Sermon Ideas 4U - Archived Sermons -- AFTER Advent 2002
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August 17, 2014 -- Season of Pentecost 2014 -
Genesis 45: 1-15
Matthew 15: 21-28
A number of years ago, at a Presbytery meeting (not PEI) a speaker made an off the cuff, but disparaging comment about “bikers” with their noisy machines and shady reputations. A respected lay member of the Presbytery stood up on a “point of personal privilege” and informed us that he took offence to that stereotype. He was a biker and would not like to be considered shady or untrustworthy.
A few years ago a retired United Church minister was babysitting the “food bank” trailer that had been set up in the parking lot of a Charlottetown Tim Horton’s. Throughout the designated time period, various people would come and drop off groceries. He would thank them and load the donations into the trailer. By and by a burly, very tough looking biker with many tattoos, on a very loud bike roared into the parking lot. He saw him go into the restaurant and he assumed he was drinking his coffee and eating his donuts or donuts inside. Time passed and the man came out of Tims but much to the minister’s chagrin he did not leave immediately, but looked first at the trailer and then walked over to it.
“What’s going on here?”
“Well”, the minister said, “we are collecting food for families that can’t make ends meet and need to use a food bank”.
“You mean to tell me that there are people in this beautiful place who need that kind of help?”
“Well, yes there are.”
“Will you be here tomorrow?”
“Yes, I will.”
“Hmmmm. I don’t got no money on me now, but I’ll be back” he promised. He put on his helmet, climbed on his bike and roared out of the parking lot.
The retired minister was actually happy to see him go and was quite sure that he didn’t really want him to come back at all.
The next day came and the biker did return as promised. He roared up to the trailer on his Hog and he said, “A bunch of us is staying at this campground outside of town there and I told the guys what you said and we all decided we would make a donation. He handed the minister a battered KFC bag stuffed with money. On the bag was written something like this, “The world would be a whole lot better place if we all cared a lot and shared a little”, and it was signed by a “Christian Biker Association”.
Sometimes the people we meet surprise us to such an extent that we have to rethink all of our presuppositions and stereotypes.
One of the stereotypes we have of Jesus is “a meek and mild man”, indeed there is a hymn by that name. He was nice to everyone, did not swear and he was always a calm, cool and polite, a perfect gentlemen.
We also think of Jesus as being perfectly mature in his faith, at least from the day he left his self-imposed wilderness time after his baptism by John in the Jordan. Jesus is not someone who needed to “grow” spiritually or become more “mature in his calling”.
Over the past week I have been purging files and discovered a set of evaluations from my first internship in which my areas of needed growth were outlined by my supervisor. That’s a normal kind of thing for student ministers but we don’t usually think of Jesus in this way, do we? We don’t think of Jesus as being downright rude and insensitive, toward someone in need. To think that way would be very presumptuous or even offensive, wouldn’t it?
Yet, Today’s passage presents us with a rude Jesus and a woman who refused to take no for an answer. It presents us with a Jesus who appeared to change his mind after being challenged by a pagan who appears to be in possession of a greater faith than most of his fellow Jews.
You heard me read the passage, but let’s dig a little deeper.
In no particular order there are some observations that can be made.
Since we don’t have the inside line on all the “clues” let it be known that this woman had NOTHING going for her. First of all, she was a woman and women and men who were not related to one another did not speak in public, so for this conversation to even have taken place broke several taboos.
This woman is also a Canaanite. The Canaanites were the original inhabitants of the land who had lived there before Israel came out of the wilderness, crossed the Jordan and won the battle of Jericho! What her religion would have been is uncertain, but she did not worship the God of Israel.. She was a “Gentile” who may have worshipped idols or belonged to a fertility cult. She would have been even lower on the “scale of religious acceptability” than a hated Samaritan, a group who were despised as “half- breeds” but worshipped the God of Israel, albeit in the “wrong place and way”.
For someone to have a demon was a particular kind of illness regarded as a sign of God’s punishment - in a way that another kind of illness would not have been.
To be clear, Jesus calls the woman a “dog”. When I was in school that was how my male peers referred to a girl who was “not very pretty”. It seems that Jesus felt that his healing power was valuable and not to be given away lightly, especially to a pagan. a woman, a dog.
She had so many strikes against her; she would have been regarded as OUT, OUT, OUT. Yet, despite Jesus the umpire, calling her OUT, she steps up to bat for her daughter. She does not take Jesus to task for his slur, but without missing a beat she observes that “even the dogs get to eat crumbs”. Wow! Did you catch that? Do you know what she really said?
What she was saying, in effect, was that “your power is so strong Jesus, all my daughter needs is a crumb; all I am asking for is a crumb. Please heal my daughter, Jesus.” Like the woman who touched his robe, her faith was so great that she knew this would be sufficient.
So we have a passage where Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, was challenged in his point of view about his very mission and he CHANGED. He saw that there was faith outside of the “children of Israel”; he saw spiritual value in the “other”, in the one who would normally have been “outside the lines”. Wow. That’s a lot to digest in one bite.
The more important question, of course, is what do WE do with this story? Surely in 2014 there are no “out” and “in” groups in hte church of Jesus Christ! Think again!
The early church to whom Matthew was writing was, no doubt, struggling with who was “in” and who was “out”. Some people felt that the gospel was for the Jews and not for the Gentiles while others felt it was for everyone. The question really came down to these two: “ Who is acceptable to God?” and “Are we a people of grace or a people of privilege?”
Do we feel we deserve special treatment, for whatever reason or do we, saved by grace, in turn show that love and grace to others.
This passage from a long ago and almost forgotten time asks of us a question that is very much a question for today. Whom do we welcome? Who is welcome in our community? Who is welcome in our church? It gets more specific. Who would we want as an elder or a steward? What should people wear to church, or does it matter? Are newcomers acceptable, or only so long as they realize that we do things around here in a certain way and we don’t want change. Of course, that’s not truly being welcoming? Jesus was told, and shown a faith far deeper than existed in some of his own people.
Are we more welcoming of some families than others? Why? The Visioning Committee did a survey a couple of years ago and found out that some people do not see those of us at Kings United as very welcoming. Instead of getting our backs up it would probably be best to first take a good look at how we welcome people; at how we value the contributions of others; at how we welcome teens and tots and those who used to come but stopped for awhile FOR WHATEVER REASON.
Lets all remember that we have no reason for smugness. Let us welcome and love as we have been welcomed and loved.
No exceptions. No exclusions.
1995- 2014 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.
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The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!