Reminiscere – Prayer Answered (February 28, 2010)

Todd A. Peperkorn, STM

Messiah Lutheran Church

Kenosha, Wisconsin

Lent 2 – Reminiscere (February 28, 2010)

Matthew 15:21-28

TITLE: “Prayer Answered”

This year is a year of prayer for Messiah. We have a lot of things to pray about here. We pray for the needs of our congregation members, health, jobs, families, money, and even more. Prayer is a good and wonderful thing. It gives focus to our needs. It makes it so that we are never truly helpless, because God promises to hear our prayers, always.

The problem with prayer from our perspective is that it seems so wispy, so intangible and difficult to really nail down. If we are honest with ourselves, we treat prayer like a cop-out, a “Hail Mary” pass of desperation when things get really bad. Oh no! Things are so bad that we have to resort to prayer? That is serious.

The other alternative is that prayer becomes rote, like Come Lord Jesus or even the Our Father. Prayer becomes a habit that has no meaning, like brushing your teeth or making sure you put your socks on before you walk out the door. You may even be unconscious that you are doing it!

So why do we have such a hard time praying? Let’s take a look at our Gospel for today to learn why.

In our story for this morning we have a woman with everything against her in first century Palestine. First of all she’s a woman. We don’t see in our story where her husband is, but one thing is for sure is that women did not simply go up to men at that time and beg for anything. It was simply not done. Second, she’s a Canaanite. You know, the people that God told the Israelites to kill when they took over the land of Canaan? Then third, her daughter is possessed by a demon. This does not bode well for her in terms of getting help. At this point she was probably thinking in terms of that prayer-as-hail-mary-pass.

So she goes to Jesus and begs, have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon! If ever there was a request that seems reasonable to grant, this seems like a pretty good one. After all, we sorta believe we can take care of the normal earthly problems, but demons? That’s out of our pay grade.

Jesus, however, is silent as a tomb. Have you ever felt that way about God and how He answers prayer? I think every week about the things we pray for here at Messiah. We pray for our shut-ins, expectant mothers, confirmation students, the Academy, Racine Lutheran High School. We pray for people who are sick or in prison. We pray for good stewardship and that God would bless our efforts here at Messiah. This doesn’t even include the fears that we have lurking in our hearts at night, the things we are too afraid to pray for out loud because we don’t want to be disappointed.

So for all of the things we pray for, do you believe that God will answer them? Are you afraid that God doesn’t even care? That certainly seems to be the first answer this woman got to our prayer. Silence. Sometimes God is silent when we think He should be talking, and talks when we wish He would be quiet. Sometimes prayer feels more like we are wrestling with God than it is that we are praying to Him. Prayer has an amazing way of exposing our own fears when it comes to God.

You and I may well have given up, but not this woman. She keeps asking, even to the point where the disciples beg Jesus to give her what she wants and send her away. You can certainly imagine the scene. She is crying and begging and asking and making this scene, much like blind Bartemaeus from a couple weeks ago. The disciples don’t want a lesson in persistent prayer. They want a little dignity!

Jesus then goes on and says He is only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Certainly this seems like a put-off on Jesus’ part. This woman, though, doesn’t want to get into a theological debate with God. She just keeps on asking, Lord, Help me!

Then the ultimate insult, at least it looks that way. It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs (v. 26). In any culture, calling someone a dog is a bad thing, and this is no exception. The Jews in Jesus’ day would call the Gentiles “dogs” as a way of emphasizing that they aren’t God’s chosen people. So Jesus here is really highlighting the fact that she isn’t a Jew.

But this woman catches Jesus in His words. Of course, Jesus wanted to be caught. She replies, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” In other words, she confesses that while she’s a dog, she is His dog. She is a part of the family. The important thing is not where you sit. The important part is that you are at or at least under the table.

So what do we learn about prayer from this woman? This is what I want you to take home from this text:

1. God doesn’t answer prayer when or even how we want or expect. Sometimes God uses silence to great effect, because it may help us focus on what we truly need. He may also use silence to draw attention to the grace that He will give in His own time and way.

2. God does answer prayer. It is really that simple. Prayer is not a last-ditch effort of a desperate person. It is the cry of faith to the one and only person who can actually help in your time of need. Even in your darkest night and most painful moments, God will answer.

3. God answers with His Word. I don’t have to speculate or wonder about God’s will for me. I know His will for me, that is, I know that He wants me to live and to be with Him forever. That is His good and gracious will. What I don’t know is all of the details on how He will get me there and keep me there.

4. Finally, Prayer is all about trust. We pray to God trusting that He will answer us. That is God’s promise to you. He will answer your prayers. Don’t give up on God. He certainly has not given up on you.

So be at peace, dearly baptized. God is with you. He hears your prayers and answers them with your greatest need. He gives you Jesus. The rest of it will come in His time and way, and frankly, that is really far better than anything you or I could ever want or imagine. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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