“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)
In the passage leading up to this reading he Lord and His disciples had a run-in with the Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews. They had complained about the fact that Jesus’ apostles did not adhere to strict standards of ritual cleanliness. Jesus rightly called them hypocrites. They were the ones who were unclean within. On the outside they looked and talked like righteous men. They followed the Law to the letter. They held all the right moral values and espoused all the right moral and religious causes.
The Pharisees were so proud of their righteousness that they forget they were sinners in need of God. They also lost sight of God who desires to extend grace, love and mercy. They despised the people that found these attributes in Jesus: prostitutes, tax-collectors, lepers and sinners. The Pharisees also despised the pagans such as the woman who came to Jesus to ask for help for her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus appeared to insult her by referring to her as a dog. That was the term the 1st Century Jews applied to pagans. But it was not offered as an insult; Jesus never insults or turns away anyone who earnestly seeks His help. He was testing her faith. She recognized Him not just as a miracle worker or a good man, but worshipped Him as God incarnate. Jesus did not turn her away, but rewarded her faith and persistence.
Many in the Church are like the Pharisees. They are zealous about the need for Christian moral values in our society to the point that it seems they are malicious and angry. While we must never condone, promote or ignore immorality, we must never forget to extend mercy, grace, kindness and love to sinners. Many of them seem happy and care free, but they are to be pitied: they are covering up a life of hate, abuse and self-loathing. They are never satisfied with what they have for they are ever seeking more. And their end is eternal separation from God unless they are touched by His love incarnated in every believer.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:4)
After hearing Job’s questions as well as the false wisdom of his friends, Yahweh spoke out. He ignored the empty eloquence of Job’s friends completely and addressed Job directly. The Lord asked him a rhetorical question that demonstrated that neither Job or his counselors were in any position to offer an opinion or assessment on how He should manage and run the universe He had created. Job cannot because he does not see things from the Lord’s perspective nor does he have access to or knowledge of all the Lord knows. He hasn’t a clue has to how Yahweh runs things or why. The Lord proceeded to demonstrate to Job how small his knowledge was, to teach him that he really had no business to question God or call Him unjust or unfair. The Lord did this through a series of powerful and graphic yet unanswerable questions that ought to make each one of us keep our mouths quiet and never again boast of our “wisdom”.
The Lord begins with the origin of the world. Since Job was not there to see this, he lacks the understanding to accuse God of wrongdoing or mismanagement. Job, indeed all men, stand helpless before these aspects of creation that the Lord speaks of especially the chaos of the raging sea, the rushing torrents of rivers and the awesome power of wind, rain, thunder, and snow storms. All these have their origin in the mind of Yahweh. These all seem to us to occur with random unpredictability and without reason or logic; but the Lord uses all such things for His own purposes. He controls them and sets their limits, things which man attempts to do but with extremely limited and merely temporary success. Yahweh’s power is so great that even these are within His sovereign grasp. We pride ourselves on the worldly wisdom of science and academia but we haven’t got a clue as to the origins of life on earth let alone how things work or why except why God has chosen to reveal.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Romans 10:13-15)
Paul expressed his hope that the Jews would hear and believe the gospel at some time in the future. He was aware that though they were zealous for the things of the Lord, their desires and sincerity were insufficient for salvation for they were self-righteous. They were proud of keeping the Law, proud of their morality, proud that they were better than every other race of people. Although they claimed to follow the Lord and do His will, they really stood in rebellion against Him. They needed to renounce their own righteousness and prejudice, repent and believe in the righteousness of Jesus. This is true of all people of all religions, including Judaism and nominal Christianity for most are based on righteousness by works not by faith. All who believe that their deeds and good works make them righteous and earn them a place in heaven are lost no matter how moral they seem or claim to be.
Therefore the Lord calls upon us to fulfill our calling through preaching the gospel to both Jew and Gentile, or in our case people we do not like or who we feel superior to. For in order to be saved, sinners must call on the name of the Lord and for that to happen they must know of the death and resurrection of Jesus. For that to happen some one must tell them just as someone told us, unworthy sinners though we were. God in His sovereign will has chosen believers to be that someone, to be His instruments to proclaim the gospel. Thus we are to preach to all that they might be saved. How are you being used as an instrument of God to preach to the lost? There is no greater task!
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit–that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:1-3)
Paul confessed that Jewish unbelief in the gospel of Jesus caused him anguish. He wondered how the chosen people could have rejected their own Messiah. He wondered if their rejection meant that somehow God has gone back on His promises, that He has acted contrary to His own nature. But Paul realized that God’s promises were not to national or ethnic Israel, but to the true, spiritual Israel, the Church. Just because a person is born a Jew and is circumcised, this does not mean he is a member of this true Israel. There was a remnant of Jews who had accepted Christ. Yet the majority had rejected Him choosing rather to pursue their own righteousness, prideful in their assumption that either they could keep the law to perfection or else resting in their national heritage as the chosen people assured of their righteous standing before the Lord no matter how they lived.
Paul maintained that the true elect of God are called from both Jews and Gentiles. This is true today. Therefore we believers are called to present the gospel to everyone we meet regardless of race, ethnic origin, or social status. We should feel as much sorrow for the lost as Paul felt towards the Jews and he felt unceasing anguish indicating that His sorrow troubled him deeply. We, like him, should do as much as possible to tell all unbelievers of the love Christ has for them so they would come to faith in Him.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.” (Matthew 14:19-20)
One of the great things that I remember about my mother is the greart bread she would bake for the holidays. The aroma of that baking bread was enough to make your mouth water. But the taste, well, that was like heaven. The bread was so rich and dense that you did not need to put butter on it to enjoy it, but we did anyway. That bread was a little bit of heaven on earth.
The bread that Jesus used in His miracle must have been quite tasty also. It was not like the bread that my mother made, but was a flat round loaf much like pita. 5 loaves would have been sufficient to feed one person for a day along with the 2 fish, which were small, perhaps like sardines. These would have been enough for the one boy who brought them, but Jesus used them to feed 5000 men and more when you add in the women and children who had gathered to hear Jesus preach by the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
This miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes intrigues our imagination. We struggle to see how it happened. One moment Jesus is holding 5 loaves and 2 fish, and the next He is handing out thousands of loaves and fish, so much so that everyone eats until they are full. And there were still leftovers. Where did all that food come from? Out of thin air? Out of His hands? It was a spectacular miracle, and the people there knew that it was a sign that Jesus was the Messiah.
Jesus used this miracle to show that He is the source of all life. We can find satisfaction in Him alone. And yet, we seek that satisfaction in the things of the world, the traditions of our families and ancestors, or what the media or our friends tell us is important. As our reading in Isaiah 55 shows us, oUr true spiritual nourishment, that which satisfies comes from the Lord God Almighty, from Jesus. Whatever else we do cannot be more important than our relationship with Him. Nothing the world has to offer satisfies like Jesus. For He alone is truth. He alone is God almighty. He alone is the source of eternal life.
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1-5)
These words of Isaiah are filled with images and promises that excite and elate us. Yet they were written first to a people who were going into exile, but also meant to be heard by those who would be returning. To people undergoing such great travail, the words seem to be empty promises, like a dream compared to what they were actually experiencing. They were urged not to look at what was happening to them for that would discourage them. They were not to worry for worry is fruitless and empty. Instead they were to look to the Lord. They were to trust in Him by faith. As they did, they would realize that God had always been faithful to His word whether He was promising victory and blessing or judgment and tribulation. Thus His promise of blessing and peace that is made here is certain.
In our own world, we believers daily suffer tribulation and distress. We, like the people of ancient Judah, can take heart in these words of satisfaction and peace in Jesus. Why then do we spend our money on what does not satisfy? Why then do we work for goals and purposes that we think will fulfill us and give us peace? The things this world values, the people and relationships of this world will not bring us the blessings and rest we all crave. The Lord calls us to come to Him, to find true peace, real forgiveness, unselfish love and compassionate kindness by loving and serving Him alone. Why then would we seek such reality apart from God and His Kingdom?
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:31b-34)
Paul’s words here offer healing and freedom for all who have felt guilt and shame over their sinful condition. Guilt and shame are not the same thing. Guilt is the feeling of having wronged God because of a specific sin. Guilt leads the believer to confess sin and find forgiveness and relief. Shame, however, is the belief that one is irreparably defective in the sight of God and man. It is composed of global guilt over non-specific sins, as well as feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. Shame is a whip many people wield to intimidate and wound others or enforce compliance to a code of external standards. Those who believe they are hopelessly defective find their conscience punishing them for almost anything they think, say and do. A skilled spiritual abuser can exercise great power over such persons, for their conscience is an open wound that does not heal. They come to church to find healing and relief, but find only more pain as unthinking people continually irritate their inflamed conscience with rules and laws that remind them only of their defects.
But Paul tells us something different; He tells us of the Lord’s unalterable acceptance and love of those who have faith in Him. If God has acquitted a believer, who can condemn that believer? Who can shame the believer by reminding Him of sins and flaws that have been forgiven? While the believer still sins, he can repent and confess the sin, rejoicing in the knowledge that God forgives and throws the sin into the sea of His forgetfulness. The penitent may still have to accept any punishment that may result from sin, yet when one is God’s son, his status before the Father remains unchanged. God sees the elect as He sees His only begotten Son: Jesus: pure and righteous.
God does not condemn those He has justified and declared righteous. His verdict is the only one that matters and it is final. And it is written indelibly on our hearts by His Spirit. Therefore, if we feel still hopelessly defective, even after we have confessed our sins, we must realize that the devil is lying to us and he may even be using other people to do it. We must ask the Lord to help us to appropriate the truth of His unalterable verdict. We must ask the Holy Spirit to make the truth of our eternal inheritance in Christ real to us. Then, when we are able to appropriate God’s free gift of righteousness, we can move on to carry out God’s will, secure in His eternal love.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville