Monday, September 01, 2014

When Does a Bad Video Nearly Ruin a Good Song?

Do I Wanna Know? is an infectious tune by the Arctic Monkeys. The lyrics well express the feelings of a person who's in love but uncertain of the other's feelings: They "wanna know," but they're afraid of what they'll learn.

Having said that, the official video looks like a sexist tire commercial. Thumbs down!

It must be true... was cited in an amicus. That appears now to be the moral equivalent of, "It's a fact. I read it on the Internet."

Evidently, justices of the US Supreme Court have, on at least several occasions, buttressed their opinions with assertions passed off as facts in friend-of-the-court briefings. The problem is, no one seems to know where the supposed "facts" come from.

A few examples:
In a 2011 decision about the privacy rights of scientists who worked on government space programs, Justice Alito cited an amicus brief to show that more than 88 percent of American companies perform background checks on their workers.

“Where this number comes from is a mystery,” Professor Larsen wrote. “It is asserted in the brief without citation.”

In a 2012 decision allowing strip searches of people arrested for even minor offenses as they are admitted to jail, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy cited an amicus brief to show that there are “an increasing number of gang members” entering the nation’s prisons and jails. The brief itself did little more than assert that “there is no doubt” this was so.
And in a 2013 decision, Justice Stephen G. Breyer cited an amicus brief to establish that American libraries hold 200 million books that were published abroad, a point of some significance in the copyright dispute before the court. The figure in the brief came from a blog post. The blog has been discontinued.
Read the whole thing.

When Prayers Go Unanswered...and You Don't See What God Seems to See

Ever been here?:
...when days, weeks, or even months pass and our prayers seem to go unanswered, it’s easy to feel God has forgotten us. Perhaps we can struggle through the day with its distractions, but at night it’s doubly difficult to deal with our anxious thoughts. Worries loom large, and the dark hours seem endless. Utter weariness makes it look impossible to face the new day.
Yeah, me too. But we're not forgotten. Seeing that is often about asking God to help us see things as He does. And that's not easy either. Then, I'm left to consider God's gracious track record, His "unfailing love" as Psalm 13 puts it--including Christ's death on the cross for a sinner like me and of His resurrection from the dead to give me life with God.

Sometimes, living through the mystery of seemingly unanswered prayer is about praising God anyway. When I do, I often end up asking the same question with which Bono ends, When I Look at the World:
Tell me, tell me, what do you see?
Tell me, tell me, what's wrong with me?
Read the whole thing.

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Labor Day Song #3: 'In a Little While' by U2

Sometimes even the dreams and the prayers that seem "out of this world" come true.

Labor Day Song #2: 'Better is One Day'

As recorded by Kutless.

"Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (Psalm 84:10)

Labor Day Song #1: 'My City Was Gone' by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders

Memories. They're tricky things.

But I do lament suburbanization, the destruction of good farmland, the abandonment of perfectly good housing stock in the pursuit of McMansions (often done by we middle class whites in a racist chase to avoid contact with the poor, the brown, the black, the red, and the yellow), and the destruction of community life around little and large downtowns replaced by discount box and online megastores. (Of course that doesn't stop me from living and buying in these ever "new" environments. So, I'm part of the problem.) Sigh...

Landscape as a Character in Fiction

One of the things that struck me when first reading the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle is how nineteenth century London served as a character in most of them. The city, its traditions and sights, its size and its underbelly of criminality all loomed large.

The TV series rebooting the old stories, Sherlock, successfully duplicates that.

And the Law and Order TV franchise sees New York City appear as a "character" in each episode.

Landscape and locale are anchors that make works of fiction come alive.

In his latest Writerly Witterings video, crime fiction writer Michael Jecks talks about what he does to ensure that the fourteenth century Dartmoor landscapes of his novels are part of the story. Most of us aren't blessed with the many talents Jecks possesses--things like sketching and painting, which he uses to help him create the settings for his fiction. But it's interesting to learn about some of the work that goes into his writing.

Jecks' point about not getting too specific in the description of landscapes or other "props" is interesting, as most "how to" pieces about writing fiction seem to include the command to "be specific." Don't say that it was a hot day, the fiction gurus says, give the temperature and note its effect on people. Don't say it was evening, but give a sense of the darkness of it.

But Jecks, it seems to me, is onto something.

Best-selling crime novelist Agatha Christie was and still is often panned for what is seen as a lax and superficial approach to character development. But I've often found that Christie's refusal to dig too deeply into the characters that populate her stories allows me to imagine much more, like the radio shows Jecks refers to in the video. As her stories unfold, the reader becomes a collaborator with Christie in what Hunter S. Thompson, speaking of Bob Dylan's lyrics, once called "democratic art."

Anyway, enjoy Jecks's video.

[By the way, I love the way Brits say, "ennathing."]

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Billy Hamilton, Rookie Thief

The roster riddled by injuries all season long, it seems like the Cincinnati Reds have been stuck in the starting gate from the beginning. But center fielder Billy Hamilton has been revved up all along. Today, he set a new record for Reds rookies by stealing his 54th base of the season. Sweet!

Upside Down World

[This was shared during worship with the people of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio earlier today.]

Matthew 16:21-28
In his book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, Pastor David Platt tells about several people from underground house churches in Asian countries where it’s illegal to worship or witness for Jesus Christ.

He mentions Jian, a “doctor who has left his successful health clinic and now risks his life and the lives of his wife and two kids in order to provide impoverished villages with medical care while secretly training [a] network of house-church leaders.”

There’s Lin, a woman who teaches at a university where it’s illegal to talk about Jesus. She secretly meets with students interested in knowing more about Him though, risking the loss of her job in the process.

People like these, who embrace living with the risk of suffering or death in order to glorify God and who share Christ with others, live in an upside-down world.

It’s a world in which living for Jesus, and not for comfort or status or material success, is the highest priority.

Death, sacrifice, and risk looms over their lives.

Yet the people I've met who live like this are more alive and more joyful than most of the people you and I know or know about.

Jesus talks about the strange alternative universe—the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God—in which people like Jian and Lin live, in today’s Gospel lesson. It’s the world in which He calls us all to live, too.

If that scares you, it should. I know that it scares me. Yet there is no other place where true life can be found than in Jesus’ kingdom.

Let’s learn more about it. Please turn to the lesson, Matthew 16:21-28 (page 687 in the sanctuary Bibles).

The lesson actually continues the incident that we looked at in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, in which Peter confessed that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” The first verse of today’s lesson follows: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Now, Jesus had a typical way of “explaining” things He wanted them to know. Turn please, to Luke 24:27, as the risen Jesus spoke with two disciples on the way to Emmaus: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets [the phrase, Moses and the Prophets, like the Law and the Prophets, referred to what we call the Old Testament], he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

Jesus always pointed to the God of the Old Testament to explain Who He was and what He was about. Jesus taught that everything that Christians confess about Him—from His virgin birth to His sacrificial death for our sin, from His kingship to His resurrection—was foretold in the Old Testament.

Peter though, wasn’t interested in what Jesus or the Old Testament had to say about the Messiah suffering, dying and rising. Peter wanted Jesus to be an earthly king who could produce results, like freeing him and his countrymen from Roman rule and their oppressive taxes. Peter wanted Jesus to make his life easy. That’s why, in verse 22, we read: “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’”

Peter wanted a king who would do things the way he thought that they should be done.

He wanted a God who would be complicit in his favorite sins, things like pride and the disdain of foreigners he presumed God didn’t care about.

Sometimes, I confess, I can be like Peter. I go to God in prayer and say, "Now, Lord, what you need to do is thus and so. That will cause such and such a person to do what you and I both know they need to do. Then, I can step in and do this."

I’ve got everything figured out for God. All He needs to do is sign off on my plan.

Do you know what God's reaction to a "prayer" like that is?

After He stops laughing, He treats my calling out to Him in Jesus’ Name as an invitation for Him to do what He thinks is best.

Peter thought he was going to tell Jesus how to be God and King. He soon found out how off-base he was. Look at verse 23: “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’”

The man Jesus had just called “the rock” is now “a stumbling block.”

The man who was commended for listening to God in order to know Who Jesus was, now is being condemned for listening to Satan!

Jesus uses the same word for Peter, the word Satan, which means accuser, that He used for the devil when the devil tempted Him in the wilderness.

Back then, Satan tried to tempt Jesus to avoid the cross and take the easy way to becoming a king. No suffering. No cross. All Jesus had to do was worship Satan and Jesus could have the world He had come to reclaim for God.

Jesus refused to take the easy way.

Like the devil, Peter wanted Jesus to take the easy way. The easy way, the way of going along with the world to get along with the world, the way of cutting corners on ethics and our characters in order to get what we want, is exactly what Jesus warned anyone who wanted to follow Him to avoid when He said, “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.”

What path are you and I following in life: the Jesus way or the easy way? This is a question worthy of asking ourselves each day.

My mentor, Pastor Bruce Schein, used to tell us about counseling parents whose high school or college-age children were addicted to drugs. He told these parents that if they loved their children, they wouldn’t give the kids the money they knew the kids would just use to buy more dope. “But we can’t stand the thought of our kids hating us and thinking they can’t turn to us for help. We can’t see them in such agony either,” they would say. “It’s too painful.” “How painful will it be,” he would ask them, “if you give them what they want and you lose them forever?”

Peter, like Satan before him, confronted Jesus with the same sort of choice that confronted those parents. It would have been far easier for Jesus to give people what they wanted, to be a king who led a revolution and tossed out the Romans.

But if He had done that, His mission would have remained unfulfilled. You and I would be left hopelessly imprisoned to sin and death.

Jesus willingly endured the hatred of the whole human race and the punishment for sin we deserve so that He wouldn’t lose us forever.

He endured suffering and death on the cross so that on Easter Sunday, when the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He could give new life to all who repent for sin and believe in Him.

It was by the hard way of the cross that Jesus won life for all who trust in Him. God’s saving grace in Christ is free, but we must give up life as it’s usually lived in order to be free to grab hold of it!

In verse 24, Jesus amplifies this point, when He says in part, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” To take up our cross has nothing to do with enduring the pains or inconveniences of life, no matter how severe they may be.

Rather, to take up our cross is to acknowledge that our sins put Jesus on the cross.

I love what Martin Luther says when, in The Small Catechism, he explains the meaning of Holy Baptism for our daily lives: “[Baptism] signifies that the old Adam in us, together with all sins and evil desires, should be drowned by daily sorrow for sin and repentance and be put to death, and that the new person should come forth every day and rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

Just as Christ’s crucifixion led to His resurrection, daily taking up our crosses, confessing our sins, and submitting to the death of our sinful selves brings us fresh new life every moment we walk with Jesus.

When we live in daily repentance and renewal, we can confess with Jeremiah, writing in the Old Testament book of Lamentations 3:22-23: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

But what does it mean to deny ourselves? It means to ask God to help us to dare to trust God’s revealed word and will and not in our own reasoning or experiences.

Psalm 118:8 tells us: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.” That includes the humans you and I know best, ourselves.

Denying ourselves means admitting that we need God not as we want Him to be, but God as He is, the God Who can only save us from sin and death when we give Him our daily surrender and daily--moment by moment--sign over control over our lives to Jesus Christ.

In Philippians 1:21, the apostle Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I pray each day to live with more of that risky, “upside down” attitude of faith, of trust in Christ.

Peter rebuked Jesus because he was concerned about living and organizing life as he wanted life to be. He wanted God to bend to his plans rather than submitting to whatever God had in mind for him. It seemed to risky for Jesus to submit to death on a cross (Jesus might stay dead), too risky to give up on His preferences and give God control of his life (that seemed to frighteningly uncertain). I confess, that following Jesus, even on this side of His cross and resurrection, seems awfully risky me today. And it is risky.

True living though, whether in this life or in eternity, doesn’t belong to those who play it safe, who take a pass on the risk of faith. It belongs to people who give control of their lives to Jesus—to people who deny themselves, who take up their crosses, and who follow Jesus.

After all, truly, this life, no matter how many years we live here, is simply a warm-up lap for the one to come.

Let Jesus take control of your life now.

Start living in Jesus’ alternative universe—the kingdom of heaven—today.

Let Jesus call the shots.

Let Jesus set your priorities.

Do everything you can to tell the world about the new life that only those with faith in Jesus have.

You may not win any popularity contests for living in Jesus’ kingdom. You may not gain power or wealth or ease. But you will live in the power of the only one who can give you life, the only One Who will be left standing when sin and death have done their worst to us.

And as you live with Jesus each day, you will, as Jesus promises at the end of our Gospel lesson, “not taste death before [you] see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” You will see the imprint of Jesus on every moment that you breathe. And you will be alive!

"Getting" Jesus


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Monday Song #1: 'Come with Me Now' by Kongos

Have no idea what this song by the South African ensemble, Kongos, is about, but I enjoy it. A little accordion rock never hurt.

My favorite lines in the lyrics:
"I tried to sell my soul last night
"Funny, he wouldn't even take a bite"
The roaring lion who roams the world seeking souls to devour, wouldn't really pass on consuming any human being in his evil. But it's fun to think that we get so close to Christ, he might find us profoundly distasteful, even inedible.

(The video makes no sense, so far as I can tell. So, just close your eyes and listen to the song.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Who is This Jesus?

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, yesterday.]

Matthew 16:13-20
This morning’s Gospel lesson is so filled with good stuff that we need to dive into it right now, verse-by-verse. So, please turn to page 687 in the sanctuary Bibles and look at Matthew 16:13-20.

In verse 13, Jesus asks the disciples who people were saying He—the Son of Man—was. In the next verse the disciples give their answer: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Apparently, the buzz was that Jesus was the reappearance of one of the prophets.

Elijah and Jeremiah, of course, were Old Testament figures, while John the Baptist, the last of the great prophets, had just died.

In seeing Jesus as a prophet, the people were onto something. A prophet, as the Bible understands it, isn’t primarily someone who foretells the future. Rather, a prophet is one who speaks the true word of God to a world that doesn’t want to hear it, calling people to repent (turn from sin), and trust in God alone.

Like all true prophets, Jesus calls us to live for God alone. Not for our own interests. Not for our own desires. Not for the validity of our own emotions or intellectual analyses. Not for our country or preferred political ideology. But for God alone.

Eventually, Christians would see Jesus as THE prophet, THE priest, and THE king, among other things. But Jesus is much more than is encompassed by any of these titles. That’s why He asks the disciples in verse 15, “But what about you?...Who do you say I am?”

As we said last Sunday, this is the most important question any of us will ever answer. And, at least according to the witness of the Bible and of Jesus Himself, there is really only one right answer.

Jesus is the Word, the very living power of God, made flesh.

He is the only way by which sinful human beings like you and me can be saved.

He is the embodiment of God’s love, given to be the perfect sacrificial lamb for our sin so that all who repent and trust in Him as God’s definitive self-disclosure, as our only hope and Savior and God, will have their sins forgiven and have life with God, beginning in this imperfect world and brought to incredible perfection when we see God face to face in eternity.

These truths, God’s truths, have no expiration dates. You can bank your life, your eternal life on them and on nothing else.

In verse 16, Peter answers Jesus' question to perfection: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

The first thing to be said about Peter’s confession is that, given how Peter wanted Jesus to avoid the cross and be an earthly conqueror of the Romans, given how he denied knowing Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest, and given how hopeless Peter was after Jesus died on a cross, Peter probably had little idea of what he was saying at this moment.

We all know how that goes. Two people say, “I do,” with no idea of what the future holds in store. Husbands and wives agree to start a family without knowing what that decision will bring. Peter didn’t fully understand his own confession. But his answer was authentic and true, more than mere words.

The first title Peter uses for Jesus in his confession is Messiah. This is the English transliteration of the Hebrew word, mashiah. It means anointed one. It was a title given to all of Israel’s kings. The anointing of Israel’s kings was a sign of their selection by God. But the title came to be used of the special king God had promised through His prophets. THE Messiah would come set the world right with God and fully establish God’s justice. The New Testament Greek word for Messiah is Christos, or, as we know it in English, Christ. Peter confesses Jesus as the king of the world and the king of his life. So must we.

The second title Peter uses of Jesus is the Son of the living God. Israel’s kings were referred to as God’s sons. But here, Peter is saying more than he himself realizes.

Turn to page 821 of the sanctuary Bible and look at Colossians 1:15-16, please. The passage tells us what it means to call Jesus, “the Son of God.” (We looked at this passage this past week, Tuesday group.) It says of Jesus: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”

That’s what it means to call Jesus the Son of the living God.

It would be awhile before Peter’s faith caught up with his confession. But he had it right: Jesus is God.

If we see Jesus as anything less than the one true God and King of the universe, we have no part in Him, whatever words we may say.

Please go back to our Gospel lesson, verse 17: “Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven...’”

Peter’s confession about Jesus was pure miracle. His fledgling faith didn’t come from flesh and blood—not from a collection of human thought or the confluence of human emotions or human experiences. God Himself had revealed the truth about Who Jesus was to Peter.

The same is true for us whenever we confess faith in Jesus.

First Corinthians 12:3 tells us: “ one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

My inborn sinful nature dictates that I trust no one but me, that I look out for me and my interests, and that I not believe in a God Who is greater or more important than myself.

Yet, by God’s power, it’s possible for a self-centered, self-driven, skeptical, untrusting person to trust the God revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Only God can give me (and you) the ability to believe in Christ.

In verse 18, Jesus continues by explaining to Peter the meaning of the new name He had already given to him, Peter, Petros in the Greek of the New Testament. It means rock and never in history before this time had it been given to someone as a name. Jesus then says, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades [the gates of hell, the gates of death] will not overcome it.”

Jesus builds His Church on the faith confessed by Peter.

The Church isn’t made up of bricks, mortar, carpeting, or sound systems, but of flesh and blood people who believe in Jesus. Without a faith in Jesus as God and the only Way to eternity with God, the Church doesn’t exist even if people sing hymns, light candles, recite creeds and prayers, play guitars, sing praise song, hold meetings, and listen to preachers.

Article 7 of The Augsburg Confession, one of the key confessional documents of Lutheranism, says that the Church exists wherever the Word of God is preached in its purity and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are administered rightly…in other words, wherever people meet Christ in faith.

In verse 19, Jesus says that to this flesh and blood people who believe in Him, He will give “the keys of the Kingdom.”

Filled with the Holy Spirit and taught by God’s Book, the Bible, you and I are given the responsibility to tell others about the will of God in His Law—the Ten Commandments—and the will of God in His promise that all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus will be saved.

We are to declare God’s condemnation for unrepentant sinners and to declare God’s forgiveness to repentant sinners.

The Office of the Keys is a scary responsibility for which none of us would be qualified were it not for the fact that, by grace through faith, Jesus lives in us.

Faith in Christ qualifies us for graces and responsibilities for which we, on our own merit, have no qualifications.

And using the keys of the kingdom can open up an eternity of hope and peace to the world.

Berhanu Ofga’a is a pastor of the Lutheran body, the Mekane Yesus Church, in Ethiopia. Once, during Ethiopia’s long civil war from 1974 to 1991, he was imprisoned. One night during his incarceration, he heard a man weeping and begging, “Does anyone here know Jesus Christ? Does anyone here believe in Jesus Christ?” Because Pastor Ofga’a was imprisoned for his confession of faith in Jesus, he was at first afraid to say anything. But finally he declared that he was a Christian. The voice then asked, “Please, how can I know Jesus?” From his prison cell, Ofga’a helped that man confess his sins and confess his faith in Jesus. And his own faith in Christ was deepened in that experience, sustaining him through a hellish time.

I first learned of Berhanu Ofga’a three years ago. At the time, he was the general secretary of his Lutheran body in Ethiopia. And even today, he and his fellow Lutherans are daily at risk of their lives for their faith in Jesus. Radical Jihadists destroyed dozens of their church buildings. Members were persecuted and subjected to violence. Yet, from 2009 to 2010, the Mekane Yesus Church grew from 5.3-million members to 5.6-million, an increase of nearly 1000 members each day.

There may be many different reasons for the explosive growth of the Lutheran church in Ethiopia. But the biggest reason no doubt is that our fellow Lutherans there are bold and unapologetic in confessing the same faith confessed by Peter in our Gospel lesson: Jesus is the Messiah and God!

Nothing—not prison cells, not hell, not death itself—can prevail against Christ’s Church. Those with faith in Christ are set free, today in this imperfect world and one day when we see God face to face, to live and speak for Jesus and to live lives of purpose that glorify Jesus for all eternity! We may as well get in the habit today, confessing and following Jesus, God and King.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

What the "Annoying" Woman Knew

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, today.]

Matthew 15:21-28
A young woman visited me in the office of a former parish. I knew her to be a kindhearted person. She was then in her twenties. But during her teens, her mother died and a grandmother took her in. She had been close to her entire family, coming to be, despite her youth, someone everyone depended on. But when an uncle abused her and she felt that she could confide in no one, her life grew worse and worse. Feeling isolated and hopeless, she became promiscuous, then got involved with alcohol and hard drugs.

Not long after we talked, she checked herself into a hospital and later, a treatment program. The counselors and other patients urged her to rely on her “higher power.” For her that could only mean the God we meet in Jesus Christ. But that created an early and enormous snag in her treatment regimen: She couldn’t believe that God would care about her.

I visited her several times at the treatment facility. Along with many others, I urged her to read Scripture and to pray, talking with God just as she would with a good friend, and to be unafraid to ask God for help. Over time, that young woman gained the strength not only to deal with her addictions, but also to face life.

The last time I saw her was some years ago. But the last I heard of her, she was still doing well. And her real progress seemed to begin when she vetoed worrying about her own worthiness and asked God for help.

Over the years, I’ve met many people who wanted to have God’s help and guidance, but felt, like that young woman, that they didn’t dare turn to God.

They didn’t feel they were good enough or important enough for God to care for them.

Yet one of the consoling truths of Biblical is that while none of us is worthy of God’s help, God wants to help us anyway.

We see this truth in today’s Gospel lesson. In it, Jesus passes through the non-Jewish--a Gentile--region around the cities of Tyre and Sidon. The people who live there aren’t the targets of Jesus’ earthly mission. First, Israel’s Messiah must claim His kingship over the Jews, the people of God. Then, enthroned through cross and empty tomb, He would send His disciples into the world to share the good news--the gospel--that all who trust in Christ, Jews and Gentiles, would be saved from sin and death and live eternally with God. But during His earthly life, Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy of a Messiah Who came to call God’s own people, the Jews, to follow God into His kingdom.

And yet, in today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, for one of only two times that we know about in Jesus' life, we encounter Jesus as He chooses to travel outside His native country, beyond the boundaries of the promised land. He may have done this because the opposition against Him is increasing and in God’s plan, it isn’t yet time for His crucifixion. We don't know for certain.

While there though, a Canaanite woman shouts out to Him. The Canaanites, you’ll remember, were bitter enemies of God and of God’s people back in Old Testament times. Yet this woman cries out to Jesus for help. Why?

It appears to me that there were three things that this woman, confronted with an awful problem--the demon possession of her child--did know.

They’re three things that you and I need to know when we face our own awful problems.

First: She knew Who Jesus was. That’s clear from what she called Jesus. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” she says in verse 22. “My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Son of David was the title associated with the long-promised Savior, Messiah: the King of the Jews. Not even many of Jesus’ own disciples, like Him, Jews, had yet applied this title to Jesus. Yet this foreign woman did.

Who knows how the woman had come to know this about Jesus? Probably reports had come from Judea about Jesus. On hearing them, she may have resolved that even if there was a one-in-a-million chance that she would ever meet Jesus, if she did, she would go to Him and beg Him to help her daughter. She believed that Jesus was the Messiah and that He could help.

The most important question that Jesus asked during His earthly ministry was one He posed to His disciples and appears in Matthew 16:15: “Who do you say that I am?” Who we say Jesus is, is a question that we all must answer for ourselves.

Many in contemporary culture try cutting Jesus down to their own size, spinning Him down into nothing more than an affable preacher.

Others, even those who occupy seats in churches every week, don’t think much about who Jesus is, instead relying on their memorized creeds and liturgies and religious traditions to obscure the God-Man-Savior of cross and empty tomb.

But Jesus won’t let us cut Him down to anything less than “the way and the truth and the life.” And, as much as I love liturgies and the creeds, as helpful as they can be to our faith, unless we believe in Jesus, they don't mean much.

We must know Who is Jesus because we know Him personally. The Canaanite woman knew that Jesus was (and He remains) the Messiah Who came to show mercy and give life to all who believe in Him as their God and King.

The woman also knew that she didn’t deserve Jesus’ help. She would agree with Paul, who, in Romans 3:23, makes an honest confession for the whole human race: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The Canaanite woman doesn’t say, “Lord, take away the demon because I’m a good person.”

She doesn’t say, “Lord, help my daughter; she’s always been such a nice girl.”

She knew that nobody is good enough to deserve the help of God.

And so, she says simply to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, Lord.” She bases her request not on what she deserves, but solely on the infinite love and mercy that God bears for all people!

So, this woman knew who Jesus was and she knew that she didn’t deserve Jesus’ help. But she also knew that Jesus cared.

Of course, you and I have the advantage over those who, like the Canaanite woman and the first disciples, encountered Jesus during His earthly life. We live on this side of His crucifixion and resurrection.

Through His cross, we know the depths of His passion for us.

Through His resurrection, we know that He has power over our worst enemies: sin and death.

Jesus' care for us has been shown in His sacrificed flesh and blood and in His resilient love for us that will not die! As we follow Christ, we take comfort and strength from the truth underscored by Paul in Romans 8: "...nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

But it’s amazing that the Canaanite woman knew how much Jesus cared, because not even His disciples appreciated this.

When the woman first approached Jesus, He paused. I think He did this in order to test the disciples. If so, they failed miserably. They didn’t urge Jesus to help this desperate woman as Jesus had helped them just a few days before when, during a storm, they thought they would drown at sea. Instead, they begged Him to send her away.

“Her shouting is really annoying us!” they tell Jesus.

The disciples remind me of the "good" members of some "good" churches. They want their churches to grow so long as the people who start coming look and act just like them and don't annoy them by bringing any problems to church with them.

Many of you know that my friend, Steve Sjogren, started a congregation in the Tri-County area of Cincinnati in the late-80s. Early in the life of the congregation, they began attracting all sorts of dysfunctional people (dysfunctional, by the way, is another word for ordinary) who felt the need for Christ in their lives. When they showed for worship and Bible study, they brought all their annoying problems with them.

One day, a couple got into a fierce fight on the church parking lot and the police had to be called.

At that point, the leadership of the church had to choose: Did they want to take the easy way, asking only "good" church-broken people to be part of their fellowship, people who knew how to hide their problems beneath a veneer of niceness? Or, did they want to take the harder route, inviting dysfunctional sinners into that fellowship? They took the harder route. Many have come to follow Christ because of that courageous decision.

After the disciples beg Jesus to send the Canaanite woman away, Jesus turns from them and toward the woman. He tells her in verse 24, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Then Matthew tells us, “The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said. He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’”

Jesus’ response is part of a playful dialog between Him and the woman. While Jesus clearly had a mission to complete with His fellow Jews, He had already healed the servant of a Roman centurion, in response to a Gentile's request. And of that centurion, who had sought the healing, Jesus had said: “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

Jesus is seeing the same kind of faith in this woman. But His disciples only see an annoying foreigner who threatens to take what they think belongs only to them and their fellow countrymen.

In those days, Jesus’ fellow Jews referred to non-Jews as wild dogs. Most scholars surmise that the twinkle in Jesus’ eye as He looked at this woman didn’t match the sternness of His words, which were a parody of the attitudes of His fellow Jews, including the disciples. She would never dream, the Canaanite woman seems to say, of taking anything from the children of Israel, “yet even dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

At this, Jesus lays aside the banter and declares, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” Matthew tells us, “her daughter was healed instantly.” The woman had known that Jesus cared.

The Bible records only two of God’s saints--Enoch and Elijah--leaving this earth without going through death. Not even God in the flesh Himself, Jesus, escaped death.

And we know that one day, this demon-possessed girl who Jesus freed would, like the rest of the human race, die.

Nor did Jesus’ exorcism of her demon free her from the problems that go with life in this world.

But this act by Jesus, in response to a foreign woman’s faith, demonstrated that the things she knew about Jesus were (and still are) true:
  • One, Jesus is the king of all creation.
  • Two, none of us deserves Jesus’ help, but He wants to give it anyway. And the greatest help He gives comes to those who turn from sin and trust in Him as their King and Savior.
  • Three, because of His great mercy, Jesus cares for each of us.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, dare to trust that each day, calling out with the same helpless faith exhibited by the Canaanite woman. All who dare to call out to Christ in this way have life with God that never ends. Amen