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Crumpled Expectations

Matthew 15:21-28

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

One morning my friend walked out of his house with a cup of coffee in hand and stood on his front porch. Immediately his ears were assaulted by a loud crashing sound. He looked up the street and saw a young man driving what was clearly his father’s or grandfather’s great boat of a car. It was garbage day and the young man was having a riotously good time slamming into one big plastic rolling garbage tub after another as he made his way down the street. They would bounce off the massive bumper, strewing contents down the street. 

My friend recollected that not that many years before he might have done the same thing. He sipped his coffee. He calmly watched. Bang, another tub filled with garbage succumbed to the bumper of the car. He did not rush out into the street to upbraid the young man or threaten to call his parents. He only watched because he knew something the young man did not. The garbage cans in this community were huge, their contents hoisted high and deposited into the trucks by impressively large mechanical claws. The weekend prior my friend had helped his neighbor remodel a bathroom. He knew that the can just up from his own exposed garbage can was in fact filled with several hundred pounds of broken ceramic tile. 

Bang – another victim of the car’s bumper. And then the neighbor’s can was next. Crunch! My friend looked over his cup of coffee and watched the horror spread across the young man’s face. The fender had a large crumple in it. The can had hardly moved. He took a sip of coffee and thought to himself, “Bet he never does that again.” 

Jesus has brought his disciples north, far outside Israel to the land of the hated Canaanites. He was looking for this woman. He knew she would come. The Canaanites had led the ancient Israelites into idolatry and God had sent them into exile. All good Jews hated the Canaanites. But Jesus loved them too. She cries loudly, following the master and his disciples. The disciples, repelled by this woman, ask Jesus to send her away. He plays along with them for a moment, even calling her a “dog.” I can almost see them nodding in agreement. Finally, they think, the Master is talking some sense. But all the while he is setting up the impact which will crush their bigotry. He is drawing out of her a statement of faith which their own pious hearts cannot make. 

“Woman, great is your faith.” Jesus only says those words to two people in the Gospel according to Matthew. The first is a Roman centurion in chapter 8. The second is this hated Canaanite. Both times Jesus is smashing the narrow and closed bigotry of religious people. Who are the people you imagine to be outside the kingdom of God? 

Look at them again. Look at them with Jesus’ eyes. He loves them just as much as he loves you.

Note: Today's devotion comes from Rev. Phil Brandt, pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church in Portland, OR

The One Who Wrote the Rules

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

As much as we try to break free, we are all constrained. We are constrained by the rules of the universe. Humanity has accomplished some great things in our history. But always within the rules.

The disciples in the boat that night struggled against these same invariable forces of nature. Being fishermen, they knew the power of wind and waves. They had probably known men who had drown in this lake. They had comforted grieving widows and contributed to support their orphaned children. It is what men who make a living on the water do. 

This night, however, they encountered one who did not need to obey those rules. He could bend those rules, they realized, because he had written them. He walked out to them on the water. He even called Peter from the boat to walk with him. Peter did, though fear caused him to take his eyes off Jesus and he needed rescuing. 

Look again at what the disciples do when Peter and Jesus get back into the boat. For pious, even zealous Jewish men this is significant. They worship Jesus. They know that they may only worship One – the One who created the world, parted the Red Sea, put David on his throne, and sent the prophets. Jesus is that One. The world has largely rejected God because they often imagine the god whom they reject to be less than the forces which govern this universe. We reject such a god as well. Rather, we worship this God, this One who wrote the rules and sustains the cosmos.

For Us

Take a moment today to read Matthew 14:1-21.

Part of this text, verses 13-21, will be our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday. It is important, though, to read from the beginning of the chapter because context is key. Jesus has just received from devastating news. John, his cousin and prophetic forerunner, has just lost his life at the hands of Herod. So Matthew tells us that Jesus, "...withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself." Understandably, Jesus wanted to be alone to grieve a significant loss. 

But Jesus doesn't get the solitude he desired. instead, a great crowd, well over 5,000 people, follow him into the desert wilderness. But Jesus doesn't send them away. Jesus doesn't run them off. Jesus has compassion on them. Jesus heals the sick. Jesus feeds their hungry and tired bodies. Despite his own trying times, Jesus remains Emmanuel. God with us. And Jesus remains true to his mission. God for us. 

Even as Jesus walked to the cross, facing the pain of crucifixion, Jesus walks with compassion for His people. All people, we included, are "like sheep without a shepherd" and in his love for us Jesus does not send us away. No, Jesus invites us to Himself so that we too may be filled up with His gifts - forgiveness, life, and salvation.

With You in Christ,

Pastor Nick

A Holy People

"For you are a people holy to the Lord" 
- Deuteronomy 7:6

As the people of God are standing on the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter into the Promised Land after 400 years of slavery and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, God takes great care to remind them of their true identity. They are a holy people. 

But what does it mean to be holy? What sorts of things are holy? There's the "Holy Bible". Moses enters into "Holy Ground" when approaching Yahweh. In the temple, the priests wore "holy garments".

What exactly does it mean to be holy? To be holy means to be "separated from the rest". It means to "belong to the service of God". This definition applies to Israel as they were about to enter into Canaan. God was about to fulfill His promise with Abraham and give this particular land to Abraham's descendants. More than just inhabiting the land, though,  Abraham's descendants were also to be a blessing to the nations. They were called to be a light to the Gentiles. So as they enter into the land, God calls them to separate themselves and to refrain from assimilating into the surrounding culture. Most especially, God reminds them that they are to remain true in their worship: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Deuteronomy 5:7). 

In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter uses the same words God used to describe Israel to describe the Christian church. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation..." (1 Peter 2:9). Since we are in Christ, forgiven and redeemed by Him, we too belong to God. We too have been chosen by God and have been made holy. We too belong to His service. 

Therefore, in one sense, as Christians, we are to be separate from the rest of the world. That is, we are not to assimilate to the predominant culture. We are not to worship the gods the world worships. Freely forgiven of all our sin, we are to be followers of Jesus' counter-cultural way of living. 

Of course, in another sense, the Christian Church ought to be very much a part of this world. That is, we ought to be living for the benefit of our neighbors. We ought to be engaged in the political and social life of our communities. In so doing, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are a blessing to our neighbors. We are a holy people. Set apart for service to God...and to neighbor. Why? "The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession..." (Deuteronomy 7:6). 

With you in Christ,

Pastor Nick

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