Verse: Matthew 9:9–9:13
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
I returned home late Thursday evening, having spent much of this last week in Iowa visiting my mother as she recuperates from recent surgery. I’m happy to report that she is doing very well, and is back waging war on dust and dirt in the house and weeds in the garden. While there, I spent time with other family members: my brother, two sisters, nieces and nephews – lots of people. My brother has three children, about the same ages as my own girls. An interesting situation unfolded with one of my brother’s daughters, age 10, who was set on participating in an activity with her friends. My brother and his wife told their daughter that it was not going to work out for her to do this; however, she was not so easily stopped. She continued to ask and ask and ask – in different ways at different times using different approaches: in person, calling my brother on his cell phone, leaving notes around the house. It really was incredible to watch! If you’ve ever been around a child who really, really wants something, then you know how doggedly persistent they can be. They don’t give up! Sort of like ocean waves beating against rocks on the shore. Sooner or later, they wear you down. So, how did all of this turn out? I don’t know for certain, but I do know that as my brother was driving me to the airport on Thursday, my niece was still calling him on his cell phone.
“Persistent Love” – that’s the theme for today’s message. Now I’m not sure how much love was in my niece’s persistence to get her dad to do what she wanted, but she was certainly persistent, if nothing else. Persistence, endurance, perseverance, hanging in there and not giving up – this is a gift from the Lord in the spiritual realm, and when this persistence is grounded in holy love, amazing things happen. We encounter such persistent love in today’s Scripture lessons, so let’s take a look at what God is telling us in his Word. May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of that Word, for Jesus’ sake.
Persistent love is before us in today’s first Scripture reading (Hosea 5:15-6:6). God’s persistent, searching love for his chosen people, Israel is mirrored in the marriage relationship between the Old Testament prophet, Hosea, and his wife, Gomer. It was a troubled marriage, to say the least. At God’s instruction, Hosea married Gomer, who was a prostitute, to forcefully demonstrate for God’s chosen, covenant people how they, like Gomer, were not faithful, but had committed adultery by following other gods, breaking the divine relationship between bridegroom, the Lord God, and his bride, Israel. Hosea was called to live out this shattered marriage in daily life to show how God’s persistent love would seek out unfaithful Israel, calling them to turn away from evil and return to the Lord. In contrast with Israel’s faithless response, we see a faithful response on Abraham’s part in today’s second Scripture reading (Romans 4:13-25). As Paul the apostle says, Abraham persistently clung to God’s promise: “hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’”… No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:18a, 20-21). Abraham’s persistent faith and trust in God’s promise flowed out of God’s persistent love for Abraham. That persistent, searching love of God isn’t limited to Abraham of old. Today, in this very hour, God’s persistent, searching love continues to reach out to people near and far, drawing them close to the very heart of the One who created and formed them. God’s persistent, searching love is reaching out to each one of us, whether we, like Gomer, have prostituted ourselves out to the false gods of our own day, or whether we, like Abraham, are steadfastly trusting in God despite what outward circumstances may be telling us.
That persistent love of God we see demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus, who called Matthew, a hated tax collector, to be his follower; who chastised the fine, upstanding religious people of his day for their arrogance and hardness of heart; who healed the sick and raised the dead, despite the laughing ridicule of people who refused to believe. In Jesus, God’s own Son, we see just how persistent and searching God’s love really is: how God did not spare the life of his only Son, but handed him over to death on the cross as payment for our disobedience and rebellion.
Time and again in Scripture, God clearly shows his persistent, searching love – not just for a few, select people, but in Christ Jesus, for all people. That closing verse in today’s Gospel lesson is a fitting response: “And the report of this spread throughout that district” (Matthew 9:26). Because of what Jesus had done in healing the sick and raising the dead, news about him spread all over the place. Is it still the same today? Does the report of who Jesus is and what he has done continue to spread throughout this district? Does that report of Jesus move on to others from us? If it isn’t and that report is plugged up, stuck inside and not getting out, then it just might be that we are those who are in need of a physician – the Great Physician, the Lord Jesus Christ, who desires mercy, not sacrifice; which means he is looking for a response from the heart, not just going through the motions.
Our congregation is meeting today at 12 noon to consider ministry initiatives: changes to our Sunday morning and Wednesday evening schedule in the fall, moving forward with Spanish language mission, embracing a new master facility plan. In addition, we will be electing new servant leaders for our congregation as we thank those who have faithfully served. In all of this, let it be our care to hold up before one another and before the world the persistent, searching love of God in Christ Jesus. May God help us to do this, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.