+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 7:28
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God can only appear to sinners as unpredictable, even erratic or fickle. He may appear selective, even showing favouritism. One person is blessed extensively. Another suffers. Some calamities are checked by His power. Others wreak havoc uncontrolled. As we grapple and struggle with changes and challenges let us remember that we live only in the short moment of time. The ‘long day’ lies ahead. As the hymn-writer says,
“Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day:
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away:
Change and decay in all around I see:
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”1
Christ does abide with His people. Unchanged Himself He is able to transform even the most calcified in heart and mind. And He does this not as a matter of convenience but as the result of His passion. The Holy Spirit is not indifferent. The Father is zealous for your soul.
Today we find Jesus in hostile territory. The gospel is always a public matter, but Christ didn’t yet want attention from the public authorities. Such attention would only serve as a distraction from the work He was trying to accomplish. It wasn’t yet time for His trial or arrest. But seldom were His requests for anonymity realized. The gifts He possessed were more powerful than human ability to obey His requested restraint.
Christ was a magnet for those in need. Could it be any other way? Sin cries out for resolution. The blood of Abel cries out- the appeal for justice that rings out across the ages. Many join the chorus. The sick plead for healing. The lost look for direction. The needy long for provision. The grieving look for comfort. Even the demon-possessed have advocates seeking their release. All look to the Messiah for hope. Only His blood could pacify Abel’s plea.
Yet it appeared at first on this occasion that Jesus would turn a cold shoulder to the plea before Him. He had more pressing concerns: the sheep of Israel were suffering. The Jews had to be tended to before the Gentiles. “‘First let the children eat all they want,’” He told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, ‘but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’”2 He would not deny her. When she went home she found her daughter freed.
Dear friends, in this case of the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman as with so many others we see that Christ addressed human need holistically. Forgiveness heals both body and soul. This is necessary because the pathology of sin affects us spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. We aren’t fractional Christians. Remember what James says today, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”3
We cannot compartmentalize the living of our faith. Everything hangs together. It stands or falls together. Sinners are never completely righteous and holy in one aspect of their obedience while being transgressors in another. Every sin implicates us wholly in rebellion against God. Every transgression exposes our selfishness and reveals original sin as the cause and source. Just as we cannot be Sunday only Christians, so too, we cannot be selective or convenient followers of God’s will. We may fool some of the people some of the time but we’ll fool God none of the time. The question is: Are we deceiving ourselves? Sin is not to be trifled with. Repentance is not for pretense.
God opens and frees us for the receiving of His word and grace. But sin seeks to close, bind and distance us from Christ’s love. Satan can foster estrangement from God even in His house and in the proximity of His word. Are we there but not present? Are we looking but not seeing? Are we listening but not hearing? God is not honoured by mere formality. It’s like the Lutheran pastor who always started each service by saying "The Lord be with you." The people would respond, "and also with you.” But, one Sunday the PA system wasn’t working so the first thing he said was "There’s something wrong with this microphone." The people responded, "and also with you." Hollow responses are not expressions of faith.
Dear friends, the Holy Scripture says, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My word.”4 It says of the Almighty, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”5 Perhaps one small measure of Christian maturity is the decreasing effort expended trying to get God to change His mind. If only God would see it our way- and more often. Maybe we simply start to run out of energy and strength. We cannot outlast Him. But the Holy Spirit draws the believer to a deeper reflection. Our queries and complaints are resolved only in the conviction that Christ who was sacrificed for us and for our salvation always keeps the final goal in mind even if the circumstances aren’t palatable to us.
Can we have a more convincing case than the Apostle Paul who reflected on his extreme hardships in proclaiming the gospel in Asia! “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life…But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”6 Jesus Christ, the crucified and living Lord has bigger, higher, and holier plans for us than a comfortable stroll through life’s short little day. He intends to fuse us to Himself for eternity despite our momentary distresses.
Christ remains a magnet for the needy still today. Full comprehension of sin leaves no one unmoved. The true believer craves His forgiveness. In faith the Holy Spirit allows us to hold onto mysteries not yet tangible to us. His death is the end of death. His resurrection is the foundation of life. His compassion is not fickle or piece-meal. His grace is not stingy.
God grant us the humility to see these things in true perspective. Are we entitled to be so richly blessed? The Syrophoenician woman was happy to receive crumbs. She didn’t demand Jesus make her request a priority. St. James poses the question today, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love Him?”7 Her humility is an example for us to follow.
What do we expect to receive from our Saviour? We receive from the Master’s table far more than crumbs. We receive His true body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. We receive the food of immortality. We receive grace, life, and eternal salvation. We receive not leftovers, tidbits, or crumbs but a fully supplied heavenly banquet. Ultimately we receive an eternal inheritance. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
9 September 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 LHS # 543, stanza 2
2 Mark 7:27-28
3 James 2:10
4 Isaiah 66:2
5 Isaiah 57:15
6 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
7 James 2:15