Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 18)

Sept. 6, 2015
Text: Mark 7:24-37

            Our Lord Jesus does all things well (Mark 7:37).  But that may not appear to be the case at the time.  How is the Lord doing all things well when you pray and pray and pray, and you still don’t have enough money at the end of the month, you still didn’t get that job, your kids still aren’t at Church, you still get sick, you still die?  How is THAT the Lord doing all things well?  I don’t know.  Neither do you.  It is a statement of faith, not sight.  This is a fallen world, and things go bad.  Because of sin.  Not necessarily some sin you’ve committed, but sin in general, the fact that we’re all sinners, infected by sin, born that way, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  And creation itself is subject to the curse.  And what is even more frustrating is that Jesus doesn’t deliver us from all that the way we think He should.  His ways are different than our ways.  His thoughts are different than our thoughts.  Which means you just have to trust Him, even when it looks like He’s not doing anything well.  In fact, you just have to trust Him, even when it looks like He is against you.  Come what may, you always hold on to the Promise of your Savior: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5; ESV).  Or, as He says in our Old Testament reading, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come… He will come and save you’” (Is. 35:4).
            The Syrophoenician woman has every reason to doubt the Promise.  She isn’t even an Israelite.  But the situation is desperate.  Her precious little daughter is possessed by and unclean spirit.  This is some sort of demon.  We don’t know all the gory details.  What does the unclean spirit do to her?  Does it make her say and do lewd things?  Does it cause her to sit in her filth?  We don’t know, but I suspect this is the same kind of spirit that infects our culture with all that is base and crude, the kind of spirit that possesses us with vulgarity and perversity, the hypersexualization of the culture, the kind of spirit that takes possession of us by drugs or pornography or any other enslaving addiction.  Which is simply to say, these spirits are still at work.  We’re just blind to them because they’ve convinced us they don’t exist. 
            At any rate, the woman sees the spirit for what it is.  And it is enough to make her throw herself at the feet of the Savior and beg.  She prays.  She pleads for Jesus’ help.  And Jesus tells her that it wouldn’t be right.  “Let the children,” that is, the Jews, “be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27).  He calls her a dog!  That’s what the Jews think of Gentiles like the Syrophoenician woman, like you and me.  Now, why would Jesus say that?  That’s not very nice, is it?  It’s certainly not the kind of behavior we expect from a Savior, from God.  But that’s just it.  Our God isn’t worried about living up to our expectations, which most of the time are simply wrong.  He does His work, which is good and right and wise and gracious, for us and for our salvation.  And we’re incapable of understanding why He does it the way He does it.  But here, the Syrophoenician woman becomes a model of faith.  If Jesus calls her a dog, she’s content with that.  Because the dog has a place in the Master’s house, at the Master’s feet (remember, she fell at His feet!), eating the children’s crumbs.  It is a tenacious faith that clings to the Promise in spite of all appearances.  Jesus appears to be rejecting the woman.  The woman holds Him to His Word.  Which is always what Jesus wants.  That’s faith.  “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter” (v. 29).  Jesus delivers in His own time, in His own way, at a time and in a way so far above our time and our way.  Our Lord Jesus does all things well.
            The Gentiles in the Decapolis have every reason to doubt the Promise.  Like the Syrophoenician woman, they are not Israelites, they are not members of God’s special people.  They are the dogs.  They are despised by the Jews.  Unclean.  Heathen.  Idolaters.  But Jesus had been to their region before.  This is where Jesus healed the demoniac who lived among the tombs, in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-20), the guy who broke chains and shackles in pieces, the guy who said to Jesus, “My name is Legion, for we are many” (v. 9), quite the scary scene.  You remember what happened?  Jesus drove the demon into the herd of pigs, who then rushed down the bank and were drowned in the sea.  And the man, now delivered from demonic possession, dressed and in his right mind, begs that he might follow Jesus.  But Jesus tells him instead to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 19).  And the man does just that: “he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him” (v. 20; emphasis added). 
            So the Gentiles in the Decapolis had a Word from the Savior, the Word proclaimed by the former demoniac.  They had a Promise.  And they were holding Jesus to it.  So they bring the man who is deaf and dumb and beg Jesus to lay His hand on him (Mark 7:32).  But Jesus never does things exactly the way we prescribe.  He does them better.  He does all things well.  Now, imagine you are the deaf and dumb man.  You cannot communicate.  You cannot understand any complicated sort of communication.  Does the man even know who Jesus is?  Does he have any idea why his friends are carting him over to Jesus?  Our Lord takes him aside.  This miracle isn’t for show.  And by sign language, Jesus communicates what He is about to do.  Jesus puts His fingers into the man’s ears.  He spits and touches the man’s tongue.  It’s gross.  Ear wax and spittle.  Invasion of personal space.  Jesus touches his pain (Petersen).  He looks up to heaven and sighs.  What does this mean?  Jesus has come in answer to the man’s prayers, to heal his pain, to open his ears, to loose his tongue.  And before the man can hear, the Lord must speak His Word: “Ephphatha,” which is to say, “Be opened” (v. 34).  Now, what good does it do to speak to a deaf man?  We would never do the healing this way.  But when Jesus speaks, His Word accomplishes what He says.  The Creator has come to His creation.  He who formed the ear now gives hearing.  He who formed the tongue now gives speech.  And it works!  “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (v. 35).  Now, think about how amazing it is that, not only can he now hear, but his brain can already make sense of the sounds and understand the language.  That is a miracle in and of itself.  And he can speak plainly.  How long does it take a child to learn to talk?  The man does it right away.  Our Lord Jesus does all things well.
            The man puts his speech immediately to use.  This is another one of those things we don’t understand.  The Lord doesn’t do it the way we think He should.  He commands the man and the bystanders not to tell anyone!  Whatever you do, DON’T go proclaim this miracle!  And we all scratch our heads.  Jesus doesn’t want these Gentiles to misunderstand His work.  He is not a magician.  He is not a witch doctor.  The miracles are not the point.  The point is the salvation the miracles proclaim.  Jesus releases us from demons.  Jesus opens our ears to hear His Word.  He opens our lips to sing His praise.  He touches our pain.  And He doesn’t tell US to keep it quiet.  He tells us to go and proclaim salvation in His Name.  He would have us bring our loved ones to Him in prayer, like the Syrophoenician woman.  He would have us bring our loved ones to Him for mercy, like the Gentiles from the Decapolis.  He would have us bring them to Church, which is the very best way to do evangelism.  And most of all, He would have us hold Him to His Word, hold Him to His Promise.  In spite of all appearances to the contrary, He would have us believe He loves us, He saves us, He heals us and gives us life.  He will never leave us nor forsake us.  He does all things well.
            And that is true for you in your pain, whatever it may be.  Jesus knows your heartache and grief.  He knows your guilt and shame.  He knows your fear of death and condemnation.  He knows every ailment of body and soul.  There are times it may not seem like He cares.  But hold on to His Promise.  Hold Him to His Word.  He who gave Himself into death on the cross for your sake will not forsake you now.  He who shed His blood for the forgiveness of your sins will not abandon you in the time of trial.  He is risen.  He hears your prayers.  He loves you.  And He saves.  He doesn’t do it the way you would prescribe.  He isn’t worried about living up to your expectations.  He does it by washing you in water and His Word.  He does it by speaking and opening your ears and heart to the Gospel.  He does it by touching your tongue with His very Body and Blood.  You have a place at His Table, even if it be at His beautiful feet.  And in the end, He will do it this way.  He will speak to your ears, closed in death.  He will say to you, “Arise.”  And you will.  For our Lord Jesus does all things well.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

     

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