In pm's words
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September 7, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where Jesus is a jerk...


Sermon from September 6, 2015

Sermon text: Mark 7: 24-37

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let 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!

Sometimes, sometimes we read a text from the Gospel that we really don’t want to read. Where the images it conjures up bring to mind pretty unpleasant looks into our humanity. In the Gospel of Matthew it is the cleansing of the innocent. In Mark’s Gospel, I’d venture to say that the text we read this morning is usually the one we don’t want to read and pastors at times really don’t want to preach on.

This conversation with the Syrophoenician woman is one that I always have difficult with. Mostly because it portrays an image of Jesus that we don’t normally see and one that I don’t really like. For me, Jesus is kind of a jerk here. He degrades and insults this woman and her family by stating that she is a dog. She’s not worthy enough to be considered human.

She’s a gentile – she’s not Jewish. Jesus – as poor and humble as he is among the Jewish society that he is privileged to live in – is still superior to her in the culture of the day.

Jesus is living into that here and responds in a very unflattering way. Again, likening this woman to a dog – an animal. An animal that should wait in line and wait for the ‘children’ to eat first. The children which is meant to represent the nation of Israel. Let them eat; then I’ll talk to you.

We are at a time in our life in the United State that our response to those in need can be just as quick and curt as that of Jesus’ to this woman’s plea for help. There are those many times that we may not be as overtly rude to those around us, but we can subtly portray ourselves as ‘better’ simply by how we view the people around us.

When I was in Michigan, my congregation welcomed into its community a man who was a native of Tanzania. As he was preparing to enter into the community I met him at his house around the corner from the church and asked him the same question that I’d ask anyone and one that I have asked in our cottage meetings these past few weeks:

  • Why this church? Why come here?

His response made me both incredibly sad and thankfully proud. You see, he had been away from the church for some time, but in the months leading up to his arrival at my previous congregation he wanted to get back into the faith life of his youth – that of the Lutheran Church. He grew up in the life of the church in Tanzania which happens to be strongly Lutheran as well. So, he visited many Lutheran churches in the Lansing area and the outlying communities (of which my congregation was a part of). The response he receive was one that he didn’t expect.

Lutheran Churches in the United States tend to be almost entirely comprised of those who would identify themselves as white. Which is far different than what he was used to, but he loved the liturgy, the hymns, and the theology. So, he continually sought a Lutheran church to be a part of.

When he arrived at a few of those churches, the response to him being there wasn’t one of welcome, but one of – “What do you want? Why are you here? Can’t you see we’re about to worship?”

In fact, he stated that he almost gave up when one pastor came to him before service and said, “I can’t help you right now, I have to go to worship…”

His response to that pastor was, “That’s what I want too… I want to worship…”

My heart broke for him when I heard that story. That is something I’ve never had to deal with and I probably never will have to deal with.

He was viewed as ‘less than’ by those around him. They weren’t overtly cruel to him at all, but their initial assumption was that he wasn’t ‘good enough’ to be there. He wasn’t equal to be in worship. They assumed he just wanted ‘something’ from their pockets, when in actuality he wanted the same thing that they did – to be in worship with and towards the God who loves us all.

He was thankful that when he visited my congregation in the small community of Mason, MI that we welcomed into the worship life and upon seeing him there we said, “Come join us! We’re glad you’ve made our house of worship even more full this day!” He hadn’t received that kind of reception yet at the other churches he visited.

That filled my heart with hope. Hope for our church and hope for our community.

I remembered that story as I read this gospel text about Jesus and how he treats this woman who belonged to a group that was not his own. I remembered this story as I read the Isaiah text about not having an ‘anxious’ or ‘fearful’ heart because God is here. I remembered this story as James recounts the actions of those that he saw in worship of his day.

I remembered this story as our country is still continually embattled in deep discussions about race and respect. I remembered this story when I think of all those unintentional and subtle ways that we exert our own worth over that of others. Where we look past individuals and the reasons they might be coming to this space, place, and time simply because of how they are dressed or because of the pigment of their skin.

My heart breaks for this woman as Jesus’ words attempt to throw her to the side, yet my heart is uplifted when she is insistent. In spite of an anxious heart that I can only imagine that she is feeling and experiencing – she presses to Jesus that she too is worthy of his help. That the love and redemption that he has proclaimed can be extended to her and other Gentiles like her.

I think in that moment, Jesus sees himself reflected in her. Where he too sees the one who comes to push the boundaries of social convention and turn the norms upside down. Where she comes to him and calls for the wrenching open of God’s love to be ever fully expanded. Where he sees the words he has spoken to his friends and those who have gathered around him being lived out by this woman before him.

In that moment, this woman boldly proclaims to Jesus that all that stuff he’s been talking about leading up to this moment. That the grace and love of God is not something that is exclusively set aside for one particular group of people, but instead it is a love and grace that is extended to all who come to the feet of Christ.

The gospel that we get to proclaim, the faith that we get to live out brings us into situations and times that call for grace and love. Where we look to those around us and we look at them and where we are in relationship with one another. Where we strive to work through and against our world-shaped reactions to see others as less than, and instead strive to see our hearts and minds be changed as Jesus’ was. Where the pleas of those around us do not fall on deaf ears and non-action.

Where we rise-up – because of our faith – to do the wondrous works of love that we are free to participate in. Where all who come to us – and all we venture towards – can be welcomed in love, in openness, in faith, in equal worth because of what we all have received from God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This morning we get to see a side of Jesus that we don’t normally witness. It’s that very human side of Jesus. That side that can succumb to the exclusionary views of the world. That side that wants to put everyone in their little boxes and not mix in with others. We get to see the love of God break through even to God’s own son. Where Jesus models for us again and again that the love of God that he proclaims is that kind of love that is extended to every single person before us.

This isn’t I story a particularly like to read, but it reminds me that Jesus is human too – just like I am human. Created by God, redeemed in God’s love, and in that love sent out to proclaim and share that love with the world. Amen.

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