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.
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Sermon for Sunday, 20 August 2017
Text: Matthew 15: 10-28 (NRSV)
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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.