Monday, August 15, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28 for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, "Mission and Mercy"

Sermon sentence outline

1. The Gospel reading is thick with tension. Different than we expect. Ignored, rebuffed, rebuffed again. Finally she turns the tables…one final rebuff to send her away? Surprising turn as He praises her faith and grants her request

2. John Gerhard compares this to Jacob wrestling with God—a test of faith where she had to wrestle against Jesus and prevail. “Often times Christ, our best friend, hides His blessed, kindly-disposed face from us, and He presents Himself against us as a stranger whom we have to engage in a wrestling match.” Just like Jacob wrestled and had the victory of faith (insisting on a blessing), so the woman had a victory of faith and held Jesus captive to her request. She persisted in chasing after His mercy. He was willingly held captive by His own words. Imagine a father play-wrestling with their child and surrendering to them.

3. How would our faith stand up under this kind of trial? In the shoes of that woman, would we have given up sooner? Walk away discouraged? Angry? Or would we hold onto Christ until He blessed us?

4. Where did this courage and persistence come from? She was a Canaanite. Where did the hope that Jesus would grant her request come from? Why did Jesus finally grant it, when He first said that He came for the lost sheep and children of Israel? The answer is in what she knew about the mercy of God, and in God’s plan to bring the people in.

5. First, she would have known about Jesus from His teaching and healing…She addressed Him with words of faith: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David”—She knows He is merciful, and appeals to His mercy. She calls Him Lord, acknowledging that He has power to save and heal her daughter. She calls Him Son of David, recognizing Israel’s prominence.

6. Probably didn’t know the OT reading from Isaiah, but there we find that she was not wrong to put her hope in Jesus, even as a Canaanite. God’s mission was always to bring His salvation to the world. Key ideas: “foreigners [will] join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, to love the name of the Lord and be His servants”… “a house of prayer for all peoples”… “The Lord God…gathers yet others to Him, besides those already gathered.”

7. Long before, in the OT, God’s mission trajectory was already set outward, to bring the nations to Him, gather in the outcasts, to join foreigners to Him. It was in keeping with God’s plan and deepest desire that this foreigner, this Canaanite be joined to Jesus by faith.

8. Luther wrote about the turning point in the story, how she made Jesus captive to His own words: “Let me, merely like a dog, pick up the crumbs under the table, allowing me that which the children don’t need or even miss, the crumbs, and I will be content [with that]. So she catches Christ, the Lord, in his own words and with that wins not only the right of a dog, but also that of the children. Now then where will He go, our dear Jesus? He let himself be made captive, and must comply. Be sure of this: that’s what he most deeply desires.”

9. She didn’t come proudly declaring her worthiness or defending her sense of honor, but humbly asked for nothing more than the crumbs of God’s grace. She would be satisfied, content with the crumbs…because she knows that the crumbs of God’s grace are more than a feast. She only needed a little. Christ lets Himself be caught and made captive, and she gains more than the right of dogs, but the right of the children. We see how deeply He desired this outcome by the warm and generous praise He gives to her faith when she prevails—praise that would have been shocking to the Jews and disciples, who might have expected one last rebuff to send her packing.
{Added during sermon: "You may not have thought about it, but this is the same posture we adopt when we gather for worship and begin by confessing our sins, that we have done wrong, and don't deserve anything but God's punishment. We come, confident of God's mercy for the sake of Jesus Christ, but humble because of our sins. And after we have heard the proclamation of forgiveness from the pastor, what are the next words in our liturgy? 'Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy upon us!' We cry out to the merciful God, confident of His desire to help us."}

10. Since it is God’s deepest desire that we cling to Him for mercy, since its His desire to bring in the outcasts, to join foreigners to Him, to make His house a house of prayer for all peoples, how do we follow God’s mission trajectory to the world? We look for the broken, the outcast, those who might be overlooked or left behind as worthless or a nuisance. Those whom society treats almost as “non-existent” (Harrison). Jesus came to the humble and lowly. They need unconditional love from their Savior, and from us.

11. If the mouth of mission is the proclamation of the Good News about Jesus, and the merciful God who wants to save us and join us to Him—to bring us into a covenant relationship with Him—then the hand of mission is the mercy that we extend to those who are suffering or in need. The opportunities to extend mercy, with no strings attached and nothing expected in return, are as countless as the needs which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing. The food pantries, women’s shelters, the prisoners and families of those in prison, the foster children, the victims of natural disasters, the sick and the shut-ins…the list can go on and on.

12. People everywhere are crying for mercy, some are wrestling with deep trials and adversity, but without the benefit of faith—and so often they become overwhelmed or broken by the suffering of life. We can be the hands and feet that bring mercy to them, and also offer the greatest gift of God’s Word and promises. Show them the merciful God who knows and understands the broken, and desires to join us to His saving life, to make us joyful in His house of prayer. Jesus deeply desires to give us mercy, and though we will sometimes have to struggle with God against the tests of faith in life, Jesus deeply desires to give us the rights of children, to be fed with the full portion of His grace and love. Forgiveness and salvation are no crumbs from the table, they are God’s rich blessing to those who trust in Jesus.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. Describe the tension in the Gospel reading. After the series of apparent rebuffs, how might the disciples have expected the exchange to end? How does God sometimes “wrestle against us” with trials and difficulties? Genesis 32:22-32; 2 Cor. 12:7-10

2. How did the Canaanite woman cleverly catch Jesus in His words? How does it become clear that He was willing to be held captive by His own words?

3. What is the “mission trajectory” of God, that you can already see in the Old Testament? How does Isaiah 56:1-8 show God’s plan to join the foreigners and the outcasts to Him? Cf. Rom. 11

4. How does the woman show humility in approaching Jesus? What small right does she plead for? What right does Jesus in turn grant her? Psalm 51:17; 34:18

5. How did Jesus’ ministry incorporate care for both the body and soul? What was the word of mission, and what were the hands of mercy? What work is there for our hands and mouths in the mission and mercy of the church? Where are the opportunities to serve and to help? How can the word bring faith and hope to the lives of the broken and the outcast?

6. How is the forgiveness of sins and the life and salvation that Jesus won at the cross, more than mere “crumbs” and truly a feast to satisfy and content our souls? Psalm 63:1-8

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