A Eulogy for Susan Sanders

Delivered by Franklin Sanders, 15 October 2016

I had some unfinished business with Susan, and now I find I have to finish it with y’all. A few moments before she left this world, we were standing in the kitchen, fixing coffee and talking. Now, don’t misunderstand this, as if she and I always stood around discussing theology. Susan had a very practical turn of mind, and her theological questions all aimed at learning how to live out her Christianity.

All the same, I had bought a book about definite atonement entitled, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her. I had barely started reading it and had found this beautiful passage I was trying to share with her from memory. “Oh,” she said, “I want to see that. We can use it in the bulletin when we have baptisms.”

I should have gone upstairs and fetched the book right then, but didn’t, and a few minutes later she passed into the arms of Jesus. So I have this passage exploding in my heart and because I could not share it with Susan, I must share it with you. It comes from the French Reformed Baptism Liturgy. The minister addresses the infant:

For you, little child, Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered. For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary. For you he uttered the cry, “It is finished!” For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes — for you, little child, even though you do not know it. But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true, “We love him, because he first loved us.”

“We love him, because he first loved us.”

If you understand this, you will understand Susan Sanders, because the one great moving force in her existence was her love for God, and she, of all people, would have given him, and still gives him, all glory, honor, and praise for whatever she accomplished.

All love, even the love of a husband for a wife, originates in the eternal, unchanging love that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have for one another in the blessed Trinity. That love overflowed into creation, and when that love for God wells up in us, it overflows in love for others: husband, wife, children, friends, strangers, even enemies.

Why was Susan the way she was? Because she loved God, who first loved her, and that love overflowed from her heart to her world. Love made her do it.

Why did Susan have so many children? Love made her do it. I have never seen anyone who loved children as much as she did. We always wanted a lot of children, but we didn’t plan their arrival. We loved each other, and God gave us children. And Susan would always correct me when I said that we had seven children, because she had suffered two miscarriages. “No,” she’d say, “nine children, and I will get to meet the other two in heaven.”

Love made Susan, as a friend wrote me yesterday, “every bit of valiant.” I confess, I have never met any human being as brave as Susan was. Sometimes her bravery scared me.

Love made Susan frugal, some might say tight, some even cheap. Her brothers and sisters will say, “No, that’s genetic, she was an Askew,” but I say love made her frugal. She wanted to wring out of every dollar the most for those she loved, and she worked at it. Susan was tight, but she was never stingy. With reckless, spendthrift generosity she played chef and hostess and mother and friend to hundreds.

Love made Susan beautify the world around her. She worked with Justin to design this sanctuary, and they had two goals: make it beautiful, and build to last at least hundred years.

Susan adored flowers and gardening. For no reason but making our supper table beautiful, she kept flowers on it. Every Saturday before our monthly fellowship dinner she worked in the fellowship hall laying out tablecloths and decorating every table according to the season. And don’t even start talking about Christmas.

Love gave Susan self-control. If you have seen her laughing and cutting up and playing, you might question that, but you would be dead wrong. She adored planning parties and celebrations. She taught us to rejoice. Love made her play on purpose, just as she controlled everything else about herself on purpose. Deliberately. She not only controlled what she said, but she controlled what she thought. When she found an evil thought, she rooted it out without mercy or excuse. And if it came back, she dug it out again, and again, until it died for good.

In 1990 and 1991 we went through an 18 month nightmare of a federal trial. The next 19 years of her life and mine hung on the verdict, leaving our children orphans. Although she had a perfect right to do it, in that tortured 18 months, she never the first time pointed her finger in my face and snarled, “This is all your fault!” She never did that. She remained as calm and composed as if nothing at all was unusual. She was brave for all of us, and she never stopped loving me.

Why did Susan engage every stranger? Love made her do it. When she fixed her attention on anyone, they felt like they were the only thing in the world she was interested. She greeted every visitor like visiting royalty she had been longing to see. And there was absolutely nothing fake about it: she loved them, so much that there are at least three men here today who came to her as strangers, but who rejoice to call her their second mother. Three men, and I don’t know how many women.

Last Sunday night I finished the jail services early, about 9:30. Usually I get out later than that and she’s already asleep when I get home. I texted her, “Coming Susanward.” A few minutes later I got back a text, “Yiippeeee!”

Love made Susan pray. In the early years with so many children she didn’t have much time. How many times when we lived on Harbert in Memphis and had three to five children, did I come into our bedroom at night at night to find Susan, kneeling by the bed with her head on the bed, fallen asleep in her prayers.

Recently Susan told me that before I was converted, her mother had told her that she might be the means of my salvation. Mrs. Askew was right.

After all our children moved out Susan had more time to herself so she spent more time praying. She prayed early every morning for a long time, for all her children and grandchildren, for everyone she loved, for strangers, for enemies. She turned every problem over to her heavenly Father. She used to make a pallet on the bathroom floor and lie down. She had stuffed all these slips of paper, reminders, into the baseboard. Finally a few months ago she decided she was going to convert it into her War Room, so she bought cork squares to put above the baseboard, and push pins for pictures and notes.

And God answered Susan’s prayers. Her mother, Mrs. Askew, was famous for her praying and her answered prayers. Some long time before her death, she began telling her children that she wanted to die in her sleep. Sure enough, when she was 90 years old and in perfect health, one Saturday night or Sunday morning she passed away in her sleep.

My children reminded me that Susan had been telling them for a long time that she wanted to “just drop dead!” and she’d snap her fingers.

Susan was not afraid to die, because she loved God. She knew he had delivered her from the power of the grave, and that he would receive her. After her heart surgery, we had eight years to prepare for death, and she used that time to draw even closer to God. She was happy to live, but she was ready to leave any moment. In the end, God granted her prayer. She collapsed on the floor, and within a very few minutes passed into the arms of Jesus.

All this Susan did because God, from all eternity, first loved her, and so she loved him. Now she has her wish, now she has her victory, now she has heard those words every Christian longs to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of thy Lord.”

Now Susan is dancing with the angels, and no doubt organizing the next celebration in heaven. Wait for us, Susan, wait for us. We’re coming. God’s love will bring us to you.

Remember thy servant, Susan, O Lord, according to the favour which thou bearest unto thy people, and grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of thee, she may go from strength to strength, in the life of perfect service, in thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

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Susan Askew Sanders, 1947-2016

susanBeloved wife and mother Susan Askew Sanders, 69, passed suddenly into the arms of Jesus on October 11, 2016 at her home in Wayne County, Tennessee. To her last breath, she died as she had lived, full of love and serving God and others.

Susan was married to Franklin Sanders for nearly 49 years, and gave life to seven children and through them fifteen grandchildren. Her husband and children were baffled when asked what she did. Everything is the only answer, and all with love. She was a mother and grandmother, secretary, bookkeeper, pray-er, chicken dresser, chef, seamstress, tractor driver, errand runner, plumber, electrician, encourager, comforter, planner of parties, and she never forgot a birthday. The love of God overflowed from her to all around her, stranger or kin. Every single day she figured out how to lay down her life for others.

Susan helped found Christ Our Hope Reformed Episcopal Church in Westpoint, and was busy in all the Church’s work, including the jail ministry. She never stopped working, she never stopped praying, she never stopped hoping, she never stopped believing. She was looking forward to “dancing with the angels.”

Susan Leavell Askew was born on April 12, 1947 in Tampa, Florida, where her father, Lee Hewlett Askew of Memphis, was stationed with the Army.  Her mother, Amelia Leavell Askew, was also a native of Memphis, and Susan grew up there and graduated from Central High School in 1965.

On December 16, 1967 Susan married C. Franklin Sanders, Jr. of Memphis. She is survived by her seven children (and their spouses), Liberty Bain (Johnny) and Justin Sanders (Ellen) of Westpoint, Worth Sanders of Vail, Colorado, Wright Sanders (Jena) of Westpoint, Christian Sanders (Erica) of Florence, Alabama, Mercy Houseal (Trevor) of Memphis, and Zachariah Sanders (Victoria) of Westpoint. Her grandchildren include Liberty and Johnny’s sons Tucker, Bedford, Rook, and West; Justin and Ellen’s children Elijah, Andrew, Philip, Caroline, and Henry; Wright and Jena’s sons, Will, Jack, and Everett; Christian and Erica’s sons, Felix and Gus, and Zachariah and Victoria’s son, Arthur. All Susan’s siblings survive her: Lee and Mark Askew of Memphis, Pico Clauson of Minneapolis, John Askew of Orlando, Florida, and Amy Byrd of Nashville.

Visitation was at Neal Funeral Home in Lawrenceburg from 5:00 to 7:00 Friday, 14 October 2016. The funeral took place at Christ Our Hope on 15 October 2016. Memorials may be sent to Christ Our Hope Reformed Episcopal Church, PO Box 195, Westpoint, TN 38486, marked either for “Jail Ministry” or “Garden.”

The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

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Holy Week Services

Please join us at Christ Our Hope for one of our Holy week services!

Schedule of Holy Week & Eastertide Services:

HOLY WEEK
Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:30 p.m. Holy Communion followed by fellowship supper. Vestry Meeting.
Maundy Thursday, 2 April, 6:30 p.m. Holy Communion with foot washing
Good Friday, 3 April , 6:30 p.m., Evening Prayer followed by altar stripping. Church will remain open for silent prayer afterwards.
Holy Saturday, 4 April , 8:00 p.m. Great Vigil of Easter, followed by fellowship supper. Bring noisemakers for the Proclamation of Easter.
Easter, 5 April, 10:30 a.m. Holy Communion service.
Easter Monday, 6 April, 6:30 p.m., Holy Communion service.

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GATHER WITH ME, OR YOU SCATTER

Third Sunday in Lent, 2010

Readings:  Deut. 6:1-25; Ps. 25; Eph. 5:1-14; Luke 11:14-28

11 March a.d. 2011

GATHER WITH ME, OR YOU SCATTER

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.  AMEN.

Our Lord Jesus is the most understanding person in the world, and the least.  He is the most understanding because he has suffered every pain and temptation and every joy you as a man suffer.  Yet he is the least understanding – in the sense we use that word, “Hey!  Just overlook all my sins and shortcomings, don’t point them out to me, and show a little understanding!”

Rather than pandering to our weakness, Our Lord Jesus goes right to the sore spot, the boil in our lives we are trying hardest to hide – and pushes down on it.  He is forever pulling back our masks and pointing out what we are hiding.  After all, he is the physician of our souls, and a good physician goes behind the symptoms to uncover and cure the cause of the disease.

The cause of all our troubles, all our failures, all our shortcomings is sin.  And sin is not merely any “transgression of God’s law,” it is also “any want of conformity” to God’s law.

Our duty to God contains both a forbidding and an injunction.  That is, you do not fulfill God’s law against murder if you merely forbear to hit people over the head with an ax.  That is good, that is praiseworthy, but it is only the forbearing, only one-half of your duty, the negative half.

The other and positive half requires you actively to conform yourself and your actions to God’s law.  So Sixth Commandment contains a positive duty for you to do all in your power to promote life, to create a society and culture that preserves life, and to save those who are being dragged away to death.

And remember, Our Lord Jesus says, that when you have done everything that God commands – as if any man really ever could accomplish that – you should still say, ‘We are unprofitable servants: we have [only] done that which was our duty to do.”  (Luke 17:10)

At the same time carefully notice that Our Lord never says, “Don’t even bother doing your duty.  You don’t have to worry about that.  Besides, you would fail at it anyway.”

No, his whole life and all his teaching is one long admonition to fulfill God’s law and will in your life and in the world, “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” stirred up and encouraged and assured of success [!] because “it is God who is working in your to will and to do his good pleasure.”  (Phil. 2:12, 13).  God’s great work of salvation in you is conforming you to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) so you can be sure that he will do that, yet mysteriously he expects us to work together with him in that conforming.

A FEROCIOUS WARNING

In today’s Gospel Our Lord Jesus delivers to us another warning to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”  He warns us that if you are not advancing in Christian life and character, if you are not advancing the kingdom of Christ in this world, you are actively working against him.  In the kingdom of God, you cannot stand still, because standing still is moving backwards.  You either work with God, or you work against him.  You build Christ’s kingdom with him, or you are tearing it down.

GOSPEL

In today’s Gospel our Lord Jesus performs a notable and undeniable miracle:  he makes a mute man able to speak.  The Scriptures says that this inability to speak was not a physical problem, but spiritual.  The man was possessed by a devil, and the devil manifested his presence by making the poor man unable to say a word, torturing him night and day.  Jesus casts out the devil, and the dumb man spoke.

The people were all amazed, but some of them were not pleased.  Instead, they objected:  “He is casting out devils by Beelzebub, the chief of devils.  He is demon-possessed himself.”

Who were these carpers?  Who were these sour blasphemers, who could witness with their own eyes this great miracle that delivered this poor man from the devil, and still refuse to recognize the power of God acting?

They were the Pharisees and Scribes.  They were the religious leaders, the people in charge of religion, the high-ranking and advanced people in the church.

What?  Yes, the very people who knew the most and ought to have rejoiced the loudest and thrown their hats in the air and danced a jig for the great things Christ was doing amongst them, instead sourly and suspiciously carped and complained, “He’s working in league with the devil.  We will have none of his kingdom.”

Often I hear believers and unbelievers say, “Oh, it would be so easy to believe if Jesus would only appear to us himself and speak to us!  Then men would believe.”

No, they wouldn’t.  Here we see that when Jesus appeared to the Church in his own day doing unimaginable miracles & destroying Satan’s kingdom, the very people who ought most to have welcomed him accused him of having a devil.  Why?  What were they afraid of, that Jesus would cast out their devils?

No, they were afraid (to turn John Baptist’s words upside down) that they would have to decrease if Jesus increased (John 3:30).

They were afraid of losing control.  They were afraid of risking everything on Jesus.

We know this is true, because in John 11 when people who had seen Jesus and his miracles and believed on him went and reported all this to the Pharisees and chief priests, they immediately called a council.  They asked each other, “What will we do about this?  This man is doing many miracles.  If we must let him alone, “all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.”  (John 11:46-48)

Rather than trusting in the one who by his words and works was undeniably God, these religious leaders denied him for fear of losing control if they joined in his kingdom.  They had too much at stake to risk it all on Jesus Christ.

The very idea of denying Christ to preserve your own place takes away our breath.  Worse yet, the high priest Caiaphas counseled them that they had to get rid of him, or the whole nation would perish.  But of course he didn’t really mean that the “whole nation would perish,” but rather that their own rule and control would perish if Christ’s rule began.

The high priest boiled it all down to this choice:  it’s our way, or Christ’s way, and better him dead than ruling over us.

CHRIST’S RESPONSE & WARNING

Now listen to Christ’s solemn warning, a warning that every one of you must drink down deep into his own soul.

First he disproves the Pharisees’ charges.  “If I am casting out devils by Beelzebub, then Satan’s kingdom is fighting against itself.  That can’t be true.  Furthermore, if I am casting out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?

“No, he says, you are reading this all wrong.  If I cast out devils by the finger of God, then I am God, and no doubt the kingdom of God has come on you.

“Think about it!  When a man strong and well armed keeps his house, his stuff is safe.  But when a stronger man comes at him and wrestles him down, the stronger man takes away all his weapons, ties him up, and steals everything he has.

“That is exactly what you have just seen me do to the devil, so know this:  the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

CHRIST’S WARNING

Finally he gives them two terrible warnings.  The first warning has two sides.

1.  It is your duty to advance, to go forward accepting and building the kingdom of God, and

2.  If you are not going forward, you are going backward.  There is no standing still in the kingdom of God.  There is no neutrality toward Christ and his kingdom.

Christ himself says, “He that is not with me is against me.  He that gathereth not with me scattereth!”

Where did the Pharisees sin?  Their sin was two-fold.

They had a duty to build on what God had given them and to advance in the love and knowledge of God.  God had given them the covenant, and Word, and now Christ himself, and their duty was to advance his kingdom, to gather with Christ when he so plainly made himself known, yet they refused to do that.

Second, and worse still, they wickedly hindered Christ’s kingdom and fought against it.

If we don’t apply all the means in our power to build Christ’s kingdom in ourselves and in the world, then our indolence retards and ruins his kingdom.

And don’t conclude from that that you are all right as long as you are not actively opposing Christ, for Christ plainly says, “If you don’t gather with me, you are scattering.”

Don’t think this means, “Well, if I just don’t sin outrageously, if I just keep my nose clean & keep on living the way I am, that’s okay and I don’t need to worry about doing any more.”

Wrong!  Christ warns us in Revelation 3:14 that if we are lukewarm, he will “spew” us out of his mouth.

If you are not straining every nerve to grow spiritually, to improve the knowledge and grace and God has already given you, you are going backward.

And what applies to individuals applies equally to every Church and Christ’s whole Church in the world:  If the Church is not going forward, it is going backward.

Here is the second warning, more terrifying than the first.  Jesus says, “When an evil spirit is cast out of a man, that spirit goes and wanders in dry places, looking for someplace to rest.  When he finds none, he says to himself, I will go back to the house I came out of.

“When he gets there, and finds it all swept and decorated, then he goes and finds seven other spirits wickeder than he is, and brings them along and they all possess the man, and his last state is worse than his first.”

His last state is worse than his first.

His last state is worse than his first.

In Christ’s kingdom, if you are not advancing, you are going backward, and your last state will be worse than your first.

I said earlier that Christ admonishes us “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” and that he stirs us up to that work and encourages us in it because he assures us of success.

What else can it mean when God says in his word that “it is God who is working in your to will and to do his good pleasure.”  (Phil. 2:12, 13).  Does God ever fail to work his good pleasure?  NO!

Does Jesus hold out to us, “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy-laden, and I will refresh you” and then when we do go to him, he pulls back that refreshment and laughs at us and say, “Ha!  I fooled you!”  No, the very thought that Christ would not keep his promise is impossible, blasphemous.

Beloved, listen to me:  Christ has promised, and Christ will fulfill.

Christ says to us today, “Come to me!  Risk everything on me, and I will make you living wells of water, springing up into everlasting life.  (John 4:14)  Come to me, and I will make you build up waste places, and found many generations, and men will call you the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in!  (Isaiah 58:12)  Come to me, every one of you thirsty ones, and buy and eat without money, and you will eat what is good, and delight your soul in fatness. (Is. 50:1-2)

“Do you doubt me still?  Call unto me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you don’t know yet (Jeremiah 33:3), above all you can think or ask or imagine.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

“Risk it all,” Jesus says, “throw those dice, & bet everything on me!”

Glory be to the Father,

And to the Son,

And to the Holy Ghost.

As it was in the beginning,

Is now and ever shall be,

World without end, Amen.

Collect for Third Sunday in Lent

WE beseech thee, Almighty God,

look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants,

and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty,

to be our defence against all our enemies;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Ash Wednesday

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God,

who hatest nothing that thou hast made,

and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent;

Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,

that we, worthily lamenting our sins

and acknowledging our wretchedness,

may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy,

perfect remission and forgiveness;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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ARGUING WITH GOD RELENTLESSLY

Second Sunday in Lent 2012

Readings:  1 Kings 8:37; Ps. 142; 1 Thess. 4:1-8; Matt. 15:21-28

4 March a. d. 2012

ARGUING WITH GOD RELENTLESSLY

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, 0 LORD, my strength and my redeemer. AMEN.

Unfortunately most people think of Lent as a season of deprivation. In reality it is a season of restoration.

What purpose does fasting serve in Lent?  To remove every distraction so that can see ourselves as we truly are.  To step out from behind the screens we use to keep God at a safe distance:  work & drink & sex & video games & sports & TV & entertainment and busy, busy, busy.

When you put those distractions down, when you get quiet, a tsunami crashes on your idle mind.  You remember all your problems, your failures, those sins you have pushed aside to deal with “later.” There is a word to describe that realization:  powerlessness.

After all, the burrs that really get under our saddle & rub us raw are not the irritations and failures that we can reach and remove.  No, what galls our souls most, what makes us tear our hair and grind our teeth and fervently wish that we had never been born and could die right now are all those things we are powerless to solve, inward or outward.

You may be powerless over an inward problem.  Some sin may have taken up residence in your heart that rules and ruins your life like a demon.  It may be drunkenness, it may be pornography or adultery or fornication, it may be greed or fear of want, or outbursts of anger or gossiping or pride and self-righteousness.  It may be a persistent dullness of heart that fails to see your duty.  It may be refusing to love God, and love your spouse and children. Whatever it is, when that sin says “Hop!” you say, “How high?” and start jumping.

Or you may be powerless over some outward problem.  It may be your husband or wife who never listens to you and keeps on hurting you in the same way over and over.  It may be your child who has set his feet on destruction’s path and won’t be called back.  It may be people at work who backbite and persecute you.  Nobody respects or understands you, and that’s not whining, that’s the truth.

Your powerlessness may not be over people but over a situation:

  • you need money,
  • you have no job,
  • your car broke down,
  • your teeth are bad,
  • your health is giving way,
  • your indigestion is killing you,
  • your heart is fibrillating,
  • your liver enzymes are high,
  • your cholesterol is out of control,
  • you weigh too much,
  • and your breath is bad.

Every outward situation lines up as your enemy.

And whether inward or outward, all these problems share one thing in common:  you are powerless to control them.  No matter what you do, you are already defeated.

Oh, outside you may keep up a brave front.  After all, none of us want to be exposed as powerless, so we must keep up appearances.  We never admit to anyone, even ourselves, that we are powerless.  So we all walk around holding up wet cardboard screens in front of ourselves, billboards painted to look like happy people fully in control of our lives.  And if anybody asks us how we are doing we shoot back, “Fine!  Just Fine!  Everything under control!”  But if anyone comes closer, and pokes a finger into us, it punches right through that wet cardboard front.  So we like to keep people, especially our brothers and sisters in the Church, at a nice, safe distance so that no stray fingers poke holes in our wet cardboard fronts.

LENT IS A CONFESSION OF POWERLESSNESS

Lent brings us face to face with ourselves and with God, forces us to see ourselves exactly as we are, so that we will grasp and cling to God’s mercy in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Lord Jesus never pulls any punches.  He punctures every pretense at power, in the plainest and most direct and sometimes most painful or insulting words.  No jargon, no masquerading, no hiding from Jesus:  Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from whom no secrets are hid!

Our Lord Jesus goes straight to the heart and sees our secrets at once, most of all our pretensions to power and self-control.  That’s why all spiritual healing and growth begins with confessing our own powerlessness.

So today’s collect prays:

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

What is the only plea we can bring to God? Our powerlessness.

  • We are powerless before events.
  • Powerless before the world’s daily threats against our lives.
  • Powerless before the anger and sin in our own families.
  • Powerless before the devil’s traps and temptations.
  • Powerless, most of all, before our own weakness & pride & despair & anger & sloth, & envy & lust & gluttony.

Understand this: that confession of powerlessness is the ONLY reason we can present God to move him to help us.  Not “God, we need a little help here, just a little, to put us over the top, but “God, without you we are going down today, right to the bottom, forever.”

GOSPEL

Today’s Gospel perfectly pictures powerlessness.  It piles hopelessness on hopelessness.  The woman is a Syro-phoenician, a Gentile:   not even a pure-bred Gentile at that, but a mixed breed in a day when the Jews could trace their lineage back 40 generations and more, like somebody from Charleston, South Carolina.  Not her, and worse, her daughter is possessed by the devil.

HOW MUCH FAITH IS NEEDED?

How much faith did she have in Christ?  Barely any, and that itself was the gift of God.  Do not miss that:  she did not begin with a little faith of her own and improve it.  From the beginning her faith is already the gift of God.

How much faith did she have? Barely any, but enough to call Jesus “the Son of David, the Messiah.”  Enough to call on him.

How much hope did she have in Christ? Only the desperate hope of the hopeless. People with other hopes don’t go to faith healers.  Christ comes through town, and this hopeless woman hears that he has helped other hopeless people, so she runs to follow him.  Who knows?  Maybe he will help her.  What other hope does she have?  None.

Now I know that every one of you raised in the South was taught at home to be “nice.”  That means that you wait to be served, you don’t reach across the table and stab a piece of chicken with your fork, you hold back and wait your turn and ask nicely, and most of all, you don’t act like an uncouth yankee and keep on harping on something once you’ve been told NO.

This hopeless woman throws all that out the window.  Her desperation, her powerlessness drives her on to plead, beg, and holler to Christ.  She yells at Jesus at the top of her voice.

Not once but three times she calls on Christ, & three times he refuses to grant her wish.  She’s so loud and insistent that the disciples ask him to send her away.  Only when she calls on him a fourth time, reminding him that God shows mercy precisely to the unworthy, does he answer her prayer.

Follow the sequence:

The first time, Christ ignores her.  He acts as if he never even heard her.

The second time, Christ answers, but only to discourage her.  He points out all the obstacles to answering her.  She is not a Jew but a Gentile, a stranger to God’s covenant.  “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  You’re not one of the chosen people, so scat!

The third time, Christ rebuffs her even more strongly, “It is not fitting to take the children’s bread, & cast it to dogs.”  Grace is not for you.  Don’t miss what Christ says.  He clearly insulted and dismissed her.  A dog was a despised, unclean animal.

But even after three refusals, she won’t go away.  She won’t give up hope in Christ, because she knows he is her only hope.  If he can’t help her, she is done for.

The fourth time she turns Christ’s words back on him.  She argues with Jesus?  Does anybody else in Scripture dare to do that and win?  “Truth, Lord,” she says, admitting that she is no better than a dog, “but even the dogs feed on the crumbs of the Master’s table.”  Even despised dogs get the leftovers of mercy.

ARGUING WITH GOD

What holy argument is she presenting Christ?  She is teaching you how to pray, so pay close attention.

She argues from Christ’s own character.  “Lord, you are mercy!  You are the source and original of all mercy.  How can you deny yourself by not showing mercy now?  You must be always what you always have been.”

This argument, and her faith, melts Christ’s resistance.  He praises her faith, and grants her prayer.  He casts the devil out of her daughter.

The powerless receives power.  Compare 2 Timothy 1:7.

SIX PRINCIPLES OF PRAYER

What does this story teach us?  Six principles of prayer, but these six all boil down to just two:  pray about everything, and keep on praying.

1. We can only approach God with a confession of powerlessness. If you still cling to the hope that you can somehow work matters out on your own, that you are strong enough, clever enough, rich enough, or tough enough to see things through, then you don’t need God’s help.  No need to bother God with your problems, you can handle it.

2.  No matter how far you are estranged from God, he still has mercy for you. You didn’t grow up a Christian?  Doesn’t matter, he still has mercy for you.  You have despised and ridiculed Christianity?  You haven’t prayed in ten years? You are a habitual sinner?  If it weren’t for rotten fruit you’d have no fruit at all?

Not one of these can build a wall between you and God so high that God’s mercy cannot break it down.  Could you be worse than a filthy Gentile dog with a demon-possessed daughter?  This Gospel teaches us, without qualification or hedging, no matter how estranged you are, God still has mercy for you.

3.  God answers prayer in his time, not yours. We don’t like to hear this, but it’s true.  You pray, and nothing happens.  You pray again.  More silence.  More inaction.  You pray and pray and pray, and nothing seems to change.

What did this woman do when Christ first said no?  Did she go home and say to her daughter, “Well, Hon, I reckon you’d better learn to live with that demon, because he’s going to be with you for the rest of your life”?

NO, no, she came back to Christ again and prayed again, and again, louder and louder until Christ answered her. She was not even intimidated when he told her No to her face.  She still came back and prayed.

So when God seems not to answer our prayers, what do we do next?  Pray again.  Pray more often, pray more fervently, fast, and then pray again. Argue with God.

When I say that, I don’t mean argue with God out of your own selfishness.  You can’t pray for what you know he condemns – “Lord, protect me while I rob this bank because I’m going to do great things for your kingdom with the money.”

Rather, place your request against the backdrop of God’s character and God’s kingdom.  Think of how his granting your prayer will glorify him.  Think of his mercy and grace and goodness and care for his people, his loving nature, and present that argument in all humility to him.  And don’t forget, you can be insistent and humble at the same time.

Remember Abraham’s argument when he prayed for Sodom & Gomorrah, how he kept on coming back to God, arguing for mercy based on God’s mercy. He was humble, but very insistent.

Be patient.  God’s timing is perfect.  When his answer comes, it is never a minute too soon or too slow, it comes like lightning, bringing more than we could have asked or imagined.

4.  She had faith in a particular person. This woman had faith in a particular person, Jesus Christ.  She did not call out, “O Faith, save my daughter!”  “O Buddha, cast out the demon!”  “New Age spirit of the earth, heal her!”  She did not say, “O non-specific higher power, throw out the devil!”  No, she called out to Jesus Christ, “O Lord, thou Son of David.”  She directed her faith and her prayer to the correct and only object.

5.  Christ rewards faith. Yes, faith is the gift of God, but God is also pleased to reward it as if we deserved some credit.

Unanswered prayer is a gift, too, a reward for your faith.  God sends it as a gift, to try your faith because he knows you will pass the test even when you don’t know it.

  • To instruct you in perseverance.
  • To build your hope.
  • To throw you back on God with renewed devotion.
  • To teach you not to trust yourself, but to trust him.
  • To show you how utterly dependent you are.
  • To teach you to submit to him, and trust him, in all things.
  • To move you to pray again.

6.  Never stop praying.  “Pray without ceasing,” St. Paul says, and that means pray while you are standing, while you are sitting, walking, driving:  any time is the right time to pray.  (1 Thess. 5:17)  But that also means never give up.  Never stop praying.

FOR YOU AS WELL

This very day every one of you is carrying around some burden that you have lived with so long, and prayed about so often, that it has sent roots of doubt deep into your soul.  You have begun to believe that God will never answer you.  You may have begun to wonder whether God even hears, or cares, or is able to do anything about it.

But know this:  God has heard.  More than that, God has listened.

Ever wondered why every Sunday we pray for the same long list of people?  Ever thought, “It is pointless to keep praying for these same people over and over, because nothing ever happens.”  Beloved, that is exactly why we keep on praying for them, because God has not answered our prayer yet, and with God there is always hope.

True, sometimes God’s answer is, “No, that doesn’t fit into my plan.”  Often, his answer is, “Not yet.”

God treats us as a father treats his belovéd child.  He doesn’t give the child everything he asks for, because it might not be good for him.

One day when he was about four my grandson Tucker Bain, out of the blue, asked his dad, “Dad, would you teach me to use sharp knives safely?”

That’s us.  Day after day, we keep asking God for sharp knives.  “God, give me a sharp knife.  While you’re at it, make it a really long sharp knife, so I can poke a lot of holes in myself, and hurt myself really badly.”

God, give me riches!  Give me success!  Give me respect and reputation!  Give me a long, sharp knife.

And God says, “Not yet.  You don’t know how to use sharp knives safely.”  But his answer is never, “I am not listening.”

What can we take home from all this, to live with day by day?  Keep on praying.  Pray relentlessly, shamelessly, arguing with God from God’s own mercy and goodness and honour and glory.  And when you are so empty that you cannot pray, pray for the Spirit of prayer.

Remember this, and pray:  You are never so estranged from God, your sin is never so terrible, that he will not listen to your plea for forgiveness and answer in mercy.  In his time, at exactly the right time, God will answer your prayer, because God loves you, and he rewards the faith he has given you.

Now, right now at Lent, in a season of repentance and reconciliation to God through his love poured out on us in Jesus Christ, Now is the acceptable time.  Now is the time for you to draw near to God, now is the time to renew your prayers and your hope in him.

Now, because God shows us in this gospel story how great is his mercy toward us, and his love.

Now — pour out your complaints before him.  Confess you are powerless to help yourself, show him your pain, show him your shame and helplessness, and he will surely hear you, for Christ’s sake.

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