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"When God Becomes My Enemy"

Matthew 15:21-28

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 9, Proper 15, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Aug 14, 2011 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Jesus' encounter with the woman of Tyre is a most peculiar portion of Scripture.  She comes to Jesus asking Him for mercy.  Not give me wealth, or give me health or happiness, but, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David."  The humility in her cry is evident.  She doesn't even consider herself worthy of His goodness.  No, she wants mercy for her daughter because she is possessed by a demon.  She cries out with all of the pain of a mother who has to watch her daughter suffer in uncontrollable agony. 

And yet, Jesus ignores her cry.  And, on top of that, His disciples ask Him to send her away because her crying out is bothering them.  Finally, when Jesus speaks, He doesn't say what the woman would have expected him to say, like, "Be of good cheer, your daughter is healed," or something of the kind, rather, He says, "I was sent only to lost sheep of the house of Israel."  The woman, of course, didn't qualify.  She wasn't of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  She was a Canaanite, a descendant of an idolatrous nation, a nation that God commanded Israel to destroy back in the Old Testament.

She wouldn't be turned away though.  She persisted in her plea for mercy.  She fell down in front of Jesus and said, "Lord, help me."  Uncharacteristically Jesus continued in His rejection of her.  "It's not right (He said) to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."  Wow!!  These are tough words!  In fact, some, trying to soften what Jesus' said suggest the kind of dog He was talking about was not a junk yard dog, but, a household dog, a pet.  Still, a dog is a dog!  Besides, I suspect that the woman wasn't so concerned with what type of dog Jesus was referring to.  She was only concerned with her daughter's welfare.  Yes, Lord, she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." 

It's a peculiar section of Scripture, isn't it?  It's peculiar because Jesus is portrayed in a manner that we aren't used to.  He appears cold and unfeeling.  He appears to lack compassion and mercy.  In fact, as we read the story we end up sympathizing with the woman from Tyre and wondering what's up with Jesus.  Why does He discourage her as if He doesn't care about her, or, as if she doesn't matter?

The title I've chosen for the message this morning is "When God Becomes My Enemy."  I have to confess that I stole the title from an author who wrote a book by the same title.  "When God Becomes My Enemy" was written by Ingvar Floysvik, a Lutheran Theologian.  He wrote it to examine the various complaint Psalms in which the psalmist is convinced, because of whatever adverse circumstances he's facing, that God has become his enemy, that, He is, in fact, against him.  "How long, O Lord (the Psalmist cries)?  Will You forget me forever?  How long will You hide Your face from me?  How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?" "You, O Lord, have cast us off and put us to shame, and You do not go out with our armies.  You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves.  You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations." 

Like the woman of Tyre, the Psalmist knew what it was like for heaven to seem cold, when God, by all empirical evidence, seems angry.  Most of the psalms, of course, were written by King David, who, from time to time languished over prayers that God didn't seem to hear.  Worse yet, David dealt with the haunting possibility that if God did hear his prayers, He wasn't moved by any goodness or mercy to answer them.  God, it seemed, became his enemy.

In time, of course, David came to understand that God is not his enemy.  Still, he had to learn what all of us have to learn, namely, that God's goodness and mercy are often shielded by the circumstances that confront us in life.  And yet, Jesus' death and resurrection on our behalf remain the unmistakable signs that, rather than God being our enemy, rather than Him being against us, He is, in fact, in all things, for us.  St. Paul made that point absolutely clear when, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote those words that we have treasured and coveted in the depths of our hearts.  "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

Ask yourself that question?  "If God if for us…if He is for me, who can be against me?  God has no equal.  And lest you fear that He isn't for you, listen to the rest of what Paul says.  "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

What we have in this morning's Gospel reading is a picture of the sometimes painful manner in which God tests our faith that it might be strengthened, deepened and made more resolute.  The Apostle Peter, a man who knew a little something about adversity and suffering, wrote, "In this (that is, in the inheritance that is yours in Christ) you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

With the falling stock market these days, the Dow dropping over 2,000 points just in the last couple of weeks of trading, the price of gold has become the big craze.  Some say "buy gold" because while everything else is dropping its value is only going to go up!  The proof, I guess, is in the pudding, so to speak.  Gold is up to nearly $2,000 an ounce.  People are scrambling to get a hold of it thinking its value may double in the not too distant future. 

Still, there is something more valuable than gold and God says that is your faith, that faith that He gave you in the water of your baptism.  The essential part of faith, what makes us cling to Christ in everything, is the conviction that God is good and that His love and mercy, so beautifully demonstrated in the death and resurrection of His Son, are inexhaustible.  Empirical evidence may suggest that God has become our enemy, but, it can never be, for "who, or what, for that matter, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord?"

When the woman of Tyre was first turned away by Jesus, or, I might say, when we don't get our way in prayer, the first inclination is to question God's goodness and mercy.  That response, however, is the response of our old nature.  Our new nature, the one created by God in our baptisms, says, no, it can't be!  As it has been said before "the depths of our misery can never fall below the depths of God's mercy."  God cannot be against me!  He must be mercy!  He must be my Savior and Redeemer! 

In the end, while Jesus often admonished His disciples for their weak or little faith, He praised the woman of Tyre for her great faith.  Not because she understood everything that Jesus ever said, or, because she could explain divine mysteries and teach the less learned, but, because she refused to believe that Jesus, "the Son of David," the long awaited Messiah, would turn her away without showing her mercy. 

As a Church, and here I mean the Una Sancta, the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church, we have learned to adopt the words of the woman of Tyre as part of our pious vocabulary and liturgy, "Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy."  They aren't simply words of meaningless repetition, nor are they words spoken to satisfy some liturgical requirement.  Rather, they testify to the nature of the reality of our relationship with God.  We deserve nothing from Him.  As Luther said, "we are beggars before God."  Still, He promises to hear our cry for mercy and to respond as only He can, in a manner that will deepen our conviction, our faith in His essential goodness. 

"Unworthy though I am, O Savior

Because I have a sinful heart,

Yet Thou Thy lamb wilt banish never,

For Thou my faithful shepherd art."

In Jesus' name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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