Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 15:21-28
March 12, 2017
“Consider Your Place in Life”
“No one believes how the devil opposes and resists them, and cannot tolerate that anyone should teach or live rightly…It hurts him beyond measure to suffer his lies and abominations to be exposed…and to be driven out of the heart, and to endure such a breach to be made in his kingdom. Therefore he rants and rages as a fierce enemy with all his power and might, and marshals all his subjects [against Christians]…in addition, [he] enlists the world and our own flesh as his allies…Such is all his will, mind, and thought, for which he strives day and night, and never rests a moment…
If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and reckon upon having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies, who will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us.” Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition, 62-65
How did it go this week?
How did what go?
Your fight with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world. Did it go well?
Last week’s Gospel told us about the temptation of Jesus. To save people out of Satan’s Kingdom, Jesus had to be attacked by Satan. On Wednesday, we heard the beginning of Jesus’ final conflict with the evil one, His Passion.
What happened to Jesus also happens to everyone who doesn’t want to remain in Satan’s kingdom. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have God’s name on your forehead. As long as you remain in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in His victory over sin, death, and the devil, you also are in a life-or-death conflict with the old evil foe and his allies the world and your flesh. You could never hope to win this fight. But Jesus has already won. Through faith in Jesus you also conquer Satan, even when you’re weak, even when you stumble. That’s why Satan’s goal is to destroy faith in Christ.
So how did the fight go this week?
The chances are good that you didn’t think much about the fact that you were in the middle of a battle with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world. We get so busy with work, responsibilities, worries, pleasures, that we forget. If you forget you’re in a war, this week’s battles probably didn’t go very well.
Even if you were conscious of the battle you’re in, chances are good that you experienced defeats. In the prayer guide in the bulletin this week the catechism memory work is about confession. “Which are these?” it asks—what sins should we know and feel in our hearts and confess in order to receive absolution? The answer is: Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm? In other words, look at how you carried out the calling God has given you. The sins the catechism mentions are not what we consider great sins. They are sins that most of us struggle with every week in one way or another. Yet to be a Christian is to continue to fight against them, to get up when we fall and try to make progress against them. For forgiveness and strength in this fight we draw near to God, hear His Word of pardon and absolution, and receive the body and blood of Jesus which cleanses us of all sin.
To overcome our sins by faith in Jesus is to fight against the evil one, Satan, and his allies, our flesh and the world.
But if you try to do this week in and week out, you find how hard it is. In fact, you feel overwhelmed. It is a struggle even to keep your mind on it, isn’t it? If we don’t want to be overcome by our sins, we need God’s help. We call out to God to keep us watchful, to give us strength against the devil, to keep us in faith in Christ, to forgive us when we fall. We pray. Prayer is our weapon in the war against the devil—not because our prayers are strong, but because the One who has promised to hear and answer our prayers is mighty and victorious.
In the Gospel reading we have an example of this in the Canaanite woman. She cries out to Jesus for help and deliverance in her distress, and she doesn’t quit, because she believes that Jesus is who He says He is—the promised Son of David, come to bring salvation to her and the whole world from the devil’s power.
But we don’t need prayer only for ourselves. God calls you, when you are baptized, to serve Him in specific ways by serving specific people. He places you in your family and calls you to love and serve your spouse, your children or your parents. He places you in your congregation and calls you to love and serve your congregation and your pastor. He places you in your city or country and calls you to love and serve your government and your fellow citizens. All these things—family, church, state—are God’s institutions. They are there to bring God’s blessings to people. When they falter, people suffer. So they need prayer too. When the devil makes inroads against someone in your family, against your congregation or synod or your pastor, against your city or country or neighborhood, you aren’t supposed to sit still. You are supposed to fight the evil one with the weapons God has given you—prayer and the Word of God.
The Canaanite woman is dealing with an obvious attack of Satan on one she is called to love and serve—her daughter. Her daughter, says the Gospel, is “severely possessed by a demon.” The word literally is “she is demonized.”
People are naturally “demonized”—under the power of demons. If the Kingdom of Jesus is going to free them, there will be a fight.
If people are going to be saved, there will be a fight. We need to pray.
The problem is sometimes Jesus doesn’t seem to listen to our prayers…doesn’t answer her, says “I was sent only to lost sheep of Israel,” says, when she bows down in front of Him, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
She perseveres in faith in Jesus, believing He will help. She says, “Yes, I am a dog, but dogs get the crumbs.” Yes, I’m a sinner, yet you will not refuse forgiveness and blessing even to the chief of sinners. You came to save sinners.
Don’t doubt this. Hold firmly to it. Though great our sins, yet greater still/ Is God’s abundant favor. / His hand of mercy never will/ Abandon us nor waver. / Our shepherd good and true is He/ who will at last His Israel free/ from all their sin and sorrow.
When you see the devil attacking in yourself, your home, your church, your city, call on Jesus for help. This is how His kingdom advances, people are brought to salvation and preserved in it.
Soli Deo Gloria
Reminiscere—2nd Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 15:21-28
March 1, 2015
“Believing against Hope”
According to the flesh, the woman in the Gospel reading was not one of God’s children. God’s chosen people were the Jews. This woman was a Canaanite. She belonged to the people the Jews were commanded to wipe out when they entered the promised land because of their idolatry and abominable practices, which included burning babies alive in offering to their gods. (The Canaanites did not have particularly merciful gods.)
So according to the flesh she was of a nation that was under God’s condemnation. She had lots of reasons to expect that Jesus would not do anything for her. Then Jesus’ actions and words were not promising either. In response to her cries for mercy, Jesus says nothing at all. In response to His disciples’ entreaties to send her away and end her pitiful crying, Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” and presumably not to her, not matter how lost a sheep she might be. Then finally in response to her own kneeling down in worship in front of Jesus, He tells her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” How else would you take Jesus’ words except as a heartbreaking “no”? He seems to be saying, “I’d like to help you, but I’m just not here for you.”
Yet even though according to the flesh this woman is not one of God’s chosen, by faith she is a daughter of Abraham and an heir of God. Because “all things are possible for the one who believes,” Jesus says elsewhere. A mustard-seed sized faith can tell a mountain to be uprooted and planted in the sea. And what is far more difficult—faith in Christ makes the ungodly to be counted righteous, as the Epistle for today says: “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
Through faith in Jesus this Canaanite woman believed in a merciful God. She had left behind the gods of her fathers which demanded the blood of sons and daughters. She had renounced the devil and his demons who were oppressing her daughter and believed in Jesus Christ, crying out what you and I cry out in the Divine Service, “Lord, have mercy! Kyrie eleison!” And she would not be turned from her faith that Jesus would show her mercy. She would not even be dissuaded by Jesus Himself.
God has always dealt with His saints in this way. He is a God who hides Himself. He told Abraham that in his offspring all the nations would be saved and blessed, but then he let Abraham wander childless for decades. He promised to bless Jacob, but in the Old Testament reading He violently wrestles with Jacob all night. And this Canaanite woman He puts to the test also. She has heard that Jesus is merciful, but Jesus acts as if He has no mercy for her because she is not the physical descendant of Abraham and Jacob.
But she proved herself to be a true descendant of Jacob and Abraham because she walked in the faith of Jacob and Abraham. Like Jacob she refuses to let Jesus go until He blesses her. Like Abraham she believes against hope that Jesus will help her.
In the eyes of reason Abraham was a fool to believe God’s promise. He was old. His body was as good as dead, and His wife’s womb had been barren since her youth, and now she was 80 or 90. Yet Abraham believed that nevertheless God would keep His promise to give them a son, even though it was impossible.
In the eyes of reason this Canaanite woman is a fool to persist in trusting Jesus to help her. She’s brushed off, rejected, and called a dog by Him. Yet even though it seems impossible, she nevertheless believes that Jesus will have mercy on her.
This faith makes her a child of God. It is this kind of faith that saves—faith that takes hold of Jesus and His mercy even when everything else tells us that it is hopeless, that He won’t have mercy on us. By this faith the ungodly are justified, regarded as righteous. By this faith we who are in the depths of hell take hold of righteousness and eternal life—by faith in Jesus.
By this faith you are a child of God. You don’t come to Jesus with a resume full of qualifications for Jesus’ mercy. You come with no qualifications whatsoever, in fact, with a thousand reasons why He should reject you. For instance, that your ancestors were sinners, just like the Canaanite woman, and you yourself were conceived and born in sin. More still your thoughts, words, and deeds have been stained by sin. We are born and live under the curse of God for our sins. If we look at ourselves in the flesh, we find no reason why God should receive us and every reason why He should reject us.
But having no qualifications is our qualification. Jesus has come to earth to have mercy on those in the depths, those without any righteousness at all to bring to God. He has come to justify the ungodly.
We come to Him, crying, “Lord, have mercy.” We come with our own heritage of sin. We come bringing our children to Jesus, who like us were born helpless in sin. Jesus baptizes our babies, washing them clean in His blood. He satisfies the hunger of our souls for God’s mercy by giving us His body given into death as the bread that nourishes our souls. He quenches our thirst for mercy not with our own offerings but with His own blood which He poured out for us.
And what if we cry to Jesus, “Lord have mercy,” and He seems to answer us harshly or turn us away? Only keep crying out to Him, falling at His feet. Because when He seems to reject you He is only proving you to be a child of God. He is transforming you into His image. All the saints are chastened. That’s how we know we are sons and our Father loves us. He puts us through tests where we seem to be rejected by God or abandoned by Him, and then we must cling that much more to Christ in whom God has accepted us as His sons and heirs.
Even Jesus experienced this testing. He agonized in Gethsemane, praying for His Father to find another way to redeem us from sin than through His abandonment by the Father. And the answer was no. Just as the Canaanites were to be wiped out for their sins, Jesus was annihilated on the cross for the sins of the whole world.
He was abandoned by the Father on the cross as He was made sin for us. In this the Father has accepted us, spoken His yes to us. He does not demand that we bring Him offerings to atone for our sins. He has offered up His own Son to atone for us and to provide reconciliation and peace with Him. We are received through Jesus’ being cast away. God has given us mercy in Jesus by pouring on Him the strictness of His justice. We eat of this sacrifice that God provided in the Sacrament of the Altar and God satisfies our hearts with His mercy.
So when it seems that God is saying “No” to you,” know that in Jesus, in His cross, God’s final word to you is “Yes,” and “Amen.”
The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
“Let us draw near with a true heart”
The first thing to notice about this Gospel for Reminiscere Sunday is the labor and pain the Canaanite woman puts into her prayers.
She receives no answer to her petition. Jesus walks by without saying a word. But she follows, crying out after Him and His disciples: Son of David, have mercy on Me! When I was a kid my and my parents would give me some work to do and I would say, “I tried, but I just couldn’t do it,” they taught me that when people really want something they don’t quit so easily.
It doesn’t matter whether she’s embarrassed or whether Jesus is being unfair. She doesn’t quit. Tears and sweat and time go into her praying. Rejection doesn’t stop her.
We see mothers spend this kind of extraordinary energy for their kids all the time, right? But not always. And one area where parents often give up pretty easily is when it comes to the spiritual well-being of their children. It’s easy to see our kids’ need for a good job, their need to stay away from drugs, for an education.
But what about their need for God’s word? To most parents that seems to be much less of a concern. It’s not uncommon to wait 6 months, 9 months, a year, two years to bring your children to be baptized. Then if you bring them to church and Sunday school once a month you’re exceptionally devout.
But if a person doesn’t believe in Christ he belongs to the devil’s kingdom, including little children. A child that has not been brought to Christ and offered to Him first in prayer and then in Holy Baptism may not be bodily possessed by the devil, but apart from faith in Christ a child is spiritually possessed. And once baptized, children are subject to Satan’s attacks just like adults.
The only thing that saves us from Satan tormenting us is the breath of Jesus, the Word of God. Yet we are not very concerned when our children are made targets for this torment and deprived of the protection of God’s Word.
And even where parents are diligent about bringing their children to hear the Word of God, our zeal to carry them to Christ in prayer fizzles out so quickly.
That’s the first thing to meditate on in the Canaanite woman’s prayer to Jesus. She prays and doesn’t quit even when Jesus seems to reject her prayer. She is no doubt motivated by love for her daughter, but above all by faith in Jesus. Faith causes her to pray, and faith keeps her praying.
But how quickly we get tired of praying for others—tired of carrying them to the Lord, tired of worrying about them. How often we pray once or twice and then are proud of our efforts. But to pray for years and years and see no answer—that is something we seldom do except when we can do nothing else. And it is not usually for others that we are willing to bear this burden, but only when we are driven by our own pain and trouble.
This is what faith in Christ does: it draws near to Him. It comes near to Him for forgiveness and salvation. But it also comes near to take and receive from Him the gift of the Holy Spirit and daily bread. Hour by hour, moment by moment. Not just once, but again and again.
Many people say they have faith in Jesus who don’t see the need to go to church.
What kind of faith is it if it doesn’t make you draw near to Jesus?
Is it possible to believe that Jesus is your Savior and then not draw near Him?
I believe my wife is my wife. I was there when we said vows. But what does that belief mean if it never results in me coming near her?
I made vows to her before God and witnesses that I would draw near to her every day of my life. I didn’t promise that I would just be near her physically, but that I would draw near to her in heart and mind. That I would seek to live out the reality God established in our wedding—that we are one flesh.
If I depart from her, move away from her—emotionally or physically—I can point to our marriage license all day and say, “No, I really am married to her. It says so right here.” But the marriage license won’t prevent the death of the marriage.
Faith that doesn’t draw one near to Jesus is dead faith. Salvationless faith. It’s like a marriage without love. You ask if I love my wife, and I tell you, “Yes, I signed the papers back in 2006.”
The god you really have faith in is the one you draw near to and go to for help, for strength, for good things.
You come near to your god not only with your body and your lips, but with your heart also. But don’t be fooled when people tell you they draw near to Christ with their hearts even though they avoid Christ’s Word and Sacraments and the members of His body, the Church.
[If you believe in Jesus you love Him. If you love Jesus you love those who are His (according to Scripture—1 John…) And when we love someone in our hearts we also want to be near them in the body—to see their face, hear their voice. Isn’t that what Paul is always saying in his letters? For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift…Romans 1:12]
Faith draws near. But it is also very possible to draw near to Christ physically and with words and actions and yet not draw near with the heart. Jesus just finished saying that to the Pharisees earlier in Matthew chapter 15: Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me…” (verses 7-8)
What if God said this about you? Does He?
“With their mouths they draw near to me, but their hearts are far away from me.” God is saying, “They say the words with their lips but not their hearts. Their hearts are after another lover, another God.”
Examine your own life and your own thoughts and see if the words fit: This people draws near to me with their mouth, but their heart is far from me. You act like you want to come near to God. You show up and participate in the Divine Service pretty regularly, and in the Divine Service we all say the words of people who want to come near to God. But where is your heart?
David sang in the Psalms:
O God, you are my God. Early will I seek Thee. My soul thirsteth for Thee. My body longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is, to see Thy power and Thy glory…(Psalm 63:1-2)
As the deer pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God…(Psalm 42:1-2)
People see our actions, but God sees our hearts. I examine my heart and I find that more often than I want to acknowledge I am talking like a Christian and a pastor and trying to pass myself off as one. But it isn’t the Lord and His will that my heart wants. I want to do my will because I think that my will is more likely to bring me happiness than God and His will.
Before confessing our sins, the Divine Service has me say to you, Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins to God our Father, beseeching Him…to grant us forgiveness. The words are from the Bible, from Hebrews chapter 10: Therefore, brothers, having boldness to enter the Most Holy place by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (verses 19, 21)
The Canaanite woman draws near to Jesus with a true heart.
That means, first of all, that she comes knowing she has no right to come to Him. Like the prodigal son came home to his dad. Not claiming rights, but confessing that he had no rights. Asking for mercy.
But drawing near to God with a true heart means also coming with boldness and assurance of faith. The Canaanite woman was so sure that Jesus would receive her that even when Jesus seemed to reject her she was sure that He would accept her.
You cannot draw near to God without first being a sinner.
That’s why she wasn’t put off when He didn’t answer her. Or when He told her she was a dog.
She agreed. But still dogs receive crumbs from the table of the children.
We don’t have the right to come near to God and ask Him for gifts.
But Jesus does. His heart was fixed on God. He prayed without ceasing. He obeyed the Father. He is the beloved Son after His Father’s own heart.
His pure heart was pierced so that our defiled hearts would be purified and cleansed. He offered His perfect heart that drew near to God for your wicked heart that turns away from Him to idols. His heart was perfect and pure. Full of unstained, unclouded, unfaltering faith. Full with all the fullness of God of selfless and pure love toward God and toward you and all His creation.
He made atonement for our hearts that by nature are far from God. And by faith in Him we draw near to God with a clean conscience. Our hearts could only tremble and be afraid of God because we are constantly drawn by them to seek other lovers, other gods. But through Him we draw near to God. In Him we have access to God and may call upon Him to grant us out of His fullness everything we need for our soul and body, moment by moment.
And not only are we given confidence to ask for ourselves, but as priests we are allowed and assigned to intercede for the needs of our neighbors.
So we draw near with our hearts sprinkled and our bodies washed. Our bodies washed in baptism like priests’ bodies were washed. But our hearts sprinkled with His blood like everything holy in the temple was sprinkled and cleansed with blood.
And we come and draw near and ask and receive. That is what we have been given the right to do.
That’s what you get to do because you are also priests. If people you are near can’t or won’t draw near to Christ–if they are vexed by a devil spiritually, controlled by him or being driven away from Christ—we get to go ask for them like she did.
The tragedy is how little we ask Him. We ask little when He would give so much. Peter asked Jesus to tell him to walk on the water. Jesus said, “Come,” not, “don’t ask for so much.”
We don’t ask because we rely on too many idols—ourselves, our own powers. Our ideas about how things are supposed to work.
How terrible to be of the covenant and promise and yet never use the benefits by drawing near in faith and receiving grace to help in the needed time! That’s what the Pharisees did. They were hardened and thought they were already holy and righteous. They dressed up in their self-made righteousness and blinded themselves to the fact that they didn’t keep God’s law. If they had seen their need and their poverty, they would have asked Jesus, and He would have given them living water. He would have said “I am the Lord your God. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”
Then we have this lady who was not among the holy people, and she grasped by strong faith what the disciples had grasped weakly (Peter) and what the Pharisees had not grasped at all.
Oh that the Lord would let us see our need and His passion during this short season of Lent, and draw near to Him with a true heart, receiving from His fullness for our need and the people He has given us to serve!
The peace of God…
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 15:21-28
February 24, 2013
“When the Lord says: ‘Your will be done’”
In the Holy Name of Jesus.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done” to His heavenly Father. But before that He taught us to call His Father “Our Father”. That is an invitation to pray that exceeds our wildest imaginations. You don’t talk to your master the way you do to your father. You don’t ask your master for the same things. You might ask your master for a day off. You ask your father for Christmas presents, for the keys to the car, to help you with your homework.
Jesus gives us His Father as our Father. He teaches us to ask our Father in heaven first of all that His name be kept holy, that His kingdom would come, and that His will would be done on earth as in heaven. Many people hear that third petition “Thy will be done” and figure that means that our will will not be done.
But Jacob and the Canaanite woman prayed and God let their will be done. “Be it done for you as you desire,” Jesus said to the woman. What is that but to say, “Your will be done?”
God does not always say, “No,” to our prayers. Sometimes He says, “Let it be done for you as you wish.”
So you would think that we would pray about everything. First because Jesus tells us that when we pray we should call God “Father”; secondly because God has been known to say to sinners who pray: “Your will be done.”
But we don’t pray very much, do we?
Not like Jacob and the Canaanite woman, where God says, “Your will be done.” “Let it be done for you as you desire” after we have prayed and struggled.
Not as diligently for our neighbor as we pray for ourselves, as the Canaanite woman did for her daughter.
It is not true that God never wants to give you what you desire.
God wants to give you what you desire, when your desire is the same as His.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:5
He wants to teach you to ask for what He has promised, and to teach you to rely on His promise even when it seems like He is not coming through on it.
He wants to make you, as a king and priest together with Jesus, a co-worker in Jesus’ royal work of saving sinners and having mercy on the just and the unjust.
How? Through prayer.
When does God say “Your will be done?”
God says “Your will be done”:
- Not to those who trust in their own righteousness.
- But to those who come to Jesus only clinging to His grace and His promise.