Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lent 2 Midweek Sermon -- Psalm 121 (LSB Lent 2H)

March 11, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

It is essential to know where help comes from. Who is able to remedy your problem? Who can aid you in your desperation? These are questions to answer before seeking help. We don’t always put it in such grave of terms, but we ask such questions to our preschool children. They are taught to know that one goes to a doctor when ill, one goes to a policeman when lost. These are the proper people because they can help.

But what if those who are trained can’t deliver aid? To whom can you turn? You see that very situation with the Canaanite Woman. As Jesus was in the district of Tyre and Sidon, “a Canaanite woman from the region came out and as crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’” Here the situation presents itself as totally hopeless. No one can help, save for someone divine. And the Canaanite woman puts herself in the presence of that One who is able.

The recognition of Jesus’ ability is alluded to by the title that the woman uses: “Lord, Son of David.” She admits that Jesus is the Christ, the promised descendant of King David whom the Israelites had long awaited. And her plea, “Lord, help me!” places her at the mercy of Jesus. She can look to the hills of Lebanon and find no aid. But she turns to the One who is able: “the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

The faith of the Canaanite Woman and her acts based upon that faith do not go unnoticed by Jesus. You heard His remarks: “O woman, great is your faith!” You heard how Jesus reacts to her prayer, the prayer of total humility and desperation: “Be it done for you as you desire.” As the woman’s prayer was answered by “the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” the Gospel Writer tells us: “Her daughter was healed instantly.”

The Psalmist gives a detailed description of everything the Lord God does for His people. He guards them round-the-clock: “He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” This same Lord God serves as a protective barrier against the extremes of His fallen creation: “The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” The Lord God escorts His people during their earthly lives: “The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”

It is great that the Lord God acts this way for His people. So you can see why people turn to Him for aid. This is why He wants His people to use His name in their prayers, to call upon Him in every trouble. The Canaanite Woman is a great example of this. But it must be recognized that this is a great privilege, not an inherent right. That you can address the Lord God and request His aid is a privilege extended to you; it is an aspect of being His people.

The wrestling that Jacob did with the Lord God helps to illustrate this. As Jacob was alone at the Jabbok River, “a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” This was a theophany, a presence of the Lord God on earth, making Himself available to mortals. And Jacob does not let the man go: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And bless Jacob he does. But lest you think that this was Jacob besting the Lord God and demanding something as a right, listen to Jacob’s words that tell us about this event: “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

Jacob recognizes that what took place through that night should not have. In the presence of the Lord God, he should have died. But the mercy of God permits the event to take place with the final end of blessing, not death. Likewise, in the event with Jesus in Tyre and Sidon, the Canaanite Woman recognizes that she is not worthy or deserving of Jesus’ help. Her prayer should not be answered, but she says anyway: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” And the final end of blessing is seen for her and her daughter.

You heard how the Psalmist describes what the Lord God does for His people. All of it is what the Lord God extends to you as a privilege. Today’s prayer will mention the truth: “of ourselves we have no strength.” But where you lack ability and where you lack worthiness, there the Lord God makes Himself present for your benefit, for your help. It is an act of grace and mercy, not an exchange of services for your goods or a response to your demanding your rights.

And just how does this grace and mercy fully manifest itself? It isn’t in wrestling with God and it isn’t begging for His aid. Instead, that grace and mercy is fully shown when and where you didn’t act at all: in the events of God’s making Himself human and then dying and rising from death. “[Your] help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” but who also became part of His creation in order to redeem it.

The Maker of heaven and earth permitted Himself to be wrestled with and to be beaten, crucified, and buried. Man prevailed against Him, as He allowed it on that day. But He also rose victorious, and now nothing can ever prevail against Him. And through this the Lord God truly became your help for what incessantly plagues you, what neither you nor any man could remedy: sin, death, and Satan. So now you are privileged to call upon Him for aid—to beg and be answered, to be in His presence and be given life. For the Lord God has made it so for you, His people: “The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” So He does for you, even through the grave and to life everlasting on the Last Day.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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