God’s Rally Cry: “The Church is for all” (August 30, 2020)
God’s Rally Cry: “The Church is for all”
Livestream link: https://youtu.be/RLJ7DNqRqPU
For the next five Sunday, we will be focusing on different attributes of the Church that are recorded in Scripture and promised by God. And when I say “Church” here, I’m talking about church with a capital “C”. In other words, not this physical congregation. Not the WELS as a church body. I’m talking about the “Invisible Church” – that is, those whom God knows are his. All true believers.
The way I’m grouping and wording the themes for these next 5 Sundays are actually meant to sound like a “rally cry”. Like one of those speeches a General would give before an important battle to boost morale and soar spirits! Because we could certainly use a moral boost these days. We could certainly use a reminder of God’s promises to his Church and why we exist as a “Communion of Saints”. In keeping with the theme of “God’s Rally Cry,” I’m hoping to start each one of these sermons with a portion of a speech given before a major historical event.
So, God’s Rally Cry for today is: The Church is for all! And I’m going to quote from President John F. Kennedy as he’s bracing the nation for the Cuban Missile Crisis on October 22, 1962. “Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right; not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.”
That same day, President Kennedy announced that the US would intercept all shipments to Cuba. The problem was a naval blockade was considered an act of war – this during a time when tensions between the US and the USSR were already heavy. President Kennedy said it wasn’t a blockade, but rather a “Quarantine” that didn’t block basic necessities. What followed was the most intense 6 days of the Cold War.
While it’s true that the “blockade” or “quarantine” was meant to be for the good of all people and promote peace, not all blockades have the same intention. In fact, you could say that the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Jesus day set up a blockade of God’s love over the people of their day. They put God’s grace and favor behind a blockade of their own man-made rules and traditions and criticized those who did not follow them. Even going as far as to not even associate with certain people – people who needed God’s love. Just before the section of the text we have for today, the Pharisees criticized Jesus’ disciples for eating with unwashed hands – eating in a ceremonially unclean way. And it went further than that. They would prevent people from helping their livestock on the Sabbath. They would even prevent sons and daughters from helping their father and mother if their possessions were declared as being “devoted to God” and thus, must be given as an offering. And Jesus calls them out on this. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules” (Mt 15:8-9). They were blockading God’s love, and thus, failed the love test.
After this encounter, Jesus withdrew from Galilee and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon – this is outside the promised land. Outside the nation of Israel. And a Canaanite woman came to Jesus and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly” (Mt 15:22). Yet, surprisingly, Jesus did nothing! This mom is pleading on behalf of her daughter. She perhaps lies on the bed next to her daughter as she’s sleeping, gently stroking her hair, because it’s the only moment of peace she has with her daughter. The demon perhaps makes this girl’s eyes roll back in her head or cackle like a jackal. It perhaps pushes her down like a bully on the playground. What would you do if your daughter had a creature from another realm living in her?! Yet, Jesus does nothing!
So the disciples came to Jesus and urged him to send her away. Maybe they were embarrassed by her cries for help. Maybe they wanted to preserve Jesus’ privacy since he meant this trip as a sort of retreat from all the things that had been going on back in Israel – his cousin, John the Baptist was beheaded, the religious gnats kept showing up to berate Jesus for not obeying the laws. So they urged Jesus, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us” (Mt 15:23).
Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 15:24). Really, Jesus? Have you failed the love test? What about Rahab back in Jericho, who is in the line of the Promised Savior?! What about the Centurion whose servant you healed? To the five thousand people who followed you around the sea of Galilee you showed compassion. You walked out to the disciples on the water and calmed their fears in a very personal way. You’ve rebuked the Pharisees and teachers of the law for blockading love. You’ve gone to great lengths to show that people matter most, even putting your words into action by taking this hundred mile journey into Tyre and Sidon and you are really going to tell me that you were only sent to the lost sheep of Israel?
But who was Jesus looking at when he said this? What was his inflection? It was said in response to the disciples. Was he looking at them? Was there perhaps some cutting sarcasm in his voice? Did the disciples just fail the love test? They just wanted to be done with her – whether that meant sending her away empty handed or granting her request for the wrong reason. We know Jesus was not only sent for Israel but for all people. Perhaps he was only testing his disciples, and they just failed.
Do we fail the love test? There was apparently a conversation with President Abraham Lincoln during the civil war in which he was asked, “How is the war today?” He responded, “We lost 300 men. They lost 3,200.” “Splendid!” The person remarked. To which Lincoln responded, “3,500 lives were lost today, how is that splendid?”
Are we so concerned with what kind of people are in our church – what kind of people we associate with – that we are so cold and unloving to souls that are perishing? Do we, like the Pharisees, blockade God’s love? Do we fail to love people who are precious in God’s eyes? Do we insult the sacrifice of Christ and his blood shed for all people because we find certain people undesirable or inconvenient to deal with? Are we the judge of who deserves God’s love and forgiveness? Or is it for all?
It’s true, the woman was not among the chosen nation of Israel. She was not among the “children” in that sense. She understood Jesus’ words, but that did not prevent her from getting the “crumbs” – the blessings that Jesus could give her without depriving the “children” of anything.
Scripture is filled with some of the “least likely people.” Rahab, a prostitute from a heathen nation helps the Israelites take the land God promised. Rugged shepherds were the heralds of the King’s birth. Women were the first to witness the empty tomb in a society where men should have been the first credible witnesses. A Pharisee who was on a mission to stop Christianity was stopped dead in his tracks and took on a new mission to spread the good news of Christ risen from the dead! This Canaanite woman, from an area where most were gross unbelievers and idolaters, yet she cried out, “Lord, Son of David” (Mt 15:22). That’s a title for Jesus that carries some great weight. It means that whatever she understood of Israel’s hopes, whatever she knew of the promised Savior, one thing is clear: she believed that Jesus was the one. The true Messiah. She believed that Jesus could and would help her. She sensed the “Yes” behind Jesus’ “No” and clings to him to ring the “yes” out of his “no”! She replied “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Mt 15:27). The Lord could answer her prayer without taking any blessing from the Jews.
She reminds us of Jacob who wrestled with God and said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” God loves it when his children “change his mind”. And I have that in quotes because God knows all along what he will do. He also knows just exactly how to stretch our faith and make it grow – not for him – but so that we can be benefitted and see the greatness of our God and the strength of our faith when it is placed in him!
She impresses Jesus with her faith! Jesus says she has a “mega” faith. She believed in him as the Lord, the promised Son of David. She trusted in his mercy and love for all people. She admitted her unworthiness. She accepted his word. She believed that he would not refuse her despite who she was! Because the Church is for all. Isn’t that something we can strive for! To impress Jesus with our faith. To reach out in love to all people because the church is for all people. To reach out with God’s Word trusting that he can work miraculous faith and renewal even in those we might consider the “least likely” kind of people.
You probably noticed the surprising way that Jesus deals with the woman here – a methodology that you and I probably wouldn’t use. Ignoring her, then seemingly insulting her. But remember that this is Jesus. Jesus’ primary concern is that people believe that he is the Savior and that they remain in the saving faith. He can read the heart, and he knows exactly what’s best for each person. He deals with individuals – that’s why sometimes we get a strange approach that we would never use, but it reveals stunning results. Don’t blockade God’s love by judging a person when you can’t see their heart. God knows them personally, died for them, and works through his word to change even the most unlikely of candidates. Reach out in love. For once you too were not a people. But God reached out to you in love and made you his own – gave you a place to belong – through faith in this Son of David.