Sermon for Reminiscere
Text: Matthew 15:21–28
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
This week we begin our celebration of National Lutheran Schools Week. You will have the opportunity to see some of the art work done by the students on display around the church today and in the days ahead. It is fitting that the Gospel text assigned to this Sunday is the account of a mother praying for her child. For we also lift up the next generation in our prayers that God would spare them from the devil’s plots and secure them in His kingdom.
Now there is a seeming paradox in the Christian religion between the faith of an individual by which he is saved, and the faith of one individual which finds God’s favor for another. Paul speaks of being saved by grace through faith with the emphasis on the faith being the means by which we receive what Christ has won for us by His death and resurrection. Luther picks this up in the Reformation. And many evangelicals today speak with great vigor on the personal faith of the believer.
As true as this is, and we should boldly teach and confess that salvation comes through faith alone, we should not lose sight of the many examples in Scripture of the faith of one person benefiting another individual. For four friends who let down the paralytic through the roof have their faith rewarded not only by their friend being healed, but first and foremost having his sins forgiven. When the centurion sends word to Jesus saying, “I am unworthy to have you come under my roof; say the Word and my servant will be healed,” Jesus commends the man’s faith as being greater than any He has found in Israel, and he heals the servant.
Today we are given the heart-wrenching account of a mother begging for her daughter to be released from a demonic oppression. She cried out to Jesus: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is oppressed by a demon.” It is interesting that though it is the daughter who is being oppressed, the mother’s request is worded such that Jesus would have mercy on her, the mother, and not the daughter. Any mother who has ever had a sick child, or one with a bum knee, knows something of this woman’s pain. The same goes for fathers. No parent wants to see their child suffer. Whether it is illness or injury, grief or heartache, when a child is afflicted her parents suffer.
To make this woman’s desperation worse, He, who alone could cast out the demon, is silent. He makes no response to her. His disciples urge Him to send the woman away, and He tells them that healing a gentile woman’s daughter is basically not in His job description. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This is harsh language. We may not like it, but we do not get a complete picture of Christ if we ignore it. Finally, the woman who has chased Jesus down falls at His feet and begs, “Lord, help me.” And He, who denied her first with silence and then with a remark to His disciples, now denies her to her face: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
But the woman’s faith is not broken. Faith is mysterious. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Faith is not something we create in ourselves. It is not something that we direct, but wherever our faith is, it will direct us. If faith were a psychological phenomenon, we would expect that mistreatment and desperation would break faith, yet for this woman, and for many others, trials and tribulations, God’s silence and rebukes, do not harm faith, but increase it. The Holy Spirit who draws us to Jesus holds on tighter to Him when we are at our weakest. Indeed, His grace is sufficient for us because His power is made perfect in weakness. Three times denied, the Canaanite mother responds once more in faith that Jesus, can, should, and will help her, “Yes, Lord, [it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs] yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table of their lords.”
“O woman, dear compassionate, long-suffering woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” From that hour, her daughter was made well. The devil’s hold was broken.
This is the story of a mother’s compassion. It is a testimony to faith. It is a lesson in prayer. But it is also a layer in the greater story of God’s redemption of mankind from the power of the devil. It shows us the ease with which Jesus binds and casts out Satan. The devil has no response to a Word from Christ. He who had to depart from Jesus in the wilderness when He said, “Depart, Satan, for it is written You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve,” must now depart from this girl, because her mother moved Jesus to speak a word of release and freedom for her sake.
Let us learn a lesson from this devoted mother as we consider the young among us who have been brought to First Lutheran School to be instructed and nurtured in the faith. Has there ever been a time in our country when the devil’s hatred of all that is good and true was felt more keenly than it is now? There will be more reason for our children and our children’s children to fall away from the faith than ever before. The minds and reason of so many are twisted by Satan’s lies. Fear of ridicule and mockery hang over every child of God. How do we spare our children the hurt and sorrow that come from living in a society where all too often the devil’s lies are held more sacredly than the living and active Word of God’s truth. Death rules the minds of many. Death is held up as the answer to unplanned pregnancies as well as the unbearable social pressures asking kids to be perfect in so many ways. Death is the answer to the question of where do I come from. Should it surprise us when it is chosen as the answer to the question, “What do I do now?” These are but some of the lies with which Satan oppresses our children, our neighbors.
In truth, every generation of the church has had its struggles. But it is hard to look past the fact that by some estimates more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in the rest of history combined. The devil's rage is real and ongoing. And in this great nation we are seeing and feeling it more and more. Faithful Christian answers to the hard questions in life are not easily stomached by the world. The hot breath of Satan will be felt on the necks of young Christians. But we have the example of this faithful Canaanite woman who will not leave Jesus while her child is in need.
St. Cyprian in the third century noted: No one can have God for his father unless he has the Church for a mother. Mothers pray for their children, even the children who have not yet been born. It is good, right, and salutary that we pray for the next generation of this congregation and of the holy, Christian, and Apostolic church. It is right and proper to pray for those who have strayed from the faith, for those who are not being raised in Christian homes, and for those who are carrying the faith forward in the midst of great testing. Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David, and spare our children who are harassed and harried by the devil. Lord, help us, and preserve Your Church. Lord, feed us crumbs and have mercy on those who are deceived into false belief through the devil’s lies. Break the oppression of addiction; renew hearts made calloused by abuse or hate. Keep Your Church going long enough for our children and grandchildren to come to know You and be spared the devil’s torment!
Faith comes through hearing, and one generation’s commitment to calling out to Jesus for mercy and to the world in compassion is the means by which the faith is passed on. But let us not think so highly of our own faith that our confidence becomes based on our faith rather than on Christ’s mercy. The Canaanite woman has great faith, but she does not look to her faith, but to Christ’s mercy.
Though we are saved by grace through faith, ultimately our salvation does not rest on our own faith, but on the faith of another. For it is the faithfulness of Christ which cries out for mercy on our behalf. When God is silent and the Son hangs beaten and bloody and forsaken, we should know that salvation is not far off. God will answer the faithful Son who cries for salvation and forgiveness. Christ, who desired only that we would be saved, will be vindicated for His great faith. In His resurrection He will find it done just as He desired. Satan’s hold on you is now released.
Today as we struggle against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, the Lord of the Church still has crumbs fall from the table of our Lord: a morsel of bread, a sip of wine. But it is sufficient to accomplish His heart’s desire, that we and the faithful of every generation would be brought to the marriage feast of the Lamb that has no end.
Let us not fear the future nor doubt our Lord’s compassion, but call out in every trouble, for He hears us and He is faithful. “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David.” Even when He is silent, He hears our prayers.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria