Sunday, February 21, 2016

Your Lord Defends You from All Adversities

Second Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2016
Your Lord defends you from all adversities. That sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s what we want. It’s what we prayed moments ago in the Collect of the Day, “defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that my assault and hurt the soul.” We would like to believe that our Lord does this.

Even if you actually believe it, it doesn’t seem like it, does it? There are plenty of adversities in life. Is our Lord defending us against them? If we are beset by adversities, how, exactly, is He defending us from them? Being a Christian does not prevent you from injury, illness, or even death. Even though you’re a Christian, it doesn’t mean that you can never fall away from the faith. We know too well that those who believe in Jesus face adversity in both body and soul.

One thing we do know about His defending us of all adversity is that it doesn’t mean removal of adversity. So what does it mean? How does our Lord defend you from all adversity? A promise is a promise and He has promised to do this. A prayer is a prayer and we have prayed that He will do this.

In the Gospel reading we meet a woman who faced intense adversity. There are few things that match the heartbreak a parent experiences in seeing their children suffering. This woman was suffering because she was powerless against the spiritual assault on her daughter. Though she was a Canaanite, a pagan, she had heard about Jesus. She knew who He was. Matthew doesn’t tell us how she had heard about Jesus. But we do know that she comes to Jesus in faith. The only way she had such faith was by the Holy Spirit. Though she believed in false gods, the Holy Spirit was turning her heart and mind to the true God and that is why she went to His Son in her adversity.

She cried out to Him. When we are in need we seek help. We cry out for help. We agonize over our turmoil. This woman had no one else to turn to, no one else who could help. She goes to Jesus and each time she speaks to Him she calls Him “Lord.” “Have mercy on Me, Lord, Son of David.” Have mercy on me is the cry of faith. Faith looks to Jesus as Lord. In the epistle reading Paul speaks of Gentiles as those who do not know God. It’s remarkable, then, how well this Gentile woman knew Jesus. She knew Him as Lord. She knew Him as the one you approach with the cry of faith, the plea for mercy.

The cry of faith pleads to the Lord in the face of adversity. God the Holy Spirit brought this woman to faith, one who, as Paul described, had not known God. Now she was approaching the Lord of life, the one true God, in the person of Jesus. Have mercy on me. How does the Lord defend you? He gives you mercy. When the storms of adversity assail us, what we need is mercy. That is what our Lord provides.

Except that, it doesn’t always seem like it, does it? Does He really have mercy on us? Does He really defend us from all adversity? How many times have you heard people say they prayed but the Lord did not answer their prayer? How many times have you felt that yourself? Well, this is what happened to this woman. She pleaded for mercy and the Lord did not answer her a word. At the very least, we think of that as rude. But more importantly, she knew who He was. She pleaded for the very thing He had come to give. But He ignores her. How is this Jesus defending her from her adversity?

And then it seems that other things get in the way. We are struggling, crying out to God, and then other things seem to prevent our prayers from being answered. In this case, the disciples perhaps picked up on Jesus’ silence and wanted to get rid of this woman. After all, she wasn’t Jewish, she wasn’t on the inside like they were. They asked Jesus to send her away. They didn’t want her crying out after them all day.

Fortunately, we know Jesus. We know He is compassionate, merciful, He has come for all. Fortunately, He is not afraid to the put His often dense disciples in their place. We know Jesus in the same way the woman did, and when the disciples make such a blunt request, we expect Jesus to turn to the woman and grant her mercy as she has asked.

The only problem is, He doesn’t do that. He actually agrees with the disciples! “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And He even had the audacity to say it loud enough where she could hear it. Again, rude at the least, very uncompassionate at the worst. How is this Jesus defending her from all adversity? How is this Jesus being God in the flesh, having mercy on those in need? How often do we feel the same? Our pleas with God met with silence sometimes, seeming rebuke at others?

Now the woman’s adversity has been ramped up. I imagine she thought things couldn’t have gotten worse than her daughter being demon-possessed, but now here they were. The very Lord she sought help from was the very Lord who was now dismissing her. When faced with adversity, often our faith falters. Where is God? Why isn’t He helping me? It is at this point that, instead of giving up, we ought to persist in our plea. At this point, what is called for is not giving up or dismissing God. What is called for is worship. The woman came before Jesus and bowed down before Him! This is a remarkable show of faith in the moment where she might have been most disgusted. Her plea was now simple, “Lord, help me.” This simple prayer of faith means, “Lord, I have no hope on my own to help my daughter. I know You can help her. I know this is who You are and what You came for. Please, help me.”

She has hit bottom. Everything is against her and she confesses to Jesus that He is her only hope. And so finally at this point, the Jesus we know, the Jesus she knew, comes through with flying colors. If He had been testing her before, He now knows that she really believes and that He has indeed come for everyone and so will grant her mercy; He will help her; He will heal her daughter.

Except that, He doesn’t. It’s as if she is in a nightmare, her daughter brutally afflicted, her finding the one person who can actually help her, but she is unable to attain the help she needs. Jesus ups the ante yet again: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” He is bound and determined to show her that she is not going to give what properly belongs to the chosen people of God to those who are pagans and have no regard for the true God.

This is the crux of adversity. We often think it is injury, or illness, or trials in life. We think, of course, of spiritual assaults, temptation, doubts, fears. It seems that the greatest adversity this woman is met with, though, is Jesus Himself! He is the one who is supposed to defend her from all adversity. How exactly does He do that? Is He even doing that?

The answer is yes. The question of how comes from the answer of the woman. Whether she was insulted by Jesus or exasperated or just plain weary, we don’t know. What we do know is that she persisted. She came to Him pleading to Him as “Lord,” and she wasn’t about to stop now. If He is the Lord, then He is the Lord. And it doesn’t matter what He says or how He says it or what it seems like that He is doing. I have come to Him for mercy, and that is what I will continue to ask Him for.

She says, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” The answer, then, is this: when you are faced with adversity, then you cry to your Lord for mercy. You pray to Him in faith, which means that whatever He gives you is what you need. Whatever He says to you is what you need to hear. Whatever form that mercy and help takes, even if it’s just crumbs, it is the most gracious, blessed gift you can receive from Him.

He praised her for her faith in the face of adversity. She gave her the very mercy she asked for. He conquered the evil spirit that had afflicted her daughter. This is what He had come for. He came to defend us from all adversities. We don’t know how this woman’s life continued on. We can only assume that she and her daughter continued to give thanks to the true God for the miraculous healing her daughter received.

Did the woman and her daughter later on know that the very Lord who helped them ended up facing adversity beyond what they could imagine? Did they know that this Lord they believed in was the true Lord and their very Lord because He conquered not just a demon but Satan Himself by dying on the cross for the sin of the world?  Her daughter’s demon possession was the result of sin. Jesus granted her mercy by taking away that sin in His suffering and death.

You know your Lord. He delivered you from Satan in your Baptism. The Holy Sprit gave you faith in Baptism just as He had given the Canaanite woman faith. You are Baptized, but you face adversities. You know your Lord defends you from them but it doesn’t always seem like it, does it? This why you follow the example of those who have gone before you. You cry out in faith, as the woman did. You pray your Lord defends you from all adversities, and you persist in it, pressing Him to do so. If it seems He doesn’t hear you, or doesn’t answer you, or dismisses you, don’t despair.

Rather, bow before Him here at this very altar where He gives you far more than just crumbs and says to you, “Great is your faith. Be it done to you as you believe. This is My body, given for you, this is My blood, shed for you. Your sins are forgiven.” Amen.


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