August 20, 2017
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable and suitable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Let me tell you…this sermon did not come easy this week. Wrestling with the texts and praying for the Spirit to intercede while listening to and reading the news and following the current climate through social media so many things have been swirling in my heart and mind this week. It’s times like this when I am thankful that our church uses a lectionary, that the texts for each week are already decided and that the preacher doesn’t need to pick which texts to use. It is often a surprise when we think about the current climate, and find ourselves hearing scripture that speaks to what is happening in our world today.
That being said, we continue to pray for the Spirit to intercede, to open our hearts and our minds to hear how God’s message of love and grace speaks to us this day, and how it calls us to be the church in our community, nation and world.
This week our Gospel lesson extends a call to us, but it does so by challenging us to think about who we are, how we act and how God’s grace transforms us.
It’s in two parts today. We begin with Jesus teaching his disciples about purity. He reminds those following him that it is not what we take in that is impure, but it is what comes from us, that is not clean. He explains that all the evil intentions and actions come from within.
After Jesus has had the opportunity to teach that true purity comes from the heart, he is approached by a Canaanite woman.
Jesus is approached by an outsider…by someone who is not from the area, a woman without a male escort, following Jesus, one in whom we would not expect her to believe.
Jesus silent response to her pleas shocks us….well, it shocks me. Earlier in this text we know that when he was surrounded by over 5,000 people, he was full of compassion for them. He healed them and fed them. Just last week, when Peter was out on the water and said, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately responded with an outstretched hand.
You would think that Jesus would have the same compassion for a woman with a sick daughter, yet Jesus remains focused on what he believes his will is. He is called to save the house of Israel, that is the group to whom he is to minister.
After some sharp interaction between Jesus and this woman, he seems to put her in her place. She admits her standing and her origin, and persists that she still deserves even a crumb of this abundant grace that God has to offer through Jesus.
Jesus finally decides that her faith is great and her daughter is healed.
How does that strike you?
On one level, we may be surprised at Jesus initial harshness to this woman. Because she is not of the house of Israel, she does not receive the grace of God?
Yet eventually, the grace does extend to her. It pulls us back to Isaiah, where we know that the Lord’s house will be a house of prayer for all people.
After this healing, we do not hear anything more about this woman. We do not know if she evangelized about Jesus, or committed her life to following him, we do not know what her faith outcome is from this act. Nothing is said about her response to this grace.
Yet that’s the point, isn’t it?
God’s grace and love abound to each and every person, no matter what. Whether people acknowledge that gift or respond by sharing that good news…everyone receives it.
We are reminded through our texts today that the church is a place that welcomes the outsider, no matter who he or she may be. The church is not a place where only people we deem appropriate are welcome. The church breaks down the walls of prejudice and exclusion to create a place for all to come and pray.
The church breaks down the walls of prejudices and exclusion to create a place for all to come and pray.
This is not something that only happened in Biblical times, this passage speaks to us loudly and clearly today.
Though the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, we see God at work, transforming Jesus and the ministry that he did. We see in this story, Jesus’ humanity, that focused on the mission at hand, he too, was in need of God’s grace and transformation. Amy Jill Levine writes, “Jesus realizes that he can yield his own position of authority, his own job description, for the sake of someone who has no authority of her own, and this yielding shows he cares about the people, and more — he listens to them. She, on the other hand, demonstrates the model of the Sermon on the Mount: she persists, cleverly, without elevating the violence. Everyone wins.”
Keeping that in mind, that even in the midst of active ministry, Jesus was continually guided and shaped by God’s mercy and grace, so, too are we.
And in today’s day and age, we are desperately in need of God’s grace.
We know the evil that surrounds us each day.
We have heard the hate filled speech of white supremacists.
We have seen the evil represented in Nazi flags and torch carrying marchers.
And perhaps, we have felt the fear that surrounds these words and actions.
And yet, we are called to be the church.
This week I began rereading, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. I came upon this quotation,
"We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ's large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer.”
"We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ's large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer."
Transformed by love and forgiveness, we must act with responsibility, not by silently accepting hateful words and actions by groups like neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but by publicly denouncing them.
By saying that this place, this church is not just a welcome place for all, but a place that welcomes those who have been hurt, those who are broken, those in our society who have been treated unfairly, or excluded because of the color of their skin, their gender, their economic status or any other aspect of themselves that may make them different.
And thanks be to God for grace and forgiveness, because we haven’t always gotten it right in the past, and while forgiveness doesn’t change the past, it does enlarge the future. It’s a reminder of the continual changes that we can make because we are forgiven of our sins.
We are continually made new in Jesus Christ, to show a real sympathy that springs not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer.
So go, knowing you are loved and have been forgiven and transformed.
Through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are transformed people…ready, whether we realize it or not, to live lives, speak words and actively proclaim God’s love and grace in a broken world.
So go, be the church.
Loved and forgiven…we are ready to go in peace and serve the Lord…and now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and let all God’s people say amen.