- Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
This passage often leaves people scratching their heads. After all, why doesn’t Jesus immediately want to help this distressed woman? But if you read carefully, you begin to see Jesus is engaging in some witty repartee with her. He says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” but she doesn’t take this for the final answer. She engages with Jesus. She continues to try her best to enlist the help of the One who can help. And her faith is rewarded. This woman is a Canaanite (IE: not a Jew) yet ultimately Jesus helps her – because she has faith that He will.
How often do we give up after one prayer, one time of asking, one instance of “help me, Lord?”
Do you ever find yourself praying as a routine rather than a belief that God will respond? Is your prayer life ever dry and repetitive, but without belief? It happens to many of us – we get so stuck in a routine that we forget to stop and consider what prayer really is at heart – a conversation with God (and as any good conversation goes, we need to listen to the other party at least as much as we speak). And we must be faithful and persistent, knowing that God will, in some way, answer our prayer.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Mt 5:4
By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Ex 13:21
You might be wondering what these two passages have to do with each other. And honestly, they are not related. Except for one thing. They are both reminder of God’s presence.
Yesterday (11/3/19) was All Saints Sunday, a day on the liturgical calendar set aside to remember those who have gone before us. There is a long history of Christians remembering the dead, and that history extends into Judaism as well.
Jews practice something called “Yahzreit”, which includes lighting a candle on the anniversary of a person’s death, or at significant times in the Jewish calendar. It is a way of honoring those who have gone before.
Notice the candle – the flame – the light. Now I turn to the passage from Exodus. God’s presence was known in the pillar of fire. As long as those wandering in the desert saw that pillar of fire, they were reminded of God’s presence.
And as Christians, we believe that the dead in Christ are not truly dead, rather they are in God’s presence, so lighting a candle of remembrance is a way of reminding us that God is present with us, and our loved ones are present with God, therefore we are blessed – even when we mourn.
Yesterday we lit candles in memory of our departed loved ones. Yesterday we had a prayer of thanksgiving for their lives, and we gave God all praise and honor and glory.
And the flames reminded us that God always goes with us.
Ghosts and Ghouls, Saints and Souls
It is the end of October and Halloween is around the corner. Halloween brings a lot of discussion within the greater church. Some believe it to be nothing more than a fun day for kids (and adults) to dress up and trick or treat while others think it is a portal to Hell itself.
Personally, I’m more concerned with the real evils present in the world than plastic skeletons and children with sheets on their heads saying “boo.” After all, Paul does say “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12)” and we see far too much evil on a daily basis.
Halloween actually has its roots in early Christianity. The word actually means “All Hallows Eve” as it is the day before All Saints Day. The early church honored those who have died, especially a martyr’s death by remembering their “death” day as the day they entered into the Heavenly Kingdom. But when persecutions began under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the church selected one day to honor these saints.
But who are the saints? All who believe in Christ Jesus. Colossians 1:11-13 says; “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” All throughout scripture the saints are those who believe in God.
But then scripture also says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) and continually mentions those great saints who have gone before. It is good and right to honor those (not worship them, but honor them) for they are not truly gone but in the presence of Almighty God.
On Friday (or Sunday when we will observe All Saints Day at the church), take a moment to think about a departed loved one and give God thanks and praise for their life.
Healing prayer. It’s been a part of my call for a long time, even before I graduated seminary. I believe that God still heals today. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t bother with the “Prayers of the People” in the worship service. Why lift up the concerns of the people if God doesn’t heal anymore?
But God does and we pray.
“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” Jeremiah 17:14
Yet healing services are sometimes met with suspicion, and I get this. Just watch the T.V. healers, or read the stories of how they have been debunked and it makes sense. Say “healing service” and the popular opinion is charlatans and fakes fleecing the flock.
But scripture calls us to pray for the sick.
“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” James 5:14-15
On Sunday October 20th, we held a Service of Healing and Wholeness. It’s not the first time I’ve tried to do this, but it was certainly the most attended and accepted. The time was right. On a wet, cold, rainy October Sunday afternoon we gathered in the sanctuary to worship God, to share Christ’s supper, to sing, pray and anoint.
“Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you…” Exodus 23:25
The congregation was more than receptive. They sang, they prayed, they sat in silence, they accepted the anointing with oil and they came forward for prayer with honest faith. It was one of the most powerful services I’ve been involved in. And the Spirit was certainly present.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5
Jesus was present. His comfort was present. His love was present. And Jesus took all we put at the foot of the cross.
“But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD” Jeremiah 30:17
Our congregation has been hit hard this year with illnesses. We have a few people with cancer, we have some hurting from grief, we have had too many funerals, hospital stays and crises. But God is not finished with us. God has far more to say about healing than we have to say about sickness.
To God be the glory!
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time he refused. But finally, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you; he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:1-8
This is another of those quirky Jesus stories that often makes us scratch our heads. We try to figure out who is who in the story. Is the Judge God? Is the widow us? And yet that doesn’t really fit, does it? The Judge cannot be God since the judge is so unjust. He only gives in because the widow in her persistence starts to bother him. But the widow; who is she?
Now we have to do that little “bible trick”. Whenever a passage begins with “Then” or “Afterwards” or any of those type words, we need to read what happened before. Jesus was teaching on the Kingdom of God and how it is in our midst. Jesus refers to the flood and the destruction of Sodom as things that happened without a specific calendar date. So will the coming of the Kingdom – it is here in our midst as well as coming fully one day.
And we are to remain ready for the kingdom – by living as Christ teaches us, with love towards God, our neighbors and ourselves. We are to persistently be in communication with God through prayer. Our prayers should be consistent and in accord with Christ. We cannot just pray once and say “that’s done, its up to God now” rather we are to pray as we breathe. Constantly.
Is there something going on in your life? Don’t just take it to God in prayer, but consistently pray, asking God for God’s perspective, wisdom and guidance. And then listen for God’s answer with faith, for God will answer. As Jesus said: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?”
The plan for the day was simple. Get the mail, go to the church office, do some administrative work, make a visit, go to a meeting and then work on the Sunday sermon.
Then everything changed.
I got the mail and went to the office. There was a letter addressed to me from a barber supply company (yeah, I was confused). It seems that someone has stolen my church credit card. I called the credit card company and discovered four charges that I did not make.
I tried to finish up some administrative work then headed out to my visit. The member (who is 99 btw) was in much better shape than my visit on Thursday. We talked then prayed and I headed out for my meeting. As I was driving to my meeting, the tire pressure indicator began to flash. I found a Wawa (I love Wawa), checked all the tires and proceeded to my meeting. But the indicator came on again.
The meeting was about Alzheimer’s and gave me some good information to share with the congregation. I was even asked to close the meeting in prayer.
But that indicator was still on so I drove to the same Wawa and filled the tire again. Realizing it was a problem, I decided to find a tire service station.
On the way a call came in – a hospice nurse telling me that one of our members has had a “change”. This means she is actively dying. Unfortunately, this was an hour from where I was, and I still had that tire problem. I called the nurse and asked her if the next morning would work – she said “yes” to the best of her knowledge. But something gnawed at me. I needed to get there.
I let my wife know of the situation and she changed her work schedule to pick up our daughter at school so I could go to the congregation member. But I was still at the garage. The manager told me of some needed work – and I told him my situation. He said to the mechanic “get this done”. He told the front desk person to handle everything immediately so I could get out fast. Then, while I was paying the bill, he asked me a name to pray for (YEAH!). I got out of the garage and headed towards the nursing facility.
Some family members were there when I arrived. We talked, I listened to stories, I was present. More family came as did more stories. Then it was time to pray. Honestly, sometimes it is hard to pray for a person actively dying. While I’m confident in the resurrection, I still find it hard to say goodbye (don’t we all?). And after the prayer I told the person I would see her again – because I truly believe that I will.
This was a day in the life of a minister. Plans change, unpredictable things happen, and God is glorified.
God is good.
23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
I was in sales in my “previous life”. And often in the office of a Purchasing Agent was a sign that said; “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency for me.”
Often Purchasing Agents were given the task of quickly getting needed materials and parts because somebody made a mistake. This was their way of saying “your crisis is not my crisis.”
As I thought about this, I realized that often in the church we tend to create crises out of things that are not crises – or more important, we tend to make big things out of little ones – all the while missing the call of God.
In this passage from Matthew, Jesus and the apostles are on a boat getting away for a bit of rest. The apostles have just witnessed Jesus heal a man with leprosy (Mt 8:1-4), a Roman Centurion’s servant (8:5-13), Peter’s Mother in Law and a host of others (8:14-17). As crowds approached him, Jesus wanted to get away for rest. They got in the boat and began to cross the lake.
But a storm arose and the apostles panicked saying; “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” Jesus, however, was not worried – this was not a crisis situation. He simply rebuked the winds and the waves and the storm ended.
The interesting part is the reaction of the apostles. They have just (again) witnessed Jesus perform miracles in all the healings but for some reason, they lose all knowledge of this and panic.
We often do this. Our first reaction to bad news or situations is panic. We lose our grip, we lose our cool, we lose sight of God. God, however, does not panic. God is in control – even when we may be out of control – and God will see us through.
The next time you find yourself in a panicked situation, stop, breathe and pray. And then let God take over.