Have Mercy!

“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

God is very, very, very, very Big!

“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

God’s Promises are True.

“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?

The Treasure of God’s Kingdom.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. (Matthew 13:47-50)

In these parables, Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like a fishnet, or a pearl, or a treasure. There are at least two different aspects of the Kingdom that Jesus is trying to convey in these short parables. First, the kingdom is like a man who buys a fine pearl or a field with a treasure in it. These items both represent us, human beings, those whom God calls. We are a very precious item which He, Jesus, buys or redeems with the cost of His own humiliation and death at the hands of sinful men. Secondly, the kingdom is like that man who buys the field to get the treasure. Most of the field is without treasure, but he has to buy the whole thing in order to get the good part. It is also like the dragnet which takes in many edible fish as well as some items that are unclean. The whole may look massive but the sorting done after the net is brought in to shore will tend to reduce that.

The parable about the dragnet as well as the other preceding parables, appears to speak about the outward nature of the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom, the one we can see on earth, seems to be huge but its size is highly inflated. Not everyone who is connected to it belongs in it. Like the man in one of the preceding parables there are weeds mixed in with the good wheat. So it is with the church. There are many who profess to be Christians, currently over 2 billion by most assessments, making Christianity the largest world religion in terms of numbers. Many of these are true believers. But many are also liars, false prophets, heretics or simply deceived. The Lord when He returns at the end of time will sort things out. He knows those who are His and will preserve them unto eternal life.

Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

No Shame in Christ.

“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

Spiritual Warfare.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deut. 7:6)
The Lord called His Chosen People to be separated from sin. This would be a challenge as they entered the Promised Land for they would come up against pagan peoples and their false gods. On the one hand the various pagan ways and idols would be a temptation because they were less demanding than the Lord’s commands and promoted sexual indulgence. God’s people would be tempted to compromise with evil and worship false gods which promised a life of comfort and ease but would only bring them grief. On the other hand they would also be tempted to fear the pagan peoples who would proclaim the superior power of their gods over Yahweh.

In both cases the Lord reminded them to recall who He is: He is God. He is love. He shows His loving-kindness by pouring out His blessings on undeserving people. As they recalled this, their faith would be strengthened; their trust in Him would increase. They could then more easily see in the midst of the battle that Yahweh is indeed the Supreme God, the one who has actually revealed Himself and shown His lovingkindness, revelation which displayed the capricious unpredictability and emptiness of the pagan gods.
Here we find an important lesson for our own spiritual warfare. Daily we are faced with temptation to sin, fear, doubt and compromise. In order to resist we must remember who the Lord is as well as what He has done for us and for His people. That is why we must daily be in the Word of God as this is the greatest weapon He has given us in our battle. As we read it and meditate on it the Lord, by His Holy Spirit, will show us His love and power so that our faith will be increased and we can more readily resist the attacks of Satan.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

The Gospel and Hell.

“Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:40-43)
Most of the parables that Jesus told concerned various aspects of the Kingdom of God. This parable speaks of hell and the last judgment. And it is a strange parable. The Lord seems to allow the righteous and the evil to dwell together until the time is right to harvest. He does not want to tear up the weeds lest he destroy part of the good crop. This may seem odd to us. We would like to see the wicked judged and punished in this life yet they continue to flourish and prosper while we suffer often at their hands. We need to have the patience and wisdom of God. Many of those we deem wicked and perverse now still have an opportunity to come to repentance and faith in this life. The Lord knows who they are; we do not. So let us refrain from hasty judgments and condemnation and pray for those who persecute and abuse us.

In the parable Jesus also speaks of hell as a fiery furnace. This too may strike many today as odd and antiquated. Our society through the media is working systematically to delude everyone into thinking hell does not exist or that no one really goes there except really bad people such as child molesters or serial killers. The dominant concept about life after death seems to be that most are really not that bad. We may sin a bit but it can be excused, explained, pardoned, ignored, or redefined.
And yet Jesus speaks of the fiery punishment of hell here. To say then that hell does not exist or that no one will suffer eternal punishment is to call Him a liar. As for we who are believers we should not reject what the Lord says for He never lies. Thus we must work to continue to spread the gospel that all may know that there is a fiery judgment coming. The only way to escape it is by grace through faith in Jesus.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville