Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 15:27
Theme: “Crumbs” Of Grace

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is liberal with His benevolence. And He often provides more than one way or means of resolution. That it sometimes appears our plans work out (as opposed to the ones we believe God would have preferred) is a glorious example of the freedom we have through the gospel in Christ. We need not fret about whether God has sanctioned this or that course of action for us as long as it is a godly pursuit we are undertaking. It’s often not a matter of either/or. Consider the Canaanite woman today. She fervently desired the healing of her daughter. She would have been just as grateful had that happened later rather than sooner.

Regardless of whether things work out in our time or His (which is truly our time too) the key is confidence in His mercy. Now lest we accuse this woman of desperation and not true humility we remember Christ’s commendation of her, “Woman, great is your faith.”1 How unquestioning, confident and humble was her faith! She wasn’t put off by Christ’s earlier words, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”2 His focus at that time was on revealing to the Jews that He was the Christ. And following that His even stronger words of rebuke, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”3 Still, she prostrated her heart before Him. She took no offense at His frank words about giving priority to His own people. She said, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”4 Her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Think also of Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his brothers. What opportunity he later had to get revenge! But what does he say, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” 5 How convicted were the consciences of his brothers! They were terrified of his presence. As such the Holy Spirit made them ripe for forgiveness. He intends to do the same thing in the life of all the baptized. The Bible says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”6

But dear friends, one of the greatest challenges to the Holy Spirit’s work is the human propensity for insincerity and apathy. The warning of Isaiah is always relevant. “These people… honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”7 When was the last time your conscience went through a serious struggle with sin? When was the last time you devoted more than just a passing reflection to your need for forgiveness? We’re not talking here about some hollow, ritualistic, charade; but an honest and deliberate searching of the heart. How easily the confession of sins becomes a mere formality with little serious intent. Luther gives us practical help. “Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband wife or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds…”8

At issue here too is the matter of becoming desensitized to unrighteousness and ungodliness in the world. The communal restraint of past generations can hardly be relied upon anymore. Aside from political incorrectness just about any form of rebelliousness or dishonesty is tolerated if not condoned in society. Look at the recent turmoil in London. One of the rioters was a self-described anarchist. The godless soul wants no restraints. God doesn’t judge you by whether you fit in with the standards of the culture. The Scripture says, “When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.”9 And in regards to the world it says, “Come out of her, My people, so that you will not share in her sins.”10

This makes the job of Christian parents and grandparents all the more essential. The Holy Spirit forms the consciences of the young primarily through the teaching and example of parents and other authorities. The values of community and the faith of the holy Christian church are not passed on by osmosis or assumption, but by devoted and informed words and deeds. These things are not mere formalities. Nor are they achieved by a few hours of catechism instruction.

The life of faith is a daily engagement of the struggle between truth and falsehood. God grant that we would have the persistence of the Canaanite woman and the compassion of Joseph. The Lutheran Confessions have this to say, “The faith we speak of has its existence in penitence. It ought to grow and become firmer amid good works as well as temptations and dangers, so that we become ever stronger in the conviction that God cares for us, forgives us, and hears us for Christ’s sake. No one learns this without many severe struggles. How often our aroused conscience tempts us to despair when it shows our old or new sins or the uncleanness of our nature! This handwriting is not erased without a great conflict in which experience testifies how difficult a thing faith is.”11

The greatest witnesses to the gospel are those who have the most acute awareness that they are sinners. St. Paul called himself the worst of sinners.12 Luther was famous for his monastic confessions of unworthiness. Even his father confessor got tired of listening to him. These self-confessed sinners were some of the many great saints of the kingdom. Why is this? For them absolution penetrates deep in the soul. Firstly, forgiveness frees. It puts the conscience at peace. Even in the midst of the turmoil of the world the heart can be at rest. Secondly, forgiveness inspires and empowers. It ignites a passion for the holy and sacred. Temporal burdens are greatly lightened by the eternal perspective.

It is a difficult thing to believe that we are sinners worthy of condemnation. But harder still is to believe we are forgiven by grace, for Christ’s sake. We can do neither without the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it seems easy to expect that God would pardon us if we don’t really think our offenses are that great. But this is no real faith; not a faith that gasps at the horror of the cross. Such a faith is never presumptuous but always grateful, never demanding but always humble. Christ has been sacrificed for your sins. He lives to give you life. He has provided multiple means to receive His forgiveness. Through water, word, bread and wine His grace is constantly offered, sealed, and delivered. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
14 August, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 15:28
2 Matthew 15:24
3 Matthew 15:26
4 Matthew 15:27
5 Genesis 45:7
6 Matthew 5:6
7 Isaiah 29:13
8 Luther’s Small Catechism
9 1 Corinthians 11:32
10 Revelation 18:4
11 Tappert, AP IV 160, 161
12 See 1 Timothy 1:15