30 August 2020

Book: Matthew

All Sermons

He is the Merciful Savior for All

Bible Passage: Matthew 15:21-28

When I was in college I worked in a factory the made a product by 3M called stack-its. Stack its was a pieces of plastic with multiple prongs that would get nailed to a stud to keep electrical wires straight. The stack its would come in a bag and each was preloaded with a nail. It was our job to put the nail in the hole of each stack it and package them up. I did that for a school year for 4 hours each day. It was absolutely mind numbing work. And as much as I sometimes wondered what I was doing there it wasn’t completely pointless.

I recently read an article about pointless jobs. I read about a museum filled with art which had one exhibition room that was empty and yes there was a guard assigned to watch the room. He was there to ensure, as he said, “that no guests touched the nothing in the room and ensure that nobody set any fires.” For seven and a half hours a day he guarded an empty room.

Then there was the employee whose job it was to watch in email inbox that received emails asking for tech help. Their job was to take the emails and copy and paste them into another form. Of course it could have been automated, and here’s the kicker it used to be.

Having talked to some of you I know that you can relate to the feeling of pointlessness and maybe you have even asked yourself, “What am I doing here?”

I suspect the disciples could relate to that feeling. They weren’t in Galilee anymore. In fact, they were in the heart of Gentile lands. In the region Tyre and Sidon. Jezebel, from the Old Testament, who was married to King Ahab, who promoted Baal worship, and who killed off faithful prophets was from Tyre. With all the people who were different from with all those unbelievers, it might just have seemed pointless for them to have been there. And even with some of Jesus’ strange reactions in this section it almost seems that he thought it was pointless to reach out to Gentiles too, and yet throughout this account we begin to see that there is always mercy for lost sheep.

It wasn’t just any woman who came to Jesus that day, but it was a Canaanite woman. If you were an Israelite there wouldn’t be a much better candidate than a Canaanite for someone who is unclean and defliled. She is unclean just by virtue of being a Gentile. But Canaanites were the enemies of Israel. Canaanites worshipped gods like Baal and Ashera. And to make matters worse this woman had a demon possessed daughter and she wouldn’t stop crying out about it. No wonder the disciples just wanted her to go away.

Yet this woman has a keen sense of who Jesus is, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” She doesn’t just call him teacher or Rabbi, but she calls him Lord which is a statement of profound respect. Then she calls him Son of David which is a statement of understanding that he is the promised Messiah from the house of David. She knows she has no one else that she can go to. She knows he is the only one who can help her so she cries out “have mercy on me.” Just like a beggar sits by the sidewalk all this woman can do is to utter a plea for mercy.

Yet amidst the shouts the Savior is silent. That’s when the disciples stepped in to try to get Jesus to send her away. And then Jesus said what are maybe even for us some devastating words, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Based on saying that, is there really always mercy at the Lord’s table?

Can you imagine not thinking you are lost? In oreientiering it’s called a compounded error — you are over confident and deny that you are lost, and end up getting yourself even more lost. The Jewish religious elite made a compounded error.

Jesus wasn’t wrong when he said came only to the lost sheep of Israel first with his message. Jesus did come to the lost sheep of Israel with his message first. But those sheep rejected him, they had no use for his message of mercy. Instead they opted for a system of works based on nothing more than what man though was necessary to atone for sin. 

In fact in the verses before this section Jesus was in Galilee and Jewish religious elite came up from Jerusalem to Galillee to challenge Jesus for his disciples breaking Jewish tradition.  The Religious elite thought that what they did was what made them worthy of God’s mercy. They had all of these laws given to them by God and they added even more on top of them and their keeping of these laws and traditions was their indication of status. But Jesus showed them their hypocrisy. It is not what they ate or their failure to do a ceremonial washing that made them unclean, but it was what came out of their hearts is what made them unclean. But because they thought they could actually cleanse themselves they placed themselves above any need for God’s mercy.

As we hear this account our hearts go out for this woman and her position of need and those statements of Jesus are mind boggling, but I wonder if functionally we operate more like the Jewish religious elite and the disciples. We may pity the Canaanite woman but do you see yourself in her? Do you see yourself continually in need of the Lord’s mercy? Or do you fall back into your own standards for what is acceptable or not acceptable? Standards which you certainly keep, but standards which fall so short of God’s holy standards. Or maybe there are times when you don’t even live up to your own standards but then you tell yourself you will do better and try harder next time. But all that ever does is put us in a cycle of burden and brokeness as we fail to see how lost we are was we strive and struggle to be a good person.

Nova Scotia is the lost capital of North America. It is nearly 80% forrest so you can nearly get lost by going out in your back yard.  A professor at a school in Halifax looked at more than 800 different search and rescue reports and all the 800 cases he found two people who had stayed put and waited for help to come. The rest just wandered and wandered which can often lead to death. When someone realizes they are lost a dread and panic sets in. Not only are they stricken with fear, but they also lose their inability to reason. 90% of people who are lost actually make decisions which make things worse for themselves.

We sometimes act as if we are still spiritually lost and we make decisions which make things worse for ourselves. Instead of crawling through our brokenness we strive and struggle trying to convince ourselves of our own value. We are the disciples and the Jewish religious elite, but we are also that woman and that is a good thing because Jesus came only for lost sheep.

The woman came and knelt before Jesus, “Lord help me!” She said. She took all her hurt and sorrow and laid it at the Lord’s feet. And here is Jesus’ reply, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Tough words. What do they mean? Jews viewed Gentiles as dogs, because they were not privileged to be God’s hand picked people. In a Jewish person’s mind you were either in the club or you were out and if you were out you had not spiritual future. But Jesus in this statement leaves an opening for this woman because instead of calling her a street dog like the Jews might call her, he calls her a pet dog that lives in the house.

The woman sees the opening that Jesus leaves her and she seizes it, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” The Lord draws a statement of faith out of this woman as a humble witness to the disciples and to all those plagued by hypocrisy. The woman was as hungry as a dog at table begging for scraps. To this woman the mercy of God was powerful and life changing and even the smallest crumb of his mercy was enough to help her and her daughter. 

Then Jesus pointed out in this woman something for all to see, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” With this statement Jesus is proclaiming publicly that this Canaanite is sitting already at the table of his mercy. She had already tasted his mercies before and by faith she knew what Jesus’ merciful response would be. 

Jesus hears the cries of his people, he hears your prayers for his help and his mercy. He hears your cries for rescue. It is at his table where he gives you enough mercy for life.

His table is his Word and the Sacraments. In Baptism we see his mercy as he created faith in our hearts and he seated us at the table of his mercy. In Lord’s Supper he continues to strengthen this faith. IN his Word we hear his voice call out to us and reminds us of his promises. In his Word we see the humility of the Son of David as sought out the the lost sheep he was sent to find. We see him go all the way to a cross where he called out for mercy, but there was none given to him so that it might all be given to us. We see him rise from his grave and by this resurrection he invites you to this table of mercy. And this invitation is for all. 

If you realize your lostness, if you are overwhelmed by life then come to the Lord for mercy and know that mercy is yours. He will know break you down, he will not snuff you out. Rather comforts those who mourn, heals the brokenhearted, and fills up those who hunger for mercy.

Even a crumb is enough. Mercy is what changes the lost into being found. Mercy is what changes us from thinking we are self sufficient to humble and persistent. Mercy is what gives us a deep and abiding trust in his promises.