Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Lent (March 16, 2014)

MATTHEW 15:21-28

In the name + of Jesus.

     A Canaanite woman came to Jesus and pleaded for mercy.  Perhaps this does not sound strange to you.  But if the Israelites had been faithful in obeying the word of the Lord, this meeting would never have happened.
     The Canaanites refer to seven nations who had lived in the Promised Land.  They were all descendants of Noah’s son, Ham, and they had already fallen under a curse in the days of Noah.  The Lord, however, was patient with the Canaanites.  The Lord does not judge rashly or impulsively.  He is patient, wanting everyone to come to repentance.  But the Canaanite nations sank deeper and deeper into vile and immoral ways, both in their lives and in their worship practices.  After centuries, the Lord’s patience with the Canaanites finally ran out.
     The Lord brought Israel to the Promised Land so that it would be their possession, as God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Through Israel, the Lord would carry out his judgment against the Canaanites.  That judgment was severe and final.  This is what the Lord had said: When the Lord your God gives (the Canaanites) over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction.  You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.  ...For they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” (Deuteronomy 7:2,4)  So, if Israel had obeyed the word of the Lord, there would have been no Canaanites around in the days of Jesus.
     Obviously, the Israelites were not obedient.  They did not destroy every Canaanite, but let them live as forced laborers.  These Canaanites did entice the Israelites to stray and worship their false gods.  So, any Israelite who knew his history would also know that a Canaanite was bad news.  Perhaps, then, you might understand why an Israelite would shun or despise a Canaanite.
     Behold, a Canaanite woman … came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”  But he did not answer her a word. (Matthew 15:22-23)  Jesus’ disciples did not question or rebuke Jesus for his harsh treatment of this woman.  They seemed to understand.  What they could not understand is why Jesus was putting up with her crying and pleading.  She was a Canaanite!  She did not deserve Jesus’ attention, much less his mercy.
     You know people like that—people who do not deserve any favors or attention to you.  And it’s not just murders, pedophiles, and muggers.  Chances are, you don’t know any of those anyway.  But what about the one who was cruel to you?  Or who abused your friendship?  What about those who are mean or thoughtless or full of themselves?  Shouldn’t they be avoided?  And if not avoided, then quickly dispatched.  You owe them nothing, and there is a strange kind of pleasure in letting them know that.  You may pride yourself on slamming the door on someone, but it is a sinful pride that does it.  It is because you believe you are better than someone.  Now, you may try to defend yourself by insisting, “But they don’t deserve mercy from me.”  And that is true, because no one deserves mercy.  By its very definition, mercy cannot be deserved.  But it should be given.  When you are in a position to be kind and merciful, does it make you happy when you refuse give it?  Repent; for you do not deserve mercy either.
     The Canaanite woman persisted in her crying out.  It was not because she felt she deserved a favor.  It was because she craved mercy.  Her plea was not based on who she was, but on who Jesus was.  The Canaanite woman knew who she was crying out to, and she knew what she should expect from him.  “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”  But he did not answer her a word. (Matthew 15:22)  When he did answer, Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)  But the Canaanite woman would not be dissuaded when it seemed like Jesus did not care.  She believed the word she had heard about him.  She confessed that he is the Son of David.  And though she knew that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, she believed that his mercy would be extended even to her.  Even the Lord’s crumbs would be enough.
     [Jesus] answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:27)  The Canaanite woman truly displayed a great faith.  She did not debate with Jesus about whether she was worthy or not.  She did not tell Jesus what he owed her.  She was a Canaanite.  She was outside of Israel, and she accepted that.  She did not demand her rightful place because it was not hers.  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” (Matthew 15:27)  She believed that the Messiah had enough mercy for her, too.  She would accept her place as a lap dog, but even lap dogs are fed by their master.  She would be pleased with crumbs from her master’s table.  Even the Lord’s crumbs would be enough.
     Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:28)  The Canaanite woman would have been pleased with crumbs, but Jesus gave her everything.  For, Jesus is not kind of your Savior.  Jesus doesn’t sort of have mercy.  And Jesus doesn’t sort of defeat the devil.  Jesus takes up all of your sins.  He does not debate within himself if you are worth it.  After all, mercy is never deserved.  But Jesus gives it freely and fully.  Jesus has taken up all of your sins, whatever they have been.  Jesus has consumed the full cup of God’s wrath.  Jesus has trampled the devil underfoot, taking away the curse of sin and unlocking the chains of death.  He does not leave you tormented or oppressed by guilt or accusations.  Satan is left silent.  Your guilt is pardoned.  Your place at God’s feast is granted.
     We often get the idea that we are saved because we are worthy.  But that is not true.  No one is worthy of forgiveness.  Rather, we are worthy of death because of our sins.  Yet, the Lord was pleased to take our place.  He who had no sin became sin for us.  He who was innocent bore our curse so that we would, in exchange, receive blessing.  And it is not just for you that Jesus has suffered and died.  Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord had foretold, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) 
     Jesus has come for you and for all, whether Israelite or Canaanite.  Never ask yourself, “Is that the right kind of person?” or “Am I the right kind of person?”  Do not think about anyone being ineligible for the grace of God.  Jesus did not come for the people who are worthy; for none are.  Jesus did not come for those who are better; for all are sinners.  Jesus came for all; for, God so loved the world.  God so loved you, no matter where you came from, no matter what you have done, and no matter how often you have sinned against him.  Jesus suffered and died for all of it so that you would have a place at the wedding feast of the Lamb. 
     Even though the Lord’s crumbs would be enough for anyone who craves mercy, the Lord is more generous than that.  He prepares a feast for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  Here is a banquet which does not sort of grant salvation, but here is full salvation; for this is the body and blood of Christ.  Do not regard these as mere crumbs.  This is the bread from heaven.  This is the blood of the Lamb.  This is the heavenly banquet.  It comes from your master’s table, and it is here for your salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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