God’s Longsuffering Love for Sinners

Sermon notes from  5 February 1989   The Canaanite Woman

Scripture Lessons:  1 Timothy 1:15-17,   Matthew 15:21-28

Christ saving the first among sinners: Adam & Eve

The Gospel Lesson of the Canaanite Woman is a story of hope for sinners, outcasts, non-believers and rejects. Even though we sometimes get stuck on the fact that Jesus behaves down right rudely to this woman, calling her “a dog!”, if we look closely at the story we can see wherein is the Good News.

The Jew expected the Messiah to save Jews and thus to reject the Canaanite women as Jesus appears to do. The Canaanites (Gentiles) expect the Jewish God not to help them and Jesus appears to fulfill this expectation. But Jesus breaks through the expectations, prejudices, limitations and beliefs of both Jew and Gentile, and shows His Power stretches to all, His salvation is for all, His Authority is over all. Therefore no one on earth should believe that God cannot or will not help/save them. There is hope even for the sinner and the unbeliever.

John 3:17  –  “For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

St. Paul told us in his letter to Timothy: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” Despite the fact the Paul sees himself as the foremost of sinners, he knows he has been both saved by the Lord Jesus Christ and called to preach the Gospel of salvation to the nations. He knows acceptance by the Church, forgiveness, healing, support, patience, encouragement and love from the Church.   It was the members of the church who Paul so violently persecuted, but it was through the same church membership that Paul was healed, baptized, evangelized, forgiven, supported and encouraged.

St. Paul did not try to hide the fact that he violently sinned against God. He publicly acknowledged it, and he did find acceptance by the Church. Brothers and Sisters, the same should be true for each of us today. Thousands of people, including thousands of Christian people, turn to Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and such groups to help themselves acknowledge and confess their sins. But as God’s chosen people, as a group of sinners who have been accepted by Christ, it is our duty to help, support, encourage, love and accept each other, even with our sinful faults. We all face temptations, all struggle against the flesh, against evil desires, and here is one place we should be able to safely admit our faults and receive the healing and strengthening forgiveness of God’s community.

As your priest, I am in the sermons to exhort you, to challenge you, to encourage you, to strengthen you, to comfort you and to lead you. But, I am not set above you because of my personal holiness. Like St. Paul, I am a sinner. Like St. Paul, in my youth I opposed the Church and tried to get people to leave the Church. I wasted much of my younger days in drunken parties. So I know the enticement of sin. I am not here to be your judge, even though my message may make you feel God’s judgement. But I have a position in the Church to fulfill, as one whom Christ has come to save.

I too need your prayers and support, so that I can continue in my own struggle against temptation, selfishness, sinfulness, and the enticement of this world. I too need your support, encouragement and forgiveness so that I can teach you, guide you, preach to you, and be spiritual father to you. You are my family, my consolation, my strength and my joy.

The Parish Community

Therefore, I ask you to encourage one another in the fight against sin. Ask for each others prayers and pray for one another. Acknowledge your faults, trusting that the community will support you and accept you. Call each other during the week to offer a word of prayer, encouragement, love and hope, and also to seek the prayers of your Church community, to seek counsel, comfort and strength. Break the bonds of isolation and loneliness, call someone from the parish this week and see if you can meet a need of theirs or if they can meet a need that you have. Each of us should be able to find within this little community all of the support, love, healing, patience, acceptance, encouragement, strength and nourishment that we need to continue our life as Christians.