Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
Pentecost 10A, August 17, 2014
Isn’t it true that we Christians hate discrimination of any kind? Isn’t it true that all of us, at one time, have felt the pain of being singled out, left out, looked down on, or trodden upon? Its no fun being excluded, not being invited to a party or special event, simply because your not part of the “in-crowd”. Being left out can lead to depression and a real sense that no one cares or appreciates you for who you are. So then why do we Christians do that to members of our own family of faith? Why do we create clicks that clearly demonstrate how our group is different than other groups? Because it is in our nature… our sinful nature!
God’s message for us this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 56:1, 6-8) assures us that God has a solution to our sin problem; to our tendency to group up at the expense of others feeling uninvited or not part of the family. He shows us how we are all His chosen people who are never left out. He does not discriminate or exclude anyone by race, former beliefs, or ethnic background. God looks for and finds even foreigners and outcasts. This morning’s message tells us that God’s Salvation through Jesus Christ is for everyone, and that everyone is the same color… and that color is Christian!
This is a message that has always been part of God’s plan, but over the years it became lost in the sinful hearts of His children of faith, the children of Israel. It became lost through nationalistic pride and ethnic feelings of superiority, which replaced what was suppose to be pride in the One true God, who called them out of darkness and into light.
Now, it’s true, that the law of God did command that some people were to be excluded from God’s people. That was one of the functions of the law; to keep God’s people separate from the godless nations that surrounded them. God didn’t want His people to be contaminated by the pagan religious practices of the nations around Israel. They were called to avoid intimate contact with the Gentiles. And for that reason, God’s chosen people had dietary restrictions; some foods were unclean simply because God said so. God wanted the world to notice His people; He wanted a world trapped in sin to see that His children of faith were different. They were circumcised as a sign of their covenant connection with Abraham and the promises God made to him. Why? So that the world caught in the darkness of sin would see this difference and God’s many blessings upon His people, and then desire to be included in this relationship. But sadly, sin began to creep in, and God’s children of faith began to develop a spirit of superiority, and so their pride caused them to look down on other folks.
The Israelites disdainfully referred to the world outside as “uncircumcised.” And they began to forget to ask some very important questions about these “outsiders,” questions like: “Does God want these people to also receive deliverance by hearing and believing in the coming of the Messiah of God?
That was the dilemma crying out in front of the apostles of our Lord in our gospel reading (Matthew 15:21–28). Standing before Jesus and His Jewish disciples was a Canaanite woman from the foreign region of Tyre and Sidon. She was a female, and one of those unclean foreigners that the Jews were taught to look down upon, and she did the unthinkable, she approached Jesus crying out “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” Jesus seemingly ignored her and kept on walking by her, but she followed and continued to cry out for mercy.
After a while, the disciples couldn’t take it any more, so they asked Jesus to give her what she wanted, just so she would go away. But Jesus, ignoring the woman, answered the disciples request according to the law of God and said to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel… It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” In other words, Jesus is saying that He wasn’t there to help the foreigners yet, but those who falsely claimed to be children of Abraham without faith like Abraham. Why did they lack faith? Because they had lost faith in God’s promise of the coming Messiah, the Suffering Servant who would come first to the Jews and then use them to draw all sinners to God’s mercy by faith in God. You could say that when one is caught in the darkness, one must first have their own lamp lit before they can help others find their own lamps.
Now what the woman says next proves the next point of our message, which is that Salvation, is entirely a work of God. The woman looks Jesus in the eyes and says, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” This declaration moved Jesus to look at this woman with love and say, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”
Did you hear that? Jesus said that her faith was great, that is her lamp had been lit! The very thing that the Jews were to have first before they could be effective in drawing foreigners into the inner circle of God’s family of faith, this woman had already received. She knew who Jesus was; she desired to be part of what he brought, even if it meant enjoying it from the outside! By being content with her outside status, Jesus drew Her in.
This brings us to our next point…
Salvation is entirely a work of God! It is God alone who provides salvation, and it is He alone who brings it to people both on the inside and the outside who have been excluded due to sin. It is what He does for sinners in His Word, the law first and then the gospel. We see this displayed beautifully in the very first verse of our Old Testament lesson. Listen: “Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.” Do you hear the law? Keep justice! Do what’s right! It demands much of us, but offers no help in doing! But then as our terror propels us forward to try and do the law, to try and keep the command, God’s sweet and tender voice of mercy speaks, “It is going to be ok. Soon my salvation, my Suffering Servant, your Messiah will come, and then the comfort and peace that you thirst for will be revealed and given to you for free!”
Friends, Salvation has come; it has come trough Jesus Christ, the light first given to the people of Israel and now as a light given to the world. Where was this light given to all people? Upon the cross! Listen to these beautiful words of prophecy, fulfilled through Jesus suffering and death: “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” [Isaiah 53:5]
Jesus knows our every fear and weakness; He knows our struggle to find acceptance and belonging. Like many of us, He too was an outcast, excluded by many of the people He first came to save; the ones who must first have the light before they could help the outsiders and outcasts find their portion of the light. “He had no form or majesty that (others) should look at him, and no beauty that (they) should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and (even today) we esteemed him not.” [Isaiah 53:2, 3] But He esteems us, He knows us, and now is the time of our salvation. Now is the time that Jesus comes for all of sinful mankind!
This morning we gather as God’s children called by faith in His Word; called by faith in the Suffering Servant, the Son of God Jesus Christ! This morning we know by this same Word and faith in that Word, that salvation is for all of mankind, first for the Jews and then for the world. It is a work of God done for all sinners, regardless of skin color or the quality of their character, because Jesus calls sinners just as they are. But when He calls them, He loves them to much to leave them in that condition. For you see, the call also contains the power of God that transforms sinners into saints.
We are those who once were foreigners but now are sons of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. People know that we are Christians by the marks that God imputes upon us and within us. We love to serve our true and living God. We love to speak His name… Jesus, and we find an unexplainable peace in living under that name. We are the ones who truly keep His Sabbath, because we alone find rest and peace in the proclamation and the hearing of His Word. We alone, enabled by faith, trust in His new covenant promise of grace, and we do that by clinging to Christ alone and no other! We are the people who alone can say, “My color is Jesus and my race is Christian!”
Each of us, through no merit of our own has been drawn to God by His power alone. Because of His Word, we hear and believe that it is God’s desire to bind all people to Himself through Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what He has done for us. By faith, we see the very Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ, suffering and dying upon the cross as both God’s Suffering servant and our Messiah, and we know that like a lamb led to be slaughtered, He obediently died for the sins of the world. But we also know by faith that within the waters of our baptism, salvation became very real and very personal. In our baptism, we were both buried with Christ and made alive with Him!
Indeed, this morning as well as every Sunday we hear the proclamation that salvation is for all; none are excluded and all have been drawn into God’s inner circle as His children of faith who rest within the mystical body of Christ. But sadly, there are some who are not yet resting as part of the “in crowd” within this position of peace and comfort. There are many who still live in the darkness and continually reject God’s free gift of salvation through Christ, or perhaps they have separated themselves from the gift by judging others as not “like them” and unworthy of the same gift that once saved them. They have bound themselves to darkness rather than to the light of Christ.
Is there hope for those who are perishing outside of Christ’s sacrifice and love? Yes, and again I say yes, and that hope is spoken of in the last verse of our Old Testament lesson, listen: “The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to (the body of Christ) besides those already gathered.” How does He gather? Through the same means of grace that gathered you… through His Holy Word and Sacraments. They are His means of grace, and we the church are His means of delivery. As He binds Himself to us, we bind ourselves to Him to be His instrument of inclusion and Ambassadors of peace. As we go out being His light in the darkness of sin, we remember that it is He alone who brings and works salvation by binding Himself to the waters of baptism and establishing new Christian identities in those who were once dying in sin, so that they too will serve Him and love the name that is above every name… Jesus Christ! And in, with, and under that name let the church say… AMEN!