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The Faith of a Dog (Reminiscere, Lent II – 2012)

Reminiscere Sunday 2012 (Portions received with thanks from Johann Heermann)

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.  Our text for this morning is the Gospel just read from St. Matthew chapter 15.  Today we hear and learn about the holy persitence of faith, and how we are all beggar dogs who receive God’s mercy at His table.  Let us pray:

O my most beloved Lord Jesus, at whose table of grace I wait even now: cause, I beseech You, a mere crumb of Your help and assistance to fall to me, and I and my hearers will be satisfied with instruction, comfort, and exhortation.

Today might properly be called Canine Sunday or Doggy Sunday.  Jesus calls this Canaanite woman a dog and she agrees with him!  It is a very odd thing, you have to admit.  See how the Christian faith is like the dog seeing the crumbs or scraps from his master’s table, and how this is a good thing for poor sinners like you and I.

In the Bible we find that dogs are almost without exception seen as dirty, generally unpleasant animals.  You may remember the giant Goliath mocking David and saying, ““Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?”” (1 Samuel 17:43)  And you know that you are down on your luck when the dogs are the only ones who will help you, as in the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:21).  Dogs are both pathetic in the Bible, but also not to be trifled with.  We hear in Proverbs, “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” (Proverbs 26:17)

So this woman comes to Jesus with the simple request: heal my daughter!  She is possessed by a demon, and cannot free herself.  Jesus answers her with silence, then seems to question whether God’s promises are for her, and finally says ““It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”” (Matthew 15:26)  It is as if Jesus is saying to her, “Look, you aren’t of the people of Israel.  You have no right to sit at God’s table.  You are nothing but a dog.”  Harsh words, coming from the compassionate one.

But if we are honest with outselves, there are times when that is exactly what God does with us.  We pray and get silence.  We beg and get put off.  No amount of tears or weeping or questions seem to give us the peace we long for.  Eventually things may even get so bad that we are stuck wrestling with God in His Word.  Like Jacob in our Old Testament reading, there are nights where we do nothing but fight with the One who is one our side.  ”I will not go unless you bless me,” Jacob cried out as he wrestled with the Lord (Genesis 32:26).  That’s this woman.  Her persistence is rather amazing.  It reminds us of Luther’s words introducing “Our Father who art in heaven.”  Luther says,

With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true father and that we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask him as dear children ask their dear father.

Truth be told, this dog of a Canaanite woman sounds more like a, uh, persistent child than anything else.  She will not be put off. She will not be deterred.  She will not quit until she receives what is promised to her.

For you parents, you know that when the child starts flinging your own words back at you, that you are in trouble.  When the dog begins to know what to expect, then you really have to keep up with things.  I eat at this time!  They know what you give them.  Give it once, and they fully expect you to keep on giving it.  Luther once remarked,

“See how the dog jumps, leaps, and scratches at the table, and does not give up until you give it a bit of bread or a piece of meat. Even if you chase it off, it comes back. Would to God we poor men might be more like them…”

So it is that our Canaanite woman catches Jesus in His own words.  He calls her a dog, and her response is “yes, Lord, and even the dogs get fed from the master’s table!”  She will cling to these words of our Lord as a burr does to your clothes (Katie Luther).

In 1941, the newly elected Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill, met at the Harrow school and gave a speech. It was shortly after the Blitz, while London was being bombed almost to oblivion.  It wasn’t a long speech, but here is the line that concerns us here.  Churchill said,

Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Today God invites you to persistence.  He invites you to come to Him with boldness and confidence, as dear children come to their dear father.  He invites you to come to Him like our Canaanite woman, like blind Bartemaeus, like the Centurion, like Joseph, and yes, even like Jesus Himself prayed to the Father in the Garden.  He says to you, NEVER GIVE UP.

Dearly baptized, suffering remains for the night, but eternity comes at the break of day.  Job suffered for seven years, then prospered for one hundred and forty.  Joseph suffered for thirteen years, then ruled over Egypt for many more.  Yet even if the relief for your hardships does not come in this life, it will come in the next.  God promises you an end like Simeon, when you may depart in peace.  He promises never to leave you or forsake you.  He promises to hear your cries, and to answer them every single time.

Sometimes the answer may seem no more than a crumb., a pittance of a promise against all the forces of evil.  But with that crumb, that drop of His blood comes everything He won for you in His death and resurrection.  The crumbs and drops can move mountains, create faith, give hope, and draw you into Him.  We pray it this way in the hymn,

Thou, like the pelican to feed her brood,

Didst pierce Thyself to give us living food;

Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow’r to win

Forgiveness for our world and all its sin.

Or if we want something more appropos to our text today,

The Lord His little dogs adores,

And from His table crumbs He pours;

Wait but on Christ, who satisfies,

With bounteous grace—’tis sure advice.

Believe it for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Prayer Answered (Lent 2, Reminiscere)

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Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Kenosha, Wisconsin
Lent 2 – Reminiscere (March 8, 2009)
Matthew 15:21-28

For an audio MP3 of this sermon, CLICK HERE

TITLE: “Prayer Answered”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel lesson just read from Matthew 15.

Why do we pray? That’s a question we’ve been wrestling with in catechesis at school this week. Why pray? If God knows everything, if He knows our problems before we even have them, aren’t we wasting God’s time by praying, not to mention our own? If you have ever struggled with prayer, you know what I am talking about. Prayer for the Christian can easily become rote, just one more thing to do in your list. And it isn’t too hard for it to move from being rote to not being there at all. After all, God knows what I need. Why should I mess with the system? Let him do His job, and I’ll try and slog through this down here on my own.

Our catechism seeks to answer this question for us. Basically there are two reasons we pray. Here’s the first one:

With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.

In other words, we pray because God asks us to. Now to be fair, he also commands us to do this. But He commands us because He knows what great benefits prayer gives to the suffering Christian. A number of scripture passages come to mind, Call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you will glorify me. God commands us to pray because we are His baptized children. And as His baptized children, we have a place in His holy kingdom. We have a place at the table, with the dinner conversation. So God commands us to pray, to bring our confessions and thanksgivings and praises and requests to Him. Why? Because He longs to hear them. God loves to hear your prayers. He is the doting father, listening and responding to the needs of His beloved children.

That brings us to the second reason we pray. Luther gives us this answer in the conclusion to the Lord’s prayer, where he is answering the question of what amen means:

This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen, means, “yes, yes, it shall be so.”

We pray because God invites us and commands us to pray, and we pray because God promises to hear us. Think of that! You have the ear of the king. You are royal sons and daughters, who can enter into the throne of grace whenever you want, and know, no matter what happens, that God will not only hear your prayers, but answer them. That is why prayer is such a great and mighty gift. We live in a world of living on hold, talking to machines, pushing buttons in the hopes of having your problems solved. We can use a personal touch, a ready answer, and a sure promise today. That’s what God gives us in prayer. He does this not because we’ve earned it, but because of who He is, and because of who we are as his beloved adopted children.

So keep all of that in mind as we examine our text for this morning. We have a Canaanite woman. She was alone. Her husband is no where to be found. We don’t know how she lived or what she did, and her daughter is vexed with demon possession. She is a foreigner living among Jews. We can hardly grasp that level of problem. How do you help someone who is possessed?

But she goes to Jesus. Jesus, the Son of David, can help her. She had heard of His mighty works. He had healed the sick, fed thousands from the bread of His hand, preached, taught, and yes, He had cast out demons. Surely He could help her. It was her only hope. She went, and she asked, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is severely demon possessed. It was prayed in faith in Jesus. She asked for what she needed. She plead on the basis of His mercy, and not her worthiness. Everything was right. Slam dunk.

Only He ignores her. The answer didn’t come when she wanted. But she doesn’t give up. Faith clings to God’s Word and promise, despite all appearances. She keeps pleading, to the point where the disciples cry out, ““Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”” (Matthew 15:23 ESV) You can imagine the scene. We don’t care if you heal her daughter or not, just get her out of here! If we’re honest with ourselves, that’s how we are with other people prayers sometimes. I just don’t want to hear about their problems. God, please heal them so that I don’t have to listen to it anymore! God help us.

But the more the disciples tell her to be quiet, the more she cries out. Finally, Jesus answers the disciples and says, I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It sounds like Jesus is saying no to her, but she keeps crying. In fact, she gets on her knees, worships him and says Lord, help me! Then Jesus says, it isn’t good to take the food from the master’s table and give it to the dogs. Aha, says this woman of prayer. Now I have caught Him in His words. Yes, Lord, but even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the master’s table. She had caught our Lord. Of course, he wanted to be caught. But caught Him she had. She knows that God’s mercy is for her, not because of her worthiness, but because God’s nature is to show mercy and pity. God loves to take care of his children. Even the foreigners. Even the little dogs.

So now, take this story of persistent prayer and fold it back into what we learned about prayer at the beginning. God commands us to pray. He invites us to pray. He promises to hear us. But what He doesn’t promise is that His answer will be swift, or easy, or spectacular like we would want. He promises to take care of us, and to give us what we truly need. For this woman, it meant peeling away all the layers of false security that she or anyone else might have in their own personal worthiness to receive God’s help. The same may be true for you. It may be that prayer for you is more wrestling that singing and joy. It may be that God doesn’t seem to answer in the way you want, in the time you want. That doesn’t mean God won’t answer. It means that His answer is going to be bigger and better than you can even imagine.

How do we know this? No matter what your need, no matter what your prayer, what you truly need is Jesus, delivered to you by the power of the Holy Spirit. And here He is, right at this altar. Week after week, year after year, God is answering the prayers of His people from this place. He gives you want you need for all eternity, so that as you go through the changes and chances of this life here on earth, you heart may be fixed where true joys may be found.

So come, receive the crumbs from the master’s table. Come to His holy altar, be fed, have your prayers answers. Come, for all is ready. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.

God's Silence and God's Speaking (Lent 2 – Reminiscere)

Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Kenosha, Wisconsin
Lent 2 – Reminiscere (February 17, 2008, revised from 2003)
Matthew 15:21-28
For an audio MP3 of this sermon, CLICK HERE

TITLE: “God’s Silence and His Speaking”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel lesson just read from Matthew 15.

Silence. Complete and utter silence. That was Jesus’ response to her. Her daughter was terribly vexed with a demon, a horror we can only imagine. She was at her wits end. All the parenting skills in the world could not help her daughter. She was at the end of her rope. She went to the one Man who could help her. She went to Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah. Surely He would help her! Surely He would look at her plight and would have mercy upon her by healing her daughter.

But God’s answer before her was silence. Continue reading