Sunday, March 20, 2011


Because I am still a called assistant pastor at Lamb of God, Pr. Smallwood and I do a pulpit exchange every couple of months so that I can still be carrying out my call to that congregation. Today is one such pulpit exchange.

Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28
For Lamb of God Lutheran Church, Pleasant Prairie, WI
March 20, 2011 (Reminiscere)

Why did God allow this woman’s daughter to be possessed by a demon? Since God is all-powerful, and Satan and his fellow fallen angels are just that, mere fallen angels, why didn’t God stop that demon from entering the woman’s daughter in the first place? And then, when she asks God for help with the situation, why does He act so impolite toward her and make her go through all of that begging and humiliation before He will consent to heal the daughter? Why? For that matter, if God can do anything, why does He allow us to be tempted and afflicted in various ways? Why does He allow us to have to fight and struggle against the temptations of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh? After all, if Jesus already won the victory over the temptations that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh bring us, then why do we still have to fight against these things? Why do we still have trouble in this world? Why do the righteous so often seem to suffer while the evil so often seem to be so well off? You would think, that if God is both good and loving on the one hand, and almighty and all-powerful on the other hand, then these kinds of things wouldn’t happen to us. Demons wouldn’t be able to torment people like they do in various ways.

These questions, why do bad things happen to good people, why doesn’t God help me out when I’m suffering, why doesn’t He seem to care if He’s supposedly such a good God, are questions that theologians and philosophers have pondered over for thousands of years. And they’re not just an academic exercise, either. Suffering is very real all around us and in our own lives. And very often God’s response to our prayers seems to be the same kind of seemingly callous and insulting response we read that Jesus gave to the woman in today’s Gospel.

Now, many times we can’t know specifically the reason why God allows these sorts of things. But in general, we know from Scripture that God uses these things to make us rely on His promises more firmly. God’s promises to be with us and to preserve us and to comfort us depend only on the fact that it was He who spoke them. His promises to us are true even if the whole world and everything we see and feel seems to contradict them. His promises to us are true even if He Himself seems to be ignoring us and rejecting us. Sometimes God puts us through experiences like that of this woman to remind us of that fact, and to strengthen our faith so that we rely more firmly on the promises rather than testing Him and trying to see physical evidence of His care for us. Our confidence in God’s protection and care, and more importantly our confidence in His salvation, should not depend on whether or not we feel or see His care and protection in our lives. Our confidence in God’s love for us and His care for us depends solely upon His promises to us in the Holy Scriptures. But all too often we like to rely upon other things besides God’s promises to support our faith, whether those things be our emotions or good feelings about God, or whether those things be the fact that things are going well for us, or whatever it may be. For this reason, sometimes these blessings are taken away from us precisely because we are using them as a crutch in the place of our faith or making our faith depend on them rather than Him.

Notice also that even though Jesus didn’t come right out and call the woman a dog, she more or less admitted herself to be one when she said that even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the master’s table. God’s care for us and His protection of us also don’t depend on our own worthiness. We can’t come to Him and say that He should do things for us because we’re such good people or because we have tried to do what is right or whatever. The fact of the matter is that we aren’t good people. None of us have done what God required. Before God’s throne we have to admit that we are nothing but poor, miserable sinners. And many of us can name specific sins we have committed that are pretty terrible. If we were to have a conversation with God the way this woman did, we too would be forced to admit that we aren’t worthy for God to do anything for us. We too would have to admit that we are nothing and worse than nothing, and that God would be perfectly within His rights to ignore us and to forget about us and allow us to go straight to hell after our deaths.

But God has promised not to do that. And it is His promises that give us the reassurance that He won’t do that. It is His promises in the Holy Scriptures that we hold on to. God keeps His promises. This woman stubbornly held God to His promises after He had cut out from under her any other reason for Him to help her. He wasn’t going to help her because of her nationality, because she was not of Israel. She was a Canaanite, a group of people whom the Jews of those times often referred to as “dogs.” He wasn’t going to help her because of her crying and yelling after Him. He helped her only because His nature was of love and mercy. He helped her because not only the Israelites but all people were among those who are to humbly and thankfully receive God’s gifts. He helped her not because she was worthy of the help but because He is the one who helps people and upholds them. That’s who He is, that’s His identity: the life-giver and life-sustainer, both here and in eternity.

God has not promised to take away all our pains and griefs and troubles in this world. After all, if He did away with everything that’s wrong with this world the easy way, He’d do away with us sinners too. He has not promised that we will always feel very good or that we will always have the greatest feelings of joy and peace. But He has promised to take away the guilt of our sins and to give us eternal life. In eternal life we will have no more problems, troubles, and fears. In eternal life every tear will be wiped away from our eyes. In this life we may experience times that feel an awful lot like hell to us. Sometimes those hells are of our own making, whether because we have refused God’s Law and done what we ought not, or whether we have refused the Gospel, disobeyed the First Commandment, and imprisoned ourselves in a nightmare of guilt and self-blame. But we have His promise that this too shall pass. And we believe His promise, we have faith in His promise, not because we see Him working, not because we feel Him working, but because He is the one who gave us this promise. Despite everything we might see and feel, He is still there watching out for us and providing us with daily bread, and more importantly with the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. Even we dogs, we poor miserable sinners, get to eat the crumbs which fall from the master’s table. And these “crumbs” are nothing less than the body and blood of Jesus Christ Himself. These “crumbs” grant nothing less than eternal life and salvation to those who receive them. We don’t deserve it, but God has given us to participate in the eternal feast of victory which has no end. God may not always seem to be gracious to us if we only use our five senses. But to the eyes of faith, which see the promises of His Word and the body and blood of His Supper for what they are, the richest blessings imaginable are ours. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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