< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 16 August 2020

First Reading                                  Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

1Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.”

6And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant — 7these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” 8The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”

Psalm                                                             Psalm 67

1May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. 2Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations. 3Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. 4Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth. 5Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. 6The earth has brought forth her increase; may God, our own God, give us his blessing. 7May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

Second Reading         Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32

1I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2aGod has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. …

13Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

28As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Gospel                                             Matthew 15:21-28

21Jesus went away from {Gennesaret} and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And 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.” 23But 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.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Desperate Times Call for Jesus

Believe it or not, we’re at the midpoint of the Pentecost season.  And the way this year has been going, we’ll be talking about Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas even before we know it.  Now some of you are probably like me and think, with this pandemic thing constantly dogging us, I’m ready for 2020 to be over.  We all simply want a cure for this virus and to get back to our normal lives.  However, we do want to take a moment and thanks God for a couple of very positive events that have and will be occurring, and both of them are, or will be called, Beckett!  We thank God for the blessing of new life in our midst.  Additionally, some of us still have a few days of vacation coming and I’d like to take that opportunity to pause and enjoy that first, before we head full tilt into the rest of this chaotic year.

I don’t know how much planning you put into your vacation.  For Terry and me, it’s pretty straight forward; we make a reservation, spend a bunch of money and head to the beach for a week of sun and surf.  We, like many people like to go back to the same places every year.  Others prefer to simply pack up the travel trailer and head out for a weekend, just to clear their heads.  Then there are those who spend hours, even weeks, obsessing over the perfect trip.  The funny part is, we all seem to share one thing in common: we come home from vacation worn out and needing a few days to recover from our time off.  And then there are a select few who can’t plan a normal vacation.

Recently I read about a fascinating travel company called Black Tomato that offers a very special kind of vacation package.  It’s called a “Get Lost” tour.  For a very large amount of money, you can pay the folks at Black Tomato to send you to a surprise destination in a challenging environment, like in a remote wilderness or a desert.  Once you get to the airport, you receive essential information about your trip, a satellite phone and survival gear for your destination.  Then, after your surprise excursion, it’s up to you to make it back to safety and civilization.  Sounds more like an episode from a reality television show than a vacation, doesn’t it?  The difference is, there are no camera crews following you around.

However, the company website does offer this assurance: “Your journey will be closely tracked by Black Tomato’s experienced expedition operations teams as a safety net.  You won’t see them, but they’ll always be able to see you.”  I guess skinny dipping on this survival getaway is out!  It takes a certain amount of courage to take a trip to a surprise destination that requires survival gear.  Most of us like to have a little more control when it comes to our travel plans.

Considering our gospel lesson for this morning, you might want to ask if Jesus was on a “Get Lost” tour of His own.  Matthew begins the passage this way: “Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon . . .”  Tyre and Sidon were coastal towns to the north of Israel in Phoenicia; Gentile towns about 50 miles away from where Jesus had last been in Galilee.  In light of what we know, why did Jesus travel 50 miles into Gentile territory?  Did He have some urgent business there?  Did He feel the need to visit some fellow Jews that were living in the area?  The reality is, Matthew gives us no explanation as to why Jesus decided to travel to Tyre and Sidon, only that He did.

What we do know is that when Jesus got there, “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!  My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.’”  Certainly, Jesus didn’t walk 50 miles from home just to minister to this distraught mother.  Yet based on what we read of Jesus when He got off the boat before feeding the 5000, who knows?  Nobody cares about people who are hurting like Jesus.  It makes no difference their ethnicity or where they live.  It is interesting to note that, after this encounter with this Canaanite woman, Jesus turns around and heads back to His usual area of ministry around the Sea of Galilee.  So, it would appear that the only reason Jesus might have traveled to this coastal destination was to minister to this desperate woman.  From a practical standpoint, it makes no sense.

Not to belabor a racial issue of Jesus’ day, but this lady Jesus ministered to wasn’t just any woman—it was a Canaanite woman.  In Jesus’ day, no observant Jew would speak with a woman outside his own family—and particularly not a Canaanite.  They were traditionally considered enemies of the Jewish people.  And it’s true that, at first, Jesus seems to spurn her cries for help.  Matthew tells us that after she made this desperate request of Him, “Jesus did not answer a word.”  Surely this wasn’t encouraging to this woman.  And the disciples weren’t any help either.  The disciples urged Him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”  At this Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  I’m surprised this woman wasn’t crushed at Jesus’ response.  But, she didn’t give up.

Kneeling before Jesus she said, “Lord, help me!”  To this plea He replied with another crushing remark: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  Now it’s time for Jesus to be surprised.  Surprise might not be the correct word, I’m betting He was pleased.  “Yes it is, Lord,” the Canaanite woman said.  “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”  There are a good many scholars who still puzzle over Jesus’ conversation with this woman.  On the surface it seems so un-Christ-like.  For me, I believe Jesus was doing two things here.  First, I believe Jesus was testing this woman—a test of her desire to have her daughter healed—but even more important—a test of her faith that He really could heal her daughter.  Second, Jesus knew the faith of this woman and wanted to lift her up as an example.  I say this because of the way Jesus ends this unusual story.  He commends this woman for her great faith!

There are only three people in the Bible who were specifically commended by Jesus for their great faith: a Roman officer who pleaded with Jesus to heal his servant, a woman who had been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years and touched the border of Jesus’ robe in hopes of receiving healing, and this Canaanite woman who came to Jesus begging him to heal her demon-possessed daughter.  The thing that is so hope-filled for us, is that none of these three people had the right, according to the Jewish law, to approach Jesus with a request for help.  They were separated from him by a huge wall of cultural and religious norms.

I’ve already mentioned the Canaanite woman’s perceived social status.  But the woman hemorrhaging blood was by Jewish law ritually unclean due to her bleeding and should have never even approached Jesus let alone touched the hem of His robe.  As for the Roman officer, he was seen as a representative of the Gentile government which oppressed the Jewish people.  According to Jewish law, none of these three people had any right to bring their desperation to Jesus.  Thankfully, Jesus didn’t reject them or correct them.  Instead He commended each one of them for their great faith.

This brings us to another consideration:  I don’t know about you, but Jesus’ definition of “great faith” seems to be different from most.  I generally equate great faith with courage or self-discipline or sacrifice.  These are the folks we see as super saints—not desperate people pushing their way into Jesus’ presence.  Desperation is a scary state of being.  Desperation can drive us to make unthinkably bad choices.

Many of us know what it’s like to feel desperate, just like the Roman officer and the bleeding woman and the mother with the demon-possessed child.  The agony threatens to overwhelm us.  There’s a popular phrase many of us have heard and use; desperate times call for desperate measures.  However, as believers and followers of Jesus, let me suggest a more helpful phrase; “Desperate times call for Jesus.”Let that sink in:  Desperate times call for Jesus.

Back in 2007 in Australia, an episode of the television series Mayday was interrupted by a frightening technical glitch.  For six minutes on that show, a haunting audio loop played in the background.  It was the sound of a voice repeating over and over, “Jesus Christ, help us all, Lord . . . Jesus Christ, help us all, Lord.”  An investigation discovered that the audio loop was from a news program the previous year about insurgent soldiers firing on civilians in a foreign country.  In such a setting a prayer like that would certainly be appropriate. “Jesus Christ, help us all, Lord.”  However, the investigation didn’t reveal how an audio loop of that desperate prayer happened to interrupt a national broadcast for six minutes a year later.

This Bible passage about the Canaanite woman shows us that desperation doesn’t disqualify you from having great faith.  Neither does your gender, ethnicity or social status.  All that’s required is the willingness to bring your urgent need to Jesus.  Something else I find interesting is that this woman, who wasn’t from the Jewish faith, addressed Jesus as Lord.  The word she used, is one we’re familiar with and refers to one who is Supreme or Master.  It’s the same word for the for the title of the hymn we sing at the beginning of our service, the Kyrie or more accurately, the Kyrie Eleeson, or “Have mercy on us Lord.”  How did she know?  

Even though Jesus’ own disciples weren’t completely sure of His claims, this foreigner recognized who He was.  She knew that the power of life, wholeness and restoration were in His hands.  She knew He had control over the powers of darkness.  Somehow, she knew He was her only hope.  Anne Lamott, a New York Times bestselling author, has said that her prayer every morning is, “Help me, help me, help me.”  

Her nightly prayer is just as interesting, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  In between those two prayers, she says, is an occasional “WOW” prayer when she is suddenly aware of God’s work in her daily life.  I think the Canaanite mother and Anne Lamott could understand each other’s prayer life.  “Help me, help me, help me!”—that’s a legitimate prayer. Sometimes it’s the only prayer we can manage.

Notice also that the Canaanite woman brought her desperation to Jesus, even when He initially responded with silence and then seemed to turn her away.  Some people read this passage and think that Jesus was being insensitive to this mother’s pain.  But remember, it may be that Jesus did come to this faraway Gentile area some 50 miles from home just to meet this one desperate woman in her need.  Even more impressive, He came from the right hand of God to provide a way that we could not provide, to help humankind in our times of desperation.  Desperate times call for Jesus.

In 2015, Kate Bowler was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in her abdomen.  She was a divinity professor at Duke University, and mother to a one-year-old son.  Kate and her husband, as you can imagine, were devastated by her diagnosis. In Guideposts magazine, Kate writes of how she always thought she had a deal with God—a quid pro quo, if you will.  Quid pro quo means “a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something.”  Kate secretly felt she had a quid pro quo with God.

Kate grew up as a good Christian girl, worked hard, and kept all the rules.  She married a good Christian man, got a doctorate in religious studies, served in her church.  Deep in her heart, Kate had thought that God might reward her for her faithfulness by giving her a manageable life.  Dying young from a painful and invasive cancer didn’t fit into this deal she thought she had with God.

She writes: “I had been hoping for control.  Work hard, stay right with God and life will work out.  The key word is that little and.  Do this and you get that.  Action, result—guaranteed.  That’s control.  Ever since my diagnosis,” she writes, “I had been praying hard.  But Jesus, I had to admit, never says that God offers us certainty [in this life].  Jesus says God offers us love.  Could I love God even knowing I could die in two months?”  That’s a tough question, for any of us to answer, isn’t it?  Jesus never says that God offers us certainty in this life.  Jesus says God offers us love, forgiveness, reconciliation and hope for eternal life with Him.  Jesus is the absolute proof that God loves us.

Jesus could very well have traveled a hundred miles round trip to Tyre and Sidon to minister to this Canaanite woman.  And yes, to be fair to the reading of verse 24, there may have been Jews living in the area that Jesus came to minister too as well, we aren’t told.  However, we are told that Jesus’ two-week journey wasn’t in vain, at least not for this Canaanite woman and her daughter.  This story is just one more piece of evidence proving that Jesus came, that He walked in our shoes and that journey led Him all the way to the cross.  He came, He ministered, He died and was raised again all because He loves us.   Jesus shared our weakness, our questions, our pain.  

Remember that the night before His arrest Jesus prayed so desperately that His perspiration was like “great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).  Jesus understands what it is to be desperate.  He didn’t come to wave a magic wand and take away all our troubles.  He came to show us that we’re not alone; that God never forgets, His compassion is unending and He always keeps His promises.  Jesus’ message and ministry kept coming back to this one truth: There is a God, and God loves you.  Desperate times call for Jesus.

What was the Canaanite mother’s first request of Jesus? “. . . have mercy on me.”  It’s the same prayer we sing at the beginning of each of our services; “Have mercy on us Lord and hear our solemn prayer.”  She knew that compassion and mercy are essential parts of God’s character.  And even though she knew she had no right to approach Jesus, she was counting on His compassion and mercy to meet her daughter’s needs.  Note also, that even when Jesus was silent, even when He seemed to turn her away, she knelt down at His feet.  The Greek word used here indicates that she knelt down in worship before Him.  No matter whether He answered her plea for help or not, she would still worship Him because He is our supreme Lord, and because she knew she could count on His mercy.

Dr. Keith Brantly served as a medical missionary in Liberia, West Africa.  In 2014, an epidemic of the Ebola virus swept through Liberia.  Over the course of 21 months, more than 11,000 people died from the virus.  No one was safe.  Healthy people died within days of being infected.  So, imagine Dr. Brantly’s fear when he began manifesting symptoms of the disease.  He put himself on immediate quarantine.  His colleagues couldn’t come near him.  His family was back in the U.S.  He had to deal with his illness and his fears in solitude.  In his time of need, he picked up his Bible and took his desperation to God.

Dr. Brantly found comfort in a passage from Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  This verse became his focus for prayer over the next few days as his pain and nausea increased.  When tests confirmed that Dr. Brantly had contracted Ebola, he called his wife in Texas to give her the news.  Amber Brantly reports that her fear and sadness were so great that she had trouble finding the words to pray.  So instead, she simply sang hymns of trust, praising God in spite of their situation.  The Brantlys took their need to Jesus in different ways, each one trusting in God’s mercy and love no matter what His answer was to their prayers.

Dr. Brantly’s colleagues arranged to have him flown to Atlanta for an experimental treatment for Ebola.  Within a few days, his condition began to improve.  And God mercifully answered the Brantlys’ prayers, and a short time later, Dr. Brantly walked out of that Atlanta hospital as a survivor of the Ebola virus.  Of course, not everyone who trusts in Jesus and suffers a serious disease walks out of the hospital cured.  If they don’t walk out of the hospital cured, that does not mean their prayers were in vain.  If they don’t walk out of the hospital cured, they will walk into the arms of Jesus with a new perfect body made whole at last.

Jesus complimented this Canaanite woman for her great faith.  Great faith is pretty simple, at least by Jesus’ standards.  We bring our desperation to Jesus and trust in God’s love for us.  The God who gave up His power and majesty and ultimately His life to save us from the power of death loves us too much to ever turn us away.  Desperate times don’t always call for desperate measures; desperate times always call for Jesus. 


Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

< back to Sermon archive