he heard her pleas for mercy.

      There is a need for mercy to be shown. Listen to the woman’s pleading. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David, my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Why has this woman approached Jesus and pleaded for His mercy? She is in great need and so is her daughter. She cannot address, heal or cure the spiritual trauma that is being wrought in her home. The demon possessing her daughter resists her vain attempts rid her daughter of its presence. Who knows what else she has tried? Whatever it was, the need for divine intervention is sorely needed.

      Would that we had divine intervention today for our afflictions. The evil acts being perpetrated today need a strong hand to bring them under control. Each week we offer prayers in this place that God would turn the hearts of all to repentance and restraint. We pray for God to bring peace to troubled communities, and to restore what has been destroyed or marred by sin.

      This woman’s life was marred by sin. Her daughter is possessed by a demon and in torment. It is not said how the daughter became possessed, for this is not the important issue. What is important is how and where the woman seeks help for her daughter. First the woman takes responsibility for her daughter. She cries out to Jesus to show her mercy. Her daughter’s demon possession is her demon possession. To have help and healing for her daughter is to have her own help and healing.

      This is how we need to see the world around us. We cannot separate our lives from the lives of our neighbors, family or friends. Such thinking is in agreement with the word community. Community is the name we give to the place in which we live. What happens in our community affects our lives just as much as the neighbors who live around us. We take responsibility for the nurture, care and keeping of those who live with us in the community. Such thinking extends to the city in which live, the county, the state and the nation.

      The woman seeks mercy not from the hands of men, but from the hand of God. Perhaps she has exhausted the cures and treatments of men. It is quite evident that what she had done in the past and the help she had sought in the past was ineffective. Having exhausted those avenues, she turns to the Son of David for aid and mercy. Surely, this Jesus who cast out demons from others will hear her cries and grant her pleas.

      Yet, Jesus walks on giving no outward attention to this woman and her need. What is the reason for this treatment by Jesus? His silence is rather harsh and hard to understand. It is not that Jesus cannot help this woman. Certainly, Jesus is able to help. He chooses not to help. In this choice there is a twofold lesson to be learned. One part of the lesson is for the woman. The other part of the lesson is for the disciples and all who follow.

      The disciples appear to pick up on Jesus’ reason for denying immediate help and mercy for this woman. She is undaunted in her plea for mercy. She continues in her persistence to seek the hand of God for her daughter. Yet Jesus continues to remain silent. The disciples consider her little worth their time. They begin to plead with Jesus as well.. they take it upon themselves to instruct Jesus with regard to this woman. They are telling Jesus to give the woman what she wants and send her away.

      There is little or no mercy in the disciples’ response. They are concerned with the scene that is taking place and not with the need that is presented. They still have much to learn about compassion and mercy for those who are lost and weighed down under the burden of sin and oppression of the forces of evil. Their view is not of the heart but of the outward marks and signs of this world. Jesus works to reveal this truth to those who will be entrusted with the grace and mercy of God.

      We are no different in our day. We are sometimes only concerned with what we see on the surface and do not discern the deeper issues. We are attracted to slogans and soundbites. We do not want to dig for the truth that lies hidden beneath the surface. This is a dangerous attitude and practice to hold in our times. Especially in this year of turmoil and trial, we must discern truth from deception.

      Where do we find truth? Whose truth do we hold? What truth do we act upon? Who is abiding in truth? All of these questions will be answered in the days to come. Our nation will elect a candidate to lead our nation. All of the answers are laid out for us in the guide given us by our Lord. The Word of God is that guide.

      The Word of God does not suggest a party for whom we are to vote. Rather there is a standard against which we measure those who run for office. St Paul reminds us in Romans 13 these officials are God’s representatives on earth. Therefore the people we choose need to reflect the will of God in their words, decisions and leadership.

      The disciples did not reflect this truth in their lives. They had in mind the will of men. Jesus brings them to see the will of God judges the heart. He continues with words that seem to agree with their thinking. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Yet, these words serve to heighten Jesus’ will and purpose.

      The woman persists in her plea for mercy. She cannot move Jesus to look at her, so she forces Jesus to look at her. She falls down at His feet and continues her plea for mercy. Now Jesus will not ignore her. So he does speak directly to her. Jesus declares her to be unworthy of God’s mercy. She is called a dog, an unclean and forbidden animal. An unclean and forbidden animal unworthy of the food from God’s hand.

      Undeterred in her quest, the woman confesses two unimpeachable truths. First, she confesses her unworthiness to be shown God’s mercy. Such is our confession each week in this house of God. She confesses she is indeed a poor, miserable sinner who is unworthy to stand before God. Secondly, she confesses her trust that God need only give a small amount of mercy to one so unworthy. She asks only for the leavings from the table of God’s presence. She asks for a crumb that falls from the table and it will be enough.

      How has God responded to your prayers in the past? When did those responses come to you? Did is seem as if God was not listening? Did it seem as if you were unworthy to be heard by God? Did you question God’s love for you? Did you wonder why you should keep praying and pleading for God’s mercy? Did you begin to think you were asking too much? Did you begin to think that your plea was too small for God to bother? Did you consider that God was proving your faith?

      It is what Jesus does for the woman in the text? He did not ignore her plea for mercy. His ears were not deaf to her supplication. His eyes were not blind to the need of her daughter. He was not slow in responding to the prayer for relief and the need for healing. Jesus desires faith to be strengthened and hope to be true. Notice Jesus never said no, but only drew the woman closer to her God with His merciful silence.

      Jesus wants us to despair of this world’s security and seek the security that comes from God. Jesus wants us to seek salvation from the hand and word of God, and trust not in the princes of this world. Jesus wants us to continue to plead for our needs and the needs of our neighbor. Jesus wants us to trust those needs will be met by God’s mercy. Such mercy need not be spectacular. It need only be a small measure of God’s love and compassion. A crumb that falls from our Lord’s table.

      In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen