Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Pentecost 11 [Proper 14]

"Prayer . . not for the faint of heart"

Matthew 15:21-28

August 20, 2017

As Christians, we are told that we will encounter both temptation and testing in our journey of faith. Temptation is of the devil. Its purpose is to pull us away from Christ. Testing is of God. Its purpose is to draw us closer to God. Here's the problem. We can't always tell them apart.

Today's Gospel reading is a case of testing. If you were challenged with this test, do you think you would pass? My guess is that most people would not have exhibited the faith of this woman. There's a lesson to be learned here. It's not what you might think. Maybe we need to realize that prayer is not for the 'faint of heart." This woman was given every opportunity to be offended and walk away in a self-righteous huff. Yet, she continued to persevere.

Matthew 15:21-28. 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.

As you meditate on this lesson in prayer, consider how our Lord tested the woman and how He might use these same means to test you.

When the woman first began to call out to Jesus, He ignored her. We are told that Jesus needed a vacation. He needed to get away from the crowds. Like many people today, He headed for the beach; in this case the Mediterranean coast between Tyre and Sidon. If you're in the public eye, it's restful to go where no one knows you. Yet, the more well-known you are, the harder it is to hide from the public.

Jesus was known by Gentiles as well as Jews. Even by leaving Galilee for the coast, He couldn't travel without being recognized. In this case, a Gentile woman of the area recognizes Him and seeks His help. At first, He seems to ignore her. Usually, if you ignore someone, they will eventually leave you alone. This was not the case with this woman. They more our Lord ignored her, the more earnest her petitioning became.

After a while, her cries became so embarrassing that it was the disciples who asked Jesus to send her away. Now it seems He tries to inhibit her. If you'll look closely, Jesus does not initially speak to the woman. He is speaking to the disciples. Of course, He is fully aware that the woman is listening to the conversation. At this point Jesus seeks to inhibit the woman from demanding or expecting any favors from Him. He was, after all, sent first and foremost to seek and save the lost sheep of the House of Israel. The woman was a Gentile. She had no claim on Jesus. He had no obligations to answer he prayers.

In spite of this rebuff, the woman does not give up. Rather than wander off defeated and discouraged, she becomes even bolder. She kneels before Him pleading for her daughter. Although she had no claim on Him, she refuses to give up.

At this point, Jesus does what is unthinkable in the school of good manners. He out-right insulted her. He calls her names, in this case "a dog." Dogs had no place at the table. Dogs were considered unclean scavengers. They were the garbage disposal units of that day not the household pets we consider them today.

Most of us, if we had been so insulted, would have walked away in a huff. "Well, I'm insulted. Who does he think he is to say that to me?" Yet, even now, the woman does not give up. She perseveres in the face of seeming rejection.

The woman refuses to be side tracked by the insult. In fact, she uses it to plead her case. Even the puppies eat the crumbs that fall from the table. The woman acknowledges that she has no claim to sit at the table of JHWH. She will be content with the crumbs. Whatever is left over; what little Jesus may have to spare will be more than enough.

This is her final plea. Her faith will not give up. Even in the face of this insult, her faith tells her that whatever Jesus will share will be more than enough. She will not leave until Jesus sends her away.

Our Lord has been testing her. The woman passes with flying colors. Jesus remarks on her great faith. He only does this twice in the Gospels. This is one. In both cases of remarkable faith, they were Gentiles. Jesus never congratulates His own disciples on their deep faith. On the contrary, it seems that too often it was those who were considered the most religious who were not deep people of faith and prayer.

If you faced these same challenges, how well do you think you would fare? How often do you give up too easily and quickly because we think your prayers have been ignored? How often are you ready to give up because of the silence of God? How often are you tempted to quit praying because the devil tells you God doesn't care?

How often do you give up because you let others inhibit you when they tell you you're not praying the right way or that your prayers are not worthy? How often are you discouraged because your prayers seem to lack faith? How often do you give up because the devil would have you think that God's answers for prayer are for others not for you? They're better, nicer, more worthy than you. Even if this is all true, you are still a redeemed, baptized and forgiven child of God. He promises to listen and answer your prayers.

How often do you get insulted when you don't get what you want, when you want it? How often do you think that you're too good to be put on hold by God? Who does He think He is to make me wait? How often have you missed the Lord's answer to prayer because you didn't recognize it when your prayers were not answered the way you wanted? Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you. He answers our prayers in ways that are best for our spiritual growth and well-being.

Don't get too discouraged. There is good news. Our Lord helps us to persevere in prayer. He sends us the Holy Spirit to aid and abet our prayer life. No, we don't often know how to pray as we ought but the Holy Spirit comes to us with His good gifts. When you're discouraged because you feel God is ignoring you, keep praying. When you're ready to give up because others are inhibiting you, ask the Lord for guidance in your praying. When you feel insulted, tell the devil to take a hike and kneel before the Lord. He will fill you with peace and confidence as you watch and await His blessed answer to prayer. Amen.


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