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August 16, 2020

Message for August 16, 2020- “A Persistent Faith!”

(From Matthew 15: 21-28)

     “Please, please, please, may I have it?”  What parent has not heard these words repeatedly spoken by our children so many times?  “It” can be anything from a cookie before dinner to a new toy or pet.  We have all been asked for a myriad of things our children simply could not live without.  We have even judged the sincerity of any of their particular “please” objects by the persistence with which they have continued to ask, perhaps even beg, for them.  They knew just what they wanted/needed, and they believed that we were capable of providing it.   We have surely experienced human persistence about worldly matters in life first-hand.  Yet, when it comes to matters of faith, we are often more impatient than persistent.  We seem to expect that coming to God, in what we consider to be a sincere attitude of prayer for our need, is sufficient to bring about an immediate result.  The truth is, sometimes things may turn out that way; but, more often things tend go somewhat differently.

     When we come before God with a prayer request, we do so in faith, knowing that with God, all things are possible.  Jesus confirmed the truth of this statement in Matthew 19:26.  After encountering   a rich young man who would not give up his wealth, even for his eternal life, the Disciples wondered who, if not he, is worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven.  They were making a human judgement of worthiness based upon the man’s worldly wealth and position.  Jesus knew what was needed from a spiritual sense, one that worldly perception is not able to judge. The rich man was possessed by his possessions, and so he was unable to even imagine, let alone consider, a life without them.  Jesus lamented the rich man’s choice, and also his Disciples’ failure understand that what is truly important is faith and not worldly wealth. “With humans it is impossible,” Jesus proclaimed, “but with God, all things are possible.”  God is more powerful than even our human selfishness and greed.  It is God that makes things possible when we place our faith in God.  Thank you, God!

     Just because all things are possible with God, does not mean that everything we pray for is either automatically guaranteed or immediate.  Prayer is a very complex spiritual matter.  It involves a deep and very personal relationship with God, one in which we are ever listening to God, discovering and putting into daily practice God’s plan for our lives.  As we grow in this relationship and experience God’s ongoing love and care, we come to understand more and more what is truly important in life.  Our ability to trust God to meet our true needs according to God’s will and timing also strengthens and matures.  That, dear Church, is what faith is all about—an ongoing trust in God and in God’s timing for us.  This means that we need to continue to persevere and to be persistent in both faith and prayer, especially during those times in life when adverse circumstances appear.

   A wonderful example of persistent faith is found in our scripture lesson for this morning from Matthew Chapter 15.  Jesus encountered a Syrophoenician woman on his travels through the Phoenician region of the cities Tyre and Sidon.  This region was largely comprised of Gentile people, although there were also many Jews in this region.  The Syrophoenician woman, a gentile, approached Jesus crying out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”  This gentile woman addressed Jesus as the Son of David, and as Lord.  She then begged Jesus show her mercy.  She had obviously either heard of or witnessed for herself Jesus’ healing ministry to those suffering from infirmities.  She believed that Jesus could heal her demon-possessed daughter. She believed her request was possible with Jesus.  But, Jesus did not respond to her initial plea.  The Disciples asked Jesus to send her away, so that she would not continue bothering them.  “Send her away for she cries out after us,” they said.  Jesus then replied that he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel—to the Jews.  As a gentile woman, she would understand that she was not initially included in the “in-crowd”—the Jews.  This reply did not stop the woman.  Instead, she came up to Jesus and worshiped him.  “Lord, help me!” she begged him.  She was a true believer, and she persisted in her faith.  A second time Jesus answered her that he had come to minister to the Jewish people.  “It is not good to take the children’s bread and give it to the little dogs,” he said.  By this statement, Jesus did as not intend to insult the woman, but instead simply to remind her that bread is for those seated at the table, not for the pets.  Persisting in her plea, the woman reminded Jesus that even dogs receive the crumbs of bread which fall from their Master’s table.  Her faith in Jesus was so strong that she persisted for even a crumb that he might throw her. Hearing this, Jesus said, “Woman, great is your faith!”  This gentile woman had persisted in both her belief that Jesus could heal her daughter, and in her plea that his mercy would heal her.  The scriptures tell us that her daughter was healed by Jesus immediately.  Now that is some persistent faith!  With this act of compassion, Jesus showed that it is true faith, and not position or heritage as the Disciples had expected, that makes all thing possible with God.

     Church, we are living in times that can try our patience, and our faith.  Disease and dissention are all around us, and they threaten our individual and common welfare.  Perhaps, we have prayed about a particular situation or need for ourselves or a loved one, but we have not yet seen the result of that prayer.  Take heart, and do not lose your faith.

Sometimes, we, like the Syrophoenician woman, need to be persistent in our prayer and not allow discouragement with our circumstances to overcome us. The Syrophoenician woman persisted in her plea of faith because she knew that, with Jesus, her daughter’s healing was possible.  We, too, know that true healing and wholeness are possible with and through him.  Our part is to keep our faith strong, and to keep on praying.  As a Church, we are not alone in this endeavor.

Sharing our needs and concerns with other people of faith, we will strengthen our petitions as we multiply them in prayer.  Remember, dear friends, there is nothing that separates us from the love of God revealed to us in Christ Jesus.

With God, all things are possible, so let us continue to live these days with a prayerful and persistent faith.  May the love and mercy of God bless you in ways you cannot yet imagine.  Amen.