Traditional Sermon Pentecost 11
The other night my husband and I were sitting around and Erik was reading some quotes about parenthood. Several of them came from the actor Ryan Reynolds who has a thing or two to say about this crazy thing called parenting.
And this one:
And finally this gem:
When Erik read this last quote about being made into a human shield, we looked at each other, smiled lovingly at each other and said, “Yeah…I would use you (and myself) as a shield to protect our child.” It’s in our very being and wrapped within our DNA to love our children…and to be willing to give our very life for our own.
I’m guessing that many of you can resonate with this sentiment.
A parent’s love will springboard them into all circumstances…whether it’s dealing with lots of poopy diapers, or having talks that you never wanted to have, or going to places you never imagined yourself to go. You are willing to give anything for your child.
And so we encounter the woman in our Gospel text today. She has no name. She’s described as a Canaanite. She’s in the region of Tyre and Sidon.
Three descriptors that don’t fly well in the Jewish communities of Galilee. In fact, a few chapters before in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus mentions these pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon and demands repentance in the face of possible judgment.
The areas get the stink eye from Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel, and Tyre and Sidon have a bad rap with most of the people in Galilee–including the disciples.
Back in the day, there were some pretty hard feelings because the food that was gathered and grown back in the disciples’ hometowns were sent to the the area of Tyre and Sidon, leaving many in Galilee, hungry.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the disciples are yelling at this woman to go away and demanding that Jesus shoosh her away. Maybe it’s because she broke one of the big rules of the time…there was a social custom that when in public, women be accompanied by a male chaperon…and she was clearly alone.
And Jesus’ response to her always makes me pause.
It’s harsh. It seems hurtful.
To say that he’s focused on only one segment of the populace and doesn’t want to throw food to the dogs.
Why does he say that?
Why is there silence first? And then why out of all people does Jesus say a slur… a racial slur that would have been lobbed over the wall to Gentiles from Jews and the same slur would have been lobbed right back from Gentile lands back into Jewish ones. Why would Jesus lower himself?
Maybe it’s political–the food and economy dollars are being outsourced from the house of Israel to this pagan land. And the tension made its way into his conversation.
Maybe it’s theological–in the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus gathers his disciples and sends them on a mission he gives them explicit instructions
Go nowhere among the Gentiles…go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…
Why does this interaction happen this way?
Well, friends, I don’t know. I just don’t know.
What I do know is how our Gospel story ends. Fast forward to the end of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus again gathers his disciples and gives him their mission. He again begins with the command Go…but now he adds
Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But back to that mother’s love of her child.
Her child is sick…surrounded by demons that threaten and is filled with something bad that is tormenting her own. And she’ll do anything for the one she loves. Even if it means asking mercy from one who is not a Gentile. Even if it means yelling her cries over his disciples who try to dismiss and push her away. Even if it means sparring verbally with Jesus himself.
When it comes to your family and your children, how many of us would not go toe to toe with heaven and hell for the ones we love?
Jesus praises the woman for her voice, her faith and her love. And the woman’s child is healed.
And in this encounter, a missional change seems to occur. A pivot and shift.
After this point Jesus’ earthly mission broadens beyond the sea of Galilee, beyond his own house of David, beyond to the world itself.
I don’t know why Jesus first responds the way he does, but his response teaches me something. Perhaps in this moment Jesus models to his disciples and us what we need to do. That if we begin at a place of ignoring cries for help or our have a starting place of tension, then like Jesus we move beyond that… and like Jesus be moved by the cries and respond with compassion.
What I learn from this encounter is that we’re called to pivot, shift, and grow in understanding God’s kingdom.
When have you pivoted and grown in your life?
Has there been a time when someone’s cries or a quiet statement has cracked your hard shell or preconceived notions?
I can tell you…when I’ve had a pivotal moment–where my eyes have been opened to my own prejudices or my unfounded fears have been quelled…the person who helped me grow is usually someone close to me. A good friend, a parent, a family member. Thank God that God surrounds me with folks that love me enough to help me pivot and grow in God’s love.
Back to that woman.
We spoke before of a mother’s love who would do anything for her child. What if our woman in the story is truly a reflection of our heavenly Father? Our heavenly Father who would do anything for his children.
Anything…even when they’re broken, possessed by the demonic forces of hate and prejudice and blinded by our own idols…our Father’s love keeps reaching out. Our God was willing to give his life for his own…and with that life-giving act sent a message that all are covered under the banner of God’s love. Regardless of one’s race, ethnicity, gender, disability, class or any of the other ways we so easily segment ourselves off from each other.
And it’s our heavenly parent’s love that continues to cry out and reach out to us that we may be reconciled to God and reconciled to our brothers and sisters both near and far.
As a pastor these last few months, I’ve been asked by tear-filled people the question
What can I do?
This is a poignant question in the face of brokenness in our nation and our world. It’s the same question I found myself asking Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky, who serves at Temple Beth El in Lancaster and who many of you met last year when he came to St. Peter’s to teach. A few months ago his children’s Jewish school was threatened with a bomb threat. “What can we do?” I asked him.
It was the same question I asked my hometown friend Rachel when I heard that her Jewish Center had received its 3rd bomb threat in only a few months.
“What can I do?” I asked her.
And their responses to me, in their own ways, reflect the very identity we live as Christians. In their own ways they told me,
Keep us in your prayers. Be a voice of love and not hate.
This is part of our very identity as Christians–to love, to pray, to walk with, to be the light of Christ.
Last weekend Bishop Bill Gohl, one of our ELCA bishops, was in Charlottesville for a prayer vigil. And there was a moment of great terror and fear when white supremacists and neo-Nazis barred the church they were in, and threatened them. Thank God Bishop Gohl and the worshippers were able to finish their worship and leave in peace.
The next day he was among many pastors and church leaders who non-violently stood against the racism that was occurring, and also prayed for those who were yelling such awful hatred. In reflection of the dramatic events, one of our Lutheran bishops noted,
The mob may have been carrying torches, but we have the light of Christ.
-Bishop Guy Erwin
What can we do in the face of such fear and such hatred?
We live out God’s call by the way we say NO to the torches and YES to the light of Christ. We remember who we are…we are Christians….and whose we are…children of God…made into a new creation by the undying love of our Almighty Father.
We are given the great duty to shine God’s light before others. That’s our baptismal mandate. Not carrying the torches of hate or violent causes, but carrying the peace of God, the light of goodness, and the wide expanse of our Lord’s compassion.
We are called to shine the light of Christ and the reality, as St. Paul points out, that in Christ there is no difference between Gentile and Jew, servant or rich, man and woman.
Let’s go back to that mom’s love for their child. As parents, Godparents, Grandparents, Uncles, Aunts, Mentors and Guides how much do you love your own?
Do you love them enough to keep the baptismal promises you made? The promises that were made for you in your baptisms and the promises you made for your own in their baptism?
What are those promises we make as parents, Godparents, Grandparents, uncles, aunts, mentors and guides? (9:45 am: They may be fresher in memory for our newly baptized this morning)…
To be in the community with the faithful, to nourish the ones you so dearly love with God’s holy supper and nourish their hearts with God’s own Word.
Do you love them enough to teach them how to pray and teach them God’s desires for their life?
Do you love them enough to live out what trusting God can look like?
Do you love them enough to have those conversations about what it means to be children of God?
That my dear friends is what we may do in the face of fear, sin, and darkness. That is what we may do when the demons of hate pounce like lions. Or violence threatens to tear at God’s peace in our hearts.
What do we do? We may be the reflection of the light of Christ. We may live out our baptismal promise.
Our DNA urges us to give our life for our own, but do we love them enough to give our light and shine for the Lord?