Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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

March 23, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, 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.”

Where do you turn for help? It is a question that we teach our young to answer, when we discuss the roles of people in society. An injured person goes to a doctor for help. A crime victim turns to the justice system for help. A lost person looks for security or guides for help. This our preschool students learn. But there are other times of need. Those times include economic downturns that cost jobs. Or political turmoil, like now in Northern Africa. Or facing a terminal disease. Who helps then? Who do you turn to? Whose aid do you seek?

In the two readings for tonight, you heard of two individuals who desperately needed aid. The first was Jacob. You were told: “The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone.” Why was this done? Because of who was coming near to Jacob: his brother Esau, the one whom Jacob had cheated, was approaching Jacob’s clan. Earlier his messengers told him: “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and divided his clan into two groups, so that at least some would escape.

But in the midst of this danger, Jacob recalls what the Lord had spoken to him: “And Jacob said: ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me: 'Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,' I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that You have shown to Your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But You said: ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” Jacob’s cleverness might protect some of his people, but only the Lord’s aid would truly deliver him.

So Jacob turned to the Lord for aid. That night, his plea was answered: “And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When that man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said: ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said: ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’” But that man was not Esau sneaking into Jacob’s camp. For we are told: “Then he said: ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’” The identity of that man was made clear by Jacob’s actions afterward: “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying: ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’” Struggling with the Lord, grabbing hold of His divine promises and not letting go, Jacob receives the aid that he needs.

A similar act takes place in the second reading for this evening. Another individual needs help for a dire situation: “Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And 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 a demon.’” There was nothing that the woman could do. She could not prevail over such an enemy. But she knew what was foretold about this Messiah that the Hebrew people were waiting for. The Lord could help.

But note what takes place between this Canaanite woman and Jesus: “But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying: ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ He answered: ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” Jesus’ statements show a lack of help would be forthcoming. He refers to the promises made to Israel, not to the Gentiles, to the Canaanites. Yet the woman is not dissuaded: “But she came and knelt before Him, saying: ‘Lord, help me.’”

Again, it seems like help will not come: “And He answered: ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said: ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’” The Canaanite woman knows the exclusive promises to Israel. But she also knows something else: that Jesus is the Lord, that He has powers and abilities, and that there were people beyond the descendants of Jacob who had benefited from the Lord throughout the past history. She trusts that Jesus can give that sort of aid, and her daughter will benefit from it. That belief, trust, and reliance is recognized by Jesus: “Then Jesus answered her: ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” Like Jacob, this woman clung to what she knew to be true about Jesus. She struggled with the Lord and she received the aid that she needs.

So it is with you. You have heard of who the Lord is and what He does. You have also heard promises that the Lord has made. This has been spoken to you, so that you may believe it. Faith is created by hearing this testimony about the Lord; that faith grabs hold of the promises that He makes and clings to them. Where do you turn for aid? How do you answer the question that the Psalmist asks: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” The answer should be same as his: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Think of where people turn for help—banks with great wealth for loans, nations with great armies for military assistance, medical groups with great knowledge and skill for health. These are all impressive. The Psalmist’s statement answer identifies your source of aid. That identity surpasses all the others. The One who has the power and ability to create the cosmos has become your Helper, your Keeper. He condescends to you, coming down to your level, even becoming a Person like you, to bring you aid. And He promises to continue to come near to you to bring you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

So we answer the question about help: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” That help comes to us wherever His promises are attached. We cling to Holy Baptism and the promises made that we are His children, constantly reminding Him of that identity and His blessing that comes with it. We cling to Holy Absolution and the promises made that our sins are forgiven, constantly reminding Him of that pardon and His blessing that comes with it. We cling to Holy Communion and the promises made that blood has been shed for our salvation, constantly reminding Him of that sacrifice and His blessing that comes with it. In these ways, we struggle with God, not letting go, and we receive His aid, the aid we need that no one else can give.

But that belief, trust, and reliance all depends on the identity of who the Lord is. The One who made heaven and earth can bring that help. We turn to the One who has the ability to help and who has promised to do so. We can express our faith, just as the Psalmist did: “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 will do until we come into His eternal presence in His celestial sanctuary, the place promised for us, His redeemed people.

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

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