Posts Tagged ‘Welcome’

Who Is Welcome Here?

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

15th Sunday in Pentecost B, September 9, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“”Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”” [Isaiah 35:4]

Can you remember a time in your life when you had an anxious heart; when you were separated from God and you knew it?  What is it  that separated you from God’s love; wasn’t it your sin?  Didn’t that make you afraid of thinking about eternal things; about judgment?    And yet here you are this morning; listening to God’s Word and experiencing a new and abundant life!  True, it isn’t always and easy  life, but it is a lot better than the other option of living a life of fear and worry.

So how did you get here, living this life of faith?  How did you become a Christian?  Was it your decision to simply turn away from a life  of sin, or was there more to it?  What I mean is, if you simply decided to turn to faith and away from sin, then why are you still sinning;  why are you still struggling with living a life that is pleasing to God?

Ok, I know that is making you a little uncomfortable, so I’ll try another approach; perhaps you are here living this Christian life of faith  because someone invited you at just the right time to come to church, and your life has not been the same since?  Well then, if that’s  the truth, I would say that you owe that person who invited you to church your very life.  I would say that there is no limit to how much you can and should do to repay that person for the kindness they’ve shown you!

I know, I know… that reason doesn’t seem practical either, so let me try something else; something different and outside of you.  Perhaps, just maybe you are here because Jesus saw inside of you, knew the real you and still saw someone worth saving; worth touching and worth speaking to!  Maybe in a way that only God could touch or speak, He simply said, “Ephphatha!  Be opened” and it was at that point your ears were opened to hear the truth; God’s truth.”

In our gospel reading we see two examples of healing and both were done to people you and I would probably have over looked.  One, was a strange foreign woman and the other was a deaf and babbling foreigner who could only mumble and point.

The foreign woman was the insistent type; she insisted on having a one on one talk with Jesus!  She wouldn’t settle for His helpers or friends; it had to be with Jesus alone!  Now she was a strange one; she was different.  Today, you might call her needy and clingy; you might even say she was downright rude.  You know the type I’m talking about; the type that won’t take no for an answer.  Now the apostles I am sure tried to send her away, after all she was a dirty, no good gentile woman, but she refused to leave.  Finally, when Jesus came out of the home he was in, she pushed her way past the crowd and through the apostles, fell down at Jesus feet and worshiped Him.  She worshiped Him and called out for mercy; she called out for the one thing only Jesus could do… drive a demon out of her daughter.

Now, I am going to ask you a tricky question; the answer isn’t what you think it should be, so take your time before you answer.  Did Jesus heal her daughter right away?  Wait, don’t answer yet… really meditate on the question.  Here let me help you.  After Jesus received her worship and heard her speak out loud her question, he immediately responded with a statement of facts, 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.”  Now that is a strange thing for Jesus to say; why would he call that desperate woman a dog?  Does that sound like the Jesus you have come to know?  Did he really call her a dog… someone less than human?  No!  He called her something more than a dirty wild dog and something less than a Jew; He called her what she was, a gentile sinner, in need of a Savior.

You see, Jesus spoke correctly when He said that it wasn’t right to take the food out of the mouths of His children.  What parent here would feed anyone or anything before their children were fed?  No one would, and that is Jesus point.  You see, the Jews were the children of God by default, because they were the children of Abraham; descendants of that man of great faith.  It was to Abraham who God promised that one of His descendants would be the promised Messiah, who would come to save the Jews first and then the gentiles from their sins.  And now before the very eyes of this woman stands that Messiah; Jesus, the Son of God and the son of Mary.  And He is telling her that His first mission to the Jews is not yet complete; her time, the time of the gentiles has not yet come.  But that doesn’t explain why Jesus called her a dog.  Well, let’s see if we can shed a little light onto that one.

The Jews, who were supposed to be a light to the gentiles, a light that showed them the way to God’s forgiving love, instead mostly drove the gentiles away; they acted hatefully and superior.  They looked down on the gentiles and even called them dogs; the kind of dogs that were homeless and unclean; they called then “ka-leeb”.  Ka-leeb was the Hebrew word used to describe the dogs found in the junkyards or roaming the streets at night.  But Jesus did not use that word, instead he used a Greek word that referred to the woman and other gentiles as Kynariois, or family house doges.  That kind of canine was the beloved and cherished family pet.  But as much as you love your pets, you certainly would not feed them first and then feed your children.

Now the gentile woman picked up on that word that Jesus used to describe her, and she spoke it right back to Him; “Yes, Lord; yet even the kynariois (pet dogs) under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  And to this Jesus smiles and sends the woman home; home to a daughter who is already healed.  So the answer to the question is yes, Jesus did heal her daughter immediately, perhaps even before they spoke.  He healed her because the request that came from her mother was completely covered and surrounded in faith.

So my next question is this: Why did this woman have faith in Jesus?  Why did she trust Jesus?  She trusted Him because Jesus opened her heart to trust Him.  Like the man who had been deaf and unable to speak for such a long time, she was helpless to hear about and believe in Jesus unless God opened her ears and her heart to hear and believe.  Just as Jesus spoke the Word “Ephphatha” to the deaf mute, He spoke the same Word of opening and believing to the woman.  The Word of God speaks the will of God.  And what is God’s will?  That none should perish but have everlasting life!

Eternal life is a gift; it is never earned nor a birth right.  You are not a Christian because your parents were Christians; you are a Christian because God has spoken the Word Ephphatha to you.  He spoke it to you in your baptism and he speaks it to you when you gather around His Word and at His table to receive His Supper.  We believe because He has spoken, and when He speaks to us Ephphatha He speaks new life.  It is a Word that is spoken to dirty no good sinners and holy and righteous saints alike.  It is a Word full of power and it both kills and brings back to life.

Are you listening?  Do you hear Jesus speaking Words of death and life?  He is asking you to be open and listen; perhaps He is even asking you to speak Words of life to someone you would not usually speak to?  Maybe He is asking you to step outside of your comfort zone and associate with people who are not like you; people you would normally not give a second thought to.  If you are rich or at least well off, maybe He is asking you to share the gospel, or invite someone who is poor to church.  Or if you are poor, maybe He is asking you to speak openly and sincerely with someone who appears rich or above your economic status; you know rich people need Jesus too!  Or maybe He is asking you to speak to someone who is obviously living a life far removed from God and the church; maybe it is someone or a group of someones who intimidate you or even infuriates you?

Will you speak; do you dare go that far outside of your comfort zone?  Yes, and you will do it if you allow God to open your heart along with your ears.  You will do it because you know that God is no respecter of persons or status.  If He was, He never would have chosen you.  And yet, He did!  Jesus died for you.  On the cross He had you on His heart and His mind, and in your baptism He called you God’s own child!  You are God’s own child because the Word of the cross opened your heart and your ears.  You are God’s own child because the waters of your baptism washed you clean and recreated you.  You have been transformed from a sinner to a saint.  From a dog to a child of God, and now God asks you to watch Him do the same thing again and again through His Word that you carry in your heart.  “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”  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.”

So sing for joy.  Tell everyone who will listen, because everyone really is welcome in God’s house.  Tell whoever God puts in your path, about what Jesus has done for you.  Invite them here to this place to hear the very words that save you… Ephphatha… be opened!