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Loved – sermon video and manuscript

Preached August 17, 2014, at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA. , this sermons asks and answered the rhetoricakl questions:  “Are their boundaries to God’s grace?  Are there limits to God’s love?”

We’ll find out answer in the God revealed in Jesus the Christ.  In this sermon we look at Jesus’ encounter with a Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28.  The sermon was preached by Dr. Bill Nieporte,  and is titled, simply:  LOVED! What is we really believe God’s loved us?  What if we really believed that God loved the entire world?  What difference would that make on the witness of the church – the testimony of those who call themselves disciples? You can watch the video below.  A podcast can be downloaded at the church website:  Patterson Avenue Baptist Church Below the video, you will find a copy of the manuscript prepared in advance of the sermon. Whenever you visit a blog, be kind to the blog publisher.  If you find a post helpful, inspirational, or even a bit controversial, PLEASE SHARE via social media.  There are several links on this page to make such SHARING much easier.

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Love

Matthew 15:21-28

 

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

 

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

 

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

 

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

 

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

 

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

 

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

 

What are the “boundaries” to God’s grace?  What are the “limits” to God’s love?

 

We speak a great deal in the church about God’s mercy and forgiveness.  We speak of concepts like God’s acceptance and inclusion.  We read words of scripture that tell us that nothing can every separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  We say that God has chosen to adopt us into His relational life in such a intimate fashion that we are able to know Him as Abba, of Papa.

 

But there has to be a limit, right?  There has to be some “boundaries” to God’s grace.

 

If we have a rather poor self-image – if we have seen the darker side of our own humanity with all of its faults, foibles, and failures – we might be tempted to set the boundary of that circle of Divine grace right before it reaches our life. “God can’t like, love, accept, include, or adopt me,” some might say to themselves.  “Look at what I have done with my life.  Look at the bad decisions I’ve made.  Look at how the mistake have piled up in my life.  Look at all the sinful behaviors that so easily beset me. There’s just no what God can love a guy or gal like me.”

 

So, there are many folks who live their entire lives outside what they believe are the “boundaries” of God’s love and grace – God’s acceptance and inclusion.

 

Then there are those folks whom we think are unworthy and unacceptable.  We’ll extend the circle of God’s grace only but so far.  There are some whom we place on the outside.  We make this decision independently of God’s Spirit, but when that decision is made, we’ll twist and contort scripture after scripture to make it say what we think it should say.

 

Perhaps is a racial group, or an ethnic group, or some other cultural cluster that we think is lacking.  Or maybe it’s a certain lifestyle that we have deemed unworthy.  Or maybe it has something to do with their religious affiliation.  I grew up among Baptists who thought there was nothing good or godly about anyone who was a Roman Catholic.  When the circle was drawn in my church when I was a teenager, Roman Catholics were always written in just outside the extended circle of God’s grace.

 

We certainly sing about the wideness of God’s mercy that would cover you and me, but we don’t think it will include THEM, whoever the THEM might be.   God’s acceptance and inclusion of humanity always had its limits.  God’s love did not include the dreaded THEM, and as god-fearing, church going, religion practicing people, we think we get to decided whose outside the boundaries of God’s grace.

 

While living in Kentucky as a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I was briefly employed as a youth minister for a 150-year-old congregation located downtown Louisville.  Situated in what had been a very prosperous neighborhood, the area surrounding the church had since deteriorated.  The majority of the members in the congregation were now commuting to worship from the more affluent suburbs.

 

At the time of my ministry at the church, a multi-racial and multi-cultural potpourri of the poor inhabited the community.  Alcohol and drug abuse were rampant.  Violent crime was on the rise.  Gang violence was increasing.  It was a tough place to do ministry, and most churches in the community were not up to the responsibility of providing a Christian witness to their neighborhood.

 

Shortly after joining the staff of this church, God placed a burden on my heart to reach the youth in the community.  The church facility included a nice, indoor basketball court, a large multi-purpose room and an adequate kitchen facility.  With the support of the pastor and the assistance of seminary classmates, we planned to conduct an old-fashioned youth lock-in.  Theologian Molly Marshall calls the “Youth Lock-In” the Baptist equivalent of purgatory.

 

The lock-in seemed very successful.  For one night, nearly 40 teenagers were kept off the streets, out of trouble, in a safe and positive environment.  One of the young men who attended the lock-in was a 13-year-old boy named Tommy.  Tommy had never met his father.  His mother’s reputation in the community was that of a prostitute.  He was a sensitive and yet extremely angry young man.

 

By the grace of God, I developed a friendship with Tommy.  On the evening of the lock-in, I shared the gospel with him, and he responded by acknowledging Jesus Christ as his Lord.

 

The lock-in ended on Saturday morning at 7 a.m.  A few hours later, while trying to catch up on lost sleep, I received an urgent call from several members of the congregation.  They asked me to come down to the church.  Inspecting the facility that morning, they noticed some graffiti written on the bathroom walls.  In addition, a window in the church had been broken.

 

“Do you see what they’ve done to our church?” one man asked.  I proceeded to tell this man about the success of the lock-in and the profession of faith made by Tommy.  In addition, I offered to clean the bathroom and pay to repair the window.  “You don’t understand,” the man said, “we don’t want people like that coming to our church.”

 

What was that man doing as he spoke?  He was declaring his wrong-headed belief that there was a limitation on the extension of God’s grace.  He was suggesting that certain people belong to God…and others do not.

 

So, that brings us back to the question I ask when I started my remarks.  What are the “boundaries” of God’s grace?  Is there a limit to God’s love?  Just how far does this thing called grace extend?

 

I’ve noticed that this is the primary question that religion both ask and then attempts to answer for God.  The primary concern of religion – any religion – is “Who’s in?” and “Who’s out?”  Religion often seems more about declaring the boundaries of God’s grace than it does in extending the declaration of God’s grace.

 

So, religion probably has a problem with the Psalm we read earlier in our worship gathering, which does a pretty clear job of expressing that there are no boundaries to God’s grace or limits to God’s love.  From Psalm 67, we read these words. May God be gracious to us and bless us,

and make his face shine upon us, that God’s ways may be known on earth,

God’s salvation among ALL nations.
May the peoples praise you, O God; may ALL the peoples praise you. May the NATIONS be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the PEOPLES justly and guide the NATIONS of the earth. May the peoples praise you, O God, may ALL the peoples praise you. (Psalm 67, the Psalm of the Day)

 

What are the “boundaries” to God’s grace?  What are the “limits” to God’s love?  The psalmist is confident that God’s grace reaches out to “guide the nations of the earth,” making “his ways known on earth, his salvation among all nations.” If that’s not clear enough, perhaps the first phrase of scriptures most popular and well-known verses.  John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world…”  The word “world” is “cosmos.”  It speaks of everything and everyone in creation.  From before the foundations of the world, up till this very moment, and into all eternity yet to come, the scriptures declare:  “For God so loved the world…” That brings us to today’s scripture, to a woman who approaches Jesus.  Already there is a problem, because in that culture a woman was not to address a man in public.  But she didn’t just address him, she nagged him and the disciples in what the text indicates was a very annoying manner.

 

She’s not just a woman, though, she’s a Gentile woman.  Not just a Gentile, but from beyond the borders of Israel, in the “region of Tyre and Sidon” where Jesus had retreated for some respite from the crowds.  The text calls her a Canaanite woman.  The Canaanites were among the nations of peoples who had populated Palestine from before Joshua had led the Israelite to take possession of the “promised land.” Among Jesus and his disciples, this woman was as much an outsider as an outsider could be – wrong gender, wrong race, wrong place, wrong religion.  She was in every way a foreigner, one whom should be excluded from talks about the ways of God’s Kingdom.  Yet we meet her today intruding within the boundaries which the disciples found so comforting.  She even intrudes upon the limited arena which Jesus had said was the focus of his ministry.  She’s not just intruding, she making a public spectacle of herself, nagging both Jesus and his disciples.

 

She comes to Jesus, presenting her problem, begging for help:  “My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

 

Matthew records simply:  “Jesus did not answer a word.”  Basically, he ignored her. So she kept begging the disciples to plead her case to Jesus.  Every time they turn a corner, there she is, making a nuisance of herself.  “My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly,” she says.  “Please tell Jesus.  I know he can help!” Finally the disciples come to Jesus and urge him not to help, but to send her packing.  “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”  They want him to say or do something drastic to drive her out of their presence. Still, Jesus does nothing.  His silence is deafening.

 

Then finally Jesus speaks.  We don’t know if he were speaking directly to the woman, or to his disciples within hearing distance of the woman.  Whichever it is, it sure seems like Jesus is setting some boundaries as to who gets in on his gift of grace.

 

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

 

Jesus says that he has a clear all-consuming passion to bring salvation to the lost sheep of Israel.  He sure seems to be putting a limit on the extension of God’s love. Maybe Jesus said this to the disciples, but loud enough so that the Canaanite woman would hear his words and get the message.  His focus in on winning back the lost sheep of Israel.  He doesn’t have time of energy it seems to go beyond that boundary.

 

The woman will not be thwarted.  She’s heard what Jesus said and responds immediately.  Now that she’s got his attention, she breaks through the disciple’s barrier and runs to Jesus, falling at his knees, shouting:  “Have mercy on me!”

 

Jesus looks down at her.  His words seem harsh.  Or perhaps sarcastic.  Or maybe they are filled with pity that her plight does not fit within his understanding of his call.  In any event, he says to her:  “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

 

Scholars and theologians have done what they can to make these words seem less harsh.  They have told us that the word “dog” actually is more like “household puppy.” You know what a puppy is like, so cute and adorable.  A puppy will lick up the crumbs from under the dinner table.   Still, no matter what the word actually it, Jesus is speaking the ways Jews did about the Gentiles.  They were “dogs.”

 

If you could imagine what it might be like to look around the room, I bet you’d hear some snickers and see some smug smiles on the faces of the disciples.  “Jesus is sure putting this woman in her place,” they might be thinking.  “Jesus doesn’t have time to deal with dogs like her.  We’re the one’s whom Jesus came to save!”

 

You’ve got to give this woman some credit, don’t you?  She is extremely persistent.  Then again, she is the mother of a very sick child who have no hope whatsoever if Jesus does not provide a healing.  So, walk right up and get in the very face of the Divine if that’s what it takes for her child to be made well.

 

Jesus said:  “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

 

“Yes it is, Lord,” the Canaanite woman replied.  “Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

 

The woman it admitting to Jesus that take a fresh loaf of bread made for the family and feeding it to the dogs wouldn’t be right.  But what about the leftover scraps at the end of the meal?  What about the crumbs who fall from the table?  You could give those to the dogs, right?

 

At this point I imagine Jesus had a great big smile on his face.  He said:  “Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.”

 

I imagine that the disciples looked a little dumbfounded.  Had Jesus just been bested in a battle of banter with this Canaanite woman?  Had Jesus just included this foreigner within the boundary of God’s grace?  Had Jesus extended the limits of God’s love well beyond what they considered was acceptable?

 

This woman pushed up against the “boundaries of grace” and “limits of God’s love” and found out that the walls the disciples perceived to be in place actually had open doors for all who would come.

 

This women didn’t move the boundaries of extend the limits.  That was beyond her scope and power.  But it was not beyond the scope and power of Jesus’ authority.  “Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.” With that Jesus reminds us that God’s love extends to the ends of time and space.  With that we are reminded that God’s grace is for ALL the peoples form ALL the nations.

 

What happens here is that the Canaanite woman catches a glimpse of the true nature of God’s grace.  She discovers that there are no limits to God’s love.  By faith she senses that.  She sees it.  She confesses it.  She discovers that her hopes and prayers are answered by the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

 

“Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.”

 

That’s all she brings.  Simple faith.  No doctrines.  No dogmas.  No religious confessions.  No claims to justice based on a life filled with her observance of religious rituals, rules, or regulations.  No pleas based on the merit of a life filled with good deeds. None of that.  All she had was a simple faith that God’s grace included her.  All she had was an understand that she – along with the rest of the human race – were included within the circle of God’s love.

 

In some respects, her breakthrough is ours.  She was a forerunner for all of us as Gentiles who have flooded the church.  When Jesus told his disciples after the resurrection, “Go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS…” his words probably brought to the thoughts of the disciples of Jesus setting the example with this Canaanite woman.

 

Think about it.  If we were around at the time of Jesus, his disciples might have tried to keep most of us away.  We would be considered in their eyes to be Gentiles, foreigners, people to be excluded from Jesus’ blessing, people outside the limits of God’s love.  We’d be among the dogs of their day.

 

Yet in the words and ministry of Jesus – especially that ministry of redemption Jesus fulfilled at the cross, all the dogs of the earth have become the “people of God!”

 

God’s grace has no boundaries.

 

God’s love has no limits.

 

We are adopted.  We are included.  We are accepted.  We are loved.  Everyone of us are love.  Everyone on God’s green earth right now are loved by God and included as beneficiaries of God’s amazing grace.

 

 

That’s the first thing I want you to recognize today.  You are loved.  You are loved.  You are loved.  The almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, LOVES you.  When John writes: “For God so LOVED the world” that love includes you.

 

Now here’s the second thing we need to think about when we reflect on this biblical story.  It’s about those disciples.  The ones who thought they were on the inside. The ones who thought that they had the right and responsibility to enforce boundaries and declare limits.  The ones who tried to keep this woman from getting too close to Jesus.  The ones who drew circles that included all of them, but excluded those who were not like them.  The questions we need to ask is this:  Do we ever behave like this disciples?  Do we ever declare that there are “boundaries” to God’s grace or “limits” to God’s love?

 

When you read this story you discover that the disciples were all wrong in excluding this woman.  When you read this story you see that the woman’s plea for help and the appeal of her faith in the God Jesus came to reveal impressed even Jesus himself.  That’s why he said, “You have great faith. Your request is granted!”

 

So, what do we spend our time doing?  Are we establishing or demolishing boundaries?  Are we creating in the church a fortress  behind which to hide in a broken and dangerous world, or are we declaring the limitless love of the God whom Jesus reveals?

 

Beyond an Angry God: You Can’t Imagine How Much He Loves You
by: Steve McVey
publisher: Harvest House Publishers, published: 2014-08-01
ASIN: 0736959823
EAN: 9780736959827
sales rank: 25553
price: $7.56 (new), $8.25 (used)

How would your life change if you really believed and could even feel that God is absolutely crazy about you?

Steve McVey’s penetrating new look at the transforming power of God’s grace leads you to that change. Steve unpacks the biblical revelation of the Trinity as a loving relationship, and he highlights the goal of history: God intends to include us in that circle of love! Steve answers troubling questions that can keep you from fully sensing God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness, such as…

  • Why does God look like a bad cop in the Old Testament and a good cop in the New Testament?
  • At Calvary, was the Father angry at the Son? Is He ever angry with me?
  • Why do I sometimes feel separated from God, abandoned, guilty, and ashamed?

Theologians have described the Trinity as perichoresis–a dance. Are you ready to be swept into the Father’s embrace?

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