Sunday, September 13, 2015

Salvation is for the dogs. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 15, Proper 18B, preached at Grace Lutheran Church on Sunday, September 6, 2015, by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich, Associate Pastor.

    After hearing the accounts of Jesus’ miracles today, it’s almost impossible not be be overcome with awe at the faith the Syrophoenician and the deaf man and his friends showed.  These people were in great need, so they sought out Jesus, trusting that He could, and would, help them.  Who of us doesn’t want faith like that? 
    But the truth is, even though these people showed great faith,  Christ’s miracles aren’t about the people He helped.  Christ’s miracles are about Him and His kingdom.  They are about His salvation, salvation for sinners, SALVATION FOR DOGS. 
    The Gospel today begins by laying out Jesus’ travel history.  After He explained to His disciples that what makes a person unclean is the sin that is in their heart, not what they eat, He traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile region.  Now at this time, it would have been unthinkable for a respectable Jewish man to enter a Gentile region.  According to Jewish custom, an Israelite, one of God’s chosen people, never interacted with a Gentile pagan.  Gentiles we thought to be unclean.  They didn’t follow the Jewish ritual purity laws.  They ate dirty things.  They were sinners.  Because of this, Israelites viewed Gentiles as second rate, thought to be no better than dogs, and were often called such. 
    This prejudice against Gentiles was vocalized in Jesus’ words to the Syrophoenician woman.  This woman was in extraordinary need; her daughter was possessed by a demon, and she begged Jesus for help.  Christ’s response to her plea comes as bit of a shock to us.  With surprising words He said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Lk 7:27).  These words seem very discriminative.  They sound as if Jesus was refusing to help this woman because she was not an Israelite, not part of God’s chosen people.  And as if refusing to help wasn’t enough, He called her a dog.
    When we hear Jesus’ words towards this woman we are appalled.  We think to ourselves, “How could Jesus speak this way?  How could He so shortly refuse this woman’s plea?” 
    But should we be appalled?  Don’t we also respond the same way to others?  What I’m about to say next may surprise some of you, but it’s the truth...we are discriminative.  We are.  We are very selective in choosing those we associate with.  We constantly show partiality.  We choose to align ourselves with people who will make us look good, who can help us get ahead in life.  We don’t associate with outcasts, people who could stain our reputation and bring us down. 
    We begin to discriminate very early on in our lives.  If you walk the halls of any school, you will find this out.  Everyone wants to fit in with the cool kids, those who are seen to be at the top.  Those who are thought to be at the bottom: the awkward, the dirty, the broken, they are avoided.  As adults, we can see this for what it is, but in reality, we do the same thing, even right here in the church.
    The partiality that James speaks against in his letter is shown by us.  Those who seem to have it all together, we welcome in with open arms.  But to those who appear less well off, we’re less welcoming.  We don’t want our pews dirtied with the sins of the unclean.  We don’t like it when broken sinners in need of help come looking for it in our church.  We want the inside of the church to be an upright, squeaky clean, sin free place; a place where we can escape from all the stuff and people that bring us down on the outside.  Like the Israelites, we don’t want dogs hanging around.  We don’t want sinners near us. 
    But the truth is, we’re sinners.  None of us is more clean than the person sitting next to us.  All of us are dirty, filthy, sinful dogs at our core.  As James says, when we show partiality, when we discriminate , we are committing sin and we are convicted by the law as transgressors (Jas 2:9).  Every single one of us has done this.  Every single one of us has broken God’s Law.  We are dogs, and like the Syrophoenician woman, we need help. 
II.    Even though we are shocked by Jesus’ reply, and even though it appears as if Jesus was discriminative against Gentiles, He wasn’t.  Jesus ignored all perceptions and prejudices against Gentiles.  He didn’t bind Himself to the social conventions of the day.  He freely traveled to Gentile territories.  He entered their homes and ate with them.  He even touched them.  All of this He did because He is the Savior of all people, and Jesus’ miracles point to this truth. 
    When Jesus healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter, when He put His fingers into the ears of the deaf man and touch his tongue, giving him the ability hear and speak, Jesus was proving Himself to be the prophesied Messiah, the one would bring salvation to all of God’s people, including Gentiles.  We heard one of these prophecies in the Old Testament reading.  Isaiah prophesied this salvation by saying, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is 35:5-6a).  Jesus’ miracles fulfill Old Testament prophecy, but these miracles aren’t the true salvation that God promises for His people.
    God’s promised salvation is forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.  This is what Christ has brought to sinners, to dogs, to you.  With His death on the cross, all your sin has been paid for.  With His resurrection your death is put to death.  Because of Christ, you are indiscriminately forgiven.  His righteousness is given to you and you are welcomed into God’s kingdom.  Regardless of your condition, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, you richly receive God’s grace and mercy.  No matter what you have done, no matter how big you’ve sinned, no matter how discriminative you’ve been, Christ has died for you. 
    Christ has indiscriminately forgiven each and everyone of us.  He has made us His saints and sanctified all of us.  Because of this, we stop being discriminative.  No more do we show partiality.  No more are we selective and choosey.  Instead, we are inviting and welcoming of all.  We welcome them into the church to hear the forgiveness of Christ proclaimed.  We welcome them in with open arms, helping them when and where we can.  We welcome them with open hearts, praying for them.  And we go forth with God’s blessings as we proclaim the truth about God’s kingdom, that all repentant sinners are welcomed. 
    Christ came for the dogs.  He came to save all sinners, no matter their condition, including you.  He wasn’t afraid to associate with those who were unclean with sin.  He wasn’t afraid to touch them, to heal them, to forgive them.  Jesus our Lord has come to you, a dirty sinner, and washed you with His blood.  Thank God that He has made you a saint and brought you into His kingdom.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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