Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – February 24th and 25th, 2018 – Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Last week in our Gospel we saw our Lord confront Satan and his lies there in the wilderness, we saw our Lord put Satan to flight. This Sunday, our Lord heals a young woman, the daughter of a Canaanite woman, frees her from demon possession. This should be no surprise – if you’ve defeated Satan, defeating one of his minions isn’t going to be a problem. In fact, the healing of this girl is almost incidental to the story – we never see her, we never hear her. Instead, we see the interaction between her mother, the disciples, and Jesus, and in this interaction, we see our Lord fight something else. We see our Lord take on pride and ego, pride and ego that can lead to a weakening and even destruction of faith. Let us examine our text.

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And 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.’” Consider this: Jesus had just been having bitter discussions with the Pharisees, who were so full of themselves and their own righteousness, that to get a break, He headed to the coast, left Jewish territory behind. He is going to take a break from self-righteousness. And what happens? There, in that place, is a woman who calls out for mercy, seeking Jesus’ aid. And did you note what she calls Him? She calls Him “Lord” – that’s a good starting place, she recognizes Him as divine. Moreover, she calls Him “Son of David.” Think about this – the Canaanites were the ancient enemies of Israel, the ones who had fought David – this is the descendant of folks like the Jebusites, and there she is calling Christ the Son of David. She is repenting of the sins of her people – this is astonishing. It would be like a muslim terrorist suddenly announcing to the world that he has repudiated Islam and is becoming a Christian – something we should all rejoice over.

But there is a problem. “But He did not answer her a word.” Doesn’t this seem strange? How often do we see Christ ignore someone in the Scriptures? We don’t see it often – but there is a reason for it here. Jesus is going to teach His disciples, give them a quiz, see how they react and respond. And they fail utterly. “And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” I really don’t know if there is a more chilling sentence in the Scriptures – I mean, think about this. Here you have the disciples seeing a poor woman who has confessed Jesus to be Lord, to be the Son of David, the Messiah… eh, send her away, she’s bothering us. And not just being dismissive of her – they BEG Jesus to send her away. It’s hatred and contempt of the most vile sort that these disciples show. So we have a contrast set before us – this woman who is in desperate straits throws herself before Jesus for the sake of her daughter, and the disciples, who when they hear of this woman’s plight, instead of praying for her, instead of begging Christ to heal her, beg Him to let her and her daughter remain in suffering, remain oppressed by one of Satan’s demons.

This is the battle Christ fights in our Gospel today. The real opponent isn’t that demon that has possessed the girl – having defeated Satan a demon is small potatoes. The larger danger is disciples’ approach. The pride, the ego that the disciples had – pride in being good Jewish men who wouldn’t stoop to dealing with a Canaanite woman, pride in being the real disciples of Christ as opposed to this foreign trollop. The disciples saw themselves as the good people, the righteous ones, the ones that Jesus owed something to, and they had nothing but disdain for woman. And this makes them cold and callous… this pride drives from their hearts any semblance of love or compassion… and at this moment, these disciples are nothing.

Hatred kills faith. Disdain and ego and pride kill faith. They twist our eyes back onto ourselves where we think only of ourselves and ignore both God and neighbor. Send her away, for she is annoying us because she’s crying, she’s making a scene, and we don’t want to be bothered. I’m hard pressed to think of more faithless words in the Scriptures. And so, Jesus decides to use this Canaanite woman to teach the disciples, teach us what faith is, teach us what to repent of when pride and ego stir up hatred to attack our faith.

He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” Note this – Jesus is answering the disciples here – He is responding to them. Alright, you guys are so proud of being of Israelites, that’s what you think is important – alright, let’s do it your way, I’m here just for you. Guess she’s not My problem, deal with her yourselves in your own arrogance. This is throwing the disciples’ pride back in their face, this is throwing ego right back at them. And it stops the disciples flat. They got what they wanted – they wanted a Jesus that was just going to deal with them… and it doesn’t do them any good. This is throwing their failure right at them, showing them they have gotten an F.

Then the Canaanite woman comes forward, and she shows what faith is. “But she came and she knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” The disciples were brash, telling the Lord what to do, how He should or shouldn’t treat others. This woman is humble simply asking, pleading for help. She doesn’t command, she simply pleads. There is great humility here. And Christ is going to show the depths of her humility, her faith. “And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’” And Jesus insults her – you deserve nothing, you little dog, you wretched little thing. Now, imagine for a moment what the disciples’ reaction would have been if Christ had called them wretched and mangy dogs. Think of how incensed they would have been, how angry – how their pride would have flared up – how dare you say such things. We are Israelites, we aren’t dogs, we are the good people. In fact, we’ll hear a conversation like this with the Pharisees in just a few weeks. That pride, that ego would blot out and blind everything.

The Canaanite woman doesn’t approach Christ with ego, with pride. She comes with humility. Christ tells her, “You are lowly, you are poor and wretched and deserve nothing.” And she says yes. Yes, You are right, I am poor and lowly and I deserve nothing… but You are good and kind and You will see that crumbs fall my way. To which Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter is healed – she has shown the disciples what faith looks like.

The question we must ask ourselves is this. How do we approach God? Do we approach God as those who are worthy of His blessings, as those who can say, “Because I am so wonderful, I demand that you treat me well?” That isn’t faith, that’s pride. Or do we approach our Lord and say, “I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault”? – do we approach God seeking mercy not because of who we are but of His boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Christ Jesus? This is the approach of faith, where we cling not to ourselves, not to our own righteousness, but cling to Christ. For this is a battle that Christ comes to wage – He wages war not only against Satan, but against our own sinful flesh. If left to our own devices, we would do nothing but fight against God – our sinful flesh wants everything our way, our sinful will thinks only of what seems good to us, feels good to us, makes us look nice and proper. We need this sinfulness in us broken and destroyed – that is the point of praying “Thy Will Be Done” – God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. In our text, it was not the disciples’ will that was done, but rather Christ’s gracious and merciful will – and in faith, we call out to God to see that His will is done, indeed, to see that the power of His Gospel, His love, His forgiveness come crashing into our lives and change us, break us free from our sin and ego and make us to grow in love. That’s the prayer after the Supper – upon receiving His gifts “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another” – that God would increase our faith, that we would learn ever more to not only cling to Him but to love our poor and wretched neighbors who need Christ as much as we do.

Lent is a season of repentance, it is a time of self-examination. And when we look at ourselves, we see the little flares of pride and ego pop up, pride and ego that would hinder and prevent us from showing love, pride and ego that would make us want to close our eyes to our neighbor and turn our backs upon God. But Lent is also the season where we see Christ Jesus go to battle for us, for our sake, and part of that battle He fights for us is against our sinful flesh. He reproves us and corrects us, shows us our sin that we might repent of it, but more than that, He shows us mercy, shows us His goodness and kindness, teaches us that we need not have any ego because it is not our worth that earns His love – rather He freely gives it, that He sees that we are fed, takes us poor miserable sinful dogs and washes us in Baptism and says, “You are now My brother, My Sister, indeed, My own Body, and all that I have, My righteousness, My holiness, My life – it is yours. See, I love you, and I will stop at nothing, not even death, to free you from sin.” Christ fights for us, dear friends, and that is a wondrous and humbling thing. It is His fighting for us that gives us the gift of faith by which we have life in His name, all thanks be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Sexagesima Sunday

February 3rd and 4th, 2018 – Sexagesima Sunday – Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
St. Paul writes in 1
st Corinthians that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Few passages of Scripture demonstrate this truth better than the parable of the Sower and the Seed. In fact, I don’t know if there is any character in any story Jesus tells that seems more ridiculous than the Sower. But in this parable we learn God’s wisdom, God’s love – and indeed how His weakness is true strength for us. Let us consider our parable this morning. “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.  And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.  And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What a foolish Sower! His seed gets everywhere, it is scattered all over the place! Doesn’t this Sower realize that seed is precious, that you shouldn’t waste it? A full three quarters of his seed is wasted. Not one of our farmers here would put up with that. It would be ruinous. You don’t sow seed on the roads, you don’t plant on the rocks, you don’t throw it into thorns and thistles! It’s as though the Sower isn’t even a farmer – he sounds more like some city boy playing at being a farmer. And to people who hear with only the ears of the world, to people who think only by their own reason and strength and without the aid of the Holy Spirit, this would be a story of nothing but utter folly.

After He preaches this parable, the disciples pull Jesus aside. What are you talking about, Jesus? “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ This is an interesting thing that Jesus says. Not everyone is going to understand the Word of God. Some folks aren’t going to get it. Some will not understand – for some this parable will remain nothing but a foolish tale, or they will run off in strange directions with it. That’s the way it is in this fallen world. Jesus is quoting the prophets when He says “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” That was the story over and over in the Old Testament, especially when the prophets proclaimed the coming of Christ. But you – you have been given ears to hear, and by the power of the Spirit, you will hear.

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” And with these simple Words, Jesus flips everything around. The seed is the Word of God. The point of the parable isn’t the farmer. This parable isn’t about our actions, or how we are to learn not to be so careless or foolish like the farmer – this is a description of how God sends forth His Word. And the parable does remind us of a truth that we Christians forget: to the eyes of the world, God is foolish. So often they see His people, His Church at work, and simply mock. So often the world hears but does not hear, and the Church is ridiculed and mocked. Indeed, most of these very disciples to whom Jesus is speaking will be mocked and even put to death by the world because the world disdains the Word that they will proclaim, the seed that they will sow. But here we see God’s Wisdom. The Word will go forth! The Word will be sent forth into all the world, the mockers not withstanding. And this makes perfect sense when we remember that it is God who truly sends forth the Word. The whole world exists how – only by the Word of God – that is how God creates. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” This is true, even though, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” The ignorance and foolishness of the world does not undo the Word of God – and just as God has sent His creative Word throughout the world, so too He will have His Gospel preached to the entire world… even to people who couldn't care less. With this parable, Jesus is telling us what we should expect when we as His Church look upon the world, when we see disdain for the Word.

“The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” Our Lord reminds us of a truth that we do not like. This world is not a morally neutral or safe place. No, in this world there is active opposition to God, and when you proclaim Christ, when you show forth Christ’s love, you will be opposed. You will be mocked. That’s just the way it is. And yet the seed is still sown. God is not daunted or intimidated by the world – still His Word goes forth. Even those birds who care nothing for the Word still are alive only by the power of the Word – just as even the most coarse and crass unbeliever still lives off of the goodness of God, off of the care of Him who makes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust.

“And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” A second warning. In this world there will be trials and testing, and yes, trials and testing even for those who believe. The seed in the rocky soil sprouts, but it cannot bear the summer heat, it is cut off from the moisture of the soil. Now, consider this. You are baptized. God has come to you in water and the Word, made you His own child. This is true – even when sorrow and trial and hardship come your way. For this is the temptation that Satan will throw at you – the idea that old snake will whisper is this – “see how hard your trials are, surely God no longer cares for you!” Satan will try to dry you out, to burn you to a crisp with despair and disappointment. Over and against the words of Satan, remember the true and powerful word of God – I baptize you In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Your sins are forgiven. You are not rootless, but you are tied to the life giving waters of Holy Baptism, joined to Christ Jesus Himself, attached to Him. Do not let the vexations of Satan cut you off – remember your baptism, remember that you are indeed delivered from Evil and from the Evil One.

One final trial. “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” This is the one that we as Americans should know the most. We are the people who are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life. And Jesus simply warns us of the truth – our sinful flesh will want to turn blessings from God into idols, will take something good in our lives but let it grow all out of proportion, let it grow like a weed, like a cancer, and it can choke us out, strangle our faith. And this is a common enough reality. Do I have to belabor the point? Doesn’t the temptation lay upon all of us to be off doing something else right now? Our work, our family, our entertainment – all blessings from God, yet in this sinful world our flesh would gladly let them be the excuse to forego receiving God’s greater gift of forgiveness with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
And then the final soil. “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Now, don’t get too proud, my friends, don’t puff out your chest and go, “Oh, lookie at me, see I’m good soil.” Not the point. The point is not the try to compare soils or figure out who’s good or who’s rocky. The point is the Seed is the Word of God. What do you call a good field with good soil that has no seed planted on it? You call it empty, barren. And that is what we were – apart from God we would be empty, barren fields, as dead as the highway, unkempt, rocky, full of whatever weeds or junk just happened to grow there. But what has happened? God has come to you with His Word, and He has given you growth and wisdom. This is not your own doing – it is a gift of God. Do you believe because your heart is good – or rather, as we sing does God create in you a clean heart, a right Spirit within you – and thus you hold fast and cling to God? Do you bear fruit because you are awesome, or because Jesus is the vine, you are His branch, and abiding in Him, remaining in Him you bear fruit? Is patience your own doing, or is it the work and gift of the Holy Spirit?

You have been given ears to hear – and so hear the wisdom and wonder of God. While you are there, powerless and weak, like and empty and barren field, God in His great love and wisdom comes to you and plants His Word in you, showers you with it, gives it to you with full abandon over and over again. And why? So that you would receive the life and love of Christ Jesus, so that you would see the wisdom of God in sending His Son Christ Jesus to the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. So that in hearing the Word, so that by being joined to the Word in Baptism, being nourished in the Word in the Supper, you would remain tied and attached to Christ, so that He would bring forth fruit and life and patience and a clean heart in you. You were dead, but the Word has come, and now you live. You were empty, but the Word has come, and God has called you together here in His house. You were fallow, but the Word has come, and now you have abundance in Christ.

The truth is the world will not care for God’s Word, and indeed, your own sinful flesh will fight and rail against it. But yet in His Wisdom, God has given you the Word of His Son, He has proclaimed it to you even when to the eyes of the world you were trampled upon, or rocky, or prickly and full of thorns. He has come to you and made you His own soil with which He is well pleased, for He has planted the Word, Christ Jesus in you. And that Word of God gives you life, gives you what it says. You are forgiven of all of your sins, you are a new creation in Christ Jesus, even unto life everlasting. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +