SERMON FOR LENT 2, FEB. 5, 2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL & UNIVERSITY STUDENT CENTER
Rev. Michael Larson
Today’s readings teach us a great deal about the nature of faith and Christian prayer. However, in order to begin to appreciate this first we must strip away all the false notions of what our holy religion is not about.
Christianity is not about becoming more successful or content. It’s not about taking better control of your life by inspiring messages. It’s not a self-help program. It’s not about warm fuzzies.
No. Rather, we recognize that we are fallen creatures, corrupted by sin, and hostile, by nature, to God. In sin we are born, under the condemnation of the devil until Christ claims us as his own. Were it not for God’s mercy in Christ we would be separated from Him for all eternity. Temporal and eternal death our portion. Hell our inheritance.
If we start from the position that we are already free we will end up in bondage. But, if we start from the understanding that we are not free, that we are in bondage to sin, death, and the grave, then and only then, can we be freed.
In other words, The Gospel has little to say, to those who are secure, who are content with themselves, and believe they have nothing to repent of or be sorry about. But for those who recognize that they are fallen creatures, in a fallen world, desperately needing help and mercy, forgiveness and grace, well then there is hope, and the possibility of comfort that exceeds anything that we can imagine.
It is this honest analysis of the universe, the world we live in, and our human condition that this poor woman understands so well this morning. She cries out “Lord, have mercy” and more desperately, simply, “Lord help me!”
In the Divine Service every week we come before the Lord and pray the same prayer as this woman. Lord, have mercy, we pray. It is the church’s prayer of praise. We call it the Kyrie. But don’t miss it! At the heart of it, it’s not meant to be simply a formal liturgical element. It’s not meant to just fill space in the church service. When we sing Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, it is really, fundamentally, a very desperate cry to God for help. We must always let it be just that. For it’s help that we need!
And in our Gospel this poor woman certainly needed God’s help. She pleads for her daughter tormented by a demon. She prays to God also for herself. Lord, help me, she prays. She understood that she came from the pagan family of Ham. There was plenty stacked against her.
But when she cried out for help, there was only silence from Jesus. The disciples, annoyed by her racket, tried to send her away. And another rebuff as well from Jesus, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
The woman now throws herself into the dust before him. Her prayer becomes shorter, more urgent and to the point. Lord help me, she says.
It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. It’s not a compliment folks. It sounds harsh to us, but somehow not to this woman! With those words she heard an opening of mercy. In those words this woman heard an invitation.
She did not deny that she was from the wrong side of the tracks! She receives his word and agrees, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Your right, Lord! I am a sinner, and a poor miserable one at that. I am not entitled to anything. But I believe that you have come into the world to be merciful and to set sinners free from Satan’s tyranny. The devil has a grip on my daughter but I believe that you are stronger than he.
And Lord, I will not let go of you, for if I do, I have no hope, no life, and no salvation.
Jesus is amazed at the faith of this woman. O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
The woman’s faith is great because the object of that faith is Christ and His saving Word. Faith, true Christian faith, believes in the Word of the Gospel, even when our experience seems contrary.
If you noticed this morning in our readings there are two wrestling matches going on. The first is with Jacob wrestling with the Lord at the Jabok river. His brother is coming for revenge. His family and life are threatened. And when things couldn’t possibly go any worse, the Lord picks a fight with him! He violently wrestles with the Lord until the break of day. Jacob refuses to let go until the Lord blesses him. And thereby gives Jacob a new name, Israel. A word literally meaning one who wrestles with God.
The second wrestling match in our reading is in the Gospel, with this Canaanite woman. Oh yes, she wrestles with God as well. Refusing to let go of Christ until she blesses her and heals her daughter.
The holy life of faith is no picnic! It’s not a walk through the roses! It can certainly feel like a wrestling match. We contend with God. We wrestle with his promises. Because in this life, there is a discrepancy between the promises of God and what we so often experience. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
For all of you who so often struggle, you must know, that God does not wrestle with his enemies. He only wrestles with those whom he loves.
The struggle with sin and the temptations of the devil are used by God to draw us away from relying upon ourselves to relying upon the Lord – that we would close our eyes and open our ears to Him who loves us. Faith believes in the Gospel, and cries out to God for help, even against all the experiences in our lives which speak against the promise that He is merciful to us for Christ’s sake.
Therefore, in this we must learn to be stubborn and persistent when it comes to faith in Gospel. We must stick to Christ and refuse to let him go being confident that he will bless us also.
Last week, when the Lord, went toe to toe with the devil, he emerged triumphant for us. But on Good Friday it sure looked like the devil had won. The body of Jesus beaten and bloody. Pinned to a cross. His life squeezed out of him. He died, darkness covered the land, and Satan thought he had won a great victory. Jesus dead and down for the count.
How wrong the devil was! For in that moment when Jesus became silent in death, he was preaching, loudly and clearly of his love for sinners. Of his love for Jacob, for the Cannanite woman, her daughter and all of us. By the power of his resurrection he shut the devil’s mouth. Through holy baptism he brings healing to us all. He bathes us in glorious light. By the word of absolution He drives out demons, breaks our chains. By that word of forgiveness he heals the sick, he comforts the sorrowful, he saves marriages, reconciles children, and comforts us beyond all measure – with the blessed hope of everlasting life.
And even though we don’t deserve a single crumb of mercy from God, he lays out a whole feast. Rich food and heavenly drink that we would be utterly possessed by the love of God. Set free from the bondage of the devil. Free to be God’s obedient children. To live under Him in His kingdom and to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
Remember, Lord, Your mercy and steadfast love toward us. Be gracious to us. Create in us humble and contrite hearts, that we might always cry out to You for mercy. Consider our afflictions and troubles, and forgive all our sins. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Remember, Lord, Matthew, our Synod president; ______________, our district president; ______________, our circuit visitor; ______________, our pastor(s); and all pastors in Christ. Forgive their sins, strengthen their faith and empower them to always and steadfastly proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Remember, Lord, our nation and its leaders. Guide them in the direction You would have them go, that peace and prosperity, truth and justice, religion and piety may dwell in our land. Remember also those who serve in our armed forces, that they would serve with integrity and honor. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Remember, Lord, the widows and the orphans, the lonely and downtrodden, the poor and destitute, and our brothers and sisters in Christ who are shut-in and unable to attend Divine Service with us. Be a mighty fortress for them, surrounding them with Your compassion and care. Fill us with loving and generous hearts to be Your instruments of mercy on their behalf, and send Your pastors to bring Christ to them wherever they are. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Remember, Lord, those who are homebound in our congregation, especially Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Cliff and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, Paul, Maude, and Lou. Comfort them with Your presence, sustain their faith through Your gracious promises, and bring healing to them as You will and know to be best. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Remember, Lord, that even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table. We are unworthy to partake of the divine food offered to us here in the very body and blood of Christ, and yet You have prepared a place for us all the same. In this Holy Eucharist, fill us with Christ’s life and love, that we might depart in His peace, which surpasses all understanding. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Remember, Lord, Your promise that all who believe in Your Son shall not perish but have eternal life. For all those who have gone before us and now rest from their labors, we give You thanks and praise. Bring us, with them, to the Day of our Lord’s glorious return, that we may all receive the eternal inheritance You have prepared for us. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.