Archive for September, 2015

Be Salty 9-27-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:38-50 I explore Jesus instruction that we be salty, and its importance as we celebrate the baptism of one of the “little ones.”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

My wife is a cook…period. She just is. I like food…a lot…period…We are a good match. And because of this mutual interest in both the preparation as well as the consumption of food, we tend to have Food Network on tv quite a bit.

Now over the course of the past several years, I’ve noticed a change in the typical programming on Food Network…especially during primetime in the evenings…There used to be a lot of shows dedicated to some well-known chef preparing food on camera, simply for the enjoyment of the viewer. Perhaps the most famous one being the Italian Chef Emeril Lagasse…and his signature catch phrase of “BAM!” as he added some seasoning to whatever dish he was currently making.

But now…the trend has moved more towards various cooking competition shows where various chefs and cooks compete round by round, enduring strange challenges and celebrity judge critiques to emerge as the champion.

Perhaps the most well known of these newer shows is one called Chopped where the contestants have to utilize mystery ingredients found in their baskets to prepare a signature dish for each round. And then after each and every round, one of them hears the dreaded words “I’m sorry, you’ve been chopped.”

Its all very dramatic…and of course the editing of the show prior to its viewing certainly helps…but as the clock counts down, you better get your food on the plate…and it better include every one of those mystery ingredients…because if you miss one, you are almost certain to be the next victim on the chopping block.

But all that being said…I often find that it’s the critiques of the judges that lend to the most drama…and by far, there are two main criticisms that pop up the most often. The first is that the food is overcooked…and the second, is the dreaded critique that your food, is under seasoned…bland…blaw. (pause)

Now certainly there are many different kinds of seasonings…one trip down the spice aisle in the grocery store will show you that…but the most common spice…and what I’ve heard chef after chef say…is the most important spice is salt…because salt brings out the natural flavors found within the food itself. (pause) So all you aspiring chefs out there…remember…salt is your friend.

And salt…is of course, where I’m going to jump into today’s lesson…because at the end of quite a bit of random teaching from Jesus…we hear him say these words…For everyone will be salted with fire….and have salt in yourselves…in short…be salty. (pause)
Now to be sure…today’s lesson offers a pretty mixed bag of topics…which, if you’ve caught the past couple of weeks here in Mark chapter 9, has sorta been the theme…as Jesus and the disciples make their way around the area…and Jesus continues to teach them…we seem to hear a lot of random tidbits that really don’t seem to be connected all that well.

It all starts off with John tattling on some random exorcist…some random unnamed guy that has caught wind of Jesus’ ability to cast out demons and so he has started to captilize…casting out demons in the name of Jesus…and John tells on him.
JESUS!!!! WE SAW SOMEONE…AND HE SHOULDN’T BE DOING THIS…HE’S NOT ONE OF US…TELL HIM TO STOP. (pause) Gosh John…I’ve heard the same sort of thing out of my kids when they’re bickering…and Jesus reaction is probably about the same as mine. HEY…YOU WORRY ABOUT YOU…HE’S NOT HURTING ANYTHING.

It would seem in this first exchange, Jesus is reminding the disciples…and probably us as well…that no one has the sole authority in the kingdom. Probably a good reminder for us in those times when we like to point our fingers at different denominations. (pause)
But then Jesus switches gears…and he starts talking about the little ones again…and considering that they’re still sitting in the same house as they were a week ago when Jesus bear hugs a random child to prove a point…it would seem that now he’s jumping back into that discussion after John’s little nitpicky moment.

And Jesus tells us…that anyone who makes one of these little ones stumble might as well tie a giant stone around their neck and jump in the ocean…and he goes on from there…if your hand makes you stumble…cut it off…your foot? Same deal…your eye…yank that puppy out and get rid of it.

And why? Well, because it is apparently better that you are dead than to make someone else stumble…and better that you remove the temptation rather than making yourself stumble…and in the midst we hear about hell and some worm won’t die and unquenchable fire. (pause) Holy smokes Jesus…you are all over the map today.

But…what if he’s not…and what if this is all connected? (Pause) Let’s back up for a second here…because this all starts with a warning against causing a little one to stumble…now that word stumble is an interesting one…and we hear it quite a few times today…and it actually means a few different things…one is literally a stumbling block…another is to scandalize…or other times we hear it translated as cause to sin. (pause)

And that right there starts to shed some light…any of you who causes another to sin…especially one of these young impressionable children who are looking to you to set an example in life…in faith…in how to live….well if you cause them to sin…you might as well be dead…and why? Well, anyone remember what is the wage of sin? (pause) Paul tells us its death.

And that’s what Jesus is talking about…your hand make you sin? Cut it off…do you wanna be dead or do you want life…and not just life but eternal? (pause)
But here’s the thing…we hear this and maybe we start thinking Okay…so Jesus is telling us that we need to act a certain way…or talk a certain way or think a certain way…or maybe Jesus is telling us to grab a knife and start cutting…but we all know that there is nothing that we can actually do in order to make ourselves good enough…its not about presenting a pretty picture of who we are…and we know that we can’t do anything to change ourselves…we just can’t do it on our own.

But we don’t lose hope either…because there is more to the story…because there is something out there…a power…a force…whatever you want to call it…that can make a difference…that can make a change in our lives…but before I start talking about that…I want to back up to salt again.

Because Jesus tells us to be salty…to have salt amongst us…and think for a bit about just what salt does when you put it on food…because salt doesn’t actually change the food…you put some salt on a burger before you cook it…its still a burger…but when you take a bite of it…it tastes different…you perceive it differently…you encounter it differently…your experience of that burger is different with salt that it would be if there was no salt. (pause) So maybe it the salt doesn’t change the form of the food…but it changes the taste doesn’t it? (pause)

So maybe when Jesus is telling us to be salty he’s really saying that there needs to be something else there with you that changes how you are perceived…how you are experienced…how the world sees you…how the world experiences you.

And that, my friends…is the Holy Spirit…the presence of God in spiritual form…the presence of God within you that makes the gift of faith possible…that makes forgiveness of sins possible…that makes eternal life possible despite anything that we can say or think or do.

The Holy Spirit seasons us…changes us…and yes over time this will result in a change in how we act and how we talk and even how we think but its not anything we do…it’s the power of God within us…seasoning us…changing us. (pause)

Now all that is wonderful…but of course it raises the question of just where does the Spirit come from? How can I get me some of that Spirit stuff? (pause) And while I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit can and does come upon whoever God choses…I also believe the promise that is made that in the waters of our baptism, we receive the gift of the spirit…

That water, splashed on our heads…together with the promises of God spoken over us…received in faith…seasons us in way that simple salt never will…and this is not a one time thing…for each and every day, we remember our baptism…we cling to those promises made to us as individuals that God loves you and God claims you through the power of the Holy Spirit, overcoming the sinful nature that leads to death and grants us eternal life along with him in the age to come.

In just a few moments, Leah Grace Neumann will come to this font, brought by her parents who desire that she receive this promise as her own…that receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…and as the water splashes over her head, then we believe and we confess that this is true. (pause)

But now here’s the thing…I want to come back around to one more point that Jesus made…because I think its important that we remember it. “If any of you puts a stumbling block before one of these little ones, it would be better for you to tie a millstone around your neck and be thrown into the sea.” (pause)

If you’ve sat in these pews during a baptism before…you know that once its over, I take that child in my arms, just as Christ gathers us in his arms…and I walk down the aisle…and more often that not, that sweet little child is staring out at all of you…and you hear me say the words that they will be watching you…and that each and every one of you shares in the promises made for that child…and each and every one of you shares the responsibility of raising that child in faith…and that comes down to your example.

Be different because you have the presence of the Spirit within you…Be different because of what God has done in your life…be seasoned by God’s presence…be salty…not because I told you to or because you’ll earn cosmic brownie points…but because she needs you to be…Amen.

Its A No Brainer 9-20-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:30-37, I explore what Jesus is trying to tell us when he says that we must welcome a child. Unfortunately, we have the tendency, like the disciples, of being a little dense about his teachings.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

There’s a movie that came out while I was in college called Office Space. The entire premise of this movie is how much the main character hates his job…he works in a cubicle at a big software company, and day after day, his work makes him miserable.

Early on in the movie, we see just how true this is, when he walks up to the only two individuals at his job that he actually gets along with, and says “I’ve gotta get out of here…you guys wanna go get some coffee?” And we find out that they are only 30 minutes into their work day. Turns out this little episode is because some perky coworker accused him of having a case of the Mondays.

I get it…Monday’s are tough…because the work week is just starting off…the freedom of the weekend has just ended and you are as far away from the next weekend as possible…and if you happen to be in a job that isn’t all that great…the weekly case of the Mondays seems even worse. (pause)
Now that being said, I actually like Monday because its my day off…but I feel the same sort of dread towards Tuesdays. However, I’ve also gotten into a routine that breaks that blaw feeling…and that’s the pastor’s text study that I attend on Tuesday mornings. We talk about the gospel…debating various passages and scriptural connections…sharing insights with one another while discussing various points of view on the different texts. Then, once we’ve done that for a couple hours, we head off somewhere in town to have lunch together.

Admittedly, I love this sort of thing…honest discussion around scripture is exciting for me…and I love to learn with one another in this way. But sometimes we’ll hit a certain bit of scripture and we just can’t seem to get anywhere with it…actually this happens a lot.

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that the word of God is living and active…and it is…sometimes a certain passage is understood one way…but then the next time around your new experience or context makes you see it a little bit differently…sometimes the scriptures appear to be metaphorical…and sometimes they seem to be quite literal…

This week…the issue of metaphorical verses literal tripped us up…and we spent quite a bit of time trying to determine just what Jesus is talking about when he gathers a child into his arms and tells his disciples that they need to welcome one such as this.

Is he being literal? Telling the disciples…and not just them but us as well…Hey…you need to welcome kids…or on the flip side, is he telling us that we need to welcome the powerless…the ones that lack status and can’t protect themselves…

That was the big question…and we didn’t really come up with a good solution…and after a lot of discussion…we hit a lull in the conversation…and since it was pushing noon, my stomach started growling…and it was loud enough that everyone at the table heard it…so we figured it was time to break for lunch.

And so, a few minutes later, we were sitting at a table at Applebees…having more laid back conversation while we waited for our food to arrive…when I noticed a small girl, probably about 4 or 5 bouncing around in the entryway. Her family was waiting for their table and she was entertaining herself by running towards one of the padded benches that sits there in the entry way…and then she’d jump on it.

The girl did this about 2 or 3 times until she misjudged a jump…and promptly smacked her face into the windowsill…and at that…the conversation at my table utterly stopped…we had all seen it happen…and I think the same thought crossed ever single mind as we saw the girls face scrunch up and the tears well up… “Where’s mom?”

The girl stood there crying for a few seconds…and we were just about to get up to go help her when she ran out of site around a corner to where her parents were standing…and once we saw that she was back with her caretakers…I think we all breathed a sigh of relief. (pause)
But I kept thinking about that moment throughout the course of this week…thinking that maybe, just maybe that was a bit of a sign for us following that debate in text study.

That child was in need…if only for an instant…and that need commanded the attention of an entire table…in that instant all we cared about was her well-being…and the fact that she was unable to comfort herself. (pause)

And as I pondered on that…I had the thought that maybe, just maybe we were putting way too much thought into the debate…that in this instance, we were letting our intellect get in the way of understanding just what Jesus was trying to tell us. That maybe, this should be a no brainer.

And as soon as I had that thought…and the small amount of shame that can, at times accompany a thought like that…I felt an awful lot like the disciples in the story today. (pause) Once again…we hear that Jesus is teaching the disciples…and that once again…they fail to grasp what he’s saying. (pause)
A week ago, we heard Jesus make the first prediction of his suffering and death that would occur…something called the Passion Predictions…there are three of them in Mark’s Gospel…we heard the first one last week…and Peter promptly rebukes Jesus only to have Jesus slam him right back.

The second one appears here…just one chapter later…and the final one is coming right up in chapter 10. Three times Jesus plainly tells his disciples “Hey guys…I’m going to die…and its not going to be pretty…but don’t worry because 3 days later I’ll be alive again.” (pause)

And all three times…the disciples…utterly fail to understand him…and its not like Jesus it speaking cryptically…he’s sharing the truth openly and bluntly. I will die…period. (pause) Admittedly, every time I hear moments like this…times when the disciples fail to understand what’s going on, it leaves me scratching my head just a little bit.

Shouldn’t they get it? I mean, they’ve got Jesus right there…the source of the teaching…the teacher himself…doesn’t he explain it in a way that makes sense? And especially this situation…how much more clear can you get than “I will suffer and die and then I will rise again?”

But here’s the thing…we’ve got hindsight…we know the full story…and we know what’s coming…Jesus is betrayed and arrested…and the disciples all run away…and he’s beaten…and he’s crucified…and he dies and is put in a tomb…and then…in the end…he walks out of that tomb alive again.

We’ve heard the whole story…and so when we hear Jesus start talking about it…it comes as no great surprise to us…but the disciples didn’t have hindsight did they? They were living in this story…experiencing it in real time. And so when their master sits them down and says “Guys…you’ve been with me for awhile now…you’ve seen the miracles…you’ve heard the teaching…you know that I’m the Son of God…but I’m gonna die,” don’t you think that would probably blow their minds just a little bit…that they would lack the ability to wrap their heads around it?

But if we think about it, maybe that’s not so surprising…because even with the benefit of hindsight, don’t we all lack understanding about what Jesus tells us? (pause) And maybe, just maybe, we end up falling into the same trap as the disciples.

Because following Jesus’ proclamation of his coming demise…they start bickering with one another about who’s the greatest. “Hey Peter…you used to the favorite until you yelled at Jesus…I bet he likes me better now.” “Shut up Andrew, at least I can name all the prophets.” “That’s nothing John, I get to carry the money bag for us all…I’m the best.” (pause)

I’ll admit it, I don’t know what the debates all about here…unless they are trying to establish the pecking order for who will be in charge when Jesus actually does die…but regardless of their motivation, Jesus flips everything on its ear by talking about the greatest being the one that is willing to serve everyone else…and then he goes one step beyond that and grabs this random child in a big bear hug…and tells them…you want to be great…then you need to receive this one…this one that has no status…this one that has no rights…this one that has no way to protect themselves…you need to receive this one…and then…only then will you receive me…and not only that but you will have received God. (pause)

Interestingly enough…we don’t hear the response of the disciples to this revelation by Christ…maybe because they had nothing to say…maybe they were rendered speechless…maybe the rules that they had grown up knowing had no answer to this. (pause)
Because at face value…Jesus seems to be talking about the notion of hospitality…that you need to welcome everyone…that you shouldn’t exclude anyone…even the least worthy…the last one expected…but if that’s the case…then Jesus is actually laying down some law here…saying that if we want to receive God…if we want to come into the presence of God, we need to welcome the powerless. (pause)
But I don’t think Jesus came into our reality in order to establish more rules…I don’t think he came into our reality to create more barriers that we need to somehow jump over in order to please God…things that we must do in order to be good enough…I’m pretty sure that Jesus came into our reality, lived died and rose again in order to tear down those barriers…to upend those rules. (pause)

Because if its really all about the rules…then this would have been a no-brainer for the disciples…their culture was centered around the notion of hospitality…that you welcomed the stranger into your midst…into your home and at your table…so why would Jesus need to share this? Why would have to hammer on this idea…unless the disciples…those following Jesus…which includes us by the way…aren’t the ones that need to do the welcoming?

The question occurs to me, what if we are the child? What if we are the powerless one…what if we are the ones that Jesus gathers into his arms in a giant bear hug? (pause) I thought about that…and then I realized that there is only 1 other place in all of the gospels when Jesus bear hugs someone like this? It’s a chapter later, when he tells us that any who wish to receive the kingdom of God must become like the child…like the child that he holds in his arms. (pause)

My friends…certainly there are times in life…times in our walk as followers of Christ when we are called to receive others…but what we must remember is that it is not up to our judgment to determine who these others are. Jesus does that…we are called to receive the ones that Jesus has taken hold of…the ones wrapped in his arms…its up to him…not us.

And the second we start to think that it is up to us…and that we hold the key…that we hold the power…then we need to realize that sin has just knocked us flat once more…and once more we must rely on the grace of God…on the love of Christ, who wraps us in his arms once more.

This is why Martin Luther called us simultaneous saints and sinners…because in every moment we are fully justified in the arms of Christ…while still being fully entangled in the power of sin…And yet God looks at us with love and concern and acceptance despite our flaws…and when God asks the question of whether or not this sinner is worth the cost of salvation…whether or not you are worth the price paid by Christ…God says each and every time…Of course my child…that’s a no brainer. Amen.

Human Moments 9-13-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 8:27-38, I explore an example where the Apostle Peter displays typical human tendency. It gives us a good reminder of the human condition that we all share.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to notice a new tendency…when I get together with my friends…we very rarely create new memories…mostly, we just sit around and talk about our old memories…we share stories…often times punctuated with great laughter, about the old times…the silly things that we did in our younger years.

I’ve been noticing this for several years now…and it happened again quite recently as I got together with an old friend for lunch. Now this particular friend hails from this area, but we got to know each other in college, meeting during our first year at the community college close to where I grew up, growing close through those first two years before transferring to Iowa State together and even spending one year as roommates before life started taking us in different directions.

Sure enough though, life has brought us back together here…as he lives with his family in Council Bluffs and I am here in Underwood…and so periodically we’ll get together and reminisce about the old times. Inevitably…each and every time we do that…two inside jokes come up that we still get a kick out of. One of which shines a light on the positive side of our nature, and the other one…well not so much.

First off, the negative one…We both hated our first year college English class. We just hated it…and so as we always joked around about how we wanted to act out. To be sitting there during lecture…and without warning…completely out of nowhere…stand up, throw the table over…and storm out the door…only to step back in a moment later to sheepishly say “Sorry, I forgot my books.” Needless to say, we never acted on that impulse…but we still laugh about it.

But on the other hand…the second joke that we share certainly reflects a little bit better on us as individuals…and its actually a touch of advice that I pass on to students from time to time…I’ll be honest, I can’t remember where I first hear this…but if you ever want to score points with a teacher when you are sitting in a really boring lecture…simply make eye contact with them as they are making a point…then when they pause…nod your head…say “Nice”…and then act like you are writing down some notes based on what they were saying. (pause) We tried it once in Biology…works like a charm.

Two old jokes…two different situations that reveal opposite sides of human nature…and specifically MY nature…that I can ponder on being super respectful and attentive…and at the same time I can ponder on being an unruly menace.(pause) But…isn’t that human nature? (pause)
That we can have big victories one moment, and turn into complete boneheads in the next.

And if we were to try and identify a character from the Bible that best embodies this back and forth tendency…it would have to be Peter. (pause) Perhaps I’m the only person that thinks so…but I’ll stick by it…perhaps only because I relate to Peter so much…I see so much of myself in how Peter is portrayed throughout the gospels…the top of the class one minute and getting crabbed out for being stupid in the next.

We certainly see that very thing in today’s lesson don’t we? As Peter, in one spirit-filled moment, with no prompting what so ever…correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah…the one anointed by God…or more specifically in Jesus’ case, anointed by the Spirit…to usher in a new era…an era where the kingdom of Heaven has come near to us all.

And then…seemingly a moment later…having heard Jesus discuss just what the reality of being the Messiah truly means…Peter spouts off…and rips into Jesus…Peter tries to teach the teacher…Peter tries to master the master…in short…Peter doesn’t think…or perhaps one could argue that Peter thinks too much…and Jesus immediately cuts him down to size.

But certainly this isn’t the only time that we see Peter display the polar opposite of human tendency is it? Peter is the one who displays enough faith in Christ to literally walk on water in one instant…only to be way-laid by fear, and nearly drown because of it.

Or in another instance…Peter pulls a sword to attack those who are arresting Jesus in the garden…only to tuck tail and run away, before ultimately denying Jesus 3 times in a row.

Peter is always the one to spout off impulsively because he doesn’t know what else to say…and yet Peter is the rock on which Christ builds his church. (pause)
I thought a lot about that very fact this week…not just this one instance when Peter rips Jesus a new one only to have Jesus turn around and school him in the art of rebuking…but the fact that we have so many instances…so many stories where we see both sides of Peter…the triumphs and the failures…the faithful moment as well as the faithless ones.

And as I thought about those…I realized that recognizing these moments about Peter…these honest moments in the scripture begins to reveal a great deal about that same human nature…those same back and forth tendencies that we all share.

And we do don’t we? (pause) Because life is messy…and faith is messy…and sometimes we get it…sometimes the Holy Spirit shows us something so clearly in one moment…but it’s not long before life gets in the way…life with all its imperfections…and not only that but our warped sinful reality gets in the way and what was once so clear now seems so unlikely…so muddled…perhaps even impossible. (pause)
But now here’s the thing…if that was the end of the story…and all we had to learn today was that human nature is fickle…then I think the gospel would have ended right there…but it doesn’t? (pause) Because Jesus goes one doesn’t he? And we hear that he calls the crowds together…not just addressing Peter currently sitting in bonehead mode…not just the 12 disciples reeling from the fact that Jesus has called Peter Satan…but Jesus calls everyone together…and publicly talks about what it means to be his follower.

Words about denying ourselves…and picking up our crosses…and why? Well, because the cross is pretty much the end all-be all for us isn’t it? And when we stop and think about it…the cross is a pretty ugly deal…and no matter how much we might try to polish up the image, the truth about the cross is bloody and brutal.

The cross…crucifixion…was torture to the nth degree…a method of drawn out death that the Romans perfected as a warning to everyone that if you step out of line, this is what happens…and in the midst of this brutal death…God meets us. (pause)
And so…Jesus seems to be showing us here that to be his follower means that we need to honest and realistic about things. We need to call it like it is…and sometimes this brutal honesty means we need to be honest with ourselves. (pause)

And perhaps Peter is getting the short end of the stick here…as he often times seems to throughout scripture…but when we’re honest about our own existence…I think we realize that we all experience the same ups and downs…We all experience moments where it feels like we can do no wrong, only to have that pedestal that we have placed ourselves on knocked right out from under us. (pause)
But as we sit here…perhaps stewing in our own juices that being honest about our experience…about our own reality means owning our own imperfections…as horrific as they might be…there’s another point that I need to make. (pause)

Because we are given another example of just what it means to be human…and that example…is Jesus Christ himself. (pause) Jesus…the one who rebukes Peter in this instance…telling him that he needs to set his mind on divine things will soon find himself in the middle of a dark garden at night…in the midst of such excruciating stress that he’s sweating blood…and asking the Father to take this cup away from my lips…and yet…Jesus also utters these words…Not MY will…but your will.

Jesus, while being fully God…was also fully human…and as a human being he DID NOT…want to experience the torture that awaited him…just as we do not want to experience those moments when our human nature leaves us looking foolish, or silly, or stupid…or worse. (pause)
In today’s story, Jesus asks an important question, one that we all need to answer…Just who is he? Is he the Son of God…the one who came into our reality to bring the kingdom of heaven near? The one who eats with sinners…the one who takes the cross to conquer death? Or is he just a man that lived and died?

Sometimes when we are honest with ourselves…the answer that we give to that question is the logical one…that there is no way that this can be true…but on the other hand…sometimes we answer that question empowered by the Holy Spirit, who gives us the gift to believe that which cannot be proven…we answer through the power of faith…

And depending on who’s paying attention…either one of these answers can seem to be either really smart…or really stupid…and that’s part of the human condition as well…that the work of redemption that God is up to through Jesus Christ isn’t completed yet…and because of that people will respond differently in any given situation…just as we ourselves respond differently…because that is part of what makes us human…that we are flawed…that we are wishy washy…and yet praise be to God that he accepts us anyway…no matter how we respond. Amen.

What Does the Crumb Look Like 9-6-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:24-37, I explore two quite strange healings that Jesus performs. This is, admittedly, a troubling passage considering Jesus’ blunt and offensive response to a Gentile woman seeking healing for her daughter.

You can listen to the audio of the text here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Labor Day weekend…and here in Underwood, we find ourselves 2 weeks into the new school year…in many ways, new school years are exciting…but each new school year also brings its share of new challenges.

This year, in the Dalen house, we are all adjusting to the reality of having a middle schooler…and perhaps more specifically…we are dealing with the reality that is…the middle school homework load. My son Jack has been bringing home A LOT…of homework. Now at first…we thought it was just him…but after keeping my ear to the ground here in town…talking with some other 6th grade parents…we’ve learned that its like this for everyone.

With the change to moving around from room to room for different subjects…and specific time limits for each class, there’s more homework. There just is, and pretty much all we can do is help our respective 6th graders to learn how to deal with the load, and develop work patterns to accomplish what needs to be done.

But as any parent out there knows…this sort of thing takes time and as such, I’ve been sitting at the table with my son quite a bit, helping him work through the various subjects…trying to help him learn the tricks…and so far…during the last two weeks, we’ve spent the largest amount of time together…working on math.

Math is one of those subjects that it seems like people either love or they hate…there’s no gray area…it seems like people either get it really easily, or they have to work at it…but if there’s one thing that I’ve noticed over the years, its that one thing always seems to build on the next thing…and so lessons will often be structured to bring in multiple different ways to demonstrate that the lesson has been mastered.

Most recently, my son’s been working on something I call the order of operations…that if you have a multi-step problem, you need to know which portion to do first…perhaps you know the steps as well…you go multiplication, then division, then addition, then subtraction…and for the most part Jack has got that figured out…but last Thursday evening, after he had knocked out the rest of his homework, and then finished up all but 4 problems of this math lesson, he went off to football practice…and we had agreed that after practice was over, we’d sit down to finish up those last couple of problems.

Little did we realize that the final problem was structured like this…various numbers were listed, with blanks left for the different type of application…and then there was the final answer. The problem was solved by putting the correct application sign into the blanks…so essentially we had to figure out where to put a multiplication sign and a division sign, etc…and its basically guess and check…and by the time we got to that problem it was already almost 9pm…we were both tired…and neither one of us had a fully functioning brain.

Do you think we could figure that out? (pause) Finally after staring at this problem for more than half an hour, I threw up my hands and told him “Go to bed. This is impossible. I don’t get it.” (pause) Frustrated…confused…angry…all of it. Because at that point…what we were trying to accomplish seemed impossible. There was no good explanation…and no good answer. (pause)
Today’s gospel story…well, let’s just say that it seems pretty similar to that…because today’s story is completely filled with a bunch of stuff that makes absolutely no sense what so ever. (pause)

During the first part of the week, I thought it was just me…and then I thought that it could just be that it was early and I hadn’t done much work with the text yet…and further study would begin to reveal insight into what’s happening. (pause)
But it didn’t…and I went to text study with some of the other area pastors…and I heard every single one of them struggling with the exact same response. “What is going on here?” (pause)

And admittedly, there is a lot going on in this passage. Two separate stories of healing…both of which might be happening within Gentile territory. There is debate…a lot of really random travel plans…and two completely different styles of healing…so what do you say…let’s dive into all this.

First off…Jesus takes a break from all the crowds…or at least he tries to…and he heads off to Tyre…a region and city along the Mediterranean Sea…a very diverse city…and definitely outside what we would call a Jewish area…and it seems like Jesus is trying to catch a little alone time but as per usual, he’s recognized…and people bring requests.
This time around…it’s a woman…and keep in mind the big cultural no-no’s she’s doing. She’s a Gentile…specifically Syrophoenician…and she’s approaching a Jew…and as we’ve seen in the past, they don’t often play nice together…but not only that, she’s a woman approaching a man…something else that simply would not have happened…and yet…for the sake of her daughter…she feels that these two pretty major cultural infractions are worth it…and she comes to Jesus, falls at his feet and passionately makes her request. (pause)
So far so good…we’ve seen this sort of thing before haven’t we? And I think we’ve all come to expect a certain sort of response from Jesus…compassion…acceptance…likely a rebuke for the other people who condemn the individual as unacceptable. (pause) But not today.

Today…Jesus shoots her down with what might just be the single most offensive thing he has ever said. Its not right to take the food from the children and throw it to the dogs…honestly that seems bad enough at face value…but with a little leg work, the original language reveals that Jesus is being a little more blunt…a little more colorful as he calls either this woman or her daughter, we’re not sure which…a name that actually refers to a female dog…

Not willing to be deterred…the woman seemingly accepts the rude statement, and throws it right back in Jesus’ face with this statement about even the dogs eating the crumbs from the table…an od response…but one that seems to convince Jesus of her faith…and instantly, without even seeing the girl first hand…Jesus grants the healing…he just says that its done…the epitome of phoning it in. (pause)

Certainly this is all pretty weird…but as we know…the story doesn’t stop there…and Jesus continues his roadtrip towards the sea of Galilee and the Decopolis…strangely enough by first going farther north to Sidon, before ending up to the southeast…and once he finally arrives after his meandering he’s once again greeted with the crowds who bring him someone else to heal. (pause)

Now we don’t know much about this random guy…we don’t know if he’s a Jew or a Gentile…could honestly be either one as the population was mixed in this particular area…but we see this guy who can’t talk very well at all and he’s deaf.

And while in the last situation Jesus just spoke the word to heal remotely, he has to take this guy off by himself…and then he does some pretty weird stuff. (pause) Essentially, he gives the guy a wet willy and hawks a loogy in his mouth…and only then…once he’s done this, does Jesus heave a big sigh and tell him to quite literally, open up…Now once again…we see that it works…and the man is healed…just as the little girl was freed from the unclean spirit. (pause)

That’s a lot of stuff isn’t it? A lot of really random information…all of which combined to leave me scratching my head…and asking myself the question…WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE?

Jesus tells someone off who is seeking healing…and then he responds to another healing in about the grossest way possible. (pause)
This isn’t the Jesus that we’ve come to expect is it? Particularly in how he responds to the woman in the first half of the story. His response…its offensive…and honestly its downright shocking that Jesus…the one who has modeled and preached love and acceptance would make such a rude comment at the expense of this person who recognizes him as Lord.

In fact, this is so shocking…that scholars have provided a wide variety of explanations for just what is going on here. Some call it a test…that’s he’s merely testing the faith of the woman to see how much she really wants this. Other’s say that he’s merely joking with the woman…making a statement based on what society would expect, and that she instantly picks up on it…that these two are having friendly banter, when all the while he’s already accepted her…and finally, some say that Jesus’ humanity is really dominating here…and that he’s a product of the male dominated, Jewish segregated society…and that this woman actually teaches him a lesson about just who the kingdom of heaven is really for. (pause)

And so I ask…are any of these explanations acceptable? (pause) That was the big question in my text study this week…and you should have seen the way that this group of pastors went round and round and round…we didn’t quite come to blows but it got pretty heated as different individuals offered their two-cents about what’s going on.

But for me…I walked out there that day every bit as confused as I still am as I stand here before you this morning.

Because despite any explanation that we might to try to offer…we hear Jesus spout off…we see Jesus seemingly blow this woman off despite her display of faith that the power of God is present and can heal her daughter.

And that says nothing for the confusion that I feel when comparing the two actual healings…one remotely…and one that I find to be honestly kind of disgusting.

And yet…both healings happened didn’t they? (pause)

Regardless of the situation…regardless of the tension that we find in this passage…regardless of how much it leaves us confused…or perhaps, disgusted…perhaps even disappointed that our loving savior would call anyone a dog, much less a helpless woman…regardless of all this…the healing happens…the woman receives the crumb from table….and the crumb…is enough…because her daughter is healed…and the man…yes he got his ears poked and another person’s spit in his mouth…but he is healed. This odd crumb that he receives is enough as well. (pause)

So where do we go from here? What do we do with this? (pause) Personally, even with the success of the healing…even with the two individuals being freed from what has them hindered…I find this passage troubling…

I find it troubling because Jesus makes a statement that Jesus…God in human form…the one who came to bring the kingdom of heaven near…the one that came to make relationship with our loving God that claims us and accepts us, flawed as we are, the one that came to make that possible…makes this statement that in the very least reflects the really crappy reality of how different members of society treat one another and in the worst case reflects just how our savior feels about an individual on a personal level, and it reflects very poorly.

If I claim that God loves us so much and God in the flesh makes statements like this…then I’m really at a loss for what to do…a loss of what to think…and I wonder if I’m the only one. (pause)

But maybe…just maybe, this is one of those situations that I talk about sometimes…one of those hard situations…one of those tough questions to which there are no good answers. (pause)

Is Jesus really calling this woman a dog and blowing her off? Maybe, I don’t know…is she really teaching him something about the kingdom of God that he didn’t already know? Maybe, I don’t know. Does Jesus really need to spit in order to open the ears and tongue of this other random guy when he’s already proven that he can simply speak the word and have it be done? Maybe…I…don’t…know…and I don’t expect you to know either.

Because that’s life…life, is messy…life is full of questions, and concerns…and situations that don’t turn out like we hope or expect…and simply being people of faith doesn’t change that for us…that woman expressed faith and got called a dog…and yet…the crumb that she receives is enough…the healing happens whether we like the details or not.

And sometimes…that needs to be enough for us…because there’s really nothing that we can do about it. Sometimes society calls someone unacceptable…sometimes we do…but in the end…God gives us a crumb…somehow, someway God gives us that crumb…and its enough. The woman got her daughter back, and for her, I bet it was worth it to be called a dog. The man could hear and speak, probably worth a random rabbi spitting in his mouth…

I don’t know what your crumb is…but I think God gives them to all of us…it might not be what we hope for…it might not be what we expect and it sure as heck might not come in the way that we want…but it comes…whether we think we’re worthy of it or not…God does, and even if we fail to understand his tactics…Jesus lived and died and rose again to prove it…may that crumb be enough today…regardless of what it looks like. Amen.