Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
David M. Dubay+
St. Philip’s Church, Charleston SC
Bigfoot Hoax Update (remember God IS consistant, we are not)
As I begin today’s sermon I need to tell you that this has been a difficult week for me. Much of what I held as truth has been violently shaken if not turned on its head…for years I have been telling my son, Joseph, what I was sure to be the truth. I had no doubt that I was right. He depended on my honesty. He relied on my wisdom about how the world works….but now….that part of our relationship is damaged, maybe forever,….because, according to CNN,.. Bigfoot may, in fact, be real.
Since my boy was a toddler, he would, from time to time, look up and me with those big brown eyes and ask, “ Daddy, is Big Foot real?”
“No son”, I’d reply. “Not a chance.”
Now I can’t be sure what is real and what is fantasy….
Just an aside for the reader, I don't believe there is a bigfoot.
Interestingly, as I began working my way through the scripture readings, in preparation for this sermon, I found that each reading, brought to light a moment when God changed his mind. In each reading a truth seems to change. Ultimately we find that it doesn’t change…God is, as always, consistent. But we meet in each reading, people who were, in the past, denied access to blessings of the Lord, and the worship of the Lord. And here, suddenly they are“let in the door.” They are given the keys to the city. We need to take a look at why that occurred.
In each reading, the Lord, in His wisdom, crosses boundaries that were set in stone even up to the day before. As we read and study these verses we find that the bridge across these barriers and boundaries is not some kind of politically correct inclusiveness. God doesn’t suddenly say in Isaiah: Okay you Eunuchs and Foreigners, You can now join my people in worship of me because I’m feeling sorry for you…and we don’t want to damage your self-esteem, everybody wins….
In the book of Deuteronomy, we find God’s earlier prohibition of Eunuchs and members of Foreign tribes intermingling with the people of God was a way to keep pure, the faith and worship of the people of the One God, the God of Abraham and Isaac.
Allowing people of other faiths into the inner circle of Israel would have infected the faith with other deities and beliefs and the first commandment would be broken quickly….
Isaiah’s declaration that Eunuchs and People from “off” are now welcomed in the temple is a declaration that God recognizes that there are now verifiable converts in the land. That there are people who have turned from their worthless idols and now, with a deep and real faith, love the One True God. God’s presence in the region had begun to change the hearts of men and women. His eternal tug on the hearts of stubborn, self assured, non believers was changing them on a microscopic level….their spiritual DNA was shifting …and the unclean were being made acceptable to God by Grace through Faith.
It’s that same cultural struggle we witness in the Gospel of Matthew today…And, I believe to teach a lesson, Jesus plays the role of legalist almost to the bitter end gives us and his disciples a key lesson in the nature and blessing God’s saving Grace.
At first, it’s a culturally typical scene. 1st Century Jews did their best to avoid Pagans. To God and to the Jews, Pagans, their sacrifices, their Gods, and their bloodlines were unclean…outcast, they were less then human.
Jesus first learns of a pagan woman calling after Him from his disciples…
The woman is a Canaanite. And while the land of Canaan was blessed to the people of Israel the Canaanites were not at all esteemed…..They were unclean, idolaters. In the book of Deuteronomy we find this commandment from the Lord God to His people Israel.
You must completely destroy them--the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite--as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that they won't teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God.[i]
So you begin to see the cultural tension building here…one of THOSE people was following after and annoying the King of the Jews, the Messiah,. Who, in his own words, “ was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And not so some idol worshipper from the next desert over.
But the woman is persistent…and she has done her homework, she knows Jesus, better than His own disciples do….
Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David…..Son of David… She knew her Hebrew prophecy, She knew his human lineage…and we find she knows that He is a purveyor of God’s miracles….A conduit for the Grace of Jewish One God….She sees, what the disciples do not….that boundaries and social barriers do not confine the healing and saving Grace of Jesus the Christ.
Listen to this escalation….. the woman is calling after Jesus
And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."
He answers in a manner that is culturally correct and safe and factual
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Jesus says this to his disciples not to the woman, she is slighted here, ignored)
But this did not faze the woman…and here we get a glimpse into the nature of Godly parenting…it is unfazed by obstacles no matter how big…. So them she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
He answered, and here we have the difficult saying of the hour…Jesus is seemingly cruel.” It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
In ancient and in most modern Semitic cultures the dog is not a warm and fuzzy pet. In these countries dogs are garbage scavengers, bottom feeders, and vermin. Calling someone a dog, even today in the Middle East is a capitol insult. And you can maybe see the disciples standing behind Jesus, loving this whole exchange…If I were there you’d hear…yeah that’s right….he said Dog!… what are you going to do about that!…Lousy Canaanite! Jesus’ words are designed to inspire an emotional reaction…
But here, driven on by a mother’s love and something much more powerful…the women reaction is not one of anger or frustration…she stays in the game…she knows who Jesus is, she knows who she is…and she wants her daughter whole again.
She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
Then Jesus answered her, (and you can almost hear birds singing here!)
"Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.[ii]
In my mind the faces of the disciples change at this point…they’re jaws drop, they can’t believe what Jesus has just said….they have been taken past the boundaries of what they know to be true, and shown that faith trumps, ethnicity, that faith is a key component of reconciliation to God, that faith, given by God, also elicits Grace: blessed saving Grace.
It’s as if Jesus was saying “Woman, woman of a tribe on which my Father declared war…through My eyes…that same God knows your faith and loves you into a miracle….
Such a miracle!….for in that moment there was no sacrifice, other than surrender…no ritual other than contrition, and no offering other than real, heartfelt, faith. And that’s what Jesus was after…the faith.
Let’s face it…there’s no denying it…this is a good story…. And it’s fine example to follow if someday our children are in need or ill…or possessed by a demon…good to have in our religious tool kit. And I put this in my pocket and march on to the table where God will meet me and bless me and share his food and presence with me….but then all of a sudden, I hear myself utter these familiar words….
“I am not so worthy as to pick up the crumbs under thy table….”
In other words…..I’m the dog.
And then I continue….because I know the same thing about Jesus that the Canaanite woman did….
“But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy….”[iii]
In other words…Jesus you’re not like the pagan Gods with their arbitrary lightning bolts, petty jealousies and who really don’t exist….you are the God who is real….who tugged at me until I got up and came to church this morning and who wants me to know His mercy and grace…because of my tiny, tiny, but God given faith.
The gift given to the Canaanite woman that day is available to us… the same intimacy, the same healing, the same blessing of Grace upon grace is available to us…through the conduit of faith….and if you’re here today….you have the faith…
Because I believe that if you are here today it’s because you were called….in the Bible Jesus says, that No one comes to Him unless the Father draw Him….
And look, here you are…in the church, the house of God, in the presence of the Lord, the Lamb, the Savior. What would the neighbors think?
And in a few moments we will recite what the church calls the Prayer of Humble Access…it is the prayer that is today’s Gospel story….and I bet you can recite if from memory…
This time…as you kneel and pray it again….remember, you need a miracle, You’ve heard that Jesus is in town….you’ve done your homework and you know who He really is…and you’re desperate for the blessing…and you believe…you have faith.
The Canaanite woman’s story is our story…her need for Jesus and his Grace is the same as our need for Jesus and His grace. Her blessing is our blessing too.
And with that blessing the upside down world is turned right side up again; and our imperfect truth is trumped by the full truth of God; and our imperfect plans are superseded by his perfect and Holy Design for our lives; and the demon is cast out.
This is more than a good story….it’s the story of the Christian…it’s our story.
And it’s what keeps me going whenever I stumble, and when I sin, and when I fall bruised and bent….raising to one knee I remember that His property is always to have mercy….
And I muster a seed’s worth of faith and find a miracle….My prayer is that you would have enough faith this week to expect that miracle….and that as you recall this woman, the disciples, and the Lord Jesus that you are able to say, with joy in your heart…
Thanks be to God.
[i] Deut. 20:17,18 Holman Christian Standard Bible.
[ii] Matthew 15:21-28 ESV
[iii] Prayer of Humble Access. BCP 337