PENTECOST 10, A –August 17, 2014

SCRIPTURES – Psalm 28;Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Romans 11:1ff; Matthew 15:21-28

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 ademon.” But he did not answer her a word. (Matt. 15)

How many times have you said, “I’ll keep you in my prayers”? I’ll betyou’ve said this many times. Prayer seems to be such an easy thing! But, wouldyou ever say to someone who is complaining about potholes in his street, “I’ll talk to the Mayor for you.” Youmight; if you knew the Mayor. Have you ever said, “I’ll bring it up with the Governor”; or, “I’ll ask the President.” No way! And yet, we quickly and easilysay, “I’ll keep you in my prayers” –as if the eternal Lord and Ruler of the universe is at our beck and call!

Our Gospel reading today teaches usmuch about prayer. And, it all starts with the word, “behold.” Look! Payattention! Something quite unusual, even shocking, is happening, and you mustnot miss it! Ok, so what is so shocking? That a woman came crying out to Jesusfor help – the good, kind, gentle Jesus whose heart was moved by people’ssufferings and who helped everyone, Jew and Gentile, good and bad alike – “Buthe did not answer her a word.” He ignored her! Were you shocked bythis? Probably not. After all, the story went on, and in just a few seconds youheard that He did answer her and heal her daughter. But, the woman didn’t knowthis would happen. So, she kept pleading, and He remained silent. Then Hisdisciples spoke up, but they were unable to change His mind. Finally, Jesus didspeak; and He rejected her. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of thehouse of Israel,” and you are a Gentile dog.

Does God hear and answer everyone’sprayers? Behold! He does not. Does it surprise you that I say this? If it does,this is only because you are listening to what others say, or to what you thinkis right, and not to what God says in His Word. In my morning devotions thispast week I read again the sad story of King Saul, the first king of Israel. Onthe last day of his life, as he was preparing for battle, he prayed to theLord; but, the Lord refused to answer him (1 Sam. 28:5-6). How could this be?Proverbs 15:8 tells us, “The sacrifice [prayer] of the wicked is anabomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.”Saul had turned so far away from God in his sin that he even sought out awitch, or medium, to consult the dead for him. His wickedness corrupted him andhis prayers, and so God would not listen to him.

What about this woman who came toJesus and cried out for Him to help her daughter? Well, she was a Canaanite.She lived among people who believed in many gods; who thought the gods wereuncaring and had to be persuaded to help; who sometimes even sacrificed theirown children to their gods. Now she comes to Jesus and kneels before Him. Shesaid the right words, calling Him “Lord” and “Son of David,” Israel’s Messiah. But,so what! Merely mouthing the right words to God pleases Him about as much asflattery pleases your spouse, who knows you are only saying nice things to getwhat you want. Why should Jesus listen to a Canaanite? In fact, why should Godlisten to any of us, when our prayers are so often self-centered and rushedthrough with little thought? Why should He listen to people who sin against Himin thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have leftundone?

He doesn’t have to listen, oranswer. Jesus teaches us this today. The holy God is under no obligation to listento us sinners. But, He does tell us and show us again and again that He is amerciful God whose heart, and then also His help, goes out to sinners who trustin Him and so humbly call upon Him in their need. Jesus Himself, God come to usin the flesh to save us from our sins by dying for us on the cross, is theclearest and surest evidence of God’s mercy. So, when you pray, cry out formercy! Be humble, as was the Canaanite woman. She accepted Christ’s statement thatshe was a dog, but went on to claim the right to help because even dogs weregiven crumbs. You are a sinner. So, don’t think that your prayer will be heardbecause of your good words, or your godly life, or your sincerity, or justbecause your need is great. God is a God of mercy! Rely on His mercy and cryout to Him in prayer. He will be at your beck and call. He will surely listenand answer.

But also, cry out to Him by name.There’s great pressure in our day to pray generic prayers to a nameless God in ordernot to exclude or offend anyone. We should be more concerned to not offend God!Tell me, would you be pleased if your children began a request for help bysaying to you, “Hey, you!” You wouldn’t answer a request that began in such away. You have a name, or title, to them: Father; Mother. It declares aconnection of love between you as well as a relationship. You are not theirservants but their parents, who provide out of love. This is not to be ignored.

Of course, God says in Isaiah 56, “Myhouse shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” So, doesn’tHe hear everyone’s prayers, then? Don’t be lazy with God’s words and only hearthe ones you want to hear. Listen to all He said in Is. 56:

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister tohim, to love the name of the Lord,” – the name Yahweh, not Baalor Asherah or Molech; the name Jesus, not Allah or Krishna or Buddha – “andto be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, andholds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make themjoyful in my house of prayer… For my house shall be called a house of prayerfor all peoples.”

If you keep God’s Sabbath, hold fast to His words, and addressHim by His name which He has given to you; then, yes, your background andheritage and culture, and even the sins of your past, will not matter to Godand make Him turn a deaf ear to you. He will hear and answer and help, for Heis the merciful God whose help is freely and generously given to all who callupon Him.

This is what we see in Jesus. Godis not exclusionary, but in Jesus is a Savior for us all. God took flesh andbecame like every one of us. The sins of all people of all time were laid uponHim. And so, He became us; all of us. He redeemed us, all of us.We are all in Him, then, and all can find salvation in Him.

This is why we pray through Him andmust never be shy about naming Him in our prayers. In Jesus God puts Himself atour beck and call! He is our Friend from heaven who bears all our sins andgriefs, and heals them. He does all this by God’s great and eternal mercyalone. Humbly cry out to Him in your need! Call upon His name! God will surelyhear you – always – and bless you with His salvation. Through Jesus Christ, ourLord. Amen.