11 Pentecost Proper A15
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 15:21-28 Sermon
August 20, 2017

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
339 "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"
371 "Jesus Thy Blood & Righteousness"
364 "How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds"
575 "Before The Lord We Bow"  


TEXT: (vs. 22 & 28) “And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.’  Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.’  And her daughter was healed instantly.”

                There has been a lot going on in our world recently, things that are shocking and disturbing.  On the international scene, we just witnessed the tragic act of aggression that happened when someone took a vehicle and plowed into a group of pedestrians in the Spanish resort town of Barcelona. Isis has claimed responsibility for that.

            Aggressive actions like this have almost become common place, and that in itself is scary.  When one horrible thing after another happens, we almost become used to it.  Just think about those who have to live amongst this every day of their life.

            The tragedy that happened in Charlottesville a week ago Saturday on August 12th is the one that is affecting the American public the most.  Since that time, people have asked me to weigh in on the subject, wanting to know my opinion on the matter.  Anybody who knows me at all also knows that I can be rather opinionated, and this incident is no exception.

            I know that many preachers all over the country are addressing this issue, giving their personal opinions and observations.  And because of the gravity of this situation, I feel that it is necessary to properly address it.  In doing so, I am not attempting to make any sort of political statement.  Rather, I am going to do so according to what God has to say about situations like this.  And I believe that our Gospel lesson for today has a good application for this.  So let's begin.

            I'm very accustomed to seeing protesters.  Living a scant eight blocks from the State Capitol building, I see them out on the K Street or 16th Street sides of the building.  For the most part, things are relatively tame.  Sometimes it's people carrying picket signs.  Sometimes there are even public speakers.  But it all has to do with legislation that is either being supported or condemned, and the people gathered there are exercising their first amendment right to speak their mind about it.

            I whole-heartedly support a person's first amendment right of free speech.  It's because of that right that I can stand in a pulpit and preach a sermon on Sunday morning without having to worry about storm troopers barging through the door and arresting me, or having the FCC boot me off of television because of something I say.  I can preach God's word and tell people about the saving love of Jesus without any fear at all.

            Freedom of speech is, however, a two-way street.  People are free to say things I don't agree with, or that I find offensive, or that go completely against every fiber of my being.  People who do this are protected by the very same rights that I have. 

            In 1906, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote the following line in her book entitled, "Friends of Voltaire," which has often been quoted:  "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."  So just because I don't agree with something somebody says does not take away their right to freely express themselves.  That's a right and privilege every American has.

            So what about Charlottesville?  It's a town in Virginia with a population just shy of 50,000; so it's about the size of Kearney.  But this relatively quiet southern town has seen riots and mayhem reminiscent of the race riots of the 1960s.

            There's an old Sunday School song you may remember.  It goes, "Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world; red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world."    It's rather profound, isn't it?  These are simple words that have a deep meaning.

            This is something that is presented time and time again in the Scriptures!  One of the verses I use to sum all this up is what Paul writes to the Galatians, chapter 3, verse 28:  "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."    

            For the life of me, I cannot figure out how somebody could even remotely think they're living a Christian life and still be a racist or a bigot.  A racist is a person who believes that one race is superior to another; and a bigot is somebody who hates somebody else because of their race, or religion, or any number of things about a person.  This was all too common in the days of Jesus and the Apostles.  That's why Paul lays it out so bluntly in Galatians chapter 3, and not just in verse 28 either.  So the mantra of the Ku Klux Klan, and the neo-Nazis, and the white supremists do not represent the Christian faith in any way, nor does this kind of thinking have any place in our society.  It's just plain wrong, and there are no two ways about it.

            As near as I can tell, a group of people wanted to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.  Regardless of who they were, they had their right to protest that.  This was met with a counter protest group, and they had every right to express themselves.  But peaceful actions went by the wayside, and it was on for young and old.

            So let's look at this situation; but first, let's remove everybody's label.  Let's look at this as simply a group of people, and leave it at that.  After all, that's what they were.   It's with this in mind that I will make this statement:  "Irrespective of who you are or what label you wear, if by your actions you intentionally hurt another individual, or if you intentionally vandalize or destroy someone's property, you are the problem and not part of the solution." 

            I think that is about the fairest way to approach this situation.  But people are way too busy pointing fingers and attacking other people to do an honest evaluation of what they're doing.  In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 15 Paul writes:  "See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone."  And this isn't the only place in the Bible we encounter this thought. 

            Our Gospel Lesson for today is the story about a Canaanite woman who had a daughter who was demon-possessed.  The daughter was in dire need of Jesus’ healing touch.  And so we find this woman, approaching Jesus and his disciples, where she makes a general nuisance of herself; well, at least according to the disciples.

            “Lord, Son of David!” she cries, “Have mercy on me!”  The disciples were rather indignant with all this, and so they begged Jesus to send her away, because as they say, “She is following us and making all this noise.”

            The disciples had the tendency to be a little over-zealous at times, and they would behave in a manner not really fitting a Christian, and this was one of those times.  The woman's faith begins to show itself immediately by the way she addresses Jesus.  “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Now we may not think that this address is too much out of the ordinary; except we must remember that this woman was a Canaanite.  Now a Canaanite was not an Israelite, not a Jew, and was therefore unclean and actually hated as far as the Jews were concerned.

            As unlikely as this woman was to approach Jesus as the Son of God, and as unlikely as she would be to have faith in him as true God, she did.  She openly and immediately referred to him as the promised Saviour of the Old Testament.  And what a strong statement of faith that was!  But the disciples weren’t able to see this.  They were after Jesus to send her away, because she was annoying them.

            Next, Jesus does something that may seem quite contrary to his ordinary behavior.  First he just didn’t say anything to her.  He sort of ignored her.  And when the disciples pressured him, Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” which is like him saying that he wasn’t there for anybody else; that his ministry was to be only amongst the Jews.  She then falls on her knees, and begs and pleads with him again, “Lord help me!” 

            Then the response Jesus gives seems almost more shocking.  He says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  In effect, this is like him saying that the Israelites were God’s true children, and that the Canaanites were lower class people; nothing but dogs.  It’s like Jesus is telling her that God’s love and God’s power should only be reserved for the chosen people ofIsrael, and shouldn’t be wasted on a Canaanite dog like her.  Now why would Jesus say such a bigoted thing?

            It’s a well known fact that this is the way the Jews saw the Canaanites.  They were racists and bigots.  Now Jesus himself didn’t think of her as being a worthless dog, getting the bread that should be given to the chosen children of Israel.  But you see, society thought so; and the disciples thought so as well.  And the woman herself knew that this is the way the Israelites looked at people like her also.  Jesus simply repeats the disciples’ thoughts, and the woman’s thoughts about herself.  Jesus says this not only to test this woman’s faith, but to teach his disciples a lesson.

            The woman’s response indeed confirms the faith she has.  She says, “Yes Lord.”  She agrees with his statement.  But then she says, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”  She wasn’t asking for something that belonged to somebody else or something that she didn’t deserve.  She didn't go marching in the streets brandishing a weapon; she didn't set about in a fit of destruction and vandalism.  She didn't even carry a picket sign in protest of the Jews and their bigotry and hatred.  All she was after was a mere crumb of that love and power of God.  That would be enough.  That would be all that was needed to heal her daughter.

            That was a strong and enduring faith.  This woman wasn’t about to give up without getting at least a crumb from God.  And this is what Jesus was looking for.  This is the lesson the disciples needed to learn.  Seeing this faith, and the woman’s persistence, Jesus says, “Woman, you have great faith” and then he grants her request.  Her daughter was healed.

            A persistent faith is important, isn’t it?  Hebrews chapter 11, verse 6 says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”  Faith is the key.  Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8-9 reminds us, “For it is by grace are ye saved, through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works, lest any man should boast.”

            This Canaanite woman serves to give us a good example, doesn’t she?  If we look at ourselves, we frequently find it difficult to place a complete and total confidence in God.  Having faith in God can often be a difficult venture for us.  It is all too easy for us to give up and abandon a faith that is put to the test.  We might be tempted to lash out in anger, or respond in an inappropriate way.  And how often do we feel like throwing in the towel, giving up, and saying, “It’s just not worth it?”

            But what do we have left if we don’t have faith?  Remember that Hebrews passage which says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”   So if we don’t have faith, and a faith that is persistent, then we in no way can neither please God, nor can we find salvation; for we are saved by grace through faith.

            Faith brings us to Jesus.  We come to Jesus with the sickness of sin in our lives.  Because of sin, we are no better than dogs, begging for crumbs from the master’s table.  Just as the woman’s daughter was demon-possessed, so too Satan has taken over in our lives.  That sickness of sin and Satan is something that can only be cured by Jesus.  All of the wishing, all of the hoping, all of the positive thinking, or all of the new-age holistic philosophy is absolutely worthless.  We might as well be dogs chasing our tails.

            But the key here is faith.  We’re saved by grace through that faith.  God gives us that faith.  And that is a faith that looks only to Jesus Christ as our Saviour from that sickness of sin.  We can do nothing else except fall at our Saviour’s feet, and ask him for mercy.

            We can think of ourselves as being strong, or immovable, or the absolute pinnacle of independence.  We can see ourselves as being so good sometimes, that we tend to forget the necessity of that persistent faith.  But when all is said and done, and when all those other things prove futile, that faith is the only thing that will bring us to our knees, in tears, at the feet of Jesus, where the only ting we can exclaim is, “Lord, help me!” just like that Canaanite woman.

            That persistent faith is what we have when we are at the feet of Jesus, holding on to nothing else.  And to continue in that persistent faith, that’s where we constantly need to be.  We can’t be holding on to pride, or self-pity, or anything else for that matter.  Our Saviour is the only person we can grasp, and nothing else.  And it is there where we will always find the healing touch of forgiveness.

            This morning, I have attempted to be fair and impartial in my assessments.  When you look at the man, James Alex Fields, who got behind the wheel of a car and mowed down a bunch of people, injuring 19 and killing 32 year-old Heather Heyer, there is no other way to describe it than a senseless and hateful loss of life.  There is no excuse for that kind of behavior. 

            Then just yesterday, in Boston, a group of people wanted to hold a "free speech rally."  That's a no-brainer right?  Isn't that the first amendment right that we were talking about in the beginning?  This had nothing to do with the Charlottesville incident, and there were no white supremists, neo-Nazis, or KKK members involved.  When the city issued their permit for this activity, it came with severe restrictions, including a ban on backpacks, sticks and anything that could be used as a weapon.  500 police officers were also on hand to maintain law and order amongst the people.

            Approximately 40,000 so-called "anti-hate" protesters showed up.  They had scuffles with the officers, they threw rocks, projectiles, and even bottles of urine at them.  They even tore an American flag out of the hands of an elderly lady and knocked her to the ground. 

            Why?  This group of people reacted with hate and voilence out of pure assumption and nothing else.  There was no hate speech to react to; it was just a small rally dedicated to the first amendment that we hold so dear.  It's too bad when people who champion free speech and love and peace, only believe in it insofar as it has to agree with what they think. 

            When I was in college, one professor said:  "I have the right to walk down the street and swing my arms back and forth.  But my rights end where your nose begins."

            Jesus had to deal with hatred the likes of which we will never see.  The Jewish officials were racists and bigots that would make what we see pale in comparison.  So what did Jesus do?

            Jesus reached out across those lines.  He cast all forms of racism, bigotry, and whatever other hatred existed for no good reason.  He reached out, he touched, and he healed.  And suddenly, those lines that had separated them no longer existed. 

            We have a Saviour who loves us enough to come to this earth and pay the price for our sins.  He came to heal the biggest chasm there was, the gulf that separated sinful humanity from God.  The love he has for us is what took him to the cross to make all of that happen.

            We have a huge lesson to learn.  We cannot heal hatred with hatred.  As Christians, we have to look at other people the same way Jesus did.  So we extend a hand that helps, befriends, and heals; and not a fist that strikes out in hate.