Last Sunday, the sermon was about that puzzling passage in which Jesus seems at first to reject the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). Pastor Douthwaite solved that puzzle in a definitive way in a sermon that was incredibly profound and helpful.
From Rev. James Douthwaite, St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 10 Sermon:
What do you do when what you experience in life does not seem to line up or agree with the Word of God? When what is happening to you even seems to contradict the Word of God?The Word which says that God will provide for you (Matthew 6:25-33), but you’ve been in need for so long? The Word which proclaims that God will be with you always (Matthew 28:20), yet you’ve never felt so alone? The Word which teaches that you are a child of God (Galatians 4:4-7), baptized into Him, and that He will never leave you as an orphan (John 14:18), yet your Father has never felt so far away? The Word which trumpets that you are forgiven (Acts 10:43), yet you look at yourself and inside yourself and see nothing but a miserable, wretched sinner, and feel so unworthy and dirty and unclean? The Word which promises you every good (Romans 8:28), yet so much of what you receive seems anything but good?How do you reconcile the Word which says God will always hear and answer every prayer (John 16:23), yet when you pray you seem to be like this woman we heard about today, whose prayers are met only with silence and rejection?What do you do? Such times are hard, when Word and world conflict. But that is the reality we live in. This woman’s reality. So by considering her, we see ourselves.So first of all consider: why was she there? Well, because her daughter was severely oppressed by a demon. Maybe for some time now. And how do you fight against a demon? She needed help. . . . You know how it is, for demons are pressing hard, attacking, luring, and tempting you too. Into all manner of sins. What are they for you, that you wrestle with? Maybe severely. And your strength is not enough. You’ve tried, and failed. Fallen back into the old ways, the old sins, the old bad habits and despair. You need help too.But do not overlook this fact: why was she there? Because first Jesus had come to her. The Son of God had come down from heaven in the flesh, and then Jesus went to her, to her area, to the district of Tyre and Sidon. First, the Lord of all invaded the enemy’s territory to help, to rescue, and to save. . . . And again this is true for you as well. We have not a God who is far off, but a God who is near, who comes to us in our own flesh and blood, that we come to Him.
But still there is more, for why was she there? Because not only was Jesus there for her, but she heard about Jesus. Someone told her. Someone preached to her. Just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds and John the Baptist pointed the crowds to Jesus, so she had been told this good news. Or maybe she heard Jesus herself – His preaching with an authority not of this world. . . . You’ve heard that word, that preaching, too. That here is hope for the hopeless, help for the helpless, and freedom for the possessed. And so you’ve come too.
And so with great boldness and in great desperation and with great hope, she comes to Jesus. And she gets . . . not what we expect. Not, I’m sure, what she expected. Not what Jesus’ track record indicates she would get. She gets . . . this. The silent treatment, rejection, insult. Sand kicked in her face. Shoved to the back of the room. Acknowledged only to be rejected.
For this woman, the Word she had heard and what she was now experiencing were two vastly different – and seemingly even contradictory – things.But she does not believe her experience. She does believe whatever emotions are surging from her heart. She does not believe the demons whispering to her to go away, that see? Jesus does not want to help you. No, she clings to Jesus. She clings to the Word and promises of God about Him. That Jesus is the Lord. That Jesus is the promised Son of David. That as Paul would later proclaim, Jesus has come to have mercy on all people. Including Gentiles. Including Canaanites. Including her.And because of that, Jesus holds her up as an example of great faith. For this is what faith does – it clings to the Word and promises of God. Even when our emotions and experiences and other people in this world – even disciples – tell us otherwise. Because everything else is unreliable. Everything else in us and in this world has been tainted with sin. For sin isn’t just the bad things we do, it is the disease that infects our minds and our emotions so they don’t work as they should. That we think wrongly and interpret our emotions incorrectly and when left on our own, will think wrong things of God, too. And you can be sure the devil and his demons take full advantage of that, to deceive us and mislead us in false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice (Small Catechism, explanation to the Sixth Petition). Which means that any sentence that begins with “it seems to ME” or “it feels like to ME” frankly cannot be trusted.
Only sentences which begin with: Thus saith the Lord – only these are pure truth. Only these are to be relied on and trusted. Only these will give us the firm and certain foundation we need in a world full of trouble and strife, changes and chances, danger and need. Especially when our experiences and emotions are telling us one thing today and something else tomorrow. God doesn’t change and His Word doesn’t change, and so we have something outside of our infected, sinful selves to rely on.
That’s what this woman did that day. She clung to the Word of God and would not let go. And not only the Word of God she heard that brought her there to Jesus that day, but also the words that Jesus spoke too. The words that sounded so harsh, yet in which this woman finds hope. For when Jesus says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” the woman responds: “You say that I am a dog. Let it be. I will gladly be a dog; now give me the consideration that you give a dog. I ask no more than a dog’s rights. Give the children what is the children’s; I don’t ask for that. Give me the crumbs and I will be content with that” (Luther, House Postils, Vol. 1, p. 325).How different is that from what we hear in our world today – where so many are demanding rights and privileges and what they want from God? And when He doesn’t deliver, see ya’!No, it is not to those who think they are deserving or worthy that Jesus gives, but to the undeserving and the unworthy. Not to the Pharisees and Sadducees, but to the tax collectors and sinners. Not to those who think Jesus owes them something simply because they are physically descended children of Abraham, but to the true children of Abraham – those not according to the flesh, but according to the promise. Children by faith. Like this Canaanite woman. Like you.