Readings for the day (Lectionary 23, Sunday, September 9, 2018):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
When I was in high school, I really wanted a job at the local grocery store. I already had grocery experience, so it just seemed like a no brainer. So one day after school, I went and personally handed by application to the owner and manager of the store. He took my application but told me that he didn’t have any openings check back in another week. So I did. I returned a week later…he gave me the same answer. I returned again a week later and again got the same answer. I returned again about a month after originally turning in my job application and he told me that he was selling the store and that the new owner and manager would be handling all of the new hires. Within a week after the ownership was changed, I received a phone call to start the next day. Persistence pays off.
That’s true for many things. If you want a particular job, you need to be persistent in showing just how much you want to work. If you want good grades, you need to be persistent in your studies. If you want a good harvest, you need to be persistent in caring for your crops and plants. If you go to the doctor and the diagnosis that is giving is unsettling for you, do you A. Go home, accepting the diagnosis for what it is assuming that this doctor has made the correct diagnosis. Or B. Go line up another appointment with another doctor to get someone else’s opinion. Maybe you’ve already been in a situation like this where you seek out another doctor’s opinion. Persistence pays off.
In our story today, Jesus has just finished feeding 5,000 men plus women and children. So let’s just say 12,000 people. And then he terrified his disciples by walking on water in the night. Then as they came ashore Jesus healed many in the marketplace, got into an argument with the Pharisees about what is and is not considered “clean.” Finally Jesus flees Galilee to get a break. He heads north towards Tyre and Sidon; a Gentile region. The Jewish people have seen the healings that Jesus has done. Plus they just got free food from Him. And the Pharisees keep complaining and arguing with Jesus about what He is doing. All Jesus wants is a break. So he flees to a non-Jewish area, hoping that maybe, just maybe, people there won’t know who He is and what He is capable of doing.
Even though Jesus enters a house trying to escape being noticed, He is spotted by a woman. A Gentile woman. She immediately comes over to Jesus, bows down and begs Him to heal her daughter. Remember Jesus is trying to be on a little vacation here. He has turned the phone off and put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door. He doesn’t want to be bothered. So Jesus tried to dismiss her saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Meaning, Jesus came to feed the Israelites, God’s chosen people. This woman was a Gentile, someone who was not part of God’s covenant with Abraham. All Jesus wants is a little rest, so He basically says, “My mission is for the Jews, and you’re not a Jew, so leave me alone.”
And like any parent would do, she does not accept that answer. Her daughter is suffering from an unclean spirit and she has heard that Jesus can help. So she fights back and being persistent she says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Meaning, even though you may have come only for the House of Israel, couldn’t you spare just a little bit to heal my daughter? Jesus, amazed by this mother’s faith, tells her that the demon has left her daughter.
This mother believed in something. She believed that her daughter could be healed by Jesus. She believed in something, even though it meant sacrificing everything. That is, unlike Colin Kaepernick in the new Nike commercial this week. A multi-million dollar quarterback has not sacrificed anywhere near everything. He might believe in something, like making a few million dollars on a two minute ad, but he has not sacrificed everything. This mother though, for the sake of her daughter’s health, was willing to approach a male, Jewish, religious leader and beg for His help. Culturally this was wrong on so many levels, but she’s a parent and as a parent she would do anything, even sacrificing everything she had to get her daughter well again.
Persistence does pay off. Whether it is for a job or grades or a harvest or an answer from a doctor, or even getting your child well again. Being persistent pays off in the end. The same is true in our faith. We must be persistent in our faith. We must be persistent because the devil is also persistent in tempting us each and every day; trying to turn us away from our trust in God. Hold tight to what you believe in. Be persistent in your prayer requests. Be diligent in your study of God’s Word. Be insistent in doing what God has called you to be and do. Don’t be complacent. Complacency creates problems.
As James says in his letter, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Of course as Lutherans we know that our salvation is not dependent on our works. As Paul says in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” We are saved and given the promise of eternal life as not just any gift from God, but THE gift of God. As in the greatest gift we could be given. And this gift is not dependent on our works. It is not dependent on what we do or don’t do. But we have been created in God’s image for the purpose of doing good works.
Martin Luther once said, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.” God doesn’t need our good works of kindness. He desires our persistence in confessing our sins, talking to Him through prayer, and studying His Holy Word. But He doesn’t need our good works. Our neighbors on the other hand DO need our good works of kindness. Our neighbors need us to be persistent in living out our Christian calling to be disciples of Jesus.
So how persistent are you? Are you willing to believe in Jesus, following His command to make disciples of every nation, even if it means sacrificing everything? Are you willing to try something even if it means you might fail? This ministry that Jesus calls us to is one that calls us out of complacency and into a life actively living out the Gospel for the sake of our neighbors and for the sake of God’s Kingdom. We believe in Jesus because He is the one who truly knows what it means to sacrifice everything. Sacrificing everything for you! Amen.
© 2018 Anthony Christoffels. All rights reserved.
 Mark 7:27, NRSV
 Mark 7:28, NRSV
 James 2:17, NRSV
 Ephesians 2:8-10a, NRSV