“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.

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)

“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!

“When Jesus Blesses What We Have, It Is Enough!”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 55:1-5
Romans 8:35-39
Matthew 14:13-21

This Sunday would be a great time for a local pastor to take his vacation. Sunday’s Gospel lesson begins with a comparable event, especially for pastors who vacation on a boat! According to Matthew, Jesus wanted some time away from it all, so “He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” When He and the disciples arrived, however, they found the place to be anything but solitary. The crowds had heard or otherwise figured out their destination, and had hustled around on foot in order to be waiting for Jesus and company when they arrived.

While on vacation, I have been called, on more than one occasion, by people in need. Honesty demands me to say that my initial reaction has not always been pleasant, but when the need is real and great, compassion eliminates selfishness. We are not told how the disciples reacted. We are told that Jesus saw the crowds and two things immediately happened — one was an emotion, the other an action: “He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” What we hear about the disciples came later in the day, apparently during a lull in the healing. They came to Jesus with a concern about the people: “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late.” Their point was that the people would be getting hungry and it was past suppertime. Maybe the disciples also had compassion.

If it was compassion, it was a different brand than that of Jesus. As a result of His, He acted. As a result of theirs, they wanted Jesus and the people to act: “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus healed them — the disciples wanted them to go away. One author observes that this is a little too similar to the contemporary church, which often says, “Send them to their local mental health center. Let them can get ‘professional help.’ Send them to the Department of Human Services. Increase their Social Security payments, let the government provide the care … anywhere other than here, anybody other than us. Master, send them away.”

Jesus made no comment about their misdirected compassion. He simply said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” In an article for Pulpit Resource, William Willimon wrote, “And perhaps it appears at this point that Jesus, Mr. Compassion, has compassion on just about everybody but His own disciples. His words, “You give them something to eat: may sound harsh, insensitive to the stress that His followers are under. Such great crowds, such meager resources, the late hour, the lonely place.” But the fact of the matter is that Jesus does not call us to serve in ways He will not equip us to serve!

The disciples were a little set back by His command, but they gave it a shot. The result seemed pretty inadequate: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. Jesus, on the other hand, seemed almost pleased with their discovery. He said, “Bring them here to me.” At that point, Jesus took over and did His thing: “He directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.” Matthew recorded the end result of the disciples’ effort, after the Lord Jesus blessed it: “They all ate and were satisfied.”

Because Matthew wrote this story long after the resurrection, I believe that he intended to jog our memory banks with the way he wrote, “and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples.” Apparently, Willimon shares that opinion. He wrote, “If you hear — in Jesus’ taking the bread, blessing the bread, breaking the bread, and then giving the bread — an experience you have had before, you are right. Every time we come to the Lord’s Table, we repeat this fourfold action. The move from weary disciples, to recognition of human need, to sharp demand, and then to a gift of more than enough is repeated every time the church gathers to break bread.”

Myron Augsbruger wrote, “A little with God is more than much without Him.” Those words are right at the heart of the Gospel. What we bring to God on our own is woefully inadequate, even if there is much righteousness, much good works, much piety. But, as Paul points out so often, God’s grace is sufficient. The God who did not spare His own Son for us will surely fill and overfill whatever is lacking. His grace, mercy and love are more than enough for us. The disciples came with five loaves and two fish. Jesus blessed it and they left with 12 baskets of fragments. Their leftovers were way more than their “bring to’s!” We come with our own woefully inadequate righteousness and a great deal of unrighteousness besides, but in His grace, Christ blesses us and we leave with the righteousness of God’s Son — way more than enough!

There is a wonderful vision of the Gospel here, but there is also an unnerving message of the law. After noting the late hour and the lack of a McDonald’s in that lonely place, the reluctant disciples did not want to do anything. They wanted the crowd to pack their bags and go home.

Many forces work on us to make us like those disciples. Some of them had first been disciples of John the Baptizer. Just prior to their trip by boat, to get away from it all, they heard that Herod had murdered John. They were filled with grief and naturally wanted some time to recover. They were also exhausted from the ongoing ministry. While they may have been moved by the energy Jesus had somehow mustered because of His great compassion for the crowds, they felt that was enough. They were also concerned for themselves. If they gave what little they had to this monstrous crowd, they would not get anything to eat. Then there was the seeming futility of it all. Not only would they have nothing, but thousands of others would also remain hungry and stuck in the lonely darkness.

It takes great faith to fight such great forces. It takes great faith to believe that our feeble efforts can accomplish anything worthwhile. But our faith is not in some wimpy and inadequate God. A little faith in a great, great God is blessed with wonders and miracles that continue to amaze us. When Jesus blesses what we have, it is enough.

God has richly blessed and increased what has been brought to the mission of His church. Here at LCMS World Mission, we stand in awe at what God has done and keeps doing. During the last decade, LCMS World Mission opened work in more countries than were opened in the entire first century of our work. The Gospel is preached in 29 different languages in LCMS congregations — and that is in North America alone! In 1991, members of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod donated about $12.6 million to God’s mission. By last year, Jesus had blessed that into more than $26 million and volunteer missionaries gave another $5 million worth of work free!

When Jesus blesses what we have, it is enough! At the same time, God keeps opening doors. As we look around, we find people speaking 250 languages here in North America. Many are international students who may be right next door. We also find that 3.5 billion people in the world have little or no opportunity to hear the Gospel. What do we say? Are there too many? Should Jesus send them away? Or are we ready to see what resources we have to feed them with the Bread of Life and the sincere milk of the Word? Bring what you have and see what Jesus does with it.

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 9 A (Proper 13)

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

Isaiah 55:1-5
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

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

Christ Jesus, the Living Bread from Heaven, Feeds the Children of God

By the Gospel of “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5), we are “the children of God” (Rom. 9:8), “not because of works but because of him who calls” (Rom. 9:11). Therefore, “listen diligently” and “hear, that your soul may live.” By His sacrificial death in His flesh and blood, He has made “an everlasting covenant” for us. Since He now calls us to Himself, we come to Him “and eat what is good, and delight … in rich food” (Is. 55:2–3). He has come with divine compassion to save us from sin and death and to feed us with Himself. As our Lord Jesus once took bread, “said a blessing,” broke the loaves “and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds” (Matt. 14:18–19), He also now takes bread, blesses it by His Word to be His very body, and distributes it to His Church by the hand of His called and ordained servants. Just as “they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces,” there is more than enough for His whole Church to eat and to be satisfied (Matt. 14:20).

These are the hymns we will sing:

O Day of Rest and Gladness (LSB 906)
In Thee Is Gladness (LSB 818)
At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing (LSB 633)
Praise and Thanksgiving (LSB 789)
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (LSB 809)

PLEASE NOTE: The liturgy for August and September will be Divine Service, Setting Four.

“You See…”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

I Kings 3:5-12
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52

A former teacher and great preacher had an interesting way of bringing emphasis or attention to a point he had just made or was about to make. He would raise his index finger and say, “You see….” He didn’t really want us to see anything. He wanted us to listen, to hear, know, comprehend or feel what he knew to be important.

When you go on a trip, a mystery is about to unfold. It doesn’t matter if you are going to visit friends or family, see the sights, go fishing, play golf or preach at a mission festival. You don’t know what all will happen until it happens. Sometimes, no matter how much we do know about something, we don’t really know it until we see it. That’s also true of knowledge.

A philosophy professor once said that the illustration of a light going on when someone gets an idea is more than just a word picture. He told a story about one of the brightest students he ever had. The student seemed to remember everything he ever read or heard. At the same time, when the student spoke about what he learned, his answers were right, but they were “right out of the book,” or “right out of the professor’s mouth.” “He was a great parrot,” said the professor, “but I wondered if he really was a great thinker.”

One day, the professor and student were sitting in an informal setting and the teacher made a comment about the particular philosophy they had been studying in class. The student replied, “I know.” The teacher went on, and again the young man said, “I know.” After about an hour of comments, followed by the same response, the teacher said something to which the student replied, “I see…” The professor said, “Aha, now we’re getting someplace!” From that time on, the student began to think for himself, to try to put together the pieces of knowledge rather than just remember them in isolation from each other. He also began to apply them to himself and to life. The professor added, “I saw him transformed from a bright philosophy student into a brilliant philosopher.”

There are many illustrations of how people often cannot see the forest for the trees. One story involved the fellow who sold his gold mine in Texas because he kept running into a black ugly sludge in every shaft he dug. He put one over on some city slicker from the east who bought the property: “Yessir, I guess that Rockefeller guy don’t know that there ain’t no gold in this part of Texas!” That story, as far as I know, is just a fabricated fable.

A true story, or so I’m told, concerns the fellow who had to give a dollar per marble to some kids in the Caribbean. He saw them playing one day and offered to buy their marbles. The kids didn’t have any others, so they weren’t anxious to end their game, but they were more than happy to take his money when the price was right. Fortunately, the man had a conscience, and a week or so later, he found them and paid them the going wholesale rate for the pearls.

Another pearl merchant is the subject of one of Jesus’ parables in this Sunday’s Gospel Lesson. He saw, with his trained eye, what others did not see — a pearl of great value. He sold everything he had in order to purchase it, knowing it was worth every bit of that and more. Similarly, in another story, a man found a treasure hidden in a field. He saw what others had not seen, so he sold all he had in order to buy that field with its hidden treasure.

Feddersen’s Fables says that a farmer in the old west purchased a farm from the widow of “Old Mike.” One day, while plowing, he hit something that twisted the plow. He soon learned that it wasn’t the first time that had happened. “Yep,” said the blacksmith, “I’ll just bet you were working the field down to the creek.” “Why, yes, I was,” said the farmer, “but how did you know?” “Well, I did all of Old Mike’s work for about the last twenty years. More than once he came in here with a twisted plow, cursing about some big ol’ hunk of iron in that field.” The farmer decided to find the thing and dig it up, rather than risk hitting it again in years to come. It turned out to be a strong box filled with gold. Old Mike had been a wealthy man but never knew it. Like a lot of people in this world, he cursed his problem, instead of digging around in it to find its treasure.

Commenting on these two parables, Martin Luther wrote: “The hidden treasure is the Gospel, which bestows on us all the riches of free grace, without any merit of our own. Hence also the joy when it is found, and which consists in a good and happy conscience that cannot be obtained by works. This Gospel is likewise the pearl of great price.” If this is so, and who am I to question the great sainted doctor, why was the treasure hidden?

The answer to that question seems to be that it wasn’t really hidden as much as people just didn’t see it. The pearl was there for anyone to see and to buy. The treasure was found with no apparent effort. The two finders recognized what others had already overlooked. It should come as no surprise to us that Jesus’ parables are very accurate! The Gospel is an invaluable treasure hidden right out in the open. For a couple of weeks I have emphasized our need for listening to the Word. With other parables, Jesus said that we should open our ears. This week He says open your eyes. All the while, I suppose, the real problem is stopped-up hearts which no cardiovascular surgeon in the world can bypass.

I have said it before, and I am not the least embarrassed to say it again; sometimes we approach the parables with too much sophistication. We ask a bunch of questions about the peripheral details and fail to see the point of the story. Here are a few of the ones I remember over the years concerning these two tales: What if someone had planted that treasure as a joke, and then dug it up before the poor fool bought the property? Maybe the guy that owned the field did it as a “sting” to get top dollar or better for his property? If the pearl merchant sold everything in order to be able to buy the pearl, wouldn’t he just have to turn around and sell it again at the same going rate in order to have food and a place to live?

You see (lovely phrase, isn’t it), “Gospel” isn’t one more word to put into our dictionaries. Its meaning is not one more idea to add to our minds or our encyclopedias. It is not one more item to be placed on the religious buffet table. The pearl merchant wasn’t adding a dandy to his collection. The Good News of God in Christ is not an additional piece of religious information or another spiritual philosophy to be added to or, worse yet, compared to the others we’ve picked up over the years. It is a drop-everything-at-all-cost, proposition. I’m afraid that we sometimes dabble in the peripherals because they are peripheral. They offer us no challenge, ask for no commitment, and cost us nothing.

Are the Word and Sacrament just one of the many things you can “do” on Sunday morning? “This Sunday, let’s do lunch, next week we’ll do the car wash, next week we’ll do the garden, then we’ll do the windows, then we’ll do church, then we’ll do…” Too many people treat the church like a museum. On occasion, they go and visit, look around at the ancient artifacts, listen to the ancient stories, and then they leave and forget all about it. There are some things we can’t forget about. A fellow in Alaska got tired of walking from the field where he landed his airplane to his house, which was nestled in the hills beside a lake. He had the plane outfitted with pontoons, so that he could land right on the water. One day, he and his wife were busy talking and he absent- mindedly started to land in the field. His wife screamed, “What are you doing?” The warning came just in time, and he throttled back up into the air. With hands still shaking, he set the plane down on the water and said, “I can’t imagine where my head was.” Apparently, it was still there, because with that he opened the door and stepped right into the water.

The Good News is that God knows what we need — whether we do or not — and He does something about it. The big deal in America today seems to be “finding yourself.” Did you hear about the guy who spent 40 years trying to find himself? His suicide note read: “I finally found myself, and didn’t like what I found.” He didn’t find the treasure, and it was right there in front of his eyes. The Good News tells us that God knows us and doesn’t like what He knows, but He loves us so much that He is willing to die to help us.

The message of God’s love in Christ cannot be separated from the cross. It is at a great price that God’s grace comes to us. God forgives, renews and refreshes us in the power of the Spirit, so that everything in life is different. You can’t fit Christ into your old values and ideas. You can do like the Pharisees and try to kill Him off to keep Him out of your misery, but you can’t let Him just part way in. He won’t fit; something will have to go. In the long run, if your eyes are open and you see, everything else will go. Nothing will be the same, and you’ll never want it to be.

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 8 A (Proper 12)

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

Deuteronomy 7:6-9
Romans 8:28-39
Matthew 13:44-52

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

The Son of God Has Redeemed Us for Himself with His Holy and Precious Blood

The Lord our God has chosen us to be “his treasured possession,” not because of any strength in us, but solely “because the Lord loves” us (Deut. 7:6–8). He is faithful, and He “keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deut. 7:9). He has searched for us and found us in love, and He has bestowed on us “great value” by the great price that He has paid on the cross (Matt. 13:45–46). In His joy, He has redeemed us by His cross and gathered us into His Kingdom by the Gospel. Now we are “hidden in a field,” covered by the cross and subject to the persecution of the world (Matt. 13:44), not for destruction, but “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Since we “are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), and because Christ Jesus died, rose again and lives to intercede for us “at the right hand of God” (Rom. 8:34), there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).

These are the hymns we will sing this Sunday:

I Will Walk in Danger All the Way (LSB 716)
From God Can Nothing Move Me (LSB 713)
When Peace, Like a River (LSB 763)
The Will of God Is Always Blest (LSB 758)
Jerusalem the Golden (LSB 672)