Sermon; 11 Pentecost/Proper 15A; Matt. 15:10-28
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and Redeemer.
I don't know about you, but this past week has been overly long. It started with the white supremacist/Nazi march on the campus of UVA and went downhill from there. A counter protester was killed as a neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of people. Promises of more Nazi/KKK rallies were made. The president downplayed the event, then sort of condemned the racists in reading from a forced script, then backtracked, both validating bigotry and laying equal blame for the situation on both the white supremacists and anti-Nazi demonstrators, while also managing to turn “antifa” (which means “anti-fascist”) into a slur. In Boston, the Holocaust Remembrance Museum was vandalized, and a so-far-unknown vandal defaced the Lincoln Memorial.
But in a slice of good news, Texas A&M canceled an upcoming white supremacist rally.
I never thought we would get here. I never thought that in a country founded on the ideal that all men are created equal and with a national icon that pleads for the influx of other nationalities and refugees . . . in a country that helped stem the tide of Nazism and fascism . . . in a country that fought a civil war to end the bondage of slavery . . . I never thought we would be in a place where the evils we fought to end in the name of all that is moral, right, and good would not only be allowed to rise again, but encouraged to rise again. I never thought that pro-Nazi chants, derogatory remarks, and white supremacist and segregationist propaganda would be considered a normative political opinion. And to make matters worse, these views are often wrapped up in a warped version of Christianity that looks to validate oppression and elevate hatred to a spiritual gift.
One of the issues some clergy have with the lectionary is they say it limits their freedom. Being tied to the lectionary is too constricting and doesn't allow for the preacher to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit. But my experience is just the opposite. Over the years there have been more times than not when the appointed lectionary text has been exactly what was needed. Today is such a day.
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles . . . What comes out of the mouth procedes from the heart . . . for out of the heart comes evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”
A Canaanite woman came to him and began shouting and begging for mercy, but Jesus ignored her. The disciples insisted that he send her away. Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She begged more urgently and he said, “It's not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs get the scraps.” To which Jesus praised her faith and healed her daughter.
As I said, today is a day when the lectionary text fits perfectly with what is happening in the world around us. The first part is easy, and anyone with ears should be able to hear and understand. “It is what comes from the heart and out of the mouth that defiles.”
What is really in our hearts? Rage over some perceived loss of rights based on a false assumption that a person of color or different gender or different orientation is now getting more rights than me? The reality is that equal rights are exactly that – equal. Or maybe it's rage over the loss of power and control over those who should stay in their place. Or maybe it's rage over the the loss of tradition and so-called heritage.
If that's what's in our hearts, it's no wonder that what comes out of our mouths are racial slurs, incitements to violence, and a call to protect values that really aren't valuable.
The second part may be a little less obvious, but is just as relevant. A Canaanite woman comes to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter. Jesus ignores her. The disciples want her removed. She persists.
As Christians we proclaim Jesus to be fully human and fully divine. In this story we catch a glimpse of the human side of Jesus. As a man of his day he probably did hold a prejudicial view of women. As a Jew, he probably also held a prejudicial view of Gentiles, especially Canaanites. This very human, and very limited view is what the human Jesus had to overcome in his divine mission of bringing all people within reach of the kingdom.
A Gentile woman begs for her daughter to be healed. The disciples want her gone. Jesus at first ignores her and then compares her to a dog. And it doesn't matter if that dog is a mongrel or a house pet – she is still seen as subhuman. Rather than accept this attitude and go away quietly, she points out that even the dogs are fed. The human Jesus learns that God's compassion is not only given to those for whom he was originally sent, but also to those outside that group.
This past week we have come face to face with the sins of racism and white supremacy, and with the hatred that is both the root cause of those acts as well as being the visible result of those acts. The people who profess those beliefs and attitudes also have a very limited perspective of the world around them. They see themselves as the special chosen ones and everyone else as dogs, subhuman, and not worthy to be fed.
The difference here is that Jesus doesn't continue to hold to this misguided and sinful point of view. The difference here is that Jesus realizes even this woman, even if mistakenly referred to as a dog, is part of God's creation, and therefore worthy to receive God's grace, love, and healing power. Whereas the local Nazis want to keep and control a form of power for themselves, Jesus is willing to give it away. And it is in the giving and the sharing of that power that all people are able to receive God's love.
We are called to follow the example of Jesus by speaking in ways that honor others.
We are called to follow the example of Jesus by not only welcoming the outsider, but by hearing the pleadings of minorities, offering aid and assistance with grace and compassionate love.
This gospel speaks to us today in that what we say, how we say it, and how we treat others is more important to God than our holding up the dubious traditions of our elders.
Today's gospel mandates that we speak in good and holy ways, while also treating those outside our closed circle as having the same rights and access to the kingdom that we do.
Today's gospel is speaking directly to us. Are we listening?