Do You Have Great Faith?

Text: Matthew 15:21-28

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

In our culture, we are often pointed to people to emulate and aspire to.  For example, in basketball, Michael Jordan and Lebron James are held up as the pinnacle of success with their championships and scoring records. But let us not forget the NFL: Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers are looked up to as the zenith of triumph, with their MVP awards, Super Bowls, and touchdowns.  And Hollywood embraces Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and Renee Zellweger as the cream of the crop with blockbuster hits and Academy Awards. Last but not least, in finance and politics, billionaires like Mike Bloomberg, Donald Trump, and Jeff Bezos lead the way in shaping our politics and creating economic prosperity.  To the point, all of these individuals have accumulated great success and displayed it with tremendous compose and confidence, resulting in them becoming icons that we should aspire to.

Now, it would be easy to conclude that within Christianity, we should praise and commend those of great success too, as if they are icons of great faith.  For instance, we could conclude that Joel Osteen, in his 16,800-seat Lakewood Church building, is the pinnacle of faithfulness!  Or, perhaps we could conclude that the zenith of faithfulness is the Christian author Joyce Meyers, who has sold over 20 million books.  Or, maybe Billy Graham, who reached over 215 million people, could be considered as a leader of great faith.  However, what we learn from Jesus is something completely the opposite.  We learn that great faith is not judged or understood by accomplishments, success, composure, and confidence.

In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus commends a woman for great faith.  But what might strike you and me as being quite odd is that this woman of great faith is not a flashy religious icon, a prolific author, or an eloquent-polished speaker but instead a shrieking, desperate, no-name-beggarly-woman.  Yes, Jesus says in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew that a loud croaking Canaanite woman with a daughter tormented by a demon has great faith. She is a picture to us of great faith.

You see, Christianity has this peculiar way of doing things completely opposite from the world. In the world, those who are first are first. Those who have a life, keep their life. Those who are blessed are the rich and strong.  But not in Christianity. The last will be first in Christianity. Those who want to keep their life in Christianity must lose it.  The spiritually bankrupt and meek in Christianity? Well, they are blessed.  But why is it this way? 

Dear friends, we typically understand greatness by outward success, by what is accomplished and done. Therefore, it is easy to believe that great faith belongs to theological superstars, religious zealots, super-apostles, and pious perfectionists.  In other words, we have incorrectly attached great faith to outward appearances.  However, Jesus runs things counterintuitive to how we typically think.  Jesus sees great faith not in what is done or accomplished but in what faith receives and in what faith clings to. 

With that said, it is really easy to get caught in this trap of believing that our faith is somehow weak when things are going chaotic in our lives, and strong when things are going well. In other words, too often, we believe that if our faith is strong and great, then things should be going great in our lives as well. And conversely, too often, we believe that our faith is weak when things run out of control in life.  And so, when things are going great, we believe that we have great faith.  And when things are going bad, we believe the lie that if we only had greater faith, then things would be better. 

Tragically, and way too often, the Christian moviemaking industry reinforces this incorrect thinking about faith.  I can recall watching a Christian movie flick several years ago where a man’s life and job were out of control. However, he was told by a pious and sappy Christian that if he could just strengthen his faith, then good things would happen. Lo and behold, through his diligent prayers, pious devotion, and increased faith, the man cleaned up his life.  His faith supposedly becomes great, which resulted in his marriage being fixed, his job going well, and his children growing godlier.  The more faith he had, the better things got!    

As you and I know, life and the Christian faith do not work this way, except in the fairytale land of well-intentioned – but na├»ve - Christian movies. Furthermore, it did not work this way for the Canaanite woman, who had a demonically possessed daughter.  The Canaanite woman was at the end of herself.  She had nothing to give, and she certainly was not polished in her appearance. She came before Jesus screeching like a raven saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!”  Her cry was so loud, and her desperation was so deep that she was making a scene. She was so unhinged that the disciples became uncomfortable, thus their reason for encouraging Jesus to send her away.  But regardless of the pushback, the Canaanite woman trusted in Jesus’ Word. Despite her circumstances and despite the disciples’ wishes, she clung to Jesus.  And in response, Jesus said to the woman, “Great is your faith!” 

Let me be perfectly clear at this point.  Great faith consists not in your confidence, abilities, or accomplishments but consists in your despair of yourselves and the hope of Christ, who is for you. Great faith is when you find no comfort in yourself and your abilities but cling to the grace and Word of Jesus alone.  Great faith says, “I am a great sinner, but I have an even greater Savior.” 

So dear Baptized Saints, when your life falls apart, and you find yourself at the end of your rope clinging to the gift of Jesus in his Word and Sacrament as your only hope, you are not lacking faith but have great faith.

When the doctor comes in and tells you that your wife has terminal cancer; and as a husband, you feel all of your energy and strength fall out of your body while you cling to your bride saying, “Do not fear; Christ has held us in life, and he will hold us in death” – this is great faith.

When you are driving home from a family dinner, and you smash your car, and your little child is killed on impact, and you say through the most profound possible pain, “God help me,” – this is great faith. 

When you haven’t felt the jumps and kicks of your child in your womb, and you see a motionless child on the ultrasound technician’s screen, and you look to Jesus with groanings too deep for words – this is great faith. 

When you wake up on Sunday morning with shame and guilt from last week’s sexual failure, and you come to the communion rail with heavy guilt and open hands to receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins – this is great faith. 

When you stand for the confession during church and look at your spouse with remorse in your eyes for all the fighting that you have done all week; and when you both grab each other’s hands, confess that you are poor miserable sinners; and when you lift your chins to hear, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you of all of your sins,” – this is great faith. 

Baptized Saints, never forget that Jesus came into this world to save sinners, which means great faith receives Jesus and His gifts for you and me as sinners.  Great faith clings to Jesus and Jesus alone – neither our goodness nor our badness, just Jesus. Great faith does only one thing, it clings to Jesus and His Word and Sacraments, despite everything around us and despite our feelings.  Great 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 determination. Instead, what makes our faith great is what our faith clings to and receives. 

And what do we receive today?  Today we receive Christ and His gifts with the Canaanite woman.  Therefore, your faith is great when you receive Jesus in a beggarly status, knowing that even though you often cannot control much of anything in this life, that the Lord controls you and has blessed you by His redemption, forgiveness, and life. 

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

May the Lord grant you and me great faith like the Canaanite woman, faith that clings to Jesus and His gifts, today, tomorrow, and forever. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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