Are We Uncomfortable 8-20-17

In this sermon. based on Matthew 15:21-28, I explore a troubling passage in light of troubling events that have occurred in our country.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/are-we-uncomfortable-8-20-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I spent a pretty big chunk of last weekend in a car…as my family and I were on our way home from our annual trek to family camp in the mountains of southern Colorado. I’ve shared before how isolating that week of camp is, because there is very little cell signal…and its about the only time all year when I’m able to put my phone down and be utterly out of contact.

We left mid-morning and Saturday, and as I spent the vast majority of that day behind the wheel as we moved across Colorado and then much of Nebraska, I was still pretty oblivious to the news…but after stopping for the night, I found myself awake early Sunday morning…round about 4 am in a hotel room in Kearney…and so I picked up my phone to scroll through the news…and it was in that instance that I realized that in August of 2017…there was a white supremacy rally including the glorification of Nazi’s in America.

I wish I was making this up…but you all know that I’m not. The truth of the matter is that this evil still exists in our country…and people died as a result of it. (pause) Are we uncomfortable yet? (pause)

If you are expecting some humorous antidote today, I’m going to disappoint you…because I don’t have one. And honestly I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to even attempt it today…because in the past week, we have been violently reminded of a pretty big issue that too many of us have hoped to sweep under the rug in our nation.

We have been reminded that there are those in our country who can and do look at other people…and they see someone who is less than human…and I don’t know about you, but that makes me pretty ashamed to be a part of this society…and even worse…to know that many of those who claim white supremacy call themselves Christians.

All too often when something like this happens…individuals are quick to distance themselves from the hate-mongers…and part of me thinks that’s a smart move…but unfortunately…there’s a distinction that they share with all of us…we’re all fellow members of the human race. (pause)
Hate for one another exists within our species…whether we like it or not…whether we want to acknowledge it or not…and even though it pains me to think it, much less to say it out loud…we all need to acknowledge it…because in some way shape or form…we’re all a part of it…and it’s a part of us. (pause)

When I first sat down to begin my initial sermon prep this week…knowing full well that I’d be bringing all this stuff up…I wondered just what the gospel might have to say about this situation…and then I opened my Bible to Matthew 15…and low and behold…I come across the story that many will argue…me included…is the single most troublesome passage in the New Testament…Jesus interacting with the foreign woman seeking healing for her daughter.  Here she’s called a Canaanite…Mark calls her a Syrophoenician Greek…and we know that Jesus is essentially in enemy territory, as the narration tells us he’s gone to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

There’s a bunch of stuff going on in the background here that all points in the same direction…that Jesus has left the realm of the Jews…and he’s in the land of the Gentiles…and on top of all that…we’ve got the distinction within the Jewish culture that they are God’s chosen people…Jesus aside…the cultural history and tension between the chosen Jews and the unclean gentiles is working against things here…we need to keep all this in mind as we consider this short story.

Jesus is hanging around…word has spread. His message has spread, stories of his miracles has spread…and not just through Israel but throughout the entire region…everyone has heard about this Jesus guy…including this gentile woman who’s daughter is possessed…this woman who’s sole purpose is to free her daughter from that which hinders her…and if that means she’s got to approach this uppity Jewish rabbi that everyone’s talking about…well that’s what she’ll do. (pause)
Have mercy on me…Lord, son of David…my daughter has a demon. (pause) His reply? Nothing…he ignores her…eye opening to say the least but perhaps not the first time something like this has happened…so she keep crying out.

Attracted by the commotion the disciples come waltzing over…and hearing her continued cries for mercy…her continued appeals to the Lord, they make a request as well…Now our translation says “send her away” but they were likely saying “release her” as in release her from her troubles…honestly I think the disciples, even if they are acting out of annoyance, are at least trying to get the woman some help…and Jesus spouts of about only coming for the lost sheep of Israel…and then…finally to top it all off, when she asks again…Jesus, the pillar of love and acceptance…the one who we’ve come to bank on doing what is right and good even when we can’t see just how or why…Jesus, seems to call this woman a dog. (pause)

Are we uncomfortable yet? (pause) Did that actually happen? Did the savior of the entire world really just address a person and pretty much tell them to their face that they are less than human? If you know what the acronym WTF means, I think we can insert that here…because I don’t know about you but I can’t make heads or tails of this. I’ve preached on it a couple times before, once here out of Matthew and once out of Mark’s account…and every time I’ve wrestled with it I’ve come to the same conclusion. Jesus is acting like a jerk.

I’ve had a lot of conversation…I’ve read a lot of different commentaries…all of them aimed at trying to make head’s or tails of what’s going on here. Some will say that Jesus was testing the woman, and that through her persistence she passes the test. Others have said that Jesus was still in the process of learning and that this chance encounter opens his eyes to the reality that his mission goes beyond the Jewish culture to all the world…still others have suggested that because we hear that the disciples came on the scene and its only then that Jesus actually starts talking, that he’s actually at work to point out their cultural bias to them…these are just a few of the possible explanations…and there are others as well…but none of them really help to shed any light what so ever…and in the end the only thing that I can think is that somehow, someway, Jesus is managing to hold up a mirror for us today.

Because I don’t know about you but when I see Jesus, whether intentionally or on the sly-teaching side, act like an utter dirt bag to this woman, I’m reminded of every single time that I’ve done the same. Every time that I’ve failed to show mercy…every time that someone comes to the church with a story that doesn’t quite add up and I’ve turned them away. Every time I’ve driven past a homeless person holding a sign and I’ve kept looking straight ahead to avoid making eye contact. Every time I’ve heard about violence on the news and I’ve shrugged my shoulders because it didn’t affect me.

Whatever it is that Jesus is up to in this passage, regardless of how uncharacteristic it is…Jesus reminds me of the reality that there are many in this world who are treated as if they are less than human…as if they have less worth, or no worth…that there are individuals who are treated as God’s creation of humankind bearing the divine image doesn’t apply to them….and that since this is true and there are those who are treated this way…there are those on the other side who are doing the treating. (pause) Are we uncomfortable? (pause)

I remember watching the movie A Time To Kill back in the mid-90’s…a story that revolves around racial tension and murder and features the presence of the KKK…and I remember thinking to myself that this kind of blatant hatred just seemed so wrong…so utterly wrong…and I also remember thinking that I was glad it was only a movie…and that its an important lesson for us to think about.

Never did I think that 20 years later, we’d actually be seeing this type of hatred…this unwarranted, pointless…blatant hate on display in our reality…and yet here it is. And though many of us are likely asking the question of why is this, or how can this actually be real…I fear that we’ve all been complacent for too long.

Because for too long we’ve sat in our homes and in our communities…and yes even here in our church…thinking that it doesn’t affect us…or even ignoring it all together…but we can’t ignore it anymore…because its not just a situation that’s happening over there…and its not just something that is a mild concern for a few people here and there.

We have to call this what it is. White supremacy is a sin…period. Because to say that one person is better…or is in any way more of a person that another is to deny what God has said and done in the creation of every member of the human race. Everyone bears the divine image…end of story.

To be faced with the reality of this evil within our reality…within our culture…it must force us to act…we must feel the outrage that this behavior warrants…because this atrocity is happening to our fellow brothers and sisters…and we are reminded in scripture that we share one another burdens…we share one another’s sorrows…and if we are completely honest with ourselves…I think we will agree that we’ve failed to do that…and realizing that…acknowledging that fact darn sure better make us uncomfortable. (pause)

Now perhaps when we are forced to think about all of this stuff, the thought crosses our minds “what can I do” or “how can I change it” or “what am I supposed to do about the attitudes of someone else?” I think the first thing we do is recognize it…and be honest with it. But then we need to take a deep breath and actually feel the outrage that is warranted when this kind of sinful hate and bigotry rears its head.

Ironically our bulletin tells us that we are about to sing the hymn It is Well With My Soul…and while it is important that we seek the hope of Christ in the midst of turmoil, I think its also vital that we realize that in many ways it is not well…and especially for my brothers and sisters who are black, or brown, or yellow, or red, or Jewish or Muslim or whatever other label gets thrown on them in our society…you think you’re uncomfortable today, trying walking a mile in their shoes and see how well it is with their soul. (pause)

Today Jesus holds up a mirror…and I don’t like what I see…both within me as an individual and within us as a culture…but then I am reminded that the woman did get her miracle…her daughter was healed…and despite the fact that I don’t like this story, the end result is not up to me. Healing happens whether we want it to or not. And somedays, that’s got to be enough for us…that God will act, whether we approve of it or not…and that in the end God’s grace is enough for all of us…and its given to all the world whether we think any of us deserve it or not…which newsflash we don’t…because if we did it wouldn’t be grace would it? (pause)

Today let us live in the beauty of this perfect grace of God…and let each of us repent of whatever part we have played in our society coming to the point where we find it today…even if the part that we as individuals have contributed is apathy…and then as forgiven people of God lets go be the church in the world…and instead of trying to be different in the world…how about we go out and make the world different. Amen

 

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Teresa on August 27, 2017 at 7:55 am

    Just listened to the sermon this morning. Very powerful.

    Reply

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