Posts Tagged ‘Canaanite Woman’

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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This Is Uncomfortable 8-17-14

This sermon comes from Matthew 15:21-28. Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman and their exchange is…unsettling.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-uncomfortable-8-17-14

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

Its good to be back with you after being gone for a couple weeks. As many of you know, last week I traveled out to southern Colorado with Emily and the kids to attend family camp in the Sangre de Cristo mountains at Rainbow Trail Lutheran Bible Camp near Canon City.

This is a wonderful experience for us each and every year…a chance for renewal and rest…a chance to see old friends and colleagues…and a chance to spend quality time as a family. (pause) Now each year when we head out to Colorado I have a little different plan in mind for what I want to do. Sometimes its ambitious with a lot of hikes and various physical challenges and activities. Other years its more lowkey…with high hopes of sitting on the deck of the main lodge looking out over the valley at the mountains beyond…calmly resting in the beauty of God’s creation.

This year, I planned on the later…its been a crazy year…and a crazy summer…and I was ready to kick back and take it easy. (pause) Now how many of you think I actually managed to pull that off? Needless to say…my plans for a calm week with my feet up were dashed pretty quickly as I participated in various activities including, but not limited to…white water rafting, a very vigorous spot of dancing at the yearly ho-down, a 4 mile hike up and down a very…VERY rough, rocky road, and last but certainly not least…a trip through the camp’s brand new extreme high ropes course alongside of Emily and another couple that travels to camp with us every year.

The high ropes course included multiple elements, some of which we accomplished individually…for instance I had to cover a 25 foot gap using nothing but hanging ropes with small loops in the end for my feet…and others that we accomplished together. Now some of these elements were quite simple…and others were pretty difficult.

Though the most physically demanding element I accomplished was the hanging ropes…the most uncomfortable one involved crossing two wires in pairs…with nothing to hold onto except one another. Now Emily and our friend Christina went first…and if either set had it easier it was them…as their wires were parallel the entire way across. I partnered with Eric, Christina’s husband…and we had the challenge of wires that gradually got farther apart.

Further adding to the difficulty of this challenge is the fact that Eric is about 4 inches taller than me…and he outweighs me by a pretty large margin. To set the scene, we faced each other, and braced ourselves against one another by grasping hands and leaning in so that our weight counterbalanced…and then we fearfully stepped out onto half inch steel cable…suspended about 35 feet in the air.

Gradually, we slid ourselves sideways across that very thin cable…trying not to put too much of our weight on the other…and yet trying to hold each other up at the very same time. Our legs were shaking…the cable right along with us…and we…were nervous. It took us about half the distance across the gap to actually figure out a good system…but eventually we made it across to where Emily and Christina were waiting…and as we sat there for a moment catching our breath…Christina made a comment about how I had been breathing the whole way across…focused…teeth clenched…and practically hyperventilating. I didn’t even know I was doing it…but apparently it sounded like this (example of breathing). Needless to say…I found this whole experience to be very…very uncomfortable and I was extremely relieved a few minutes later when I found both feet safely back on the ground.

Now I share this story with you today, because it has two things in common with today’s gospel lesson. First off…Jesus seems to be vacation…having traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon…two Mediterranean sea ports to the northwest of Galilee and Israel…and while there were likely Jewish people present…he and his disciples would have been surrounded by Gentiles…including the Canaanite woman that recognizes Jesus and approaches him. We don’t know just what it is that makes Jesus decide to head off in this odd direction in the midst of his three year ministry…yet here he is…and in the midst of his time away…whether he was actually vacationing or not…Jesus encounters a ministry-type situation. (pause)

HAVE MERCY ON ME LORD, SON OF DAVID. MY DAUGHTER IS TORMENTED BY A DEMON. (pause) Nothing new for Jesus after all. He’s constantly encountering people in need of healing from various illnesses or who are possessed by demons. We’ve seen him heal them all countless times…right up until now.

And here’s the second point of interaction between my story and this story…this is where things get really uncomfortable for me as a believer in Christ. (pause) Jesus hears the woman cry out to him…begging him to have mercy on her daughter…she clearly recognizes him for who he is…calling him both Lord and Son of David…and he…flat out…ignores her. (pause)

HE DOES NOTHING!!!! HE DOESN’T EVEN ENGAGE WITH HER!!!! What? That’s not the Jesus we know…he always engages…he always recognizes the person before him. Certainly, this is strange…and so we begin to the ask the question of just what is really going on here…of why Jesus ignores her and just walks on by.

Now the woman, bless her heart…she doesn’t give up does she? She just keep on shouting after Jesus and the disciples…and the disciples…well…they get annoyed…and perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us…they do have that tendency within scripture…and so they approach Jesus saying “Send her away…for she keeps shouting at us.” (pause) Now an interesting point here is another one of those translation issues that I’m fond of. The Greek word for Send her away can also mean…release her…or…set her free. And so with that, we begin to wonder who the disciples are talking about. Are they saying “send the woman away?” Or are telling Jesus “release the daughter?” And here’s the kicker…WE DON’T KNOW! AHHH. Scripture…sometimes you are maddening.

But with this ambiguity in the language of the disciples we are faced with another question…were they simply annoyed, or was Jesus deliberately testing them to see how THEY would respond to this foreign woman’s request…and we…don’t know. Unsettling? A little uncomfortable? Well hold onto your seats…its about to get worse.

Because regardless of the motivation of the disciples with their request of Jesus…he responds with this little diddy…I was sent ONLY to the lost sheep of Israel. (pause) Hmm…come on Jesus…you’ve crossed cultural boundaries before…you’ve engaged with Samaritans…and with women…you’ve healed lepers…all without batting an eye…so what’s different this time around? (pause)

And you know what? It get’s worse. When the woman, undeterred approaches him yet again…begging him on her knees before him. LORD HELP ME…he verbally smacks her by saying “It is not fair to take the food from the children to throw it to the dogs.” (long pause) Is it just me…or did Jesus just call this woman a dog? He did right? Even if he’s being metaphorical…that’s downright shocking…the Jesus that we know and love from scripture…is coming across in this moment as a flat out jerk…and I don’t know about you but that makes me really uncomfortable.

In this moment, we so no trace of love…or compassion…we hear no hint of the kingdom of heaven being offered to all. In short…Jesus comes across as a racist…and I have always struggled with this passage because of it.

But what happens next strikes me as equally unsettling…makes me squirm in my seat just a little. Because the woman…bearing no shame what so ever…acknowledges what Jesus says. She doesn’t get cranky or offended saying “Don’t call me a dog.” Rather…she smacks him right back by saying “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the scraps from the master’s table.” In short…she is accepting and confirming that which the society has dictated about her. She is a woman without rights…she is a Gentile, and not only that a Canaanite…descendent from Cain who killed his brother Able…ancient enemies of the Jews who has no right to ask Jesus, a Jewish man…for anything. She doesn’t deny any of that….in fact, she seems to embrace it and yet despite all that…and despite the harsh reaction that she has already received, she still has faith that He can accomplish what she asks. And it is this faith which is rewarded…it is this faith which Jesus sees and heeds when he heals her daughter in that moment.

But here’s the odd thing about that. Since we don’t know the motivation behind Jesus’ response to the women, we must ask the question…did she change his mind? (pause) Did she…teach him something?

We tend to think of Jesus as perfect…without sin…and all knowing…because while he’s fully human…he’s also fully God right….and if he’s fully God then he should automatically feel and display love and compassion for all of God’s children…but he doesn’t do it…And likewise, he should know that salvation through his own coming sacrifice on the cross is for all people…and yet he claims to only be there for Israelites…and if that’s all the case…then she…SETS HIM STRAIGHT.

I don’t know about you…but I find that troubling…that Jesus might have learn something during his time on Earth…that Jesus, might not be all knowing in this moment…but you know…the Apostle Paul writes that Jesus did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited but that he emptied himself…and so maybe…just maybe…this woman truly did open his eyes to the realization that his mission went far beyond even his initial…human…expectations…and I will admit to you this…that if, in fact, this is the case…and I’m not saying it, but I’m not saying its not…but if this is truly what was happening in this exchange between Jesus and the woman…then I don’t know what to make of it…and I don’t suppose to tell you what you should make of it either.

But what I do know is this, even in the midst of confusion within the scriptures…which is a reality when we attempt to interpret it…we are given an example of what faith really means. The woman embraces the label given to her. Jesus insinuates that she’s a dog…and she says. YES I AM.

I recently heard an explanation of faith from a Lutheran perspective. Faith is acknowledging that I am without worth…and then hearing God say no…you have great worth…and I believe it to be true, simply because God said it…Faith is believing that God will do what he says he will do. Believing that God can do anything that He choses to do.

Even believing that God in human form would have mercy on someone that has no business asking for it…and would speak a word that would heal her daughter…and we cling to the hope that God in human form has mercy on us…even though we too are worthless…and that God, by raising his Son from the dead, overcomes our death as well…creating new life out of death…and declaring that You…my child…are of great worth…so that in the midst of our discomfort, his promise will grant us peace. Amen.