“The Canine Canaanite”*

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

The First lesson for this Sunday says that “foreigners” can find joy and acceptance in God’s house (Israel’s Temple). In the Gospel, a “foreigner” demonstrates a truly remarkable faith that wins both the acceptance and admiration of Jesus. The story begins with some actions and comments from Jesus that are quite out of character. They are unsettling, if not upsetting. A Canaanite woman came up to Jesus and said, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter has a demon and is in a terrible condition.” Unsettling action number one is recorded with the simple sentence: “He answered not a word to her.” But she did not take silence for an answer. She kept up her request.

At that point, the disciples came and asked Him to dismiss her because she was making such a racket. They may seem to be asking Him to heartlessly send her away, but that was probably not the case. They clearly could have meant that He should send her away with her request granted. Jesus’ answer shows that likelihood. His answer, however, is as unsettling as His silence: “I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” We want to say, “Wait a minute! Isn’t this the same Jesus who tells a story that makes a hero out of a Samaritan, who holds up a Roman centurion’s faith as greater than any Israelite’s, who asks for water from a Samaritan woman, etc.?”

It appears that the disciples accepted His answer, but the woman did not. She came right up to Him and, kneeling at His feet, cried, “Lord, help me.” Then came the most upsetting answer of all. He said, “It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” At this point, we might want to jump in and say, “Get real, Jesus! The lady comes to You hurting and pleading, and You compare her to a dog!” We could easily get offended, but this mother did not care if she was a canine Canaanite! She cared about her daughter, so she responded, “Yes, Lord, but even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” That did it! Jesus returned to characteristic form. He said, “O, woman, great is your faith! Let it be for you as you wish.” Her daughter was healed at that very moment.

It is interesting to read interpretations of this story. One important point is that Matthew wrote his Gospel primarily to Jews. Jesus’ mission unfolds just as Paul describes it in Romans: “To the Jew first and then to the Greek.” From this point on in Matthew’s account, Jesus shares the Kingdom with gentiles as well as Jews.

Some interpreters suggest that Jesus was sort of toying with the crowds who were following Him, pretending to have the same prejudices toward non-Jews that they had. Others suggest that He was testing, and thus strengthening the woman’s faith. One author listed three tests: silence, doubt, and unworthiness. He suggests that Jesus concealed His compassionate love as He tested (exercised) and thereby strengthened the woman’s faith.

I question whether faith is strengthened by difficulty. I think a strong faith stands up to virtually any confrontation, but it is God — through the Gospel — who makes it strong in the first place. It is not in asking for mercy, over and over, but in receiving mercy, that faith is strengthened.

The first words out of the woman’s mouth demonstrate an unusual faith. She is a Canaanite, yet she reveals a belief that Jesus is the Messiah. She calls Him “Son of David.” That’s hardly typical Canaanite lingo! She also offers a plea in which forgiveness and grace are inherent. She seeks no recognition, offers no credentials and suggests no reason why Jesus should pay the least attention to her. She asks for mercy. Even in this, the outsider uses the ancient cry of both the Old and New Testament Church: “Kyrie eleison” (Lord, have mercy), only in this case it is more personal, “Eleison me, Kyrie.”

The event took place shortly after a conflict arose between Jesus and the Jewish authorities. The disciples were concerned because they felt Jesus had offended those authorities. I tend to think Jesus was testing the disciples, their concept of the kingdom and its extent, rather than the woman. I think Jesus knew the depth of this woman’s faith and the depth of her need. He was probably disappointed that the disciples gave up so easily when He said He was sent only to Israel’s lost.

I think we need to be seeking spiritual fitness with even more fervor than contemporary society is seeking physical fitness, but we cannot do that by seeking some kind of testing for exercise. We do that by going to the Means of Grace. It is through the Word and Sacraments that we experience God’s mercy and the strengthening of the Spirit we so desperately need. There we experience God’s grace to us without regard to our heritage, lineage, or race — without regard to what we have done or what we have failed to do. There we find relief from our fears of God’s judgment against us. There we find mercy!

I am convinced that the biggest reason why people, even in the church, keep using language that describes the whole world in terms of “we” and “they,” those “in” and those “out,” is because we have failed to see ourselves as outsiders whom God has — purely by mercy — pulled in. As long as we do not see ourselves as having received mercy, we fail to see others as candidates for receiving it.

One of the great things that can happen when we join a church is that we sense a kind of special inclusion, acceptance, even appreciation. It is wonderful to feel like you are a part of something good, rather than apart from it. At the same time, the circle of the church must always have an opening. If it is ever seen as a closed circle, then the feeling is one of exclusiveness instead of inclusiveness. There is a fine line of difference there — not unlike the fine line between day and night or good and evil.

The disciples were learning that Jesus had authority over the little things of life, like daily bread — specifically, five breads and two fish. They were also learning that He had authority over bigger things, like wind and waves. Now it was time to see that He was the only Authority in the Kingdom. He, not the priests, scribes and Pharisees, would set the prerequisites for inclusion. He would even decide who would live and who would die, and why. It turned out that nothing He said or did prepared them for that last part. Who could have dreamed how great God’s mercy could be or how far it would take Him! Who could have dreamed that He would die so they and we could live?

Some people resent mercy because they confuse it with pity. A man once saw a dog rummaging around in his trash. Angered by the mess in his yard, he shot the dog dead. Two neighbors came to complain. The man said, “What’s the problem? It was just a dog.” The one neighbor, an animal rights activist, said that he should have shown pity because even a dog has a right to live. The other punched him in the nose and said, “That wasn’t just a dog; it was my dog!” He didn’t want the dog to be shown pity because it was helpless. He wanted it to be shown mercy because, even if it was in the wrong, it was valuable and loved.

Carl Sandburg, in Lincoln: The War Years, told a story about a very young soldier who ran away from his first confrontation with the enemy. He was sentenced to death, but the President pardoned him. Lincoln wrote, “I have observed that it does not do a boy much good to shoot him.” Mercy sees, in spite of the guilt and apparent worthlessness of the person, a value that only the eyes of love can imagine. This is how you are perceived by the God who gave His life to save yours. It is also how He perceives your neighbors, family, friends and every stranger or “foreigner” in the world. He died for them and our mission is to tell them.

* The title for this devotion is not original with me. It came from a homiletical journal some years ago. I would love to credit the original author but, while the clever phrase is unforgettable, I cannot remember who first wrote it.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

God Warns the Wealthy

God loves both the rich and the poor.  However, it can be difficult for the rich to love the Lord because they can so easily become absorbed in the things that they possess.  Jesus warned that wealth can be highly dangerous.  He told how difficult it was for the rich to be saved when He said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24-25).  God doesn’t condemn wealth.  The warning is about the attitude that an abundance of money and possessions can cause.  Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Prayer:  Good and gracious Heavenly Father, I pray that You will strengthen me so I never place my security in worldly things.  Help me to understand that the only important relationship I need is with You.  Grant me an attitude of humility and dependence on You.  Through Christ I pray.  Amen.

Blessings on your stewardship journey!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 11 A (Proper 13)

These are the Scripture lessons you will hear this coming Sunday:

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32
Matthew 15:21-28

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for this Sunday.

The Church Lives Under the Cross of Christ and Prays in the Hope of His Mercy

By her persistent prayer that Jesus would have mercy and help her (Matt. 15:22, 24), and even in the face of His initial silence and apparent rejection (Matt. 15:23–26), the Canaanite woman boldly confessed her faith in Him (Matt 15:27–28). Her beautiful example encourages us to cling to the words and promises of the Gospel, even in the face of the Law that accuses and condemns us. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29), and His Law “has consigned all to disobedience” for the very purpose “that he may have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32). Hence, the woman’s faith and hope were not disappointed, but her prayers were answered in the mercy of Christ. Not only does He grant us the crumbs from His table, but He also feeds us with “the children’s bread” in the house of His Father (Matt. 15:26–27). He has brought us to His “holy mountain,” and He makes us joyful in His house, where He hears our prayers and accepts our sacrifice of praise upon the altar of His cross (Is. 56:7).

These are the hymns you will sing:

Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me (LSB 683)
In Christ There Is No East or West (LSB 653)
Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face (LSB 631)
Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty (LSB 901)
Jesus Shall Reign (LSB 832)

A Simple Answer

Even though I am stuck at home following my knee replacement surgery last week (everything went well) I still am viewing the events around the world making news. The actions in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend should make all of us pause. The best explanation for what happened is from Dr. Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Here it is:

 

White nationalists protesting in Charlottesville, counter protests, violence, President Trump’s statements and criticisms of what he said… To this and to so many other divisions in public and private life today, there is a simple explanation.

“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40). That’s a summary of the Ten Commandments. You can take them out of the public square, but when the Ten Commandments are not in the heart of people, division follows.

A political liberal wrote that today’s society “keeps them (young people) focused on themselves and teaches them that personal choice, individual rights and self-definition are all that is sacred.” “Since politics for them is personal, their positions tend to be absolutist and nonnegotiable” (Mark Lilla, Wall Street Journal, August 12-13; C2). The same is true for many political conservatives.

This idolatry of self is insidious. “There is a tremendous amount of individualism in today’s society, and that’s reflected in the church too. Millions of Christians have grafted New Age dogma onto their spiritual person. When we peel back the layers, we find that many Christians are using the way of Jesus to pursue the way of self…. While we wring our hands about secularism spreading through culture, a majority of churchgoing Christians have embraced corrupt, me-centered theology.” (Barna Trends 2017)

You are called to be different. “Christians live not in themselves, but in Christ and their neighbor. Otherwise they are not Christian. They live in Christ through faith, in their neighbor through love. By faith they are caught up beyond themselves into God. By love they descend beneath themselves into their neighbor” (Martin Luther, 1520).

I pray this offers you some understanding into the problems around us.

 

“All Stretched Out!”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

1 Kings 19:9-18
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

Whether fact or fiction, it makes a fine Feddersen’s Fable. Mark Twain’s wife accompanied him on a visit to the Holy Land. They were staying in Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. It was a beautiful, moonlit night and the weather was perfect. Twain had a romantic notion and took his wife for a boat ride. They walked down to the pier, and asked a man in a rowboat how much he would charge to row them out on the gently rolling water for awhile. Twain was dressed in his usual white suit, white shoes and white Texas hat. The oarsman, thinking him a wealthy Texan, said, “I guess about 25 dollars.” Mark Twain thanked him, and as he walked away with his wife on his arm, he was heard to exclaim: “Now I know why Jesus walked!”

Glendon Harris wrote: “Humor is one way we have of dealing with miracles. But the danger of this is that we can laugh away the underlying truth that was the original intent of the story. We chuck the message with the chuckle. A similar mistake is in trying to explain away or give some interpretation to the miracle. In either case, belief is more often hindered than helped.”

This Sunday’s Gospel lesson is the story of Jesus and then Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee. Unlike some stories of the mighty acts of God, this one does not lend itself to any kind of scientific explanation or other interpretation. I tend to think that any attempt to write it off or explain it away comes from the fact that it affronts scientific intelligence. Of course, a lot of things insult our present scientific intelligence — the flight of a bumblebee is hardly the least of these. In days gone by scientific intelligence was also insulted by those who believed the world was round, that man could fly, that pictures could be transmitted through the air right into our living rooms, and that machines could compute.

To this very day, everyone knows that a 5-year-old kid could not even write a concerto, let alone produce one that would forever after be considered a classic and a masterpiece. The fact that Mozart already did it almost 240 years ago has not changed that knowledge for most people simply because they are unaware of it. Many scientifically impossible things are no longer seen as impossible for the simple reason that somebody came along and did them. People who can see in their minds’ eyes what others cannot even imagine, who believe what others already know to be false are often called daydreamers and fools. History, on the other hand, calls many of them inventors. Two of the world’s best-known daydreamers are Disney and Spielberg. Three of the greatest fools are DaVinci, Edison and Einstein. Someone has pointed out that 20 years ago Hollywood could not have produced Spielberg’s special effects at all, but 20 years from now some of them will be facts, not just effects!

If we are not going to simply throw up our hands in unbelief, and throw out the integrity of the Biblical authors by thinking that they deliberately lied, then we ought to ask ourselves why Matthew and the others included this story about Jesus walking on the water. Many other portions of the Gospel accounts reveal clearly that Jesus refused to be cast into the role of magician or wonder-worker. He would not perform for the amusement of the devil, the crowds, or even a command performance before King Herod. More than once He complained: “All you want is signs and wonders.” St. Mark offers a thought that the disciples were dumbfounded because they did not understand the meaning of the miracle of the loaves. He implies that the feeding of the thousands should have given them some insight into the fact that they were in some pretty fast company! They should not have been surprised to see Jesus walking along on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a terrible storm. What was their reaction? Was it surprise? Matthew says they were terrified. Since, as we all know, it is scientifically impossible for a person to walk on water, they assumed they were seeing a ghost!

What foolish and simple people, we say; didn’t their mothers ever tell them: “There are no such things as ghosts”? We scientific moderns would never think He was a ghost. What would we think? I’ll tell you something I probably would not think — I would not think about getting out of the boat! That was Peter’s idea: “Lord, if it is You, bid me come to You on the water.” Jesus told him to come, and he did. Then Matthew records a strange sentence: “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid.” Excuse me, but can you see the wind? I suppose if you can see a ghost, phantom or apparition, you can see the wind, but that is not what Matthew meant. If you have ever been out in the middle of a lake when a strong wind came up, then you can honestly say that you saw the wind. I have seen it; it’s frightening. When the waves get bigger than I am, I don’t particularly want to be in the boat — let alone get out on the water!

When Jesus fed the thousands, He demonstrated His authority over the normal stuff of life in order to convince His disciples to put aside their worries and anxieties and place their hope in Him. In this lesson, He puts much greater fears to rest. In chronological order, the disciples are afraid of the storm, a supposed apparition coming toward them, and finally the wind and waves. To all of this, Jesus says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

I have written before that guilt and worry are opposite sides of the same coin. They are the same emotion, divided only by the direction we are looking. People look back and feel guilt, or they look ahead and worry. If the forward vision is intense, we can call the emotion fear. The only difference between worry and fear is the intensity of the feeling. This trinity of emotion is one of the most destructive forces in human life. Jesus confronts all three aspects of it and demonstrates how faith in Him relieves all of it. One of the surest things that you can count on in this life is that you cannot live a rich, good, meaningful and joyful life in the present if you are stretched out emotionally between the past and the future.

Jesus’ stroll across the water was not a flash-in-the-pan display of the spectacular. I believe that, quite the opposite, it was a demonstration of the simple fact that we can trust Him in any circumstances whatsoever. When the disciples and crowd were hungry, He essentially said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” When the Twelve were being tossed about in a boat with waves crashing in on them, He said, “Don’t sweat the big stuff either!” He came and His actions say that, even in what theologians call His state of humiliation — His human form — the disciples could count on Him. Too many people waste time debating how He came to the boat. Amazed as they might have been, the most important thing to the disciples was that He came!

He didn’t have to go out there on the lake. The disciples would have survived without Him. Let us not kid ourselves — He could have seen to it. He didn’t have to be in the storm to quiet it. He didn’t have to be in the boat to save His friends. He chose to face the wind and the waves and to go out and get in their boat with them. Without Him, however, the night would have been spent in terror and despair. His love and compassion sent Him to His friends.

He did not have to come to this world’s boat at all — let alone get in it with all the risks that entailed. His love and compassion sent Him to us, His friends. The most humbling thing that happens in this story is that when Peter became afraid of the wind and started to sink, Jesus reached out His hand, took His disciple back to the boat and said, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” I said that a humbling thing “happens,” not “happened.” I was not talking about Peter, but about me. If Peter is a man of little faith, I’m a man of teeny-tiny faith — I don’t think I’d have gotten out of the boat in the first place! I’d have been back there huddled with the rest of them in fear.

If it happened today, with my faith ahead of theirs at that time — already grounded in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection — would I get out of the boat? I can’t say for sure, but I like to think so. I believe that God has called me and all of you to walk out on the troubled waters of this world bringing His love, compassion and peace to others. He was stretched out on that cross with one hand forgiving our past and the other guaranteeing our future. We have no reason to be stretched out between guilt and fear ever again. The wind and the waves still come, but we are not alone — not now, not even in death, not ever!

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

A Life of Service

As God’s stewards, we are called to serve.  As Christians saved by grace, we recognize our need to live a life of servanthood.

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).  Just as Jesus came to serve, we have the same privilege to serve others through our time, talents, and treasures.  Through our service, we become more like Jesus.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, You alone lived the perfect life of stewardship.  Your life on earth gave us example after example of helping the needy and serving others, showing us how to carry on the work You left for us to do.  Grant us faith to follow Your example so we will be the serving people that You want us to be.  Use us, Lord, as Your feet, mouths, and hands to help others.  In Your precious name we pray.  Amen.

Blessings on your stewardship journey!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 10 A (Proper 14)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Job 38:4-18
Romans 10:5-17
Matthew 14:22-33

Click here to read the above lessons and the Propers for the day.

Christ the Crucified Comes to Save Us by the Word of Faith

The Lord who “laid the foundation of the earth” (Job 38:4) is the Author and Giver of life who governs all things by His Word. His wisdom and power are beyond our understanding, except as He reveals Himself in the incarnate Word, Christ Jesus. He has “entered into the springs of the sea” and “walked in the recesses of the deep” (Job 38:16), and He draws near to us in mercy. We have been “a long way from the land, beaten by the waves” and tossed about by hostile winds (Matt. 14:24). In our mortality and sinful unbelief, we do not always recognize the Lord Jesus. But as we cry out in fear, He speaks tenderly to us, “Do not be afraid,” and He reaches out His hand to save us (Matt. 14:27, 31). “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13), and now we call upon Him in faith, because we have heard “through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Rom. 10:8).

These are the hymns you will sing:

God Himself Is Present (LSB 907)
Eternal Father, Strong to Save (LSB 717)
What Is This Bread (LSB 629)
Thy Body, Given for Me, O Savior (LSB 619)
Precious Lord, Take My Hand (LSB 739)