Sermon for Sunday, 01 October 2017
Text: Matthew 21: 23-32)
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew (21:23-32)
When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people
came to him as he was teaching, and said,
“By what authority are you doing these things,
and who gave you this authority?”
Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer,
then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.
Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
And they argued with one another,
“If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’
But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.”
So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”
And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said,
‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.
The father went to the second and said the same;
and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.
Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes
are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.
For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him,
but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him;
and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
We need to do a quick reality check: WHERE is Jesus at this point?
We find Jesus inside JERUSALEM.
Now, I realize it’s like the 85th Sunday after Pentecost,
and we haven’t reached Advent where we WELCOME the Savior,
and here we are in Matthew, already marching him to his death.
Because, in a mere 6 chapters,
our Savior is no longer walking on the earth, he is hanging on a cross.
This part of Matthew covers the conflicts and eventual death of Jesus,
so this shifts our understanding of Jesus’s location.
The stage is set with a more forboding and ominous tone.
We’ve done a MAJOR fast-forward in our Christ-story,
skipping right over the foretelling of the Resurrection,
zooming past Jesus’s riding of a donkey in Jerusalem,
and flying past the cleansing of the Temple.
We’ve gone smack from the Vineyard to Visibility,
and Jesus has waltzed right into the heart of it all: the Temple grounds.
He’s not gathering fisherfolk around the shores of Galilee anymore.
He’s IN the city he’s been trying to avoid, as he knows what is to come.
JESUS is the one out of place.
So, it’s not too surprising to see why his credentials were challenged.
Why his authority was questioned.
“What right do you have? And who gave you this right?
We have to give these leaders SOME credit:
Jesus was on THEIR turf, and the leaders were looking for answers.
Can you just imagine how they felt? I’ve been a teacher.
When someone walks into YOUR classroom, one you’ve slaved over to create,
with plans you’ve sweated over to prepare – and starts asking ----
“why’d you put that on the wall? What are the kids going to do over here?
Who said you could teach THAT song to the kids?”
It sets your teeth on edge – much like those TEETH
being set on-edge back in the Ezekiel Reading.
You’ve heard me talk about asking the WRONG question.
Well, this would be asking the FAKE question.
Their beef wasn’t about who issued Jesus a permit to preach in the Temple. THAT was NOT the REAL question they wanted to ask.
They REALLY wanted to find out if THIS guy, this Jesus man, who’s been preaching
and teaching in THEIR temple.....was really the MESSIAH.
WE might launch into some defensive comeback had we been questioned like that.
And yet, what does Jesus do with those questions?
He doubles down: almost daring them to answer the question of JOHN’s authority.
JESUS points to JOHN....a man who always pointed JESUS!
Remember when John was all busy proclaiming in the wilderness back in Matthew 3
“Pre---e---e----e—pare ye, the way of the Lord. I baptize with water, yet He who
comes after me will baptize with the Holy Spirit!”
And then JOHN goes on to Baptize JESUS, who was anointed by the Holy Spirit.
If we’re doing some Scriptural Math, here: Jesus + Holy Spirit = Messiah.
Which means, according to Jesus, our Temple leaders were asking a question
that had ALREADY been answered. Who’s authority? God’s authority.
Had they been listening to JOHN, they’d have aced that question.
Because questioning JOHN was questioning JESUS!
The elders didn’t want to recognize EITHER of these men
as being called and sent by GOD.
Now, as a beginning Pastor, I take the words of my mentors to heart:
DON’T preach about politics
DON’T preach about government
DON’T preach about religion
PREACH the Gospel.
And we ALWAYS turn to Christ.
Well, TURNING seems to be a key move in ALL of today’s lessons
Ezekiel, this prophet from the 6th century, mentions TURNING:
He reminds folks the old
“blame EVERYTHING on our parents
and the 3rd and 4th generations from which we came from”
yeah....that excuse is no longer valid.
People THEMSELVES held the responsibility for turning AWAY
from that which was wrong. It was ON THEM!
He calls their sins what they are – he doesn’t deny that his listeners were sinners.
He just reminds them you might have sinned in the past
AND you still get to turn away.
“Me-ta-noi-a” the Greek word turns on itself!
REPENTING and TURNING from our old and sinful ways.
It night not be LENT, but we can ALWAYS REPENT!
This is the ONLY, TRUE way by which we can seek out
and experience that incredible new heart and new spirit we’re told to go find!
By CHANGING our trajectory.
By TURNING our BACK on the sins of old.
By turning TOWARD the God who delights in watching us LIVE!
Not die! We repent so that we LIVE!
We continue our turning in Psalm 25, where we PLEAD to God,
both for God to turn toward us in compassion,
and for US to turn to GOD in love, in trust.
Now, I have to a wee bit of a Pastoral Disclaimer before I proceed:
ALL of our readings today are part of what’s known as the Lectionary
– a cycle of Biblical texts assigned to a particular week.
It’s a series of readings for each day of the week, and especially for Sundays.
It lets us get through key readings and lessons of the Gospels
(Mathew, Mark, and Luke) with John sprinkled in each year.
It keeps congregations moving through the stories...and makes sure that the pastors
and preachers don’t get stuck on their very favorite Bible story week after week!
WHY is she telling us all of this, you might be wondering?
Well, I highlight all of this, because I need you to hear
that our readings were selected long ago,
Meaning, when we hear a phrase like, say, “Every knee should bend”
- that line in our Second Reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
- on a week like we’ve had....
Well, I just need you to know THAT’S. NOT. ME. choosing the text.
That’s NOT Pastor Bill, NOR the Church Council selecting the text.
That’s.......the Holy Spirit.
I know...DON’T preach about politics OR government OR religion.
JUST preach about the Gospel. ALWAYS turn to Christ.
So...we turn to Christ.
When we hear from the Apostle Paul declare that
“...that at the name of Jesus,
and every knee should bend
and every tongue confess
that JESUS CHRIST is LORD.
At the NAME. OF. JESUS.
A bent knee is a gesture of humility.
An indication of self-surrender before a reality greater than ourselves.
So, when an act of protest over police brutality and racial discrimination
turns into a national battle over someone’s physical position during a song,
and we are warring amongst ourselves about HOW
and to WHOM we pledge our loyalty,
we have to ask ourselves – to whom do we ultimately bend?
To whom do our tongues confess?
We TURN We BEND. WE CONFESS.
To a Christ who took himself OUT of his perfectly Divine place
to became perfectly OBEDIENT to God
SO humbled that His obedience cost HIM his life, and GAVE. US. OURS.
This particular section of Paul’s very thankful letter
to the citizens of Philippi actually captures an early HYMN.
Tucked into the 2nd chapter of Philippians we find a hymn dedicated to CHRIST!
(You can always tell if the text is indented in the Bible
that it’s either quoting a prophet or an ancient song.)
This Jesus, this teacher of teachers, leads by the ULTIMATE example
when hanging and dying upon that cross,
which is coming right around the corner.
Because he’s not making many friends when he stands in a Jerusalem Temple,
declaring such things.
So to what does JESUS turn?
HE turns to the old “A man had two sons...” tradition,
the origins of which find themselves in stories of Cain+Abel,
A tradition steeped in the questioning of authority and the story of sin and forgiveness.
There WERE two sons, with two VERY opposing responses.
Our FIRST Son initially responds with a loud NO!
He’s not shy about his laziness,
telling his Dad he just doesn’t feel like working in the fields today...
Thankfully, he thinks better of his choice, changes his mind,
and eventually follows through.
Sort of like the people who initially had heard JOHN:
Their DAILY life seems to be telling us NO. Shouting NO to God...
NO! This isn’t true...
and yet...they DID change their minds, turning to faith and belief.
Son #2, on the other hand responds with a hearty YES!
“You got, it Dad! I’m on it!” (and..... he doesn’t follow through)
He might have been the more POLITE child “I go, Sir”,
agreeing to go work.....but doesn’t.
Sort of like the leaders of the Temple,
putting on a FANTASTIC show of worshiping and reading...
but not really believing in the covenantal message of John.
They weren’t focused on REPENTING.
And they certainly didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
Now, before we go all Monday-morning quarterback on the Temple Leaders,
(and hey....still no politics)
I do think we need to remember our amazing advantage:
WE live in a POST-Resurrection world.
One where we KNOW who Jesus was and who Jesus continues to be.
Back in Palestine, Jesus was still FACING death – a death to come.
Jesus had found DISobedience in those who - by profession - were servants of God
And yet He found OBEDIENCE from those whose way of life was ungodly.
In the end, NEITHER son was true to his WORD,
but only ONE was true to his HEART.
This parable could EASILY have been begun:
A man had two daughters... Or a man has two children....
Because in the end, WE get to be one of those sons.
We get to be one of those children.
How WE respond to Jesus TODAY
is just as important as how the sons responded in this story of Jesus.
We have to be aware of those times when WE’ve said a hearty YES! to God
....and then wandered off in a completely different,
and non-Christ-centered direction.
We get to ask ourselves how do WE challenge the powers of THIS world?
How do WE humble ourselves as Christ humbled HIMself?
For the question isn’t by WHAT authority are we doing these things?
But rather, by WHOse authority we do these things.
And with hearts turned toward God,
Knees bent in front of the Christ,
And tongues confessing His name,
WE. ACT. on the authority
of an almighty and powerful + Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. +
Text: Matthew 18: 21-35)
We used to have a joke in one of my old Bible studies:
Anytime one of us would focus on some unknown or un-important detail,
and completely miss the bigger more important point,
we’d teasingly reply: “You’re asking the wrong question!”
Well, welcome to an entire Gospel lesson today about asking the wrong questions.
“WRONG QUESTION #1 comes to us from a guy named Peter from Bethsaida”
Peter asks: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister?
I’m thinking seven times. Seven good?
“Why Peter.... “You’re asking the wrong question!”
Pete’s got a point – he’s been listening to Jesus talk about community for a while now.
As I told the kids in Chapel this week, Jesus has been coaching his Disciples.
Giving his team the GAMEPLAN of how to live in community with one another.
Peter’s just asking Jesus to help him set some boundaries in regards
to just HOW MANY TIMES he is required to forgive those who sin against him.
Peter’s a process guy. Logical mind.
Thinks he has nailed down an already, ridiculous number of SEVEN.
Aw, Peter, that’s cute.
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“SORRY, Pete! The Savior’s gotcha there!”
Seventy seven times?! Now, THAT is a ridiculous amount.
I learned this week that Jesus isn’t pulling some random number out of his head
or putting together as many sevens as he can to form a number.
Turns out, this seventy seven times thing is an actual quotation from Genesis 4.
Lamech, a descendant of Cain, is boasting about how much vengeance
HE will show upon an enemy.
Revenge and retaliation rule the day,
and Lamech is happy to fit into this cycle of retribution.
Meanwhile, back in Galilee...
Jesus, on the other hand, is asking for His disciples not to MATCH the vengeance, but instead REVERSE the cycle of violence.
§ This reference dating back to the time of original sin is a perfect example of how NOT to live in a Christ-centered community.
§ How the Adam and Eve of OLD so quickly want to enter our lives...and yet Jesus is calling us to exchange evil for love, swap out revenge for forgiveness.
And even with this ridiculous reference of 70 x 7,
Jesus is NOT giving a quantifiable amount.
Sorry, Peter, it’s never that easy when it comes to living the Gospel.
Instead, the Son of Man is proposing an equally as preposterous number,
He might have well have said infinity plus one!
There is NO NUMBER high enough
to satisfy the amount – the lengths – the DEPTHS
to which we must go to forgive one another.
I can imagine you might be thinking about a person you’ve had trouble forgiving –
someone with whom you’ve tried to make amends
someone who just rubs you the wrong way.
I’m betting we might feel as frustrated as Peter might have felt that day when hearing Jesus basically say THERE IS NO NUMBER you will EVER reach that let’s you off the hook. Forgiveness has never been a counting game.
To further illustrate His point, Jesus launches into a parable:
“Once upon a time, there was a king...”
Now, be CAUTIOUS, however, to automatically assume that the king refers to God
or that the servant represents some group of people we’d love to hate.
Again, it’s never that easy when it comes to stories from Jesus.
Why the king wanted to suddenly settle his debts,
or why the man owed him so much are mysteries not to be answered in this text.
Because, what’s the phrase? “You’re asking the wrong question.”
‘Be patient with me,’ the servant begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’
The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
WELL, not quite...
Took pity? Canceled the debt? Let him go?! If only the Government was as forgiving when it came to my student loan debts! MAYBE? No?!
Canceled the debt? Let him (and his wife and his children and all that he owned) go?
Sounds completely undeserved!
Sounds completely unearned!
The first servant was forgiven through CHARITY and LOVE ...
and so it was expected that he would show the same favor to HIS servant!
Rich or poor – they were to be treated with charity and love. With mercy and grace.
But what happens next? Servant 1 finds lesser Servant 2 and demands that HE be paid back in full. He’s been forgiven, what, 5 SECONDS before, and we’re already back to the natural greed of human nature.
This could have been SUCH a nice story to share. One of those pay-it-forward tales, where one who has been blessed shares those blessings with the next person they encounter.
Nope. Not in Matthew 18.
A much smaller amount is demanded of a much less privileged person, and for what?
So that the servant could have power over his fellow workers?
Why would he do that?!
ARGH. I know, I know...”I’m asking the wrong question.”
His demands aren’t met, so he throws the other guy in jail.
What I find fascinating is that the other servants ratted out their comrade.
In an entire discourse about how to live in community, even the servants
knew this was the wrong move for the forgiven servant to make.
Withholding mercy? After having received such a gift?
How quickly one falls back into sin...
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
Ouch. So much for grace THIS time.
We’re yanked right back into a legalistic system where punishments are handed out
and mercy is thrown by the wayside.
Jesus concludes: 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you
unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Our story is wrapped up with a rather serious reminder
about OUR ability to forgive others.
“To forgive or not to forgive really, REALLY ISN’T the question.
For it IS nobler in the mind to lessen the suffering of others,
To weather together the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune,
To forgive, per chance to be merciful, aye, THERE’S the love of God.”
God’s forgiveness has no limits, and (as hard as it might be to imagine),
neither should our forgiveness of others.
Now, in NO WAY does this mean unleashing those who might injure or harm others,
nor does it encourage a lack of protest against wrongs.
Forgiving someone COMPLETELY...IS... well, impossible, if we go at it ALONE...
because the ONLY one who can actually forgive
100% completely and totally is GOD.
We can’t do that on our own. But God can.
The words of Matthew 18 talk to us about relationships within community,
and Jesus brought us this story to DEMONSTRATE
that forgiveness is a gift of grace, a gift of love, a gift from God.
I read this week that forgiveness is like the air in your lungs.
There’s ONLY room for you to inhale the NEXT lungful
Once you’ve BREATHED OUT the PREVIOUS one.
The children in the Infant Room here at First have taught me that!
You know, that moment when they are in the middle of inhaling
for what will be another Tarzan-like scream,
IN..... IN..... IN..... and of course – we all wait, waiting for that big wail...
If they hold it in, by golly, they’d pass right out.
Goodness, if they hang on to their breath much longer,
WE’RE going to be the ones passing out in fear FOR them!
But they don’t. They breathe it out. They let it GO from their body.
ONLY once they have collapsed from EXhaling
can they continue on with their little lives.
So it is with forgiveness!
When we INSIST upon holding inhaling that anger.
Breathing in that disgust.
And then holding on to that self-righteousness....
WE are going to be the ones to pass out.
We STOP our hearts from working.
Think about that. We literally STOP our hearts from working.
You know the lungs and hearts have to work in tandem.
I mean this literally AND figuratively.
Without exhaling the pain of our HURTS........our HEARTS cannot respond.
The lungs need to work in order for our heart to beat.
Our hearts need the necessary air of life - of grace – of forgiveness
in order to beat the beat of mercy to those around us.
If we foolishly insist on WITHHOLDING forgiveness,
refusing to give someone else the life they may desperately need,
we won’t be able to take any more in ourselves.
WE will be the ones starving for air.
As it is with our heart: if it’s open, able and willing to forgive others,
it will also be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness.
Jesus is establishing God’s covenant with the world.
LIFE comes through forgiveness
Jesus taught us how to pray for it “Forgive US our trespasses..”
And he taught that if you WANT it, you’ve got to be prepared to GIVE it
“.....As we forgive those who trespass against us.”
If you’re counting how many times you’ve forgiven someone,
you’re NOT REALLY forgiving them at all, but simply postponing revenge.
We are children of a forgiving God who places no conditions,
whose mercy is great, and whose love it without number,
NO QUESTION about it.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN. +
Sermon for Sunday, 27 August 2017
Text: Romans 12: 1-8 (The Message translation)
1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
3 I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
4-6 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.
6-8 If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
The thing I love about The Message is that it is SO Lutheran:
it calls a thing what it is!
As Lutherans, we believe in being Theologians of the CROSS.
Meaning: we turn to the cross
to tell us about WHO God is and HOW God saves.
The CROSS is our source of knowledge concerning these matters.
Now, a Theologian of GLORY calls evil good and good evil.
They have it backwards in order to suit themselves.
But a Theologian of the CROSS calls a things what it is, good or evil.
We name it. Evil is evil, good is good. No kidding ourselves.
This particular translation of our Romans text NAMES it.
1. Names what we are to DO with our life.
2. Names what God does for US.
3. Names WHO we are supposed to be.
(#1) Let’s dig into those:
First, God tells us what we are to DO with our life.
Take a moment to think through your mornings.
Your routines. The things you find yourself doing everyday.
Where can God be found in these moments?
· Do we recognize God in our ability to turn on the faucet
and instantly receive temperature-controlled water?
· Do we find blessings from God as we stretch our body
from a good night’s rest?
· Do we perhaps recognize the Almighty in the sounds
coming from the animals or children of our home?
THESE are the moments where God is revealed.
Where God is present. Where God is REAL.
God isn’t looking for some recognition through some GRAND ceremony or religious rite. The Bible makes it very clear that burnt offerings and sacrifices are NOT what pleases God.
Rather, God tells us that we are to offer OURSELVES:
every, single part of our ordinary life,
and place it before God as an offering.
Now, I don’t mean that when you’re squeezing out the toothpaste tomorrow morning, that you are thanking God for fluoride-rich, peppermint flavored paste that shines your teeth.
Rather, God is reminding us that even the simplest of tasks
in our simplest of lives
can be placed before God as an offering.
It reminds us NOT to become complacent
with the humdrum rhythm of our lives.
It reminds us that as CHRISTIANS – as people of a LIVED faith
we need to RESIST that urge to become just like the other
to blend in with the world – to become part of the world.
We are NOT part of the world, folks...we are literally part of another.
A world that welcomes ALL for who they are,
NOT for who we want them to be.
It reminds us that in order for us to find deep and mature spiritual faith,
we need to find ourselves seeking a God
that is literally IN EVERYTHING.
(#2) Names what God does for US.
Next, let’s remember, it’s ALWAYS in this order:
what GOD does for US.
NOT the other way around.
How often do we think
“Well, I’ll just help God out by telling God my needs...”
“I’m sure God would agree with the way I want to do things.”
Not quite, folks. We are children of GRACE.
Unexpected. Mysterious. Undeserved.
We can’t PLAN on grace. We can’t EXPLAIN grace. We can’t EARN grace.
When God reminds us NOT to be of THIS world,
God reminds us to be of GOD’s world:
the world where we can RESPOND to grace.
the world where we can be THANKFUL for grace
the world where we can SHARE grace.
GOD bestows grace upon US....NOT the other way around.
As Theologians of the cross, we continually recognize the power and awe
that came with the self-sacrificing act of Jesus being crucified for ALL.
All sins, all doubts, all people.
And with this recognition, comes a responsibility
to remember our rightful place:
as humble recipients of ALL of God’s goodness
and ALL of God’s grace.
(#3) Names WHO we are supposed to be.
Finally, let’s talk a bit about WHO we are supposed to be.
This is where The Message translation really brings it home.
We’re all parts of the body. THE body. The BIG, Christ-centered Body.
We have meanings and functions of our OWN,
And we have meanings and functions as we interact with one another.
Paul’s letter to the Roman community reminds us
that we are to be WHO WE ARE.
Not to be the co-worker we THINK we want to be.
Not to be the friend we always try to emulate.
Not even to be the one person we hold dear and admire.
We are to be WHO WE ARE. Who WE were created to be.
Who God INTENDED us to be.
Not lusting after another personality,
not envying what we do not have, or any of the OTHER Deadly Sins.
Rather, Brad is Brad. Julie is Julie.
Brenda is Brenda....
......because heaven help us if there were more BRENDAs! J
We are unique, yet INTER-dependent.
INTER-dependent – not IN-DEPENDENT.
For, we do NOT stand alone in this world.
We live our uniqueness WITHIN the realm of the other.
We are interconnected, intertwined,
Inter-dependent on the OTHERS of God’s creation.
“If you preach, just preach God’s message, nothing else.
“If you help, just help, don’t take over...”
“If you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate...”
This reads like the perfect introduction manual
for any church committee or PTA meeting or board meeting.
It’s a list of simple instructions that reminds us
to DO what we’re called to DO.
To BE who we’re called to BE.
That the focus is on the OTHER, not OURSELVES.
And that the GLORY belongs to GOD.
In the name of the + Father and of the + Son and of the + Holy Spirit.
Sermon for Sunday, 20 August 2017
Text: Matthew 15: 10-28 (NRSV)
--- -- --- -- --- -- --- -- --- -- --- -- --- -- --- -- --- --
Today, we will begin at the end of our text from Matthew: we will begin with the story we just heard of a woman...a MOTHER...who pleads on behalf of her ill child for healing.
Nameless in the Gospel, this Mother cries out to a wandering Jewish man named Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter.
At first glance, we might choose to read her insistence as RUDE or STUBBORN.
She might be perceived as FORCING herself into today’s story. She is a Canaanite woman, as the text says. In fact the author of Matthew wants to make sure we don’t overlook that factoid:
We have to remember that the Canaanites were Israel’s oldest enemies, dating back some 800 years before. This woman is completely outside of the accepted, social realm. She’s not just ANY old gentile—she belongs to the most worthless, most hated group of all.
She pleads...and what was Jesus’s response!? At first...NOTHING.
“ But he did not answer her at all.”
What’s going on here?
Was Jesus ignoring someone right in front of Him?
Does this mean Jesus ignores us...too?
Heavens, no. We are never ignored, never abandoned.
Think about the times when we plead with God for an answer.
Lord, help now! Lord, fix this predicament.
Lord, which way am I supposed to turn!?
Do WE get an immediate answer? . . . . . . . . Not always.
We certainly live in a culture that demands immediacy. I read just yesterday that a Dad has built an app – a program for his son’s phone - that disables the phone until the child responds, requiring him to respond IMMEDIATELY.
Well, we’ll leave the “IMMEDIATELY” language to the Gospel of Mark, and remember that THAT was NOT the world – the kingdom – Jesus was sent to share. The answer might be “Not yet... Keep praying.... Possibly yes....”
Might our Savior be questioning...
“What’s really going on here? What’s at the heart of this matter?
Maybe the silence was Jesus making sure she REALLY understands why He’s here, and not just some wandering magician who heals and deals around the Galilean countryside.
But our Canaanite Mother believes no such thing – listen to her words of her plea: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David”.
- Not only does she hail Jesus as the kingly Son of David,
- she refers to Jesus as Lord, Kyrie, not once but THREE times in the text.
- She KNEW
- She knew faster than anyone Jesus was heading off to teach
- She knew sooner than even half of Jesus’s own disciples
- She knew that she was speaking to THE Savior.
Of course, the Disciples were of very little help, back to their familiar refrain
“Send her away! She keeps bothering us.”
(They had a small point – they MUST have been wondering why Jesus had lead them into a land they’d rather have not visited filled with people they’d rather have ignored.)
“Send her away! She keeps bothering us.” Sound familiar?
Imagine if Jesus had listened to the Disciples the first time
and dismissed the crowds before His miracle of feeding the thousands!?
Yet, Jesus did not send her away. Our Savior, trying to clarify His mission,
responds with “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Well, NOW we’re getting somewhere – at least Jesus isn’t silent anymore.
Jesus was quite literally walking his talk – taking his lessons on the road Intentionally traveling into lands that were usually dismissed. Where people who were usually ignored
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The LOST.
· Jesus was fulfilling his mission to let the people of Israel know that their God was fulfilling God’s promises right NOW. The kingdom was HERE, and that Jesus was THE Savior they had been waiting for.
· Jesus was the fulfillment of the law...not the abolishment of it.
The people of Israel would still be God’s special and chosen people,
telling of the wonders of God . . . AND . . . God’s new life in the
world was to come through them...and through HIM.
· For that’s what a Shepherd does: a shepherd makes sure there are NO, LOST SHEEP. And when one wanders or strays, the Good Shepherd is there to find them, and gather them near.
This Missional Messiah reveals so much to us by taking his merry band of men into enemy territory, onto foreign soil: He is LIVING OUT what it means to usher in the Gospel in a land of Law.
This Rabbi of Rabbi’s is taking the ultimate field trip when it comes to a object-lesson for his Disciples, demonstrating just how far he would go to LIVE the Gospel message of love and acceptance. ALL the way up the Mediterranean Coast to Tyre and Sidon.
NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED –a motto - even today - for women who are ready to break down barriers.......And this Mama was ready to believe.
- Ready to believe in a Savior that can heal her daughter.
- Ready to believe that the man who fed thousands could feed her daughter health.
Once again, our Mother pleads, this time on her knees... Lord, help me.
(So much like the cry from a drowning Peter last week.)
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Oh...Ouch. I have to say, all the commentaries on this text said it was one of the most troubling stories in all the Gospels! (Thanks for that, Pastor)
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Taken at face value? Yeah, we might take issue with that.
· Because, I’m betting most of us might prefer a squeaky clean Jesus.
· We want a Jesus UNblemished by His humanity.
· We like our Jesus nicer, and quite frankly, compassionate!
· We want a Savior that did NOT just compare a human mother to hungry house-pets.
But that’s only if we stay at the surface, and if we hear this story with 21st century ears. Because when we dig into Jesus’s words, and more importantly HER reaction, there’s actually more to discover.
He’s NOT calling this Mother a dog. A SHEEP maybe, but NOT a dog.
If you have children AND pets in your home, you’re going to feed the children first. That’s not an insult – that’s practical. It’s realistic.
They are the hungry ones. You feed the humans, then you feed the animals. Doesn’t mean we ignore the dogs – but we feed the hungry children first.
We had to wonder this week – What if Jesus was using or quoting a proverb or some old saying about the practicality of feeding? (Spiritually, feeding)
Jesus CAME to feed the hungry.
Jesus came to LOVE the hungry.
Jesus DIED to save the hungry.
Could this pleading mother, then, be LESS of an annoyance
and MORE of a student?
What if we were think of Jesus as a Rabbi, as the teacher he is,
Then.....might he be treating this Mother as a student?
As a learner? As someone with which to engage in dialogue!?
Yes, this Mother is feisty – she’s courageous.
And she has every right to be: the life of her daughter is literally at stake.
Not only does she not give up, but after Jesus comments to her,
she takes HIS words and throws them right back at Him:
“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
She didn’t even flinch at the dog comment – which might be a lesson to US. She focuses on the CRUMBS. She’s ready to be content with the CRUMBS of healing because she KNOWS those crumbs of God can provide. ANY scrap of healing, ANY shred of hope, ANY chance that her daughter might be free of those demons.
THAT is what makes the final part of this story so incredibly amazing:
Just when we might think that Jesus is going to give her one more retort and move on with his mission... He agrees. He praises. He heals!
“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And her daughter was healed instantly.
Jesus the Rabbi recognized IN. THIS. WOMAN.
the very kingdom He was sent to earth to declare.
· Her comment wasn’t some smart remark or clever quip from an offended woman. Rather, her words are a response worthy of the most studious pupil. One in which Jesus saw worthy of conversation and engagement.
· Rank of personhood meant NOTHING to Jesus. ALL people have worth. Jesus grants this Canaanite woman what we simply don’t expect and what could easily have been forever lost: her PERSONHOOD.
This Mother, much like our friend Martin Luther, insists that we proclaim
WHERE. WE. STAND.
· We could stand alongside the cautious disciples ... O R ...
· We could stand together with a God who asks us to imagine a kingdom where there is no Israelite or Canaanite,
no US or THEM, but ALL.
· We stand with a God who watches over ALL of God’s beloved children, Canaanite and all, and loves to watch us ALL live into our deep and abiding faith.
At the end of the day, Jesus looked upon this Mother with compassion.
Her faith poured out of her heart,
and Jesus’s healing poured into her daughter.
Her faith – her BELIEF – is what Jesus responded to,
which asks the question of us: what do WE believe?
· Do we believe it’s time to step across racial lines and declare that
ALL sheep are worthy of being loved by God?
· Do we believe we need to admit that ALL people are to be given dignity?
· Do we believe we are called to follow in Jesus’s example, breaking down all barriers of inequality, and bring ALL people up to our eyes, so that we may look into their hearts with the love of God?
As children of God, we are called to do just that –
to wash away the filth of prejudice and dirt of damaging preconceptions,
and see ourselves and others as those lost sheep
Jesus was sent to protect.
In the very beginning of our Gospel text today, we heard Jesus speaking to a crowd about what is CLEAN and what is NOT clean.
what is ROOTED and what must be UNrooted.
Jesus doesn’t even pause to minister the religious leaders. Rather, he instructs the disciples “let them alone. They’re the blind leading the blind.”
Jesus, who was clearly a closet horticulturist, with all of his references to seeds and plants) came to sow seeds of the KINGDOM.
- · Seeds of GOD’s kingdom
- · seeds that would grow and flourish proclaim God’s love + God’s grace.
- · Seeds such as us, seated here today.
Of course, then there’s Peter, ya gotta love Peter, says to Jesus,
“Explain this parable to us....Explain the riddle, Jesus.”
To which Jesus calmly replied, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?”
I mean....“Are you also still without understanding?
Can you just imagine Jesus?! “Gentlemen, REALLY!??!”
Jesus is like “FINE. How about a Biology lesson?!
Maybe that will help clear things up.”
Whatever goes INTO the mouth enters the stomach,
and goes out into the sewer.
But what comes OUT of the mouth proceeds from the heart,
and THIS can be what defiles.
Jesus is trying to make the point that not even EXCREMENT in the sewer
is as disgusting or as desecrating or as defiling
as what comes from one’s heart.
We’re NOT talking unclean things in regards to the purity system of old.
We’re talking about the things that are MORALLY impure.
· Impure things that disrupt the way our society functions
· Impure things that cause us to fight and feud with one another.
· Impure things that have us seeking revenge instead of love.
We have been witness to excrement-worthy behavior in our country over the last few weeks, defiling the very social fabric of our nation.
Fighting, Feuding, Disruption, Revenge.
There is not a Purell bottle big enough
to sanitize some of the behavior we’ve witnessed.
What truly needs sanitizing – what TRULY needs cleaning,
goes deep to the LITERAL heart of the matter: what comes from within us.
Jesus is TRYING to make the point that
it’s NOT about the LETTER of the LAW, but rather the SPIRIT of the Laws.
· Even Jesus sets aside certain regulations and rules, and claims that those who insist on their validity are actually condemning the guilt-less.
· Rabbis would BIND the law firmly when they wanted to enforce a particular commandment, but would also LOOSE a law when and if they found a circumstance in which it would no longer apply.
Jesus, a Rabbi himself, is demonstrating this very practice by reminding folks the true GOSPEL message of his words:
While the LAW requires clean hands, the GOSPEL requires clean hearts.
When a LAW keeps folks from doing GOOD, it is no longer a good law.
· (Brenda: Singing) For “What does the Lord require of you?
· Obviously, LAWS: “Justice. Kindness. Walk humbly with our God.”
· Not washing your HANDS....but washing your hearts!
We might think there’s no way WE would be capable of the laundry list of evils mentioned in verse 19 (evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander)
We might think to ourselves:
“Those are the really BAD sins. I’ve never had a truly evil intention.”
REALLY? Clearly, you’ve never driven around in a mall parking lot
on Black Friday.
“Oh, the lies I tell are so small, I’m sure no one else notices.”
REALLY? You mean those false words that discredited
someone’s true character?
“Well, I mean, I CERTAINLY have never committed murder...”
REALLY? You don’t think we’ve slayed the hearts of those we love when we inadvertently ignore them or utter a careless word?
If the thought enters our hearts, it already counts as impure.
GOD, through Jesus,
has given us a DEEP and THOROUGH cleaning of our hearts and minds.
· Not talking about carpet cleaning here!
· We’re not talking about the Stanley Steeeeemer type of cleaning: when we allow our hearts and our minds, and yes, our mouths, to be filled with the Spirit of a benevolent and loving God, we find ourselves being cleansed from the inside out.
· We find ourselves speaking a word of kindness instead of snark.
· We find ourselves holding our tongue instead of sharing that gossip.
· And we even find ourselves with a measure of patience in the mall parking lot!
It’s a pureness and a holiness beyond ANYTHING we’d find walking this earth.
And yet...He DID walk this earth....
He came to THIS earth
Walked THIS earth
and died on THIS earth to do just that:
to clean our sins away,
to purify our hearts from within,
and to claim each one of us, as beloved children of God.
We’re Easter people, folks – we live INTO that Resurrection truth.
We live into the gift of a Savior who makes us clean, inside and out.
The man who hung on that dirty and wood-splintered cross was GOD.
GOD. IN. THE. FLESH.
And that’s really all the Biology we need to know!
In the name of the
+ Father, and of the
+ Son, and of the
+ Holy Spirit....AMEN.