Pentecost 11 Sermon 2017

The Canaanite woman symbolizes the epitome of spiritual poverty. Christ and the Gospel are entirely for the poor. This is what she sees in Christ and why he calls her faith great. I got the thoughts for this sermon from Luther’s sermon on the same text for Lent 2.

Pentecost 11 sermon Matthew 15:21-28

  • In today’s story, Jesus acts nothing like we expect him to act.
  • He seems nothing like a Savior.
  • He presents himself as unresponsive & cold,
    • perhaps even cruel.
  • It is not true that he is unresponsive or cold or cruel or rejecting or aloof.
  • But he acts like it in this story.
  • This is for our benefit,
    • because this is a common experience.
  • It might be your experience.

  • People often experience God as unresponsive & cold, far away & dead.
  • Their prayers are not answered.
  • It might seem like there is no one listening to their prayers.
  • They might have very little in their experience that they can honestly call a relationship with a Living God.
    • or an experience of a Living God.
  • Believing in God seems like make-believe.
  • As someone once asked me, “How do I know Jesus is not my imaginary friend?”

  • When people are in this situation they often conclude it is their own fault.
  • That they need to do something in order to make God responsive.
  • They might try different things, like:
    • going to Church,
    • praying,
    • reading the Bible,
    • doing good works for others,
  • but try as they might they are unable to get that feeling
    • which they count
    • as having a relationship with a Living God.
  • Some people, when they fail to get the feeling,
    • or whatever evidence they seek
    • to convince them that God is responsive
  • conclude that God is bad, immoral, unhelpful, evil.
  • God does not answer good, genuine prayers.
  • God apparently does nothing to curb evil in the world.
  • Many people try to punish God
  • (although they might not call it that) 
    • by simply deciding God is nothing at all.
  • There is no reality called God.
  • God is a delusion
  • and a bad one at that.   
  • There are some people who claim the God thing works for them.
  • They pray and then feel better,
  • go to church & feel better,
  • walk a spiritual path and they feel better.
  • They say it works for them.
  • This story does not describe the experience of those people.
  • The Canaanite woman is nothing like them.
  • Things are not working for her.
  • The disciples in this story are perhaps more like the people for whom the God thing is working.
  • But this story is not about the disciples–
    • who, incidentally Jesus usually calls
    • “you of little faith”
  • This story is about the Canaanite woman
    • whom Jesus calls the opposite of little faith —
    • GREAT FAITH!
  • So we want to look at her & her interaction with Jesus.
  • As the Savior Himself says,

Those who are well have no need of a physician, only the sick.

  • And as we are constantly reminded in the preaching,
    • the Gospel of Jesus Christ is entirely for the poor.
  • This Canaanite woman is poor.
  • You would not walk down 1st Ave & run into a Prussian.
  • Why? Because there are no more Prussians.
  • I mean, no one is called that anymore.
  • Same with Canaanites in Jesus’s day.
  • There really were no people called Canaanites.
  • Long centuries back — clear back in Exodus,
    • Canaanites were the sworn enemy of God’s people.
    • That’s long since past.
  • To call the woman a Canaanite is to mark her as the perfect example of an outsider — NOT God’s child.
  • Vs  21 — Jesus & his disciples are in the district of Tyre and Sidon which have the reputation of being godless places.
  • Suddenly there appears on the scene,
    • the epitome of Not-God’s-Child —
    • a Canaanite woman–
    • screaming at Jesus for help.
  • Great word for screaming =  ἔκραζεν
  • Same word as last week when the disciples screamed b/c they thought Jesus was a ghost!
  • This screaming Canaanite woman is really offering a prayer
  • but it is prayer in an unpleasant, undignified, desperate tone.
  • she screams:

“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”

  • Jesus ignores her.
  • He pretends not to hear.
  • Does not acknowledge her presence
    • or her suffering. 
  • Many people have this dreadful, disheartening experience:
  • suffering with no one to acknowledge it.
  • Praying, but hearing no answer.
  • Maybe you.
  • You’d think Jesus would acknowledge it,
  • But, no, he ignores this woman completely. 
  • The disciples sort of pray for her.
  • Vs 23 — They petition Jesus to at least acknowledge her by sending her away.
  • Why? Not because of her suffering,
    • but because she is unpleasant,
  • her prayer is unpleasant
  • and her suffering is unpleasant,
  • (although she could make it a bit more pleasant for others
    • if she would shut up or go away or both.)
  • Do we in the church ever act like these disciples?
  • Jesus does not grant the prayer of the disciples either. Vs 24

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

  • He basically just explains to the disciples what they already know:
    • the cold truth about the situation of this Not-God’s-Child.
  • She has no claim on God’s help at all.
    • No right to it — no right to ask for it.
  • God has made no promises to her or her people.
  • She is not one of God’s chosen.
  • God did not free her ancestors from slavery in Egypt.
  • She does not have the heritage of the Jews.
  • She’s really poor!
  • As Paul says in Ephesians, she is 

without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12)

  • This explanation, that God’s promises were not for her,
  • did not deter her,
  • although it is the greatest blow I can imagine.
  • God has made promises —for other people —
  • not for me.
  • This is how many people experience the preaching:
  • that Christ is for other people —
    • people for whom this God thing works —
  • but not for them.
  • Beloved friends, Christ is FOR you!
  • You can do nothing to make it work for you.
  • X has already done all that is needed.
  • It is for you already!
  • The Holy Communion says it to YOU each week.
    • “This is my Body given…FOR YOU!”
    • “This is my blood shed for YOU!”
  • Rely on that promise
  • rather than how you assess the promise.
  • Imagine how this Not-God’s-Child felt hearing Jesus say solemnly that the promises are only for Israel
    • and she knows she is not in that category!
  • But behold!
  • Instead of frightening her off or silencing her it seems to have emboldened her. (Vs 25)
  • She got right up to Jesus:

25…she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.

  • It is a mystery to me how she could do this! But she did it!
  • Jesus’s response seems a yet a more terrible blow — vs 26

it is not appropriate (“fair” is a bad translation) to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.

  • IOW, It is inappropriate to give to the unworthy what is intended for their betters.
  • Undeterred, she sees in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh,
    • the possibility of a YES
    • buried amid all the NO-seeming answers.
  • Despite what she sees she does not conclude that Jesus is ungracious.
  • She stays with him to see.

     

  • If he is calling her unworthy, she will not argue.
  • If he is saying she has no leg to stand on,
    • or she has no right to God’s help,
  • She does not disagree.
  • But she holds out hope in Jesus’s mercy — Vs 27

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

  • NOTE THIS: Jesus does not SAY that she is a dog.
  • He says it is inappropriate to give the children’s bread to the dogs.
  • Who falls into the dog category he leaves open ended — pending.
  • Notice this too: he never sent her away.
  • He never says to her, “I’m not going to listen to you. Get lost!”
  • He simply does not answer her. He remains passive.
  • His answers seem like NO but he does not in fact SAY NO.
  • We know, he says YES!
  • & YES! is in all his NO-seeming answers.
  • This poor woman never stops being the poor.
  • But her poverty is not the issue for her.
  • Her hope in Christ Jesus is!
  • The poverty of her poor feelings,
  • the poverty of her poor heritage,
  • the poverty of being the victim of powers beyond her control…
  • she does not look at any of this.
  • She holds out a deep spiritual hope in Christ Jesus and his mercy.
  • This is what Jesus calls great faith. Vs 28

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

  • Beloved, you are not quite as poor as this Canaanite woman.
  • You have the rich heritage of Christ himself.
  • You are baptized into him.
  • He is God’s promise to you,
    • God’s calling to you,
    • God’s YES to you.

the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29)

  • Trust in Him beyond your sense of Him.
  • His grace is absolute, unfailing
  • and FOR YOU!