LET THE NAME OF THE LORD BE PRAISED, BOTH NOW AND FOREVERMORE. FROM THE RISING OF THE SUN TO THE PLACE WHERE IT SETS, THE NAME OF THE LORD IS TO BE PRAISED. (Psalm 113: 2 – 3)
Welcome to our Sunday morning web-worship!
Old Testament Reading: PSALM 70
I AM POOR AND NEEDY; COME QUICKLY TO ME, O GOD. YOU ARE MY HELP AND MY DELIVERER; O LORD, DO NOT DELAY. (Verse 5)
New Testament Reading: MATTHEW 15: 21 – 28
A CANAANITE WOMAN FROM THAT VICINITY CAME TO HIM (JESUS), CRYING OUT, “LORD, SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME! MY DAUGHTER IS SUFFERING TERRIBLY FROM DEMON–POSSESSION.” JESUS DID NOT ANSWER A WORD… THEN JESUS ANSWERED, “WOMAN, YOU HAVE GREAT FAITH! YOUR REQUEST IS GRANTED.” AND HER DAUGHTER WAS HEALED FROM THAT VERY HOUR. (Matthew 15: 22, 23a, 28)
We all live by faith and this is not from ourselves, it is a gift of God. Suddenly – not long ago – I fell ill and went to a doctor, a doctor I did not know and whose name I hardly could pronounce. He gave me a prescription I could not read, and he sent me to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness where certain tests were carried out on my blood. Then a Croatian surgeon inserted a tube into my stomach and sprayed it with a certain pale solution. All I could do that time was to watch it on a screen. Then… I was sent back home with the promise that all will be well. I did it all in faith, trusting my life in the hands of others, and God knows how I prayed all that time – and my faith in Christ kept me peaceful deep within. Yes, even ministers are humans and learn the lesson of faith over and over again – FAITH, that they preach on so very often.
There was a centurion whose servant was ill. Asking Jesus to help he said: – Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say a word, and my servant will be healed. Jesus was astonished and said: – I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such a great faith. And the ill servant was healed. (Matthew 8: 5-13).
The disciples were in a boat with Christ. Lord, save us! We’re going to drown, they cried. Jesus replied, – You of little faith, why are you so afraid? Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. (Matthew 8: 23-27).
Later the disciples were in another boat, and Jesus walked to them on the water. As Peter – wanting to go to Him – started sinking, he cried out, – Lord, save me! Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. – You of little faith, why did you doubt? (Matthew 14: 22-32).
An unnamed woman was ill for twelve years but reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. Jesus turned and saw her. Take heart, daughter, he said, your faith has healed you. And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matthew 9: 18-22).
And this is a summary given by Jesus to all faith-related things: – Because you have so little faith, I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, – Move from here to there – and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17: 20).
Here is the story of a woman who loves her daughter dearly and comes to find a cure for her demon-possession. Demon or Daemon (Ancient Greek) means: – to divide, distribute, and is typically associated with evil. It involves the belief that an alien spirit controls a person’s life and actions. In the Old Testament demons were generally regarded as agents of God. The woman was from Tyre or Sidon – a hostile territory for the Israelites. She was a Canaanite woman – not a Jew. Her request was simple: Lord, help me, and my little daughter. The Lord’s response was silence. He was often silent. In silence He watched the small offering of a woman in the temple, His silence broke Peter’s heart on the night of denial. He stood silent before Herod and Pilate. On the Cross His only words were to The Father. In silence He still watches over us and…prays.
The disciples’ reaction was predictable: – Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us. There is no surprise here but what follows is a surprise. Twice Jesus answered negatively, and we know this is not the His nature. He doesn’t exclude anyone. He is opened to everyone, so there is more here than is on the surface. The insistence of the woman is the answer as Jesus concludes their short conversation: – Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted. And her daughter was healed from that very hour. This is the meaning of Jesus’ silence and the result of TRUE PRAYER. She wasn’t willing to allow the common prejudice to damage her life. She refused to give in to a lesser description of herself because of racism and prejudice. Paul says it this way: – There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4: 4-6). There are no Jews and no Gentiles. There are no rich and no poor, no male and no female. Instead we are one in Christ Jesus.
Jesus’ conversation with the Canaanite woman also leaves us with some unanswered questions. But in the end, Jesus shows the way. I am not sure why Jesus went about this the way he did. Did He know something about this woman’s character already and knew how she would respond? Did He do it for the disciples as a “shock therapy” for them? I don’t know. What I know is that in the end, Jesus applauds the Canaanite woman’s faith. He declared her to be one of God’s precious daughters: – You have great faith! Jesus also once said to someone: – Everything is possible for him who believes. Immediately the man’s exclamation came: – Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! (Mark 9: 23-24).
Indeed, – how is your faith today? How is it – as you read these words of mine – deep within your soul? Please let the question sink deeply. It is not enough to say: – “I have faith” or even – “I don’t have faith”. In truth, we all have faith and live in it every day. Putting our lives through God into the hands of another – that is the truly saving faith. Some see faith is propositional: – IF all goes well, – IF I am happy and prosperous, – IF I am healthy and hopeful, – IF God does good for me, then… I believe. Christian faith doesn’t say “IF”. It says “THOUGH”. Though all forces of evil come against me, I will believe all the more. Though everything might go wrong for me, I will still believe and trust in my God and my Saviour! Remember always what the Bible so clearly says: –Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11: 1).
Perhaps today we need such affirmation, confronting this demon-like Global Pandemic. To be declared God’s children through Jesus’s words: – You have great faith! You’ve not given up. You’ve stood the test. Or… perhaps… our need is a renewed experience of faith, crying out with many across the centuries: – Lord, help me! – and firmly believing – as I often say – that: GOD IS JUST A PRAYER AWAY.
LET US PRAY:
LORD OUR GOD, thank You that in this restless and shifting world, You remain the same; that though so much around us is changing, Your love will continue unaltered, Your mercy uninterrupted, Your purpose unaffected. Thank You for calling and leading Your people, for giving us Your Word and honouring Your promises through Christ. Though societies and lifestyles evolve beyond recognition, You remain constant, the same yesterday, today and forever. For the knowledge, and for the assurance that You are with us not only now but for all eternity receive our praise. Thank You, Lord, that, seen or unseen, known or unbeknown, accepted or rejected, You are there. Thank You that in good or bad, joy or sorrow, hope or fear, life or death, You are there. Thank You that whoever we are, whatever we do, wherever we might be, once again, You are there. Help us, in turn, to be there for You. Remind us that, whatever the circumstances, You care for us, each being special and precious in Your sight. Teach us that if we truly seek You, we will find, that if we lay before You our needs, You will respond, not necessarily in the way we expect, but nonetheless answering our prayers. Give us faith in Your purpose and trust in Your power, assured that, though sometimes we have far too little faith in You, always You still love us. Thank You for being by our side, come what may. Help us to stay close to You, knowing You will always stay close to us. We pray for all Your children in this world today, for all our Christian sisters and brothers, for our country and its leaders, for our Church of Scotland in all its Presbyteries and Congregations and for our church here in Portree. We pray for our loved ones, wherever they are, and for ourselves. Where lives are broken, mend them. Where they are affected by sickness and disease, by the Covid-19 Pandemic, heal them. Where they are troubled, calm them. Where they are hurting, relieve them. Where they are sorrowful, comfort them. Make known to us over and over again the Good News of Your Love in Christ, and into our hurting world bring peace and healing, strength and trust, good tidings for all. Through Jesus Christ Your Son and our Saviour.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, Who art in heaven…
MY FAITH LOOKS UP TO THEE, Thou Lamb of Calvary, Saviour Divine; now hear me while I pray; take all my guilt away; O let me from this day be wholly Thine.
May Thy rich grace impart strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire; as Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee pure, warm, and changeless be, a living fire.
While life’s dark maze I tread, and griefs around me spread, be Thou my Guide; bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away, nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.
When ends life’s transient dream, when death’s cold sullen stream shall o’er me roll, blest Saviour, then, in love, fear and distrust remove; O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul.
DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING, BUT IN EVERYTHING, BY PRAYER AND PETITION, WITH THANKSGIVING, PRESENT YOUR REQUESTS TO GOD. AND THE PEACE OF GOD, WHICH TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING, WILL GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS.
THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST BE WITH YOUR SPIRIT. AMEN. (Philippians 4: 6, 7, 23)