Monday, March 17, 2014

Homily for Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere)

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly" (Matthew 15:21-28).

It’s always great to baptize a little child.  Jesus says “one must become like one of these little children to inherit the kingdom of God.” As Jesus ascends to heaven he says “go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In the book of Acts Peter says “Repent and be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of sins…this promise is for you and for you children.” 

But when we baptize and when we bring in new members we are not always perfectly honest with them.  Those who are part of God’s family don’t have it easy.  It’s not an easy ride.

Just ask Jacob.  In our text this morning He is running away from his brother Esau who is coming with 400 men to most likely kill him. If you think your family has problems, think again, just look at God’s family in the Old Testament. Or if you think the families on the Jerry Springer show are messed up just read the Bible.  Jacob stole Esau’s birthright and now Esau is coming for payback. Jacob is terrified and he’s on the run.

Just when things couldn’t get any worse, a man storms Jacob’s camp in the middle of the night to pick a fight. And this is not any man but God himself wrestling with Jacob. And it’s a no holds barred type of fight. Black and blue, bruises and blood.

But why?  Remember when God appeared to Jacob in a dream.  God showed him a ladder from heaven to earth. God spoke to Jacob and promised him protection, children, and many blessings.
The Lord had promised Jacob a safe journey. But now the Lord is dashing all these promises as he violently tosses Jacob around in the middle of the night. But Jacob fights. He doesn’t give up. He is tenacious and stubborn.  He takes the blows and even returns a few. The brawl goes on through the darkness and terror of the night and Jacob refuses to go down without a fight.  There he is kicking, thrashing, and rolling around in a violent struggle for life and limb.  Soon the morning comes and the day breaks, the sun begins to arise beyond the mountains.

And at last the Lord relents. He softens his grip and asks Jacob to let him go. But Jacob knows who he is wrestling with. It is the Lord – the pre-incarnate Christ – God of God and light of light – very God of very God. And Jacob remembers everything that was promised to him – forgiveness, a safe journey, and salvation. And Jacob wants God to make good on His promises.  

With a firm lip and stubbornness, he refuses to let go of God until he is blessed by him, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” cries Jacob. The Lord does bless Jacob and tells him that his name is no longer Jacob but “Israel” which means one who struggles and fights with God and wins. Jacob goes limping off in the morning light with the blessing of God and the promise that Esau will forgive him through the blood of Christ. Jacob now Israel struggles with God and wins.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel text. A woman comes to Jesus for mercy. Her daughter is demon possessed and she’s exhausted all other options.  She desperately cries out to Jesus for help. At first Jesus doesn’t answer her cries. He ignores her.

He says she’s not a priority. Then he calls her a dog. Like, Jacob, she finds herself in something of a wrestling match with God. And God does not seem to be for her but very much against her.  Jesus does not particularly appear to be her friend, but rather her enemy. He ignores her, even insults her. But this woman has faith. She does not give up. She wrestles by faith and not by sight. She believes against all experience that Jesus is indeed for her. Even though the Lord seems to be saying “no,” she grabs hold of him and demands that he will say yes. 

Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. Jesus is blown away. O woman great is your faith! Her daughter is healed instantly. And she praises God.   

Then there’s us. We barely ask God for anything. Complaining and blaming others comes much easier. We are easily discouraged. We are quick to give up. Unlike Jacob, we’ll throw in the towel as soon as trouble comes our way. Prayer comes to a screeching halt, your Bible still collecting dust.

What we can honestly say about Kaitlyn this morning and what we can honestly say about you:  Is that the Christian life is filled with trouble, loss, and violence. Dark nights, and wrestling matches with God. God is often rough with those whom he loves.

But God is much rougher on His own Son. He was pummeled with your sin and wounded from your iniquity. He was black and blue, bloodied and bruised by your sins. He wrestled against the powers of sin, death, and the devil.  All to guarantee your safety from the powers of hell and to make a way for safe travel to the promised land.  It was he who was condemned to death that you would be given eternal life.  He was cursed by God on the cross that you would be blessed for all eternity. He believed that God was for him, despite evidence to the contrary.  Jesus died for your lack of faith that you would be filled with his mercy.

You are all descendants of Jacob who is now named Israel.  The church is the new Israel who strives and wrestles with God.  The Christian life is not a frolic through the rose garden, it’s a life and death struggle often with God himself.   But despite all evidence to the contrary God is for you and not against you.

Like all fathers who love their children, God wrestles with those whom he loves – and is most proud when he lets them win. He works all things together for good for those who love him. Therefore you live by faith and not by sight. 

We refuse to let go of the Lord until we are blessed by Him. And that’s exactly what God does, as he announces his love for sinners.

Like Kaitlyn you are all God’s children now. You are baptized and made holy. This promise if for you and for your children.  And you get much more than crumbs that fall from your masters table. You receive his very body and blood.

And like Jacob you can depart in peace with your head held high, and walk out into the morning light -  knowing that you too have wrestled with God, and won.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.   

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