06 September 2015

More Than Crumbs from Your Father's Table

The woman’s little daughter with the unclean spirit, and the deaf man with the speech impediment, they are both entirely passive.  Neither of them does or says anything in this Holy Gospel.  Nor are we told anything at all about their faith.

Yet, the little girl is cleansed, her demon is cast out; and the man’s ears are opened, his tongue is released from whatever had bound it.  Both of these gracious miracles are worked by the mighty Word of Jesus, and, in the latter case, by the touch of His hand, by His fingers and even His spit.

This Lord Jesus has taken the initiative in coming near, and the Word about Him goes before Him, eliciting faith on the part of those who hear the proclamation and confession of His Gospel.

It is in such faith, in response to the Word, that the woman prays and intercedes for her daughter, and that “they” (whoever they are) bring the deaf man to Jesus and pray and intercede for him.

These are works of faith and love, which exemplify how you also are to live.  So, then, trust the Lord Jesus, and call upon His Name, not only for yourself, but on behalf of your neighbor.  Pray and intercede for others in their need, and bring your neighbors to Jesus, that is, to His Church, to the House where He Himself is found in the preaching of His Word and in His Holy Sacraments.

But do you actually do it?  No, not like you should.  Of yourself, you do not have “ears to hear,” and so you are not able to speak rightly in prayer and confession.  You are sinful and unclean.

Consider how much your spirit is turned inward, how focused upon yourself, upon your wants and needs, your hurts and fears.  You’re folded in upon yourself and eaten alive by your own ravenous appetites.  You are consumed by your desires, by your covetous lust for that which is not God.

Though you may give lip service to a faith in God, your heart is often cold and hard, and your love for others often lacking and inactive, because at heart you do not trust the Lord Jesus.  You don’t believe that He cares for you, and that He is willing and able to help you.  So you are anxious and afraid for yourself and your life — and genuine love does not proceed from such anxiety and fear.

And yet, your God has come in person, in the flesh.  He comes to you, not only with His Law, with its demands and prohibitions, its threats and punishments, but with His Gospel of salvation, with grace and mercy for you.  His love is not cold.  His heart is not hard.  His faithfulness never ends.

He comes to you in peace, and His Word is preached before His face.  He says to your anxious heart, “Take courage!  Do not be afraid!”  He comes to help you, to save you.  He is here for you.

Your sin and death, your unbelief and unrighteousness have separated you from Him and cut you off from Him.  You have been a gentile, a stranger to God and His people, a foreigner — yes, that is what you have been.  Like a stray dog, a mongrel kicked aside, cast out of the house and yard.

But the Lord has drawn near to you in peace and love.  That fact remains.  The Gospel declares it to be so, and His Gospel does not lie, nor does He deceive you.  This Christ Jesus desires to help you — despite the scary thunder of His Law, which dismisses you and seems to send you away.

It would be so easy to turn tail and run.  After all, His Law reduces you to nothing.  It exposes all your sins and failings, and it makes your unworthiness painfully clear.  Who are you to approach the Lord or to ask Him for anything at all?  You are a beggar to be sure.

But right there in your unworthiness, recognize that He is worthy of your petition.  Knowing your need, know also His mercy and gentle kindness.  He would not have you go away, but He would have you pray to Him, and to rely on Him alone.  Therefore, as you kneel before Him, and as you lay yourself before Him, worship Him by faith, that is, by seeking all good things from His hand.

It is for this purpose that He has come.  And not only does He come to you, right where you are — in the barren desert of this fallen and perishing world, and into your pagan Tyre and Sidon — but He also fully takes your predicament, your circumstances and dire situation upon Himself.

Because He is your merciful and great High Priest, He bears all your infirmity, weakness, and disability in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He carries all your griefs and sorrows, and all of your sins and iniquities, as well as the sins of those who trespass against you.  And He suffers all the assaults and accusations of the devil, which have been aimed at you and against you.

He takes the whole burden and perfection of God’s Royal Law entirely upon Himself, every jot and tittle of it.  He keeps it all in steadfast faith and holy love.  And yet, in mercy and compassion for you and for all sinners, He also suffers all the punishments of the Law for each and every sin.

He offers Himself to God on your behalf as the Sacrifice of Atonement to cleanse you of all evil, to redeem you from sin and death at the cost of His life.  He is also the sweet-smelling Incense of prayer and intercession, by which you are reconciled and brought near to God in peace and health.  Where you are not able to pray, Jesus intercedes for you with His deep groans of faith and love.

Thus has He become your Savior from sin and death, and so is He able to help you in every need, to give you life instead of death.  And all of this He does, as surely as you have heard this very day, by the Word of His Gospel and by the touch of His hand, by His own Body of flesh and blood.

He does it by His Christians, who pray and intercede for you, and who serve as instruments of the Spirit, bringing Christ to you and you to Christ.  And you are called to do the same thing for others — for your neighbors in the world, and especially for your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

Do not underestimate but give thanks and praise to God for those Christians who call upon the Name of the Lord for your faith and life and salvation.  Remember how the Syrophoenician woman prayed for her daughter, and think of how St. Monica prayed for her son, Augustine.  So do your father and mother, sisters and brothers, family, friends, and neighbors pray and intercede for you.  Not as though the Lord had to be nagged and coerced into helping you, but because He delights to work in this way through His children, that they might participate in His own Life and Love.

So, too, by the Ministry of His Gospel, by His preaching and Sacraments, by His Holy Absolution, by His Body and His Blood — by the mouth and hand of His servants who speak and act in His Name and stead — He casts out all your demons, and He heals all your diseases.  He opens up your ears to hear His Voice, your mind to comprehend His Word, and your heart to believe His Gospel.

And by this same Word of the Lord Jesus, He also opens up your lips to show forth His praise.

He sets your tongue free to confess His holy Name, to pray, praise, and give thanks.  He opens your lips to speak rightly to and about Him — and to speak with love to and about your neighbor.

And not only with His Word in your ears and on your tongue does He draw near to you, in order to help you and abide with you.  He also lays His healing hand upon you in gentleness and peace.

He has washed you with water and His Word in Holy Baptism, so that your body, soul, and spirit together are cleansed and sanctified; and so are you kept blameless unto the day of His appearing.

He places on your lips and on your tongue His Body and His Blood, so that He dwells in you and with you most intimately, and you live and abide in Him, here and now, and forever hereafter.

Your body and mind, your heart and soul, and all your thoughts, words, and actions thus receive and share the Life and Love of Christ.  And that means bearing His Cross in faith and love to the glory of His Name, even unto death.  It also means rising with Him unto life everlasting.

This is most certainly true.  Not as though you had no sin, but because all of your sin is freely and fully forgiven by Christ through His Gospel.  And not as though you were not mortal, as though you were not dying, but because your body is raised up to newness of life in the Resurrection of the Body of Christ Jesus from the dead.  You live and walk with Him on the highway of holiness, because He has made you clean and sanctified you by His Word and Holy Spirit.

Therefore, you are no longer a stranger, an alien, or an outsider.  You are not a dog, but a beloved child in your Father’s house.  Here you are seated at your Savior’s Table — at the Lord’s Table for the Lord’s Supper, given and poured out for you.  Here take up the Cup of Salvation and call on the Name of the Lord.  Take and eat, not crumbs, but the Bread of Life from the hand of God.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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