Oh my – church was awesome this morning! A friend of mine came out from CT to sing and I had a double baptism! So much fun. I need to post the YouTube videos of Ben singing and see if I can get my hands on some pics of the baptism. Here is this morning’s sermon!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
August 17, 2014
All Access Pass To God
On Thursday night, I drove out to Centerville to spend some time with the Youth Group at the Craigville Retreat Center. During our evening reflection, Abbie had the kids anonymously write questions down on pieces of paper that would prompt their discussion. The questions ranged from light and silly, like, “Can we come back here next year?” to deep and insightful, like, “Do people who are not born again go to Heaven?” and, “Why did God create different races?”
The discussion on race was fascinating. The kids wanted to know why God could create human beings to be so different from one another if those differences were going to be so divisive.
I know what I should have said. I should have said that the Body of Christ has many parts and all of those parts have different functions and that the body needs all of those functions to survive and that we are divided by our human imperfections and that we need to learn from one another’s differences and accept one another and be enriched by one another and yadda, yada, yadda, etc. etc.
That is the idealist in me.
The realist in me knows that it is not that easy. The realist in me knows that our differences make life challenging at its best – and dangerous and violent and war-filled and tragic at its worst.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, a Canaanite woman shouted to Jesus and asked him to heal her daughter, whom she said was tormented by a demon. Jesus’ disciples told him to send her away. “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us,” they insisted.
This poor woman had so many factors working against her. She was a Canaanite, a member of a society, race, ethnicity and religion that was simply different than – and not accepted by – their neighboring Judeans. She was a woman, a factor that automatically put her on the margins of the male dominated society that she was living in. She had a daughter who was potentially possessed by a demon. Jesus’ disciples had every reason to fear her, to judge her and to cast her out of their community. Jesus, himself, had every right to turn her away.
But that is not how the story played out.
Jesus first said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” meaning that perhaps his disciples were right, that there was nothing he could do for this Canaanite woman with a demon-possessed daughter. But then she knelt before Jesus and asked him for help. And in that moment, everything changed.
Jesus said, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” And the woman replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
In a way, this is one of the more frustrating exchanges between Jesus and another person in the Gospel. Jesus referred to this woman as a dog, essentially casting her out as something or someone less than the Israelite “children” who were already dominating her and her people.
But the lesson in this story does not come from Jesus; it comes from the Canaanite woman.
You see, in the eyes on this woman, it did not matter that she was a Canaanite – she was a child of God. It did not matter that she was a woman – she was a child of God. It did not matter that she had a sick daughter – she was a child of God. It did not matter that she was on the margins of society – she was a child of God. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” – in other words, no one should be denied God’s love, grace and mercy simply because they are ranked lower on the societal totem pole.
Differences exist in the world – this is the reality that we live in. But the remarkable thing about this exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is that she never tried to deny her differences. She never tried to equalize herself with the Israelites or ask people to see her differently. She went along with Jesus’ metaphor about dogs and children, even expanding upon it and talking about dogs and their masters. She did not try to hide who she was, change who she was or change how society viewed her.
But she did demand God’s love, grace and mercy.
Differences matter in the eyes of the society that we live in, but not in the eyes of God. The magic of God’s grace and mercy is that no one is denied it. No one. It does not matter if you are young or old, black or white, gay or straight, male or female, rich or poor, citizen or immigrant. It does not matter if you have special needs or you struggle with anxiety, depression or mental illness. It does not matter if you are highly educated or never had the opportunity to pursue your education. It does not matter if you own a mansion or are living in homelessness. It does not matter if you are sober or struggle with addiction.
It is not up to us to decide who will receive God’s love, grace and mercy. Because the truth is, everyone has access to God. Differences may divide us from one another, but those differences will never divide us from God.
When Jesus was reminded of this, he said to the Canaanite woman, “Women, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish,” and then her daughter was healed, proving that in the end, God’s judgment is what matters, not ours.
I was in Connecticut yesterday celebrating my nephew’s adoption at his “Welcome Shower”. This morning we baptized two beautiful baby girls. New life is coming into this world. And it is so innocent and it is so pure, and while I know we all just want to shield our children from some of the harsher realities of the world, I think the best thing that we can do is just remind them over and over again that God will always be with them no matter what.
Psalm 67 says:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.
It does not say, “May we judge one another.” It does not say, “May we all try to be like one another.” It does not say, “May we find a way to be equal with one another.” No, it says, “May God be gracious to us” – all of us! – “and bless us” – all of us! – “and make his face to shine upon us” – all of us!
That [God’s] way may be known upon earth, [God’s] saving power among all nations.
Accepting one another’s differences, not trying to change other people and simply loving through the uncomfortableness of diversity is one of the greatest tools we have for evangelism. We have to fight for that. We have focus on and proclaim to others God’s saving power, not advocate for the people around us to be all of the same mind and ideas.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for [God] judge[s] the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
God’s judgment is not for us to hand out. All we called to hand out is the good news that God’s love, grace and mercy is available and accessible to all.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Let us praise God. Let us praise God for creating us to be unique and diverse. Let us praise God for giving the Body of Christ many parts and many functions. Let us praise God for allowing us to leave our judgments somewhere else. Let us praise God for opening our eyes and softening our hearts to the differences around us, showing us how to love through diversity, not hate. Let us praise God for granting us all access to his love, grace and mercy, no matter who we are or where we are on our journey through life.
And let us tell the world.
And then Jesus will look upon us and – like he said to the Canaanite woman – say to, “Great is your faith!”
Thanks be to God!