This Is What Faith Does

Text: Matthew 15:21-28

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

It sounded like croaking.  It sounded like a cry of a raven.  It was a loud shrieking sound that persisted over and over and over.  It was so loud and persistent that it made people uncomfortable. 

Sometimes this is what faith sounds like.  Indeed, at times the Christian faith does not sound pleasant or smooth or calm, but rather sometimes the Christian faith cries out and shrieks towards the Lord in desperation. 

It is usually in those times where life hits you on the head that our faith sounds like a croaking raven.  We have all been there, in one way or another; those times in life when we find ourselves out of control.  Maybe we have an uncontrollable illness, or maybe a large mountain of debt that seems to be crashing down upon us or perhaps a drug or alcohol problem in the family. Maybe violence or a severe accident or persecution or the death of a loved one brings about desperation and a faith that cries out.  And to complicate things even more, running in, with, and through all of life’s circumstances is typically sin, yes sin.  The problem of sin ungirds life’s problems.  Sin is deep and permeates our whole being.  And no matter how hard we try or no matter how hard we scrub, this sin does not go away. 

Indeed, the harsh reality is that these difficult situations in life and the problem of sin all point us to the reality that we are not in control of our lives and that we are literally powerless in this life.  Difficult circumstances and sin have a remarkable power over our lives; they control us.  And so we find that our Christian faith will at times shriek and croak in cries of desperation. 

To make things worse, there will be times when we stand before God and in the midst of our uncontrollable situations that God seems quiet.  He may seem off in the distance and uninterested to our cries.  This only adds to the anxiety of our cries of faith.  Therefore, these cries of faith can become louder and turn into constant screeching to the Lord.

This is precisely where the woman in our Gospel Reading was at.  Her daughter was demonically possessed.  The evil one had seized her precious girl, and nothing that the mom could do was able to remove the claws of the demon from her daughter’s soul.  All she could do was stand and watch her daughter squirm and wail in agony from the hellish clutches of that demonic being.  She was helpless to cure her own child.  She was out of control as the demon tormented her daughter. 

So in her helplessness, she goes to the only one that she thinks that can help her.  She goes to Jesus.   She goes to Jesus and cries out.

I get the impression that she had a lot of tears, that her speech was muffled, that she was somewhat out of control in her plea for mercy.  It seems that she dumped all of her emotions, struggles, and groans upon Jesus.  But keep in mind that this was not just an emotional appeal.  All of her emotions and all of her cries were bundled together and compelled by ‘faith.’  That is right; she cries out to the only one who could help her ‘in faith.’

She cries out to the only one who has power over the devil, as we heard last week in Jesus’ temptation.  Problem solved; everything taken care of. Right?  Well, actually no. 

To our surprise, she is actually met with an icy rejection of our Lord.  It was almost as if Jesus was treating the mother as if she had a demon. 

But this does not matter.  The woman continues to cry out, for that is what faith does.  Faith connects itself to Jesus regardless of the circumstances and regardless of the Lord’s response. 

Even the disciples do not understand the Lord’s lack of reaction.  They wanted Jesus to grant her the request to heal her demon infested daughter, because frankly, she was making a scene.

Yet, Jesus does not grant the women’s request. 

But this does not matter.  The woman continues to cry out, for that is what faith does.  She is like a yippy little dog, begging and barking for the smallest of crumbs from the master even when told to go. 

Long story short, the woman ends up on her knees in the dust, begging, “Lord help me!”  And Jesus ends up calling her a dog, unworthy of bread he came to bring to His own people, the Jews. 

But this does not deter the woman.  If Jesus calls her a dog, so be it, she will be a dog.  But even as a dog, she demands to clean up the crumbs of the Lord.  She says to the Lord,

“Yes, Lord, you’re right I am a dog, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

In astonishment, Jesus eventually looks at her, and He says,

“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” 

And so, Jesus gives and she receives. 

Dear friends, the woman would not let Jesus be anything other than the gracious, kind, and loving Savior that she had heard about, for this is the way of great faith.  You see, great faith looks to Jesus as the only one who can help but does not flinch when the answer does not come as quickly as expected or in the way that it is expected. 

It is very tempting to look at faith as something that we conjure up from within our willpower.  It is very enticing to see faith as something we possess and self-generate which in the midst of difficult times, leads us to easily believe that we do not have enough faith or that we need to believe harder to somehow get God to God bless us.  But that is not the point of our Gospel reading.  The point of the Gospel reading is not to create this impression that the woman has somehow conjured up great faith by her own willpower.  But rather, the point of the Gospel reading is the greatness of the one in whom she had faith.  That is to say; the point is that the Canaanite women looked to Jesus to help her, and nowhere else, for that is what great faith does. 

Great faith clings to Jesus.  Great faith does not listen to the lies of Satan.  Great faith does not listen to our own feelings.  Great faith does not trust in our own reason.  Great Faith is not being self-confident and pretending that everything is o.k.  Great Faith is not having the right words to pray.  Great Faith is not even being self-confident in the midst of a struggle.  But rather, we see in this Canaanite woman that great faith is nothing more than crying out and clinging to Jesus in the midst of our helplessness. 

Dear friends, this Canaanite woman is a picture of the Christian Church.  She is a picture of the Church living by faith – always crying out, always trusting, and always relying on Jesus. She is a picture of you and me coming to this sanctuary each and every Sunday confessing that we are nothing more than dogs – poor miserable sinners in thought, word, and deeds, yet still rising up and coming before this altar to receive sips of wine and pieces of bread – the body and blood of the Lord.  This Canaanite woman is a picture of us coming to the throne of grace with all our suffering, all our trials, and all our uncontrollable situations and while beating our breast saying,

“Lord Jesus, you may seem to be cold to me at times, and you may even call me a dog as You like, and yet I will not leave you or doubt that you love me.  You only are my help; You only are my Hope.  On You, I will rely.  You went to the cross for me, and you died so that I might belong to you forever.  To You alone, then, I will cling.  Do with me as You will.  But I am Yours.”[1]  

This is the great struggle of faith dear Baptized Saints.  Faith does only one thing, it clings to Jesus and His Word and Sacraments, in spite of everything around us and in spite of our feelings and circumstances.  Faith hangs tightly to Jesus who loved us all the way to the Cross and the Empty Grave even when the world throws its worst at us. 

With that Canaanite woman, we today cling to Jesus and His word of promise.  Today we know that what makes our faith great is not our will, our commitment, or our own determination. Rather, what makes our faith great is what our faith clings to and receives.  Today we receive Christ with the Canaanite woman.  Therefore, your faith is great when you receive Jesus; receiving Him in a beggarly status, knowing that even though we often cannot control much of anything that the Lord controls us and has blessed us by His redemption, forgiveness, and life. 

Today, you have faith that clings to Jesus and no other for we know that Jesus is the unshakable rock which our faith rest. 

May the Lord grant us faith like the Canaanite woman this day, faith that clings to Jesus and His gifts, today, tomorrow, and forevermore. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] William Weedon, Reminiscere Sermon for Matthew 15:21-28.    

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