IN NOMINE JESU
As I prepared for the sermon for today, I could not help but find by thoughts drifting elsewhere. I have been thinking a lot about my mother and my grandfather this past week. You see, yesterday marked what would have been my grandmother's 85th birthday. But the Lord, in His wisdom, called her home to be with Him back in February of this year. The day after she died, I was on the phone with my mother. She told me that my grandfather wanted my uncle and me to speak at the family prayer service. My uncle was a parish pastor in the Lutheran Church—Canada, a daughter synod of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, for many years and is now a professor at one of the LCC's seminaries. Granddad wanted my uncle and me to share some memories of Grandma—my uncle, on behalf of her children, and me, on behalf of the grandchildren, both of us offering comfort from the Gospel to the family gathered for the prayer service. I have to admit that I did not jump at the opportunity to do this. In fact, I told Mom that I really did not want to do this. I had, just days earlier, officiated my 16th funeral in less than 20 months here, and my second in three weeks. I was feeling drained emotionally from so many funerals. And now my grandmother, with whom I was very close, had just died. I was hurting. I was grieving. I needed to hear the Gospel myself. I did not want to speak at the prayer service. I wanted to listen to the Gospel, proclaimed from her pastor. My mother said this was how Granddad wanted things to be. During the drive back to Nebraska I kept asking myself what I would say, if I would even be able to muster anything worthy of speaking, and how to say anything at all.
At the funeral home there was above the casket a lighted picture of the Last Supper. When I saw the picture, I realized what I could speak about: table fellowship. In that picture the Lord is at the center of the table, with six disciples on either side of Him. In that room depicted in the picture the Lord established table fellowship with His disciples, feeding them on His body and blood. I was reminded of the table fellowship I enjoyed at Grandma's house. Whenever we grandchildren went to her house, she would always have something for us to eat. I recall as a child having to sit at the "kiddie" table in the basement because there was not enough room upstairs for all of us—my grandparents, parents, sisters, uncles, aunt, and cousins—to dine. For years we would have dinner at her house either on Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas Day. At those dinners she had a huge meal prepared for us, and I always looked forward to having some of her cranberry salad. We always had plenty to eat, and we enjoyed Grandma's company. We were always welcome at her place, even during her final years as she had become frail. During her last few years among us, however, she was no longer able to cook or do any other chores; my grandfather then performed these tasks. When I was on break from the seminary and, later, on vacation here, I would go to Grandma's house to see her. She was always glad to see her grandchildren, and she still offered us something to eat, and if we didn't eat anything, she would be offended because she wanted to give to us. I'd visit with her while she was finishing her lunch, which then had taken longer, and while I was munching on a roll. She would ask me how I was doing and what was going on in my life. She would also tell me what was happening with other relatives. I was saddened by what I saw: a woman whom I had loved dearly all my life in worsening health. But I was also glad because I saw in Grandma's eyes the love she had for her grandson. For nearly 32 years I was the blessed recipient of being in table fellowship with my grandma. These were the memories I shared with the family on the eve of her funeral.
Our text for today shows Jesus establishing fellowship with someone to whom it was not to be granted according to Jewish custom. A Gentile woman dared to approach the Lord, desiring that He heal her demon-possessed daughter. A Gentile is a non-Jew, a pagan. Somehow she had heard of the work of the Lord. She approached Him, even though He went into a house so that no one could see Him at that time. She came and fell at His feet. This distraught mother had nowhere else to turn. She loved her daughter very much. She was desperate for healing to come to her daughter. The Lord's response to her request surely seems harsh. "He said to her, 'Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs'" (v. 27). How could He say something like that? The Lord was speaking of the children of Israel's being fed first, for He had come first to the Jews to feed them on the Word He had come to bring. It is not right to take what belonged to the children of Israel to give it to pagan dogs. The woman was compared to a dog in the Lord's metaphor. That is to say, the Gentiles were not to have what was to be first given to the Jews, the promise of salvation, the Gospel itself. This was no ordinary Gentile, however. At some point the Holy Spirit brought her to faith in Jesus Christ, for she said, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs" (v. 28). Even though the Lord's intended audience was the Jews, there were Gentiles who heard His words and, by the work of the Holy Spirit, believed in Him. She heard Him speak. She inwardly digested His words; she ate the crumbs that fell. She craved every little morsel of the Gospel she could hear. The Lord announced to her that her daughter was healed at that very moment. The true power comes not from prayer itself but from the One who answers prayer, the Lord Himself. The healing came not from the woman's coming before the Lord but in His grace. He acted out of love for this sheep not originally of His fold. He established a table fellowship of sorts with this Gentile woman, feeding not one of the children but one of the dogs. He then established a personal relationship with the deaf man who also had a speech impediment, taking him away from the crowd so that the man would be focused on the Lord. The man's ears were opened and his tongue loosed by the Lord's word Ephphatha, which means, "Be opened." The Lord spoke His word, and He brought healing.
The Lord established table fellowship with the Gentile woman and the deaf man, feeding them on His Word, a table fellowship even greater than dinner at Grandma's house. He seeks to have this greater table fellowship with us as well. For that reason the Holy Spirit has brought us into this holy house. During the Lord's earthly ministry He was in several people's homes. He, the Master Teacher, would catechize all who were within earshot. Having taught them from the Scriptures, He established table fellowship with His catechumens by dining with them, just as He did when He fed the 5,000. Today He follows His pattern. He teaches us through the preaching of His Word and establishes His table fellowship with all the faithful who confess Him as Savior and Lord by thought, word, and deed and respond to His Word, saying "Amen" to all things He teaches us. We are not receiving crumbs. We are invited to receive the very Bread of Life Himself as He comes to us in His body and blood. This is the highest form of table fellowship we can be in on this side of heaven. In heaven we will be in the greatest table fellowship of all, where we will dine at the marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.
However, we live in a much less than perfect state than the fellowship our Lord seeks of us. He seeks to feed us, but we do not always want to eat. There were times when I did not want to eat what my grandmother served me. This was offensive to her because she, out of love, made that meal for me, and I rejected it. On a much grander scale, we often do not want what our Lord desires to feed us, and this grieves Him greatly because of what He went through on the cross for us out of His deep love for us. Our sinful nature wants nothing to do with the Lord and what He offers in His Means of Grace. The Word by which He feeds us does not taste good to us. We find His Word, especially His Law, a very bitter pill for us to swallow. We do not like hearing who we really are, sinful and unclean, demon-possessed in our sinful nature, and in league with the devil. Rather than read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest what our Lord gives us, we spit it back in His face as if we were two years old and being fed strained apricots or, worse yet, as if we were like the demon-possessed characters we have seen in the movies. Quite frankly, we do not like the taste of God's Word in our mouths, ears, minds, and hearts. It burns within us because we do not like to hear what He has to say. We resent being told we cannot do whatever we want because it feels good or just because that's the way it's been done before. We loathe not being the center of activity in the house of the Lord, for the Lord is the Actor in our lives, the Do-er of the verbs in the liturgy, the Divine Service. We trample the pearls set before us. We want something else. We demand that God deal with us on our terms. Yet our terms can bring about only eternal death and destruction for us.
Even though I did not always eat what Grandma set in front of me, she still loved me dearly. She continued to offer me food each time I went to see her, even when she was too weak to cook. She dearly wanted to retain table fellowship with all of her grandchildren. As a woman who, by the Holy Spirit, confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, she now enjoys the greatest table fellowship of all, being seated at her Lord's heavenly banquet table, forever singing His praises. This is where our dear Lord also wants us to be. To this end He continues to offer His gifts to us in Word and Sacrament, for He continues to love us dearly. Yes, He condemns us through the preaching of His Law, but He also forgives us through the proclamation of the Gospel—in Holy Absolution and in the sermon. He establishes His table fellowship with us by teaching us where we have gone wrong and then by announcing to us how He has rectified our wretched situation.
We hear this great message each Sunday, for this is how the Lord makes His fellowship with us known. He feeds us on the Gospel, the good news of our salvation which has come only by the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. He came and fed the children of Israel, preaching a message of repentance. But these rebellious children who heard this message then and who hear it now spit out this bread He offered, spitting nails into His hands and feet, nailing Him to the cross. Yes, our sins put Him there, too. Jesus Christ died on Good Friday to take away the sins of the world, of the people at all times and in all places. "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). The Lord won this forgiveness for us; faith clings to this great gift, for in it we also receive eternal life and salvation. It is our Spirit-generated faith that has brought us here to hear the Word of the Lord, confess our sins, and receive this forgiveness where He offers it: here in His house through His holy Word and His body and blood.
And now he extends to you the invitation to come to the feast, for it shall soon be ready. He invites those who believe in Him, confessing the faith He has taught us, repentant of our sins, and eagerly desiring this heavenly food He has prepared for us. One of my greatest joys came on the day I was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry, the day my grandmother wanted to see. I found out at her funeral that the two greatest days in her life were the days on which my uncle and I each became ordained into the pastoral office. It gave her great joy to see her own flesh and blood giving the body and blood of the Lord to repentant sinners. On the day of my ordination, I had the joy of giving her the body and blood of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and she was the blessed recipient of the table fellowship the Lord established with her. The joy she had is yours to have as well as the Lord invites you also to receive the true body and blood of the Lord, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. We are not in this table fellowship alone, for we are with those united in our confession of faith and with those who have died in the faith before us. We sing to the Lord in the Sanctus, "Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory," for He brings heaven down to earth with Him as He comes to us in this blessed Sacrament, bringing with Him the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, which means that we will be dining with a whole host of witnesses, including those who died in the faith before us. Your parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents who died in Christ's arms before you will be feasting with you, as will my grandmother, still in table fellowship with you and me and with the Lord into all eternity.
This feast at the Lord's Table is not the end of our table fellowship with the Lord. He will still come to us, feeding us on His Word and Sacraments, just as He has promised, for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. It is our Lord's desire that we all be with Him in heaven forever, where we will be reunited with our loved ones and will see our dear Lord face to face. What a joyous time that will be! By the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, we will one day join our loved ones and our Lord in heaven. Six months after her death, I dearly miss my grandmother, and I look forward to seeing her again in heaven, as I know and firmly believe I one day will. It is my hope and prayer that I will also see you at the Lord's eternal banquet in heaven. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Pr. Mark Schlamann Our Savior & Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Pettibone & Woodworth, ND
"When you are baptized, partake of Holy Communion, receive the absolution, or listen to a sermon, heaven is open, and we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father; all these works descend upon us from the open heaven above us. God converses with us, provides for us; and Christ hovers over us--but invisibly. And even though there were clouds above us as impervious as iron or steel, obstructing our view of heaven, this would not matter. Still we hear God speaking to us from heaven; we call and cry to Him, and He answers us. Heaven is open, as St. Stephen saw it open (Acts 7:55); and we hear God when He addresses us in Baptism, in Holy Communion, in confession, and in His Word as it proceeds from the mouth of the men who proclaim His message to the people." --Martin Luther (1/19/1538 [LW 22:202])--
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