17 February 2008

Homily - Lent 2 - Reminiscere

Catching Christ in His Own Words
Matthew 15:21-28 w/ Genesis 32:22-32

Last week we fought against the devil. This week, we fight against God! Yes, I’m serious!

First today, we heard about Jacob. What else did Jacob do, but wrestle with a man whom he also knew to be God? This Man, the Son of God, even changed Jacob’s name to “Israel,” which means, “wrestles with God.” What did this Man say? “For you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Yes, Jacob fought against God.

Then we heard about the Canaanite woman. She fought and struggled against the God-Man in the flesh. A simple, plaintive prayer request to help her demon-possessed daughter turned into a four-round wrestling match with the Son of God. First, the external dilemma of her demon-possessed daughter. Then, the silent treatment. Then, the shocking words that the Lord did not come for “her kind.” And finally – insult of insults – Jesus called this poor woman a dog! Yes, the poor, little Canaanite woman fought against God.

What do you do when you must fight against God Himself? What do you do when you pray most fervently for God’s promised help, and He answers not a word – just gives you the silent treatment? What do you do when you plaintively cry out to Him, asking Him to remove some heavy burden, some vexing trial, some prickly temptation, and He just leaves it on your shoulders to carry for a while longer, a while that seems like an eternity? What do you do when you receive that diagnosis of cancer, or when you hear news that your job was just taken from you, or when the car breaks down and the kids must go to the doctor and you have no money to pay for either? What do you do when your family, your friends, or your co-workers seem to treat you like dirt – no, worse than dirt; like slime? What do you do when all such things happen and God is most strangely silent, even giving you every indication that He’s not there for you, even treating you like a dog?

I’ll tell you what you do. You follow the example of Jacob and the Canaanite woman. You catch Christ in His own words. You hold Him to His words of promise. You pin His omnipotent shoulders to the mat. And then you hang on for the wildest – and best – ride of your life! That’s what faith is all about: catching Christ in His own words, and then clinging to Him no matter what He does, no matter where He leads, no matter what may happen day by day or hour by hour. You see, when you cling to Christ and His words, you can still receive some pretty potent crumbs of mercy from His Table of forgiveness and life.

When Martin Luther preached on this same Gospel reading in 1534, he applauded the faith of the Canaanite woman. He said this about faith: “What a superb and wonderful object lesson this is, therefore, to teach us what a mighty, powerful, all-availing thing faith is. Faith takes Christ captive in his word….” Then, after pointing out that the Canaanite woman gladly admits she is a dog, Luther also says, “Thus she catches Christ with his own words, and he is happy to be caught.” (HP I:325).

Yes, sometimes the Christian faith is marked by fighting against God – no, not in the way of rebellion, but rather in the way of not knowing and understanding what He’s up to. And still the Christian says in faith, “Lord, I will catch You in Your words of promise and blessing. I will hold Your feet to the fire of Your forgiveness. I will pin your almighty shoulders to the mat of Your very own mercy.” And the Christian will wage everything in his or her life – no matter how dark the road, no matter how confusing the way, no matter how burdensome and painful the task – that Jesus is happy to be caught in His words of promise and mercy and life and forgiveness.

That’s exactly what Jacob did. Through the hours of the night he wrestled with this Man who is also God. “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, He touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was out of joint as he wrestled with Him.” Jacob, though, did not let a “little thing” like a dislocated hip distract him from catching the Son of God in His words of blessing. “Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’” And we also heard how Jacob received this whole event – the wrestling, the dislocated hip, and the blessing – with great joy. He said, “Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’”

The Canaanite woman certainly caught Christ in His words. She called Him, “Lord, Son of David.” She knew His divine mercy and goodness could heal her demon-possessed daughter. So, she did not let the silent treatment stop her. She did not let prejudicial words against “her kind” slow her down. “But she came and knelt before him saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” Sounds like your prayers, doesn’t it? And you can almost hear her saying those same three words over and over again – “Lord, help me. Lord, help me! LORD, HELP ME!” – as she perseveres to get His attention. And when she does get His attention, she does not let that “little thing” of being called a dog derail her trust and hope either. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Jesus is oh, so happy to be caught in His words! You can almost see a glimmer in His eye, a twinkle of delight at being caught so that He simply must show mercy. And that’s what He does: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. That’s the wildest and best ride for all of us: the Lord showing His mercy. That’s what makes faith great: the Lord giving His blessing and life. Since faith is receiving God’s goodness and mercy, forgiveness and life, then great is the woman’s receiving of God’s goodness, mercy, forgiveness and life.

So, how great is your faith? It’s as great as the Lord Christ whom you catch in His words. After all, before He went to the cross, He also cried a most plaintive prayer to His God and Father: “My Father, if it be possible, let the cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39). God told Him, “Nope, You can keep the cup of Your suffering for a while.” Then, as our Lord hung on the cross, He persisted in His plaintive prayer: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46). It was God’s will that His own Son should carry the weight of our sins, our doubts, and our faithless wrestlings with God through the suffering, to the cross, and into death. You see, that’s where God catches Himself in His own words of forgiveness and life. That’s where God, the Holy Trinity, is happy to be caught showing mercy and love for all people: at the cross, in the tomb, and out of the empty grave. In our crucified and risen Lord, you have been freed from Satan’s possession and healed of your faithless doubts. Your faith in the crucified and risen Son of God is great, because His forgiveness and life given to you is great!

And that, dear friends, is what enables you to endure and persevere the times of trial and the testing of temptations. That great news of mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus helps you cling to Him and catch Him in His words. Jacob’s son, Joseph, provides another faith strengthening example. He was sold into slavery at age 17. Falsely accused of sexual harassment and thrown in to prison. No doubt, he prayed fervently and plaintively for the Lord to rescue and deliver him. And after 13 years of such suffering and perseverance, God finally answered his prayers and made him second in command of Egypt under Pharaoh. Yes, Joseph also caught Christ in His words of mercy and blessing.

So, go ahead and catch your merciful Lord Jesus in His words of blessing, forgiveness, and life. And, like the Canaanite woman you have the crumbs that fall from the Master’s Table for strength. And what potent crumbs they are! Crumbs of your Lord’s life-giving, soul-sustaining Body and Blood that freely fall from the Table of His Altar. These little crumbs – little bits of Body under bread and little sips of Blood under wine – they strengthen you to endure the battles with God and faithfully cry out, “Lord, help me!” In fact, they strengthen you to pin Him to the mat for His mercy and blessing. As St. Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:12-13). Amen.

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