Pentecost 10, year A

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Pentecost 19, year A October 19, 2014 Proper 24, Year A Isaiah 45:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
Pentecost 17, year A October 5, 2014 Proper 22, Year A Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
Pentecost 16, year A September 28, 2014 Proper 21, Year A Sermon, Proper 21, Year A Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25: 1-8, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
Pentecost 14, year A September 14, 2014 Proper 19, Year A Matthew 18:21-35
Pentecost 13, year A September 7, 2014 Proper 18, Year A Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
Pentecost 11, year A August 24, 2014 Proper 16, Year A Matthew 16:13-20
Pentecost 10, year A August 17, 2014 Proper 15, Year A Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28
Pentecost 9, year A August 10, 2014 Proper 14, Year A Matthew 14:22-33
Pentecost 8, year A August 3, 2014 Pentecost 8, year A Matthew 14:13-21
Pentecost 6, year A July 20, 2014 Proper 11, Year A Romans 8:12-25
Pentecost 7, year A July 20, 2014 Proper 12, Year A I Kings 3:5-12, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33
Pentecost 5, year A July 13, 2014 Proper 10, Year A Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, Psalm 65:9-14
Genevieve Davis’ Funeral Homily July 13, 2014 Burial of the Dead, Rite II Isaiah 35:1-10, I John 4:7-8,11-12, John 14:1-3
Pentecost 4, year A July 6, 2014 Proper 9, Year A Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Pentecost 3, year A June 29, 2014 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

 

Pentecost 10, year A

Sermon Date:August 17, 2014

Scripture: Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 15, Year A


"The Canaanite Woman" – Jean Colombe (1485-9)

PDF version 

The other day I went into a very busy store to take care of a quick errand and had just passed the long checkout line when I heard a woman screaming. 

“So I’m a fat pig!  Everyone in this store is a fat pig!  But I’m a fat pig because he says I broke in line!” 

I glanced back and saw a large blonde woman scowling at a muscular young man wearing a muscle shirt and a baseball cap who was scowling back at her. 

My instant thought was that this woman was crying out in pain, that her feelings had been hurt by his comment—maybe some other abusive person in her life had also called her a fat pig—obviously, her buttons had been pushed.  For just a nano second, I wondered if I should intervene—but that fleeting thought was instantly replaced by this one.

“Catherine, this is not your problem!” 

—and so I kept walking toward the back of the store, hoping to get out of earshot of the escalating argument in the checkout line.  I just didn’t want to be bothered. 

I had a similar reaction to today’s gospel reading—Jesus basically ignoring and then insulting a woman in pain.  I told myself that this passage is not my problem—I think I’ll preach on one of the other lectionary passages this week.   

But Jesus and the Canaanite woman have been following me around, giving me no peace.  Their confrontation just wouldn’t leave my mind.

So here we are—and here’s what bothers me.  How could Jesus act like this?   And the next question—one I really don’t want to think about.   

Does God ever hear us crying out in pain and delay giving us help, or downright refuse to give us help—does God ever abandon us when we are in need?   

In an interview with Richard Heffner in 1985, Elie Wiesel tells about being liberated by the Americans from the concentration camp Buchenwald in April of 1945.  The prisoners had not eaten for many days.  Wiesel described himself as  Weak, sick, alone, desperate and numb.”  He says of the liberation—

“I’ll never forget these Americans. …they were throwing whatever they had, you know, K-rations and bread and chocolate and we didn’t know what they were.  What we wanted to do first before eating is to have a religious service.  And we had a religious service….we prayed to a God who had abandoned us.  To this day, I don’t understand why we did it….. 

At this point, Heffner asks Wiesel if he understood why God abandoned him.

Wiesel answered that he doesn’t understand it and refuses to understand it.  God abandoned the Jews and he doesn’t know why.   

Ultimately, Wiesel believes the Holocaust happened because people all over the world chose to be indifferent to the plight of the Jewish people and all the others who were being exterminated in the concentration camps.   

If the whole world had not looked the other way, and the Holocaust had been prevented, would Wiesel have ended up feeling that God had abandoned the Jews?   

Amazingly, in spite of what he has lived through, Wiesel has never given up hope.  He says in this same interview that he’s for surviving.  He wants the Jewish people to survive.  And he wants ALL people to survive. 

Wiesel says,  Now I’m naïve in thinking that it’s possible to live in a Messianic era when people will live happily not at the expense of someone else’s unhappiness.  But at least we must try.”  And he admits that his optimism is an existential leap of faith.   

Wiesel believes that the greatest danger to our survival as the human race is indifference.   

He says that “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.  The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.  The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.  And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

It’s our indifference that can create a world full of events that could make any number of people believe that God has abandoned them.   

And even Jesus was tempted to be indifferent to someone’s plea that he at first considered not to be his problem to solve.   

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus believes that his mission is to the Israelites, the chosen people of God, people who have wandered far away from God’s great commandments to love God and to love one another.   

And so when a Canaanite woman, not one of the chosen people, shouts and begs for mercy, not even for herself, but for her daughter, the immediate reaction of Jesus is silence.   

Was this silence a sign of indifference? 

Matthew indicates that in the silence Jesus may be mulling over  his role as the Son of David  because he quotes Jesus as saying “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 

So maybe he is supposed to be indifferent to this Canaanite woman. 

Testing out this hypothesis, Jesus tries to send her away by offending her.  But that tactic doesn’t work either.   

With great faith in the fact that Jesus will have mercy, the Canaanite woman persists in her prayer.

And even as the insulting words to her left his mouth,  maybe Jesus remembered the prophetic words of Isaiah we heard today—to maintain justice, and to do what is right, and that even foreigners who join themselves to the Lord will be called to the holy mountain and welcomed in the temple.   

Maybe Jesus had Isaiah sitting on his shoulder, whispering into his ear. 

“ Remember, Jesus,” your Father said, “ ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people, and I gather the outcasts of Israel and will gather others to them besides those already gathered.’” 

We don’t know what Jesus was thinking, but ultimately he chooses to act rather than to be indifferent when he says, “Woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”  And her daughter was instantly healed.   

Because Jesus could see that living in the Messianic era would mean an end to the boundaries of race, religion, political sides, and geography because God’s kingdom has no boundaries and no end –and God invites everyone to be a part of this kingdom.   

After this run in with the Canaanite woman,  Jesus has a new understanding of his mission, and at the end of Matthew’s gospel, on the mountain where he has met them after the resurrection, Jesus instructs the disciples to “to go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” 

What is the message for us?   

To choose to act with mercy, rather than to be indifferent.

 To be living and breathing signs of God’s kingdom of mercy come to earth, a kingdom into which God invites everyone.   

And this is not easy to do.  Many of us can relate to this recent letter to Carolyn Hax, an advice columnist, whose column appears in The Washington Post.     

The writer says—“There’s so much bad news in the world lately (Ebola, Gaza, Syria, airplanes falling from the sky) that I feel really overwhelmed and anxious.  I care about what happens in the world, and want to stay informed, but I feel like I’m at my bad-news saturation point.  Any suggestions on how to stay informed but not get overwhelmed?” 

And Carolyn’s advice is that “the most effective citizens are the ones who focus their attention within reach of their influence.  If you’re equipped to make a difference globally, then do.  If you aren’t, then consider zooming in locally—region, state, county, town, block.  Since every level needs caring, responsible, informed people on duty and since helplessness is what overwhelms us most, give helpfulness a chance.”   

That’s what Jesus ultimately decided to do.  He heard and responded to the person kneeling right there in front of him—he chose not to be indifferent to this stranger in need. 

Instead, he chose mercy and helpfulness, because that is what God would have had him do.  

And that is what God would also have us do—to put aside our indifference,  and  to carry God’s love and mercy out into the world, with God’s help. 

Amen

Interview with Elie Wiesel http://www.thirteen.org/openmind/history/elie-wiesel-on-the-nature-of-human-nature/1519/ 

Carolyn Hax:  Tempted husband must confront his own nature.  The Washington Post, Wednesday, August 13, 2014
 

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