16 Sunday after Pentecost 9th September

Isaiah 35:1, 3-4
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

“Be strong, do not fear; Our God will come,
he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

Life here on earth isn’t easy, is it? Jobs, family, and friends are great blessings but also hard work sometimes. On top of that is sickness, injury and chronic illness; we all know someone with cancer, maybe even a child. As well as worrying about health, we worry about wealth, struggling in this world to succeed or just to break even. There is so much suffering in this world, even when we don’t speak of the struggle of us as Christians against temptation, the flaming darts of the evil one, and our own sin. 

The same is true for every time and every place, including ancient Syria where a gentile woman came to Jesus for help. Her people had threatened and killed the ancestors of Jesus, the Hebrews over hundreds of years, the wicked queen Jezebel who killed many of God’s prophets and enticed her husband Ahaz king of Israel and his people to worship the Baals. These people were the enemies of Israel and the Jews; and produced a woman who was so against God and His followers that the great prophet Elijah feared for his life and fled all the way to Sinai. However, these people also produced the woman we heard about today, a woman who cared for her daughter and heard and believed that Jesus could save her even though she was Syrophoenician. Jesus did not see her as His enemy, but rather heard her faith, her reliance on Him and healed her daughter. Like Ephesians says, our enemy is not people but sin and evil.

She was not His enemy, but rather she relied on Him for life and salvation in her suffering and the suffering of her daughter. We don’t know exactly how her child was suffering from the demon, but it could not have been easy for the family. Perhaps it felt like a never-ending trial, maybe with small times of relief similar to the drought today. We heard from Isaiah of a coming time when the desert and parched land will be glad, rejoicing in bloom. There will come a time when God will come and save us, the blind will see and the deaf will hear, the lame will leap like a dear and the mute shout for joy (Isaiah 35:5-6). A time when God will save us from our enemies. And who are our enemies? The cranky person down the street, or in the next pew; the Muslims? Or are our enemies sin, death and the devil? The enemies of Jesus, not of the ancient Jews. Isaiah is foretelling of the coming of Jesus, the deaf hear, the mute speak here in our story today; and we know that in Jesus’ death He defeated sin and the devil’s power, and by His resurrection He destroyed deaths power over us. God has saved us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; and so we speak of the wonders He has done.

But, life here is still not easy. You are saved, forgiven and having eternal life, but you still struggle in sin and are under attack even by the evil one. Isaiah tells us, be strong and do not fear our God will come, but we need help to be strong. We, like the Syrophoenician woman need help, but unlike her Jesus isn’t walking around town. But He has sent the Holy Spirit to walk alongside us, to comfort us and to help you. And if it wasn’t enough to have God Himself with us, He has given us His armour, truth, righteousness, the readiness of the Good News of peace, faith, salvation and His Word, His true promises to you. We are not alone, God the Holy Spirit is with us, but in His grace, God has also given us each other, to encourage, support and pray for each other. The gift of prayer, to be able to speak with The Almighty creator of all, to thank Him and ask Him for help for us, for all the Lord’s people and those in need. God Himself helps and supports us, by the Spirit, by His Word, by each other and by prayer.

God has given us these great gifts, things better than all the other advice, support structures and help in this world, but if we don’t use them, if we reject God’s help it’s not much help to us at all. If when we struggle in drought, in sickness, in temptation and we throw away God’s shield of faith how can we hope to deflect the flaming darts of the evil one? If we rely not on Jesus, but on our own intelligence and skill, how can we bring rain? How can you save yourself from sinning, how can you save yourself from death? How could that Syrophoenician woman save her child from the demon? She couldn’t, and she knew that. She knew she needed help and she knew where to find it. In Christ Jesus. That is who we find our salvation in, and we find our help in the Holy Spirit who dwells with us.

Paul tells us to be always alert and to pray, and elsewhere to hold tight to the hope we have in Christ. We as Christians are given new life in Christ and are called to live in that new life as Children of the light. We are called to be aware of who we are, to listen to God’s Word, living as Jesus taught and as God teaches through the rest of His Word. This is a struggle, Paul was never rid of the ‘thorn in his side’ and in Romans 7 describes the conflicting desires each of us live with, the desire to sin and the desires to follow God’s Way. How do we know God, what He has done for us and promises us? How do we know God’s Way? By hearing His word, reading the Bible; and by practising our beliefs through gathering, through prayers of thanks and request, through devotion of all our lives to God and through encouragement of each other. The struggles of this life are real, but God helps us through them. He has given you eternal life, saved you from the consequence of sin and will help you through your life in this world. Thanks be to God.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor: Graham Josephs

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