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.

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