Friday, March 27, 2015

Sermon for 3/25/15: Lent 5 midweek (Wounds series)



The Wound of Mockery

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

The soldiers thought it funny, this Peasant pretending to be a king. They decided to have some fun with His apparent delusion. They began by taking His clothing. He had to stand there naked as they mocked Him. Then they found a scarlet robe and draped it over His shoulders. “There; now He is beginning to look like a king,” they joked. “But something is missing. He needs a crown!” And so, one of them thought up a crown for this peasant King from Galilee, a crown to teach Him a thing or two about His foolish dreams: a crown of entwining thorns. Hear the distant echo of those words of judgment God spoke to Adam in the Garden: “Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.” They smashed the crown down upon His head, and the thorns drew blood. His response was not what they had hoped for. He was silent to their taunts, the mockery, and the jeers.

Then someone came up with another missing item: “A king needs a scepter!” They scrounged around and found a reed, and put it in His hand. They stepped back to admire the finished product: blood running down His face from the thorns piercing His brow, His naked body barely covered with the scarlet robe, and a flimsy reed that flopped this way and that in His hand. “Behold, the man who would be king,” they said. Laughing with scorn, they fell on their knees. “Hail, King of the Jews,” they cried. Still, He looked on in silence as their mockery turned vicious. He would not play along with them, so He would pay. They began to spit on Him to show their utter contempt for Him. They took His scepter and whipped His head with it. “Some scepter. Some kingdom. You are nothing. You are about to die, King of the Jews!”

As He looked at them, these men missed the depth of His pity for them, for those who wounded Him with mockery, who tried to shame Him, who prepared to torture and murder Him. Look into His eyes, though, and you will see a depth of pity and love that will shake you to your core. It is a mere human trait, common to all of fallen humanity, to love your friends and to seek to do them good. But to love your enemies? To have nothing but pity and compassion for those who taunt you and are preparing to kill you? That is the mark of the heavenly Friend, our Lord Jesus Christ.
What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
There is no end to His love, His pity for them. The pity from the mocked King extends not only to those who tortured Him, but also to the entire human race, all of whom are complicit in His death. Only a few hours later, He would say: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Of course, the truth beyond all truths is that Jesus actually was King. Yes, Jesus was the long awaited Son of David. But even more, He was also the King of Gentiles and their Ruler. He is the One to whom the entire universe belongs. Every one of us, including those who mocked and shamed Him, owe our existence only to His will that we exist. You will never ponder the Passion correctly until you remember that a single thought from Jesus could have undone all those who sought His death; a single act could have destroyed us all. But all He returns is love, pity, and mercy. That is what fills Him. That is who Jesus is. And that is how He reigns as King. He rules in love: a love that hatred cannot conquer.

Jesus was determined to share fully in the lot we have chosen for ourselves. We were destined to lives of glory and majesty; that was what God wanted for us. But we threw all of that away and embraced instead the path of suffering and death. But He would not have that be our end. He came to walk that path as King so that, through His suffering, all that we lost might be restored to us again. Jesus was stripped of His clothing that our naked sinfulness might be clothed in the robe of His righteousness. He wore the crown of thorns, that we might wear the crown of eternal life. He was beaten and mocked, that we might be welcomed and treasured. The love of Christ overcomes all hatred and mockery, and remains love, so that a way would be opened for us to return from this misery of sin and death to the kingdom the Father planned for us from the beginning.

Jesus walked that suffering road in kingly fashion. None of the mockery can take from Him His majesty, His glory, His peace. He carries out every act of His Passion in burning love for the fallen race of men so that we might be restored. He chooses to lay down His life that we might live in Him. Such love on His part creates love on ours. That is why we sing:
O make me Thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.
Behold your King! Behold, beneath the blood and the blows, the eyes that look upon you with tender compassion. He does this for you, in undeserved love, that you would live with Him forever. 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.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sermon for 3/22/15: Lent V



Judgment and Truth

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

The devil is a liar, and he lies in order to murder. Jesus is the truth, and His Word is truth in order to save you from death. There is no middle ground. There is no gray area. You can have lies, sin, and death, or you can have truth, forgiveness, and life; devil or Jesus. But it's not for you to decide. Corpses don't get up on their own. They need to be raised from the dead. Sinners don't save themselves. They need to be saved. This is how the devil does his lying and murdering. He lied to Adam and Eve. His lies led to their unbelief. They stopped trusting in God's Word and they died. Jesus went toe to toe with the devil; but where we fail, He trusted in the Word for you. The devil seeks to possess you, corrupt you, destroy you. He seeks to bring you misery and sadness. Jesus comes to throw Satan down and save sinners. The devil seeks to hold sinners in slavery to sin. Jesus comes and sets you free. The devil wants you to believe God doesn't care about you and will abandon you when you need Him.

There's a war between the devil and God. You are the prize. Either the devil wins and keeps you in slavery and brings you to everlasting death, or else Jesus wins and saves us for everlasting life. There is no gray area, no middle ground. Those who hate Jesus are the sons of the devil. The devil is their Father of Lies. Jesus says simply that His Word is life. He was before Abraham. He is about the living, not the dead. That's enough to drive His enemies to stone Him...but not yet! He has to stand before the high priest and the governor. And He won't die by stoning but by crucifixion. We would have killed Jesus, too—not even so much because we want to do sins, though we do. Rather, it's our religion that will kill him. “I’m going to save myself. I’m going to be righteous and holy because I’m a good person! You can't tell me that I’m not a son of Abraham! Don't tell me I'm not a good Christian. By all that’s holy, I'm a lifelong Missouri Synod Lutheran! I’m much better than those other people all around who do those horrible things.” …That's what kills Jesus. But He dies because the Father of Lies has us trapped. He's captured and enslaved us. He's brought death to us. We're in serious trouble if Jesus doesn't save us. So that's what He does. His suffering and death at the hands of sinners is to do exactly that. The truth that gives life is that the Lord who is Truth dies. He dies. You live. He suffers lies so that you know the Truth that sets you free.

And it is His Word that means you will never taste death. Baptism means you will never taste death. Absolution means you will never taste death. The Good News of Jesus died and risen means you will never taste death. And the body and blood of Jesus means you will never taste death. "No," you say. “We're still going to die.” No. You're not. You will fall asleep. But you fall asleep in Jesus. That's not the same as death. Baptized into Christ, you fall asleep. And then, on the Last Day, He wakes you up. Death is forever: forever cut off from God, forever stuck forever with the Father of lies. His lie is that you die. The truth is you fall asleep. His lie is that you are a sinner doomed to die. The truth is that Christ has set you free. The same Lord who is before Abraham is the same Lord today: the same Jesus, the same Savior, the same Word that rescues you from death. Here you are, today, hearing Christ's Word. There will be no death for you! All you have is forgiveness and eternal life. When it's Jesus versus the devil, and you are the prize, Jesus won't let him win. His cross and empty tomb, His Water, Word and Supper—they are the weapons He wields, and He uses them to set you free. “And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sermon for 3/18/15: Lent 4 midweek (Wounds series)



The Wound of Betrayal

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

“Even if I must die with You, I will not deny You!” That is what Peter said to the Lord he loved. Peter could not imagine his love for Jesus ever being insufficient. But of course, the Lord knows what is in man. And in fallen mankind there is fear—fear of death above all. And fear of death is something the devil uses against us. So, the Lord tells Peter before it ever happens that it will happen. Not once, not twice, but three times Peter will be given the opportunity to confess his Lord. And not once, not twice, but three times, Peter will deny Him.

Among the wounds that afflicted our Lord during His Passion, surely the denial of His brash, but beloved, disciple, Peter, figures large. And who among us has not added to that wound? Opportunities to confess our Savior arise at every hand, yet how often we pass them by in silence. And our silence denies Him. Isn’t our fear the same? We fear the loss of a respect from others, for who can respect someone with such narrow views? We fear the loss of friendship, for who wants to befriend a religious fanatic? We fear the loss of our reputation, for what will others say about us if we become known for speaking up for the Lord? And thus, the silence, which is denial just as surely as saying, “I don’t know the man.”

But Jesus goes into His Passion to be wounded for our transgressions. Our denials of Him do not result in His denial of us. He has carried those denials into His death and, where we denied Him, He made the good confession before the high priest and before Pontius Pilate. Jesus did not let fear of anything deter Him, and we do well to ponder that truth. Though our Lord despised death, He did not fear it. He came into this world to destroy it. Indeed, He came among us to let death devour Him so that He would destroy death forever, and so that His faithful people would be set free from the slavery of sin and the fear of death.

Standing before Israel’s High Priest, Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. He knew He would give up His life on the cross, an offering and sacrifice to His Father, His blood blotting out forever the guilt of our sin and the sin of the whole world. And Jesus also knew, and rejoiced, that His Father would never abandon Him to the grave. Although death would take Him, He would break the bonds of death. Jesus did not fear death because He knew that death would not be the end of Him or of anyone who is joined to Him in faith.

To this point, Peter had only heard that Jesus would be raised from death. But now, before his eyes, he saw the Master in the hands of those who would turn Him over to be crucified. Peter’s heart trembled in fear. Rather than, in peace, confessing His Lord, in terror of death Peter denied Him. And as the fateful rooster crowed, he recalled how Jesus said it would be so, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Peter wept bitter tears for his own fear and sin and cowardice, but he did not despair. Here Peter differs from Judas. He saw the look in his Lord’s eyes when they took Jesus away, the look that said: “Remember, I told you that you would deny Me, and I was right; so you have. But remember that I also told you I would rise again, and I will be right about that, too! And I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith will not fail!”

Now, think of the man we meet on the other side of the Resurrection, on the Day of Pentecost. That same man, who crumbled in fear before the serving girl and her friends, boldly told the crowd that day: “This Jesus whom you killed by hanging on a tree God has raised from the dead, and we are all His witnesses.” What changed is the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit. And so it is with you and your baptism. There in the water you were drowned, placed into the tomb with Christ, and raised with Him as the guarantee of a life that will never end. In that water, the Holy Spirit descended on you even as He descended on Peter and the other disciples on Pentecost, transforming them from quivering cowards to bold confessors. What changed was the conviction of faith that Jesus truly had destroyed the power of death by enduring it Himself. And He has atoned for all our denials by His confession and His suffering for us.

Years later, the story goes, Peter was told that he had to sacrifice to the emperor and deny Jesus, or die. By the grace of God, he refused the emperor’s demand. He refused, and Peter went the way of his Lord. He, too, was crucified, though, according to a long Church tradition, upside down, because he did not feel himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Master. In the end, Peter looked the fear of death in the face. Peter’s prayer that day might have been what we sang only moments ago:
My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O Source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.
May we be so faithful when called upon to make confession, and may that be our prayer at the hour of death as well. 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.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sermon for 3/15/15: Lent IV


He Already Knows

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

The Lord already knows how He's going to take care of you. Are you going to trust Him and not worry about your future? Or are you going to get all worked up because you aren't sure how everything is going to play out? Jesus already knows how He's going to provide for this congregation. The question is, are we going to trust that He'll take care of things? Or will we get agitated because we think we have to figure it all out ourselves? This is our problem. This is our sin. We live as if we think the Lord is ignorant of what's going on in our lives. We get downright grumpy because we don't believe the Lord is paying any attention. Suddenly we're on a hillside after three days and there's nothing to eat. We're in the desert and wondering whether God just brought us there to starve. Is that how you live? Our ears are filled over and over with God's promises, but one thing comes along that we don't like and we stew about it for days, getting grumpy and complaining. We forget about God and ignore or mistreat our neighbor.

If you are ever in doubt as to whether the Lord will take care of you, then think of this account. Five thousand people are sitting there, and they need food. Jesus feeds them. It's that simple. Jesus knows what you need before you need it. He knows what you need even before you ask for it. And He still knows what you need even if you don't think He is going to provide it. And that’s not just true of food. Our real problem isn't that we're hungry. It's that we're sinners. It's that we are filled with unbelief. We don't think He can do anything about our sins. We don't ask Him to. We don't even know we need Him to. But He comes to save sinners.

There's a reason John mentions that the Passover was near. The Passover was coming when Jesus, the Lamb of God, the true Passover Lamb, would be killed so that we are set free from sin, from death. Today it's a hill with green grass. Soon it will be a hill covered with crosses and criminals and skulls. On the first Passover, the lamb dies. But because of the blood on the door, the Angel of Death passes over. On the final Passover, the Lamb of God dies. But because of His blood sprinkled on you in Baptism, the Angel of Death passes over. On the first Passover, the lamb dies and is eaten by the people. On the final Passover, Jesus dies, giving Himself to you in His Holy Supper. You head out into the world where nothing seems to go your way, where you don't think you'll have what you need, in which the devil and your flesh try to drag you into sin. And Jesus takes care of you.

We are in the midst of our own wilderness wanderings. But as we’re told in the 23rd Psalm, Jesus the Good Shepherd has led us to a place where we lay down in green pastures. Grass is where sheep graze. Grass means God's Word in this pasture called the Church. There’s plenty of grass here, plenty of the Word of God. He feeds you as much as you want. On the hills with Jesus, you are filled to bursting with bread and fish, and there's still more. That's how His forgiveness goes too. He gives you more than you need, more than enough to drown your sins. Jesus knows what you need before you need it. He'll give it to you before you ask for it, even when you don't know how He's going to do it. That's how He feeds five-thousand people. That's how He saves the world. With a Jesus like that, there’s no need to worry that you’ll have enough, no need to worry about being able to help your neighbor. After all, what is there to worry or complain about? Jesus gives you everything you need and then some. And not even your worry can keep Him from saving you. 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.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sermon for 3/11/15: Lent 3 midweek (Wounds series)

The Lent 2 midweek service was canceled due to inclement weather and horrible road conditions. This was the sermon meant to be preached that week. We're just moving all the sermons back a week, with the sermon that was supposed to be Lent 5 midweek preached on Maundy Thursday, since I originally had to import a stanza from TLH for O Sacred Head Now Wounded to fill Maundy Thursday.


The Wound of Apathy

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

Jesus didn’t want to be alone as He wrestled in prayer with His Father that night. How easily we forget that our blessed Lord was truly and fully human! He desired the comfort of companionship, the encouragement that comes from loved ones. And so, as Jesus leaves the larger group behind, He takes with Him His three closest friends: Peter, James, and John. He can no longer hold back the grief. “My soul,” He says, “is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me.” He stumbled a few steps further and landed on His face.

Before the eyes of His soul was the cup of suffering. To understand that cup, you must go back to the Old Testament. In Psalm 75, David said: “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and He pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” Isaiah later foretold of a time to come when that cup would pass from the people, to another. “Thus says your Lord, the Lord your God, who pleads the cause of His people: ‘Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of My wrath you shall drink no more.’”

And so, the cup that was set before Jesus for Him to drink, down to the bitter residue, was the cup that held the wrath of God: His wrath against all your rebellions, all your lovelessness, all your passing of judgment on others, all your selfish acts, all your indulging the flesh, all your spiritual apathy. That was set before Jesus, and He knew exactly where it would lead. Jesus quotes the prophet Zechariah: “(The Lord) will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” Make no mistake about: Jesus receives what is coming, knowing that it comes entirely from His Father.

None of us is nearly as frightened of hell as we should be. We have no clue about the terror of its emptiness and eternal loneliness. But Jesus knew. And before that reality, looking into that ultimate and eternal poison in the cup, He trembled. And why wouldn’t He? He trembled and begged His Father that, if possible, some other way may be found, some different approach, something other than what was in the cup before Him. He looked over the brim of that cup into its bottomless depths, and He shook in terror.

We sin so casually. “God will forgive,” we say. “He is loving and merciful and kind. Sin is really no big deal.” Go with your Lord this evening to Gethsemane, and see with your own eyes whether or not it’s a big deal. Look at Him as He shakes in terror before the sin we carelessly and foolishly choose for ourselves time and time again. And see Him as He lifts His eyes from the cup to the Father, and pleads for some other way. But then, see also how our Savior distinguishes Himself from all other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. See Him lower His eyes to the cup again, and say, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done.”

It has exhausted Him and terrorized Him, looking into that cup. And so, He turns back to His friends for the comfort they can give. But here, another wound strikes Him. As He has struggled with the terrors of death and hell for them, they have fallen asleep. He cries out, “Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We wound our Lord with our weakness, our apathy. We wound Him with our careless sinning. We add to the terrors of the cup He must drink. Surely Jesus’ word of warning will keep His disciples awake, and in prayer. The most terrifying events of their discipleship are only moments away now. Surely they will realize that, and pray. But, no. They are like us after all, or we are like them.

Jesus turns back and, again, struggles in prayer. Then He again returns for comfort from His friends and again encounters only apathy. They are sound asleep. He is all alone in this. He turns back for a final prayer. The sweat falls from his brow in great drops of blood as He bows to the Father’s will. He will do it; He will go forward to drink this cup. He will do so, trusting that, having experienced in Himself the penalty of our disobedience, His Father will not abandon Him forever. Look into the face of your Lord as He rises from prayer, and you see peace.

That peace came from His trust in His Father. To submit to the One who has loved you with an everlasting love is not terror, but joy, no matter how dark the path. In that peace, Jesus turned back to His disciples for the last time. Their apathy can wound Him no more; He is going forth to bear that sin, together with all their sins and the sins of the whole world. While they had slept, He had won the battle; He had won it alone! Now He would go forth to meet His betrayer. And He woke up His disciples so that they too might meet the terrors to come.

Seeing Him go forth to meet these terrors in peace, we sing, in astonished awe:
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinner’s gain.
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve Thy place.
Look on me with Thy favor,
And grant to me Thy grace.
As He looked in pity on His disciples, so Jesus looks in pity on us. Through His struggle to drink the cup and empty it forever, He shows us that He will never be apathetic about us. He who drained the cup can be counted on to save us completely. To Him be glory, with His all-holy Father and His life-giving Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sermon for 3/8/15: Lent III



Cast Out

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

Satan is no pushover. His army of evil demons and men will do everything it can to stop our salvation from happening. He started already when our Lord was barely even born, stirring up evil King Herod to try to kill Jesus. Throughout his life, Jesus encountered the devil and his powers. Satan went after Jesus directly in the wilderness. But Jesus doesn't give in to the devil's temptations and lies. He sends the devil packing by His Word. Every time the Lord throws a demon out of someone, the demon says Jesus is the Christ. The demons hate it, but they know. So the devil sends evil men—men who are full of their own religion, men who are so pious and holy they will kill an innocent man. It all seems like a perfect plan for Satan until we realize that this plan is exactly how the Lord is going to overcome the devil! By His bloody death, Jesus pays the price of the sins of the world, robbing the devil of his power to accuse us! By His descent into Hell, Jesus announces once and for all to Satan that his kingdom has fallen and his days are numbered! By His resurrection on Easter, Jesus throws down death itself and turns what was ruin and misery brought by the devil into our passing into eternal life. At every point, Jesus takes down the devil's power.

Beware, dear Christian! The devil is prowling like a roaring lion seeking to consume you. He has endless tricks up his sleeve to drag you away from Christ and your salvation. He sneaks his agents into the church, preaching and teaching what is false and wrong. He tells you that baptism is a good work we do to show that we're faithful to God. The devil works hard to keep you away from hearing God's Word. He sends preachers to say that the Christian faith is about prosperity and happiness instead of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. He tries to teach us that all religions are the same and then fills the world with false religions that all hate and fight one another. We are born into that kingdom of Satan. We are born into this world full of the sin of Adam. We are born enemies of God and lovers of ourselves.

And so, to rescue us from this kingdom and bring us into the kingdom that Christ won by His death and resurrection, the Lord must cast the evil one out of us. Did you know that you've undergone an exorcism? It was the day of your baptism. At that moment when you were born by water and the word, the finger of God cast out Satan and the kingdom of God came upon you. You've had the devil cast out of you. Make the sign of the cross, and Satan will remember your baptism and run away scared! When the devil brings your sins back to haunt you and trouble you and make you question whether you really are a child of God, then come and receive absolution, and wave that announcement of forgiveness in his face! When the devil tries to wear you down by throwing diseases and sickness and trouble and the prospect of death at you, then come and eat Jesus' body and drink His blood. If you have Jesus in you, then there's no way Satan can take you down. If the devil wants you, he's got to go through Jesus who lives in you and you in Him by His body and blood. With these gifts, the devil can't touch you! Ignore these gifts, despise them, and you have no defense against him. But with these gifts, have no doubt the devil can't stand to be near you and must run in fear when these gifts are given!

Lent is all about Jesus defeating the devil at every turn. His going to the cross and rising again means the devil's kingdom has been overthrown. But it's not just overthrown for Jesus. Satan’s defeat happens for your sake. By your baptism into Christ, His victory has become yours. The devil has been thrown down for you too. That doesn't mean he won't keep trying to tear you away from Jesus. But the Word and Sacraments that Christ gives you keep throwing the devil down. They are your shield and armor and weapons against the Evil One. As long as you are in Christ Jesus, the devil can't touch you. Jesus casts out demons by the finger of God. That same finger has touched you and cast out the devil. The kingdom of God has come upon you, and you are safe now in Christ Jesus. 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.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sermon for 3/1/15: Lent II



Hold On to Jesus

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

If you want to make sense out of the readings for the Sundays in Lent, you need to know that the Church Year, when it was put together many centuries ago, was designed in part as a period of instruction for those who were new to the faith. It was a period of teaching to prepare new Christians for their reception into the Church. The first Sunday in Lent introduced these new Christians to the devil, to let them know that there really is an enemy out there who is literally hell-bent on wiping out their faith in the God. The first Sunday in Lent issues a serious warning: expect to be tempted. The Word of God, however, has the power to defeat and drive away this enemy.

The second Sunday in Lent introduces new Christians to a phenomenon that older, seasoned Christians know very well. Not only do they have to deal with the devil roaring like a lion, looking for someone to devour, but they will also have to contend with another painful spiritual experience: getting what seems to be the cold shoulder from God. Many times we struggle and wrestle with God in prayer, much like the account of Jacob. And like Jacob, who never walked the same again after that wrestling match with God, we may well walk away from our struggle with God wounded. We cry out like the woman in today’s Gospel, and we feel ignored, excluded, insulted. But our text urges us not to give in to despair. That woman from Canaan is a living enactment of those words of our Lord: “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.

She came to Jesus. “Have mercy on me, O Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” One of Satan’s crew had grabbed hold of her daughter, filling that poor child with hatred and bitterness, with the rage and anger and resentment that is Satan’s stock-in-trade. And when she heard that the Great Healer had come into her area, it was like a gift from heaven. Never had anyone been known to cry out to Him in vain. And so, she ran to Him, and pleaded for her daughter.

But what treatment did she receive? “He did not answer her a word.” Even the disciples were shocked at how He treated her. They intervened on her behalf, but it did no good. He simply told them: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He knew she wasn’t one of the chosen people. But did she just slink away and give up? No! She fell down before Him and insisted: “Lord, help me!” Surely now He would help. But He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” He didn’t just tell her that she was not one of the chosen people. He told her she was a dog. In other words, she was completely unworthy of the bread He was sent to give to His people. But she acknowledged the truth of what He said. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” She was only asking for crumbs.

Like Jacob, she would not let go of the Lord until He blessed her. She let herself be emptied of every claim, and yet still she threw herself on His mercy. And she was not disappointed: “‘O Woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire!’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” You see, this is His way to test those who come to Him; that is the truth! He teaches you the long and hard way not to rely on yourselves or on your feelings or how you think things should be going in your life. In this way He teaches you to trust in Him and His great love and mercy. He does this, strangely enough, by giving you the cold shoulder.

This woman didn’t even know the whole story—at least, not like you know it. And yet, she would not let loose of Him! How much more reason, then, do you have to not give up on Him? After all, you know where His love landed Him: on the cross, laden with your sin! You know how He spilled His blood to wipe out your sin and undo your death and deliver to you the gift of eternal life. Every time we hear His Word, every time we receive the Holy Communion of His body and blood, we are eating the crumbs from His table. And we are made ever more certain that the God who would do this for us can be trusted, absolutely, not to deny us or forsake us in the end, no matter what sorrow we may know right now, no matter what pain we may be having to bear right now, no matter what temptation we may be facing right now.

Hold on to Jesus; keep praying; keep asking; no matter what happens. And remember, always, that He uses that cold shoulder to bless you. As St. Paul said: “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” 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.