Hard Times -- Great Faith
A lot is being made of this being the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A lot is being made of the recent wildfires, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. What should we make of these hard times? Ultimately I think we should make of them what the Canaanite woman made from her demon possessed daughter.
If we're going to do that, we can't miss the hard times. How could anyone do that? 9/11 has been in the news every week for 10 years. News in all its forms has covered every storm, famine, and war. But you can still miss the hard times so as not to make of them what the Canaanite women made of hers: a prayer to her Lord. And you miss the hard times when you digest these events with "nothing buttery."
The nothing buttery diet is as follows. The hurricanes are nothing but the results of climate change. The Texas drought is nothing but the effect of a persistent high pressure dome. The earthquake on the east coast is nothing but the movement of tectonic plates. God can't be speaking from out of the hurricanes as He did to Job; God can't say anything in baked or quaking earth because these are nothing but weather, geology, or fate.
I know what you're afraid of. You're afraid of Hank Williams, Jr. You're afraid I'm saying what he was singing about 30 years ago, "The preacher man says it's the end of time and the Mississippi River she's goin' dry." Apocalyptic songs are nothing new. There was "Eve of Destruction" in 1965 and "It's the end of the World as we Know it" in 1987, but these didn't bring in God. Hank did and you're afraid of Hank. You're afraid I'm saying "Thus says the Lord" when I have no proof of what God's saying, and you're right; that's dangerous. That's saying I hear a Word from God outside of Scripture, and if you let me do that than I can say anything I want is from the Lord.
Let's not go there, but let's do go to a mother whose prayers are ignored and insulted by Jesus. Skies that won't rain or rain too much, earth that shakes whether by men's bombs or God's hands, wars and recessions that won't end in the face of our repeated, urgent prayers are like Jesus not answering a word to a heartsick mother. In these hard times we feel God is saying what He did say to her: salvation is for someone other than you.
But if these hard times are nothing but meteorology, geology, economics, or politics, then you haven't and won't turn to the Lord for help as this mother did. If God is not the one who shakes the earth, as Scripture says, then why turn to God when the earth shakes? If God does not cause, bring, send rain on the earth, as Scripture says, then why throw yourself before the feet of God as the woman in our text did? If you don't see as Psalm 148 says that "lightning and hail, snow and clouds, [and] stormy winds do God's bidding," then why come to the Lord at all?
If, however, you conclude with the mother in our text, that you're at the mercy of the Lord in this economy, weather, and world then keep crying out in prayer as she did. Call upon Him in your days of trouble even when He answers not a word, or He answers with more of what you're praying against. Keep on asking, seeking, and knocking as the woman in our text did even when Jesus treated her like I wouldn't treat my dog. My dog begs for food like this woman prayed. He starts from a distance. He gets ever closer. He makes groaning sounds. He paws at my leg. Then finally he puts his head in my lap. I don't slap his nose the way Jesus slapped this woman.
But we have to go where this woman did once we see that in hard times we're totally at the Lord's mercy, and this woman teaches us that hard times call for great faith. But where does great faith come from? Faith comes from hearing the Word of God says Romans 10. And in this text, the Word calls this Canaanite mom a dog, and she says "Yes." Where does the faith to say yes' to that come from?
Having seen the hard times in our Lord's hands, let us see great faith there too. It's not in our hands or in us at all. Faith that comes from us is positive thinking, looking on the bright side, seeing a silver lining in every storm cloud, making lemons from lemonade, telling ourselves that hard times don't last hard people do. Faith that comes from us finds hope in weather patterns. It feels better when it sees storm clouds gathering or jobless rates declining.
Friend, if you still have this manmade faith now after months of no rain, it's not only the times that are hard but you. You're living in Annie faith, "The sun'll come out tomorrow/ Bet your bottom dollar / That tomorrow there'll be sun [read rain' here]! You're living in Maureen McGovern faith, "There's got to be a morning after." If our Canaanite mom had such faith she wouldn't be face down before Jesus begging for help. No, she'd be looking on the bright side; her demonized daughter would get better in time.
But the women didn't have manmade faith but God-made. Great faith is based on Jesus' Word. Just as I can't say, "In this drought the Lord is saying this," so I can't tell you, "Thus says the Lord, You shall get rain next week." Neither could this woman have said before Jesus granted her request, "I know my daughter will be delivered." No, such faith would've been based on her positive thinking. It wouldn't have been based on God's Word because He had said no such thing.
Great faith comes from what Jesus first says. He has revealed Himself as Lord, so the desperate woman approaches Jesus in that name. Three times she calls Him "Lord." Even after He tells the disciples that He wasn't sent to her, she prays, "Lord help me!" Even after He calls her a dog, she says in effect, "Yes Lord I am a dog, and I wish to remain a dog."
Having Jesus as Lord means believing His Word of Law which says we deserve not even as much rain as we have had. His Law says we deserve no break from the 100 degree temperatures. His Law says sinners deserve only wrath and punishment. Isn't that what we say back to Him almost every Sunday? We are poor, miserable sinners who deserve temporal and eternal punishment. Not one of us can cry unfair, not one of us can claim God is treating us badly, when we get what our sins deserve.
Having Jesus as Lord means we believe not only His words of Law but His words of Gospel. He has not rewarded us after our iniquities. If Thou Lord should count iniquities, O Lord who shall stand? The Gospel says that the perfect Jesus was rewarded for our iniquities. The innocent Jesus had our sins counted against Him, and He did stand. Jesus withstood all the punishment we deserve in time and eternity. We can pray for water because Jesus went without water to pay for our sins. We can pray for protection from fires because Jesus endured the fires of hell. We can ask the Lord for mercy because God had no mercy on His Son, our brother, Jesus.
Faith that is based on God's Word says "Yes" to both Law and Gospel. Luther says that like the Canaanite woman, you must say God is right in all He says against you, and yet you must not stop praying till you too have taken Him in His own words (Trench, Miracles, 369). Yes, we are dogs but dogs get fed from their masters' table. Only that's not what the woman says. She says, "Yes Lord I am a dog, but dogs get fed from their Lords' table." She catches His word dog, surely an insult, and pairs it with the name she has been coming to Jesus in: Lord.
But she didn't just come to Jesus as Lord but as Son of David. That's a title for the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer, and she will be content with just the crumbs from His table. Won't you? One drop of Jesus' blood, because it's the blood of God, can cleanse the world of sins; won't you be content with the tiniest of drops? One skin cell from Jesus' Body is holy enough to cover a world's worth of sinning; won't you be content if you just get a crumb of His Real Body at this altar. And should we who've had the water of salvation poured out us in Baptism, fret now about rain from above? Should we who have God's Word that He sent our sins away on Jesus fret that He will forget to send us what we need in the days, weeks, months, and decade ahead?
Our gracious, merciful, forgiving, loving Lord will feed us as sure as I a sinner do the dogs under my table, but why the delay? Why the scorched earth and cloudless skies? Why can't a war we didn't start 10 years ago be ended by us? Why so much rain where too much has already fallen when the Christians there surely prayed for no more? Luther said that when God shows Himself distant and angry concealing His grace and help, He is planting faith deep in our hearts. He is teaching us to cling to His Word alone when He pretends to be different than what the Word says of Him (Buls, Series A, Gospel Texts, 43).
Jesus plants us like we plant tomatoes. When you plant tomatoes you are supposed to bury them three-quarters in the ground. Otherwise, they grow spindly and produce nothing. When the world is frightening and our merciful God seems absent, He is planting us ever deeper in His Word, so that great faith might burst forth from our hearts as it did from this Canaanite woman and from the prophet Habakkuk. He too was faced with a dire situation where God didn't deliver him speedily.
But His book doesn't close with a whimper but with the bang of great faith: "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior." That's great faith in hard times, and because it is a miracle it only comes from Jesus your Savior planting you deep in His Word and Sacraments. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20110911); Matthew 15: 21-28