the one about staying in the conversation...
August 21, 2017, 9:00 AM

Sermon from August 20, 2017

Text: Matthew 15: 21-28

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, most weeks you hear me say something to the effect of, “Oh wow – this is a great little text. I really love it.” I love the texts I get to preach in the lectionary we use. They are filled with subtle and direct ways in which the kingdom of heaven is here among us and how we can and do participate in its continued growth and love. Out of the entire three-year lectionary, I can honestly say that almost every gospel lesson is wonderful. Each text is an opportunity for our Lord to teach us how to be in the kingdom of God. Almost every single one. Except, perhaps, the gospel reading we have today.

I dread this particular Sunday every three years. This text where we see and hear Jesus say some disturbing things to a foreign woman. How he and the disciples openly dismiss this woman in their midst. She’s labeled a dog by our Lord.

During this time, there were those who were ‘in’ and those who were ‘out.’ As with any culture, it was hard to earn respect and love from those around you, but it was incredibly easy and quick to be put on that ‘other’ list. Woe be to the ones who were born into a group that the ‘majority’ deemed less than.

That’s the Canaanite woman. Or as she is called in the other gospel where this story occurs (Mark), the Syrophoenician Woman. She was an ‘other.’ Outside the Jewish faith. A Gentile of Gentiles.

Yet, she knew who Jesus was. She knew who Jesus was called to be. She knew what Jesus proclaimed. She knew she was a part of that too. It seems that she knew Jesus’ mission was more than Jesus knew his mission to be.

After the events of last weekend in Charlottesville there has been a call by many for pastors and others in leadership roles to publicly denounce the views of white supremacists, Nazis, and more.

I continue to do that. I denounce with every fiber of my being those who espouse that a person is ‘superior’ to another based on the color of their skin, the faith they practice, or the life they live. No. That’s not how the kingdom of heaven works. That’s not how any of this works. As I said last week in my sermon, there’s no room for that kind of belief in the life of the Christian.

Imagine my own heartbreak and difficulty this week when in the context of the events of Charlottesville I read these words of Jesus to this Canaanite woman. It doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t put Jesus in a good light. I think Jesus is wrong here.

Where in the world does one begin to find good news here in this text?

So, I took a closer look at this woman. Reading more intensely what she says and how she acts.

She calls upon Jesus. She knows he can heal her daughter, and by golly – he is going to heal her daughter. Because that’s what Jesus does for those who call upon him.

He ignores her.

She cries and shouts so much that the disciples plead that he do something to this woman because she’s really annoying. Always bringing up her sick kid. We don’t got time for that! We’ve got important things to do Lord. Do something and quiet her.

He speaks over them.

Yet, still. The woman with a child in need persists. She stays in the conversation even though up this point, only she has been participating in it in any meaningful way.

When Jesus enters the conversation? Wow. What a PR disaster. He completely dismisses her and the people she’s from. It’s not ‘fair’ to the people he’s called to.

Yet, she persists. She stays in the conversation. She reasons with him and even challenges his own views.

Jesus changes his mind.

Jesus changed his mind.

Because of the persistence of a foreigner, a disenfranchised individual, a woman – Jesus changes his mind.

Because of HER great faith. The woman’s daughter is healed. She receives blessing from the Son of David.

She stays in the conversation. She insists that others are going to hear her plea, her cry. She persists in the need for others – for Jesus – to see her. To see her as a person and not as a label.

I think of her persistence as I hear and see vicious words being spewed back and forth from so many people with chasm wide opposite views on so many subjects and issues. Sadly, the response I see most often when people disagree is, ‘fine, I’ll have nothing to do with you then. I’m not going to talk to you anymore.’ Well, at least we agree on that!

Stepping out of the conversations. Ceasing our voice to be heard. Removing ourselves from discourse doesn’t change anything. In order for love to win out – and I believe with every ounce of who I am that love will win out – it must be shown. The only way for love – the faithful love that Christ calls us to participate in – can be shown is to continue to be in relationship and conversation with those that we disagree with.

And that’s hard. That’s difficult. I don’t enjoy listening to people who advocate racist, Islamophobic, or homophobic views. I don’t enjoy speaking with those who completely dismiss another because of their political affiliations or religious beliefs. It’s not fun, at all. But, I persist. I want to have the conversation. Because only by talking with and interacting with one another can we bring about the change we desire and (with God’s help) grow the kingdom of heaven.

But, there is something that is even more difficult to come to terms with as well. For as much as I feel that I and others need to be persistent in our desire for others to hear; it is that sometimes even I am resistant to hear. Where someone must be persistent with me so that I can see, and hear, and know, and change.

We don’t quit the conversation. Even, when like the disciples, we think that it is annoying and that we are being ‘badgered.’ People keep bringing up that issue. We continue in the conversations and relationships. Standing firm in our faith that God calls us to love. But, recognizing at times that others might be speaking to us so that we too might see where we need to change to fully live into the faithful love we proclaim and share.

I read of an experience recently shared on Instagram and it is one of those real-life stories that makes you say “Yes, let’s be that in the world.” It comes from an individual whose username is ‘confessionsofamuslimmom.’ She shared a story about a conversation she had on an airplane.

She sat next to a tall, white, middle-aged man. Throughout the course of the flight, they talked and their conversation touched upon many subjects – including how his father was a card-carrying member of the KKK in Virginia.

He asked her, “Do you think people can change?” She said that she absolutely believes people can change. Everyone has that capacity.

He went on to tell her that his brother married a woman from one of the Carolinas. A woman who had grown up surrounded by black people. She even went to a predominately black church, which soon his brother started to attend as well.

When his father saw how his son had changed; he was happy. He even said, “I want to go to your church.” Unsurprisingly, this man and his brother were a bit hesitant about where this conversation could go. They know who their father was and what sorts of things he believed. They also knew that his values were not shared by either of them. Still, the son gave a tentative ‘sure’ to his dad.

Sometime soon, their father attended the church with his son’s family. And loved it. He even remarked that, “you really feel something there.”

She goes on to reflect that she couldn’t stop the conversation that was going on in her own head the whole time. That apparently, this man grew up surrounded by hate. And yet, he sat there with her talking to her with no hesitation. Treating her as fully human. If he held any bias against her because of her gender, faith, color, or religion he absolutely didn’t show it.

As they got off the plane and said their goodbyes, she began to think about that father’s relationship with his sons. Though they didn’t share his values, they didn’t leave him. They didn’t abandon him. They kept trying, insisting, nudging him even as they grew old themselves to change.

People can change. But, that chance and opportunity to change greatly diminishes when we leave them. When we push them away.

The Canaanite woman stayed in the conversation. In her insistence she changed the seemingly unchangeable. The doors opened. The ministry spread. The kingdom of heaven is that much more full.

If this man can change, if our Lord can change, surely, we too can change and be changed in God’s persistent and overflowing love. If we stay in the conversations and relationships, with God’s help we can change others as well. Amen.

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