Sermon August 14 – Pentecost 9A

August 15, 2011 at 10:32 am Leave a comment

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. –Matthew 15:21-28

My latest pet theory about the state of the world
involves the deficiency of its grammar.
Now this statement could get me in trouble.
For I have an intuitive sense of grammar.
I have learned to write well from seeing what is written well,
from trying things and failing until I find what is right.
On the other hand, Annette has a deductive sense for grammar.
She not only endured diagramming sentences in school,
but looked forward to it.
She enjoys a well-diagrammed sentence
as others enjoy a good cup of coffee or fine wine.

But grammar is important.
A comma can make a world of difference.
You’ve heard the joke about the bear who walks into a bar,
orders a sandwich, eats it, shoots a pistol into the air,
and walks out again.
One of the patrons said, “What was that all about?”
The bartender handed him an encyclopedia,
where he looked up the definition of a bear.
Under “diet,” he read, “Commonly eats(,) shoots(,) and leaves.”

But most sentences have a subject, a verb, and some kind of object.
Obviously, you don’t need to have an object.
A child comes home from school,
and his mother asks, “What did you do in school today?”
“I learned,” the child reply.
The obvious exasperated rejoinder would be “What did you learn?”
Most good sentences that communicate something have at least
a subject, a verb, and an object.
“I learned how to diagram a sentence,” the child says.
That leads to a more extended conversation.
“How did that go?” “It was boring.”

Many of our problems today may spring from this lack of awareness
that a sentence needs an object to make sense.
Take this sentence for example: “I believe.”
Grammatically correct, but not able to communicate much.
In what, or in whom, do you believe in?
This makes a world of difference.
“I believe in the full faith and credit of the United States government.”
That statement of faith has kept the economy going for many years.
It would be well if we might continue to place a limited, but substantial,
belief in such credit.
“I believe in music.”
Which music, and why?
And if the old saw is true about Nero fiddling while Rome burned,
why would one say that she believes in music?
“I believe in God.” Oh, very well, which God?
“All of them, or a non-specific one.”
That’s like saying, “I am married.” “To whom?”
“All of them, or a non-specific person.”
It’s a nonsensical statement.
Faith reaches out for an object, a specific object,
something in which to trust or someone in whom to trust.

But even God perhaps was not immune from indulging in grammatical subterfuge.
When God told Moses to tell the people of Israel
that he was to lead them out of Egypt,
Moses said, “Whom shall I tell them is leading them out of Egypt?”
God said, “I am who I am.”
This prevented the people of Israel from objectifying God too easily,
from making themselves the subject and God the object to be controlled.
But in Jesus Christ, God himself steps down into the world,
and becomes the object of faith for us human beings.

The problem with the Pharisees, law-abiding creatures that they were,
was not that they did not believe.
It’s that their belief was directed toward the wrong object.
Their belief was directed towards their keeping of the ritual
which had been passed down,
and it was to that ritual, that tradition, that they looked for salvation.
To put it another way, although believing the fact of God,
their trust was in their tradition – in themselves.

The woman of the outlands, however,
had no such tradition, no such pedigree, and certainly no such luxury.
Her daughter was tormented by a demon,
and she was confronted by the urgent need of the moment
and the arrival of the one who had been spoken of even outside the circles of his people,
even among the foreign peoples whom Jews hated.
But the Scripture foretold of the time
when people of every race and nation would be welcomed into God’s circle.
And so she was bold to put her faith and trust in this man, Jesus.
“I believe in you,” she is saying,
“I believe that you are Lord, that you can defeat the powers of evil, death, and sin,
I believe in you despite who I am, a foreigner, and who you are,
a member of God’s chosen people.”
I believe that you are the answer to my prayers.”
“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me,” she cries,
using the words of a faithful member of God’s people.

“Woman, Great is your faith,” says Jesus.
That’s very nice.
but imagine if Jesus had said, “Wow, girl, you have mega-faith!”
And that’s exactly what he said.
The word for “great” in Greek is “mega.”
Faith in something is conceivable and perhaps attainable
but mega-faith, the faith which grasps and holds Jesus Christ
as the object of faith,
mega-faith which can only be inspired by the Spirit of God,
that’s the faith to which we are called.
The faith that holds the God of the universe as the answer to our deepest needs,
and yet does not seek to control that God or make him anything less than God.
Waiting upon Jesus’ word,
the woman displays the greatest of faiths
by not insisting upon her own worthiness,
by refusing to appeal to justice,
but simply asking for mercy; not the whole loaf,
but a crumbs-worth.
That is mega-faith.
Mega-faith is faith that does not seek to control,
but only entreats, only asks, only trusts
that here in this God revealed in Jesus Christ
faith finds its object.

We pray to God that this mega-faith would become our faith
today, tomorrow, and each day,
clinging to Jesus even in the darkest circumstances,
never doubting that though our healings be not instantaneous,
that our graspings seem to be as at empty air,
Jesus is indeed Lord,
victor over sin, death, and evil,
and that even as we grasp him as our Savior
he holds us in his arms as his own
and prays for us to the heavenly Father.
To the Father who answered his every prayer and kept every promise,
to the one who raised him from the dead,
Jesus says, “Behold your children who cry to you in faith.”

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Review: Winston’s War: Churchill 1940-1945 by Max Hastings Sermon Pentecost 10 – August 21, 2011

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