Monday, March 05, 2012

Sermon for 3/4/12--Lent II (LSB 1-year)



When Faith is Frustrated

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

The willingness with which Jesus performed miracles is one of the most comforting truths in the Gospels. We see His gracious power in all of those frustrations that enter human life. Nothing holds back His healing and restoring hand when He chooses to use it. He did not even have to be physically present. The centurion’s servant, as you may recall, was healed by a Word of Jesus spoken some distance from where the servant actually was. Jesus never went out of His way to show off His ability to perform miracles, but He was usually quite ready to answer any sincere request made of Him.

Then comes today’s Gospel reading. A mother comes to Him on behalf of her daughter and, much to our surprise, Jesus has nothing to say to her! In addition to His silence, the disciples even try to send her away. She might well have been ready to add faith to the list of her own frustrations. Certainly, in her life at this point she knew the frustration that, at times, comes with faith. What makes this text frustrating to us is that it seems out of character for Jesus. When Mary asked how it could be that she could bear a Son without a husband, the angel told her that nothing was impossible for God. The disciples were told the same thing time and again when talking about salvation: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” And when you stop to think of it, isn’t that message of vital importance to our life of faith? What would be the basis for prayer if God were limited in His ability to answer us? If one is going to have faith in God, isn’t it because we expect God to be almighty? This woman, crying out to Jesus, was looking at just such a God. He was almighty. And yet, this God seemed to turn a deaf ear to her. Could there be a greater frustration than having the One who is able to do something not willing to even listen? It would be like knowing about a great scientist who has a cure for cancer, and then finding that he is not willing to share that cure.

What does one do in frustration? Some would be soon convinced that it is all fake. There is nothing to this thing called faith. What is the use of having a God who won’t do anything? Maybe there is another god out there who better fits what a god should be. But the real frustration is that the evidence is so overwhelming. God is God! He is an almighty God! And that is the God to which this woman makes her plea. The very title she uses to address Him makes this clear: “Lord, Son of David.” Even though she was not a descendant of Abraham, still she knew about a Savior who was to come into this world. Here was faith in the true God, the One who could take care of her problem, if He only would. But He didn’t seem to be listening.

What was the reason for the silence? Some would turn away, convinced that there was something wrong with their faith; they would find the cause of Jesus’ silence in themselves. This thought nags at the heart of many more than we may know. Whatever the problem has been, the bottom line is always this: “I deserve to get a cold shoulder, and that is why God is not listening.” And then, often, it is quietly added: “That is why I don’t pray any longer.” When that happens, we have lost sight of the example of this woman. Not only did she know who Jesus was, she knew who she was. She didn’t deserve to come to Him. His mission was not to heal every disease in the world. He had come as the Savior of the world. His death would be for the forgiveness of sins for the entire world, Jew and Gentile alike. But Jesus was sent first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The fact that they refused Him was quite beside the point. God’s decree was going to be accomplished; that had not changed because the Jews had rejected Jesus. This woman was not one of the chosen people. She had no claim on Jesus, either by birth or by blood. Still, she would not be silenced. She was convinced that Jesus could and would do what she asked of Him.

How does one dare to approach God? When we cannot argue on the grounds of what we have deserved, we make our plea on the mercy of God alone. That was exactly what she did. “Have mercy upon me;” those were her very words. When one comes into the presence of God, it is never from a position of strength or advantage to make demands. If we demand justice from Him, then we must be willing to submit ourselves to His completely impartial and righteous justice. Who could stand that? But, if we are willing to seek His mercy, then we find God to be a merciful God. And such was the plea of this woman: mercy—totally undeserved; mercy—asking not for riches, but only for crumbs; mercy—knowing that even crumbs from the hand of God are treasures for those who receive them. And because we know the value of God’s mercy, just as she knew it, we keep on repeating our pleas, even as the Lord waits for the right time to answer. Hearing the words of Jesus, her faith was confirmed. He indeed does what is best for His children. She was certain her case had been heard. The anxious moments of waiting were past; her request was granted.

But should we take her example and make it our own? Yes! That is what “Amen” means; “it shall be so.” That was the assurance offered by St. Paul, when he wrote: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also freely give us all things?” If we want to know whether God is merciful, then let us look at the measure of grace He offers us at Calvary. Let the blood shed there wash away any doubt you may have. A God who is willing to go to such lengths to care for the needs of your soul is not going to be unconcerned about your physical needs. He may, at first, seem silent, but continue to bring your requests to Him; bring them to Him frequently and fervently in prayer, and do not doubt. He will grant what is best for you, and at the right time, what you requested or something even better. The apostle James knew he was writing a timeless truth when he said: “You have not because you have asked not.” Far too often we are ready to say, “I have asked God, but He is silent; I’ll not bother Him again.” But that is to lose out on the treasures of His mercy. Take the example of one who knew of whom she asked—and asked again and again, and then, at the right time, she received. You, too, have a God who wants to show you His great mercy! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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