Today’s Word from Pastor Dennis

“Pastor Hanson, when I come to church will you preach fire and brimstone at me?” She asked with just enough of a hint that “yes” was what she expected to hear, which prompted me to say, “Yes. Of course. Fire and brimstone. You won’t leave alive.” Then she smiled and I knew she had also heard a “No” hidden in that “Yes.” Her daughter had been doing a good job on her as far as the Law was concerned. She had been hearing fire and brimstone on a regular basis right from her own flesh and blood. But the Law can only kill. The Law cannot make alive. For life, we need the good news of forgiveness. So, she asked. I spoke Law. She heard Gospel.

I thought of the story of the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30 (also in Matthew 16.21ff). Jesus had tried to take a break and get some rest. This woman, a Greek, heard of him and intruded on his privacy. “Heal my daughter,” she begged. Matthew tells us Jesus simply ignored her at first, didn’t say a word. She wouldn’t take silence for an answer and asked again. Then Jesus spoke harshly about having nothing for “dogs.” She wouldn’t take this insult for an answer either, and pressed him again. And then Jesus let go. She found, Luther said, a “yes” hidden in that “no.” Or as another preacher (whose name I no longer remember) put it, “Jesus threw down a gauntlet and she found a gift in it.” In other words, she would not rest content with the Law; the word of fire and brimstone, word of rejection, word of condemnation. The Holy Spirit had tuned her ears to listen for the sweet-sounding word of the Gospel hidden underneath. And she went home blessed, finding her daughter made whole again.

Ah, but isn’t there also a word that speaks in our ear asking, “Will it be so for you too?” Dare we hope for such a word simply by begging and asking? Will asking often enough turn the head of the Savior favorably in our direction? Will the cancer leave? Will wholeness be waiting for us at home? There is a sovereignty at work in the Word of life that defies our making of it a recipe for getting all that we want, isn’t there? Or can we just name and claim it?

As the British mystery writer, Ruth Rendell, has her detective ask his sergeant when faced with a tough case, “What did God say when Cain asked, ‘Am I my Brother’s keeper?’ Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” Bible stories are not for the timid, or for those who think to make them manageable. They are for us when we dare letting the mysteries not be subject to our beck and call. These stories sneak life into the very midst of death, and make the angels themselves snort with laughter, and fool the devil forever. Peace.

Pastor Dennis

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