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Hope Lutheran Church
August 20, 2023
Everyone wants to know they’re important. Everyone wants to know they’re valued and they belong. Everyone wants to be inside some sort of group that shows it cares about them. And it’s pretty easy to find loads of groups and ideas and places that tell people on the outside they’re welcome inside their group.
And so inclusivity has become a value that lots of people care about. But the kind of ironic thing is – the sad thing is – is that as people go out looking for groups that will include them, it seems to me that we’ve actually become more and more divided.
And maybe for us who have a group – maybe for us who are already inside a group like the church – we can start to mirror the world around us in some ways. Because even though I know the church is a place for everyone and I say that out loud, it’s so easy for me to adopt the idea that it’s us on the inside. And then there are all those other people on the outside.
Or maybe we think about it a little differently. Maybe some of us are here on the inside right now, but we’re looking at the other people around us and wondering if we really belong here. We wonder if the church is really the place for us too.
And so today, Jesus wants to teach us – the insiders – something about the church. He wants to show us just how inclusive the church is and why, for all the right reasons, it can be inclusive at all.
And we’re going to look at what Jesus is teaching to you and me who are inside the church with three main points. Today, from an account in Matthew 15, Jesus wants to show us that…
1. God’s Grace Is For All (Chapter 15; v. 21)
2. God’s Grace Is Personal (vv. 22–28)
3. He’s The One Who Brings Grace (v. 28)
1. God’s Grace Is For All
It had always been God’s plan for everyone everywhere to believe in him. If you read through the Old Testament, you can see that. The thing is, in the Old Testament God had a different way of bringing people in. In the Old Testament, in general, instead of God’s Word and God’s people going out into the world, God’s Word and God’s people were found and centered in one place – Israel.
And that’s why God gave Israel laws and rules that were unique. He wanted his people to know that they were different from the world around them. And he wanted the world around Israel to see that Israel was different from everyone else. He wanted the world to see Israel as a light shining in the darkness.
In doing that, God blessed the people of Israel in a special way. And those blessings were meant to spill over to others. But then some of the people in Israel took what God gave as a blessing and they abused it.
The religious leaders in Israel – for example, people like the Pharisees – told people that the only way to earn God’s love and favor was through what they did. They took their insider status and the blessings that came with it and misused it.
And so if we back up in Matthew 15, we see Jesus confronting the people who thought that way. Jesus called them out for what they were doing. He told them and everyone else that even though they looked like people who were inside the people of God, they weren’t.
And it seems that Jesus’ followers, his disciples, had started to buy into those ideas too. It seems like they thought only certain people were meant to be in God’s family. Jesus told them they were wrong too.
A question worth asking ourselves today is “Could that ever happen to us?” Because we’re here inside the church. God’s given us special blessings that he wants to spill over to the world around us.
But could I ever get the idea in my head that the church is only for certain kinds of people? Could I ever start to take those blessings God has given me and misuse them? I wanna say that it couldn’t – that I’m beyond thinking that way. But then I think about the thoughts I have about other people. Then I look at the way I interact, or maybe more so the way I choose NOT to interact with certain people.
And then what happens? Well, probably the same thing that happened to those religious leaders and Jesus’ disciples. I look down on people who don’t seem to “get it” as well as I do. I start to think that “church” people should fit a certain sort of mold. I get wrapped up in my ideas about what the church should look like and lose sight of what God has made the church to be and called the church to do and who God wants in his church.
So what does Jesus do about that? He doesn’t just tell us that his church is a place for all people. He shows us. He takes us outside of where we’re comfortable. And for his disciples, he takes them along with him to a place that would have been full of people who were different from them in so many ways.
Because he wanted to show them and show us that the church isn’t for a certain group or type of person. He wants them to see and he wants insiders today too to know that the church and God’s grace are for all people. And as he does that – as he shows us that the church is for all people – he also shows us…
2. God’s Grace Is Personal
Jesus left Israel and went north to Tyre and Sidon. And he went there because he knew was going to meet one particular Canaanite woman. And I think that’s exactly the point. Jesus took his disciples outside so they could see that his church is for everyone. But he also wanted his disciples to see how the church and God’s grace meet each individual person in the unique situation they’re in.
But the way that Jesus does that is kinda surprising to me. Honestly, it’s hard at first glance for me to understand what Jesus is doing here. Because what happens? This Canaanite woman comes to Jesus begging on her hands and knees that Jesus have mercy on her and help her demon-possessed daughter. And what does Jesus do? First, he ignores her. Then he says that he wasn’t sent to her. And then he calls her a little pet dog. I read that and I think to myself “What is going on here? This isn’t anything like the Jesus I’m used to seeing!”
But here’s the thing – Jesus knew this woman and her problems long before she ever came to Jesus. And that means Jesus knew exactly what she needed at that moment. He knew the opportunity he was about to give her. And he knew the lesson she was going to teach his followers.
He was giving her the chance to double down on her faith in Jesus – the Christ. He wanted to see her grow. And I think at the same time he wanted his followers to see that the church and God’s grace are for all. And that meant even for this one woman who didn’t look like she belonged. Because, you see, God’s grace isn’t just some obscure concept or idea. It’s real. It’s individual. It’s for each person exactly the way they are.
And how does it all end? This woman wouldn’t let go of Jesus and the promises connected with him. It would have been so easy for her to leave. To just go away. To leave despairing and hopeless. She had to know how out of place she looked among Jesus and his followers. Maybe she had doubts creeping into her head. But she doesn’t let any of that scare her away. She holds on. And what happens? Jesus turns to her and says, “Woman, you have great faith!”
I look at this Canaanite woman, and I see so much of what is lacking in myself. I look at myself and my own heart and all the things I’ve done. I know the people I’ve hurt. I know my sinful thoughts. And I start to look at the people around me and I think that they’re people who look like they belong with Jesus. But me? No way. There’s no way Jesus would want someone like me in his church.
And so Jesus shows you that church is for people who are broken and sinful and struggling through this life. People like us. People like me. People like you. He shows us again and again that God’s grace is personal. And the reason we can believe that and live that is because…
3. He’s The One Who Brings Grace
It’s so important for us to remember that God’s grace is for everyone. And it’s important for us to be told God’s grace is for us. And at the heart of all that is Jesus. At the heart of all that is Christ.
Because if you wanna talk about those inside and those outside, our Savior was the ultimate insider. Until he came to earth, all Christ had known was perfection in heaven. But he set that aside to come and meet a bunch of people who should have been stuck on the outside. He came out to us so we could be inside with him.
And he did that most clearly and fully when he allowed himself to be taken outside the city and nailed to a cross for the sins of the whole world and for your sins. He let himself be made an outsider so you and I and all people could be brought into his family and made insiders. That’s what Jesus has done. As Paul put it in Ephesians, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That’s what Jesus has done for all. That’s what Jesus has done for you.
The world around us is full of groups that say they want everyone to join them, all the while creating more and more division. But let’s allow God’s church to be different. Because God’s church is a place where we share that God’s grace is for all. God’s church is a place where grace is made personal for you and for every other individual person too. And God’s church is a place where together we all look to the one who brought us grace – who took us from the outside and brought us in. Amen.