Christian Willick, Seminary Student - The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, July 19, 2020

Text: Matthew 15:21-28

Watch Service Video

My dear brothers and sisters, in the name of our true brother Jesus Christ. Before the national health crisis shut down most public events, there was a musical on Broadway called Dear Evan Hansen. It features a high school boy who attempts suicide by jumping out of a tree, but manages only to break his arm and must now deal with the return to his heartbreaking life as an outcast. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The reason I’ve heard of it is because a song from it came up on my YouTube feed. Now I don’t know all the algorithms that YouTube uses to suggest videos for me, or how much of my personality they could possibly know, but what I do know is that they got it right. That song spoke to me.

    “When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around, do you ever really crash or even make a sound? On the outside always looking in, will I ever be more than I’ve always been? Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass, waving through a window.”

I think this song speaks to a lot of people. The success of the musical testifies to that. With its themes of social anxiety, depression, and suicide, it embodies what has quickly and unmistakably become an epidemic all its own in our society. It is the age of the outsider.

Where is it coming from, all this separation and identity crisis, the age of the outsider? My friends, you know that this is nothing new. It was an epidemic in Jesus’ day too, but here is the lesson he teaches us: Outsiders seem hopeless. Outsiders look as if they are doomed to be victims. But in our text, we see how Jesus can change all that. We’ll learn how outsiders become insiders when…

Great Faith Clings to a Great Savior

1. it persists through the “no”

2. and it embraces the “yes”

Case in point: To the casual observer, she wasn’t anything special—a woman, a mother, living among her tribe by the Mediterranean Sea. And yet this woman was something very special—she had faith. But that very faith made her painfully aware that she was an outlier: an outsider to her own people with their customs and their gods, and an outsider to the very man she professed faith in. Because he was a Jew, and she was a Canaanite. A Canaanite, a member of the ethnic group the Jews were tasked by God to eradicate from their land. A Canaanite, who, when the Jews failed to eradicate them completely, led the children of Israel away from their heavenly Father. Yet it is this woman, a Canaanite, who breaks through gender and cultural norms, who comes to Jesus, desperate in her need, with a prayer of miraculous faith and utmost submission, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

What will Jesus’ reaction be? We know that the widespread mission to the Gentiles hadn’t started yet, but we also know that God planned all along to send Jesus not just as Savior of the Jews, but as Savior of the world. This woman should belong too! So what does Jesus do? Nothing. He says nothing. She’s an outsider. He walks away.

And Evan Hansen’s words ring in the background: “I try to speak but nobody can hear, so I wait around for an answer to appear, while I’m watch, watch, watching people pass, waving through a window.”

What can she do now? She met the very object of her faith, she knows what the Scriptures have told her about him, but now he remains cold and silent, strange and aloof. Is this really the one she has put her faith in? Still she follows. She persists. But what does this persistence get her? The disciples get annoyed. They prod Jesus. And the God-man on whose words this woman has been hanging all her hope, finally speaks, and says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

This would have struck dumb both the disciples and the woman. This isn’t the Jesus they knew! He had already made his saving will known seven chapters ago, to the Gentile centurion whose faith alone he praised as “great” and to whom he said, “Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” The feast is for Gentiles too! The disciples had seen firsthand from the centurion that faith is not found in people who think of themselves highly, and now before their very eyes they saw the same: This woman kneels down before Jesus, falls prostrate, obstructs him so he can’t walk away from her anymore, and cries, “Help me!”

And the living Lord of life for whom the heavens, along with the disciples and this woman, held their breath, replies: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

And this woman now has two hurdles to face that cut to the core of her very self: the apparent silence and outright rejection from the one she thought she knew and loved, and the seemingly insulting identity he has given her in that hard word “dog.” But who are we kidding? What should Jesus’ reaction be to those whose sins have made them outsiders? This woman’s not alone.

Think of how we are tempted, and how sometimes we fall. We say, “Lord, I know what you tell me. I know what you say in your Word. But so often I don’t want to hear it. So often I don’t want to go along with what you say because it interferes with what I want, my self-regarding ways. It interferes with my deepest and darkest sins, the secret places of my heart. And how easy it is for me to excuse my “pet” sins because you seem to be silent, you seem to silently watch on as I like the dog I am return to the same sin I have committed so often before.

“Are you really even there? Do you really even care? What a dangerous game I play, Lord, because the more I focus on your perceived silence and pretend your detachment from my life, the more hopeless, purposeless, and alone I feel. Meaningless, meaningless! This is the world my sins create, Lord. A meaningless world where I have replaced you as god of my life. And what a miserable wretch I am! With stress and sadness and apathy setting in on all sides, is there any room for my relationship with you, Lord? Where has my faith gone? Who will save me from this body of death? This heart-wrenching silence and outright rejection isn’t the Jesus I know! I throw myself down to the ground, right next to that woman, and cry out, “Lord, why?”

I look over at her. “Yes, Lord, what you are saying is right. And in fact, even the dogs get the crumbs from their Master.”

“O woman, great is your faith. You were right all along. It seemed I didn’t care, but I always cared. It seemed as if I didn’t want to hear you, but I always heard you. It seemed as if I was harsh and hard and cruel, but my heart was filled with love and compassion. I love you and I’ve always loved you and I will always love you.”

She knows this. That’s why she is trapping Jesus in his own word, just as he wants her to: “You called me a dog, now give me all the rights and privileges of a dog; give me just a scrap, just a thimble-full of your love, because even that is more than enough, more than I could ever need, because even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest on earth.” Yes, this outsider had great faith, and Jesus acknowledged that by looking at her with love and granting her faith-filled request.

We know this too. We trust Jesus’ love for us outsiders because Jesus himself became an outsider for our sakes, for sheer love of you and me. See him in the Garden of Gethsemane, his soul distressed to the point of death, sweat falling from him like drops of blood, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” See him on the cross, utterly abandoned by all those who had called him teacher and friend, utterly abandoned by his Father because of the sin he had become for us, “My God, my God, why?” But see him finally three days later, triumphant from the tomb, a love that conquers death, reclaiming his place, assuring us of our place, assuring us that because he has done it all and has paid that dear price, we are no longer outsiders to him.

Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. He does not leave you as an outsider. He gives you a home. He gives you a family. And he speaks to you through his word. He does not remain silent! He is with us when forgiveness is announced, when the Supper is given, making a permanent promise to you in Baptism. He is there when the sermon is preached, and when the Amen is spoken, giving the power and the utterance to our “I believe—yes, yes, Lord, let it be so.”

And even if all else should fail, even if he permits these earthly blessings to go away, these friends to depart, this family to scatter like dust, even though we find ourselves standing on the outside staring back at what once was or staring forward at what could have been, even when all evidence points to God himself saying “no, not for you, not for an outsider like you,” even then we will have his very great and precious promises, even then we will grasp the “yes” concealed in the “no,” even then we outsiders, we lowly dogs will have more than enough, an embarrassment of riches, for “not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave.” Dear friends, it is precisely in these moments that we must cling to God and his promises. This is the work of the faith he has given us. So fear not, for he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

And now, teetering on the edge between hope and despair, Evan Hansen closes his song: “Can anybody see? Is anybody waving back at me?” By God’s grace, we like the Canaanite woman, answer “yes.” By faith she claimed her identity from the Master’s care-filled test. So too we by faith claim our identities from the Master of our souls: no longer outsiders, “no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.”

Dear friends, it is so good, so unspeakably good, that all we can do is spend our life and eternity trying to fill the silence proclaiming the words that are screaming off the page, praising the God for whom all Creation pours forth speech, our ever-living, ever-communicating God.

So speak, Lord—through your word, through your promises, through your Son—your child is listening. Amen. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.