Posts Tagged ‘Mark 7:24-37’

I Can Do That 9-9-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:24-37, I explore 2 divine healings performed by Jesus, though one of them includes a troubling encounter. Through this, we see an appeal to the one who is able to act in the face of our powerlessness.

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 in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

At one point Friday morning, I left the office and walked over to the post office to pick up the mail. Many of you have seen me do this before…its something I often do during the portions of the year that are warm enough to be outside.

As I was walking along the highway, I was looking around, just taking things in as I often do, when something caught my eye laying on the ground. At first glance, I thought it was just one of those little fake cards that come in the mail…designed to look like a credit card…and thinking that’s all it was I took a couple more steps…but then I realized that I had seen a chip in it…and so I backtracked those couple of steps to look a little closer…and sure enough…it was a real credit card lying there.

And not really knowing what else to do, I picked it up…it crossed my mind that the individual had probably already canceled it…and so I thought I’d just throw it away…but then as I kept on walking I thought of some other possibilities…and the next idea I had was to call the customer service number on the card and report to them that I had found the card…and that they could advise me on either disposing of it, or they could contact the individual to let them know it had been found.

Finally, as I had walked most of the way back to the church, it occurred to me that the individual’s name was on the card…and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of effort on my part would locate them…if I was willing to expel that effort…and that little voice in my head said “Yah, I can do that.” And sure enough…about 2 minutes of mild Facebook stalking, coupled with a quick back and forth on messenger, allowed me to place the lost card back in the hand of the individual who lost it in the first place…problem solved, all within about 10 minutes of the card catching my eye in the first place. A little bit of effort coupled with the willingness to get involved, and the recognition that “I can do that.” (Pause)

Now what’s that got to do with today’s scripture? It is, perhaps, the realization of our limitations. Today we have not just one, but two different stories of times when individuals were stuck in a situation that they were not able to do anything about…and so they seek out the help of another who is able…and as we see, in both instances, healings of the divine nature.

The interesting thing about the various healings that we see Jesus perform…is that there is no rhyme or reason to just how they happen. In every single instance, Jesus goes about performing the miracle in a different way. Sometimes he heals from a distance, just speaking the word and telling the individual who came to him that they’ll find it done when they return. Other times Jesus lays hands upon the individual in need of healing. Sometimes he debates before acting…other times he moves quickly.  There are times when he delays action…and not just momentarily but for extended periods of time…and then sometimes he pokes a guy in the ear and touches his tongue while telling the man to “be opened.” (pause)

Now there are often times when I come across a story of Jesus healing someone in a miraculous fashion…and I tend to think of it as a display of his divine power…of the work that God is up to in the world to overcome the problem of the individual…to free us from that which hinders us from wholeness.

But in today’s lesson, with both of these instances, I find myself really zeroing in on the individuals…and the encounter that they had with Jesus in this moment…and to be perfectly honest, the woman’s encounter catches my attention more than the guy. Many of you have probably heard me preach about this encounter before…it shows up here in Mark as well as in Matthew, and so we’ve come across it a few different times since I’ve been here…and perhaps, like me, you are troubled with the way that it goes down…Jesus is in Gentile territory for some unknown reason. And when news of his presence spreads, this foreign woman debates with him, Jesus seems to respond to her request in a derogatory…maybe even racist fashion, she owns it…and then continues to push until she gets what she’s asking for.

All troubling aspects aside, I found myself trying to find the headspace that the woman was in…because this healing isn’t for her. She’s acting on behalf of her daughter, who is possessed by a demon. We don’t know the specifics. We don’t know how long its been going on or how it effects the young girl…but what we do know is that…momma is on the case…and something tells me she’s tried everything up to this point…but this is beyond her ability to handle…no matter how hard she tries to cure her daughter…she can’t do it.

I wonder…have you ever been there? Have you ever felt that powerless feeling…as you look at someone that you love more than life itself, and you can’t do a thing to help them? (pause) Maybe it sounds almost cliché…but it is utterly devastating to experience.

In a bit of levity…I’ve joked before that both of my kids are lucky to be alive. When my son was about 3, I gave him an underdog, he fell off the swing and hit headfirst…even got a grass stain in his hair. And while that was happening my daughter who was 1 slid down through the stroller and got her head stuck…I thought I killed them both within 5 minutes. A few years later I watched as my son clotheslined himself off his bike by running full speed into a tree branch as he hadn’t learned to slow down and turn yet. And just about a month ago, my daughter tried to jump up on me, thinking I would catch her. I wasn’t paying attention and she fell, and was within a fraction of an inch from cracking her head on a rock. Now in every instance, they’ve been ok…but in that instant, it’s the worst feeling in the world.

How many of you have had that moment of powerlessness.  Of sitting at the bedside of your child in the hospital as they fight some unknown illness…or watching your fully grown son start back down the same old road of addiction…or seeing your spouse or your parent go through mental deterioration?

It happens doesn’t it? And we see it time and time again…and its bad enough when we watch a full grown adult in one of these battles…but when it’s a child…its that much worse…and I think we can all agree on that.

And this is the situation that the Syrophoenician woman finds herself in. No one can heal her daughter…no one except this random traveling Jewish rabbi who has shown up unannounced in her community…and yet…in her desperation, she appeals to him…thinking maybe, just maybe the stories are true…maybe he can help…that he has the power to act in a situation where everyone else is powerless…and nothing is going to hinder that possibility…not even some strange back and forth that makes zero sense to us as we read it 2000 years later.

And maybe, just maybe, we begin to see some hope as we consider the way the woman addresses Jesus in the first place.  Now in our translation she calls him sir…but in the actual language that she was using, she calls him Lord…she literally addresses Jesus as Lord…and interestingly enough…she is the ONLY person to do this in the entirety of Mark’s gospel. Not even the disciples use this word with Jesus…only her.

She is appealing to the one who is able to act…to the one who can do something…to the one who can say “Yah, I can do that.” For she is appealing to the Lord…regardless of her status as a foreigner…regardless of anything…she get it. Now this is not a new idea. In fact we even heard the same thing in our Psalm that we shared earlier today. Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose HOPE…is in the Lord their God…The Lord opens the eyes of the blind…the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous…the Lord cares for the stranger…the Lord sustains the orphan and the widow. (pause)

In the middle of this back and forth…in an exchange that might almost be called an argument or a fight, and in the very least seems to be a debate…she calls him Lord…the one who acts…funny, the Psalm also says the God of Jacob, who you might recall wrestled with God until he received the Lord’s blessing. (pause) Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

So what does that mean for us today? Especially in light of the suffering that we see…the suffering that happens to those we care about but are powerless to do anything to stop? What do we do when our pleas and our prayers seem like they are falling on deaf ears? (pause)

We hope. And we cling to the promise that we have a God who can act…even if the action doesn’t look like what we think is right…because sometimes that action is simply the promise that the Lord will always have the last word in our story, or in the story of the ones we love.

Happy are those whose hope is in the Lord their God…we hope…because we have a Lord who sees every single one of us with that same love that we feel…for we have been claimed as beloved children…each and every one of us.  We have been claimed by the one who, in one way or another…will ALWAYS say…Yah, I can do that. 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.