A myHT Fortress

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Amen: A Homily on Matthew 15:21-28

St. Matthew 15:21-28

Proper 15

14 August 2011

Saint Johns, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

So this woman has a demon-possessed daughter. She's in a bad situation. But Jesus is in the area so she tracks Him down. "Lord, Son of David! Have mercy on me! My daughter is demon possessed." Here's a Gentile woman of all things to whom the Lord owes nothing, begging Him for help. He ignores her. Or so it seems. Then the disciples get all upset. "Lord, send her away! She's stalking you! She won't go away! Make her be quiet!"

Jesus says He hasn't come except for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That means the Jews. She's not a Jew. So He ignored her. Or so it seemed. Then when she wouldn't go away He says He's not here to help her. But she still hangs on Him. "Lord, help me!" Finally, He tells her straight: "You can't take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs!" Whoa! Did you hear that? Jesus just called her a dog!

And what does she say? "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Lord's table." What does she mean, "Yes, Lord?" She should be offended! She should tell it to the news media. She should go on the Today show, and start trashing Jesus on her blog and take Him off her Facebook Friends List. She should quit His church and go find one where the pastor is nice and the people are friendly. She should take out her keys and scratch up the disciples cars! She ought to kick sand on Jesus and slap Him and turn around and walk away!

Queen Jezebel was offended by God and waged war on Him in a similar way. She too was from Sidon, the same region that this woman in the Gospel reading called home.

Jezebel killed off just about all of His prophets except Elijah. She engaged in the lust-filled and perverted worship of Baal. She hated the Word that Elijah preached and the God who sent him. No Yes, Lord, coming from her lips. No. She cursed God and fought and opposed His saving message. Had Jezebel spoken with Jesus face to face, there would have been no Yes, Lord. Instead, she would have uttered to Jesus a blood-curdling, Go to hell!

But none of that is what faith does. Faith's word is "Amen." "Yes, yes, it shall be so." Jesus speaks and whatever He says, to that faith says, "Amen. That's for me."

Faith says, "Yes, Jesus, I'm a dog. But even dogs get crumbs. And your crumbs will save my daughter." Faith doesn't listen to the world or to rude disciples who are mad that you're sitting in their pew. Faith clings to Jesus. Listens to Jesus. Learns from Jesus. Confesses what Jesus says. Speaks back the promises of God. Faith says that no matter what is true about me, even if I'm a dog, Jesus is still Jesus, the one who has power over the devil and can save my daughter.

Dear baptized children of God: To what do you look to see how it's going with the Lord? To your life? To your success? To your world records and gold medals, or perhaps more on your level, your accomplishments and awards? To your wisdom? To whatever bad things happen to you?

Three years ago Michael Phelps beat Mark Spitzs records. More total gold medals than any other Olympian. More gold medals than any one in an individual Olympic year. Or consider the Blackhawks championship a year ago, or the 2005 World Series. And yet, if all they had to cling to was a wall full of trophies and awards, how empty life would be!

What do you trust in when it seems that even God Himself is paying no attention to you, or worse, flat out tells you He's not there for you? To what do you cling when things are going well? What do you hang on to when everything turns sour and is a mess and the devil, the world and your sinful nature and even the Lord, it seems, are against you?

For this Gentile woman, there was nothing but Jesus. She could not be sure of herself. She could only be sure of Jesus. With Jesus, there would be a way out, salvation. Without Him, she was doomed and her daughter with her. It was Jesus or nothing.

That's for you to believe, too, dear friends in Christ, as this woman did. To know and believe that it's all Jesus or nothing at all. When the devil and the world and your sinful nature are tormenting you with no end in sight, and even God Himself seems to want nothing to do with you, then you cling to Jesus like this woman did. When you hit rock bottom, and realize that you, a poor, miserable sinner, really are nothing but a dog before the Lord, then cling to the Master, begging for His merciful crumbs.

Cling to Jesus who doesn't come to condemn you but to save you. Cling to the Jesus who carries your sins to the cross and suffers for them, and dies for them. Cling to the Jesus who regardless of Jezebel DID go to hell, being forsaken on the cross for you, and then descending from His tomb, proclaiming victory over the devil and his minions.

Cling to the holy washing given to you in the baptismal waters of Christ's font, in which God makes you His child. Cling to the words of absolution which declare that you are no orphan but forgiven and that you stand "not guilty" before God. Cling to the body and blood of Jesus which is way more than crumbs falling from the table, but the rich feast that means you ARE a child of Israel, a child of God, one of Jesus' own dear ones. Cling to Jesus and His gifts and there will be no doubt that your faith is a great faith, because your Jesus is a great Jesus.

The word that faith says is "Amen." Pastor Mark Buetow once preached on this text, telling nearly 2,000 youth: Sometimes it might sound like a bow wow or a woof! But no matter what, that Amen means Yes, Lord. And that's a "Yes, Lord" spoken to Jesus who casts our demons, takes away sins, and turns even sinful dogs into God's own dear children. "Amen!"

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fear Not; I AM: A Homily on Matthew 14:22-33

Matthew 14:22-33

Proper 14

7 August 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The sea. It is not always the image of peace and tranquility. It can be dark, and deep, and deadly. Perhaps that is why the ancient world had many cultures that recognized this, and even had witnessed demonic activity, and merged it all into a false god of the sea.

The wind. Not the Hebrew "ruach" or Greek "pneuma" -- words that are associated with the work of the Holy Spirit. This is a different word for wind. One that can be associated with the prince of this world and the so-called "kingdom of the air" -- Satan and all his demonic forces. "The wind was against them." Indeed, the devil and all his evil minions could not stand that these men had just witnessed and received from the Lord in this amazing miracle. All hell was breaking loose to terrify these disciples, so they might consider abandoning Jesus, or maybe, if the demons were lucky, the men would drown and that would harm Jesus' mission.

The wind works against you here and now. It blows against you as a broken elevator. It hurls it's forces against you in budget shortfalls. It lashes out against you in discouragement that you perceive we are unknown in the neighborhood.

And all too often you let it win. You get discouraged from hardships and throw your hands in the air, saying, "Why is life so unfair?!" You feel beaten down. You accept the deceit as truth and let the devil make you feel defeated.

When you submit to being overwhelmed by these frustrations, you dive into the depths of unbelief. "O you of little faith!" Jesus isn't being cute here. He is serious. He is full of gut-wrenching compassion as He rebukes the unbelief. He knows that it can be deadly to your faith and condemns the short-sightedness that fears He is not able to overcome the devil and the world.

The disciples are in this boat, while Jesus goes upon the mountain to pray, just like He was planning before He fed the thousands. They are out there, and the sea gets rougher, the wind gets stronger, and they are full of fear. They are giving in to the thoughts of the evil overcoming them. Scared to death, they are fearing all kinds of evil when they see the form walking toward them.

It looks like a man walking upon the water. "It is a ghost!" they cry. And not some cute, harmless ghost like a cartoon. They fear it is a phantasm, an evil, demonic spirit who would harm them.

You are full of fear too. You fear crime. You fear financial troubles or job loss. You fear trouble in your family or having no friends. You fear for your health. Whatever it is that you fear, it comes from a lack of trust that the Lord will provide and protect you. It becomes a lack of faith.

But then they see Him. The disciples in the boat, with the wind driving against them, see a figure coming toward them on the sea. It is Jesus! Jesus, walking upon the sea!

Doing this, Jesus is clearly demonstrating that He is far more powerful than any so-called "god" of the sea. He was crushing that idol underfoot as He tread the waves.

Our Lord treads the waves of the devil's discouragements, distractions, and deceit. He is triumphant, and when He speaks "Fear not!" it is not a wish or prayer, it makes it happen! As Jesus says these words, He speaks courage into the disciples. He causes the devil to tremble.

"Fear not. It is I." Only He doesn't say, "It is I." He actually says, "I AM!" there it is again. The holy and personal name of the Lord God. I AM. There He is, I AM, stomping down the false god of the sea and treading through the devilish wind. The Lord Himself is defeating these enemies.

Peter says, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." Not simply, "If it really is you, Jesus," but "if it really is You, the Lord God, I AM, Creator and God of Israel." Jesus is not simply showing He has power and can do great miracles; this event gives witness that He is indeed God!

The Lord God tramples upon Satan for you, too. He has trampled upon him with absolute completion at the cross. There on that cross, Christ walked straight into hell and accomplished your salvation. He marched in, rescued you, who were rightfully His, and delivered you from those enemies of sin, death, and hell.

As He burst from His now-empty tomb, Christ crushed the head of the serpent He was stepping on, and kicked death out of your lives. As He leads you through the valley of the shadow of death, He keeps walking, with the sea of death underfoot, and He pulls you out to life everlasting.

Thanks be to God, our dear Lord Jesus is the Lord "I AM" in the flesh. He has rescued you as He walked upon this earth to His cross and tomb. And now He delivers that rescue to you, as He walks upon the waters of baptism, the words of His preaching, and the bread and wine that feed His Body and Blood to you. Amen.

[Thanks to Rev. Jonathan Fisk for stirring memories of great points from this text!]