Thank you for your warm welcome. I’m honored to be in your midst this morning. I bring you greetings from the brothers and sisters at Saanich Community Church where I would be this morning if I were not here.
Thank you, Beverley, for reading the scripture text for this morning. (Matthew 15:21-28) I find this story very compelling. It has aspects that are scandalous and shocking. At first I thought, “No, we won’t go there”. Yet as I began to reflect on it I found myself right in the middle of it. This story is about me. Come; see if this story is also about you.
It begins with Jesus and his disciples leaving behind the confrontation he had with the Scribes and Pharisees and walking out into the country, toward the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, near the border of Israel. Suddenly a woman comes toward them, shouting. Let’s stop right there. A woman? In her time, as is still true today in the Middle East, it is taboo for a woman to speak to a man in public who is not her father, her brother, or her son. Already we have scandal. Then we’re told she is a Canaanite woman. Immediately we think of the century’s long enmity between Israel and Canaan. She’s a foreigner, ‘one of those’, a despised Gentile, an enemy.
She must have heard rumors of this Jesus man. She has some idea of who he is. She calls out to him, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me”. And then in 7 short words, she tells her story. “My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
What is Jesus’ response? We’re told he did not answer her… at…. all. God is silent.
She presses in. If Jesus will not answer, she will go after his disciples. She is so clamorous and persistent that they come to Jesus and ask him to do whatever it takes to get right of her. He quietly says to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. “ That seems out of character with the Jesus we know. Was it possible he does not yet understand the full scope of his own ministry…. that he is to offer his Father’s compassion to all people? Or is it possible he is writing in bold print the prejudice his disciples have toward her, because he is about to do something beautiful? We’re not told.
She presses in. She draws close. She falls to her knees, and cries out, “Lord, help me!”
Jesus looks down at her and answers, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Shocking! Or is Jesus up to something? But even more shocking, who is this woman who, on her knees, looks up into his face and agrees with him, “Yes, Lord”. The disgrace of being called a dog does not confound her. She actually sides with him, “Yes Lord”. And we can hear the echo down through the ages, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Her life has crowded her to Christ. She has crossed every line to get to Jesus; the line of propriety; the line of enmity; the line of his silence; the line of rejection and ridicule and exclusion; the line of her own pride; and now it seems the line of her own will. “Yes Lord!” Broken hearted, in complete humiliation and vulnerability, she presses in yet further, and claims her crumb. “Yes Lord. Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Master’s table.” No wonder Jesus looks at her and says, “Woman, great is your faith”. No wonder he heals her daughter.
I also have a daughter who is tormented. Some things happened to her when she was a child that continue to torment her today. I was partly responsible for some of those things. I have done everything I know to do to apologize, make amends and bring reconciliation. However, she has not spoken to me for 8 years. That breaks open my heart. Many times I have cried out, Lord, have mercy. Many times pleaded, “Lord, help me”. Many times as I wait for my daughter's healing, I’ve come again and again to the place where I agree with whatever God is doing in this. “Yes Lord.”
And I have been given some crumbs. Let me tell you about them. They are my 3 grandchildren – the children of my daughter. Each of them wants a relationship with me, even while their mother is estranged from me. Oh, the complexity of families, the irony of life! The youngest sends me samples of her art work. The middle one, who is studying mechanical engineering in Toronto, came with her boyfriend to visit me this summer. And the oldest works and lives on a farm in the Northwest Territories. He sent me tickets to fly up and see him. We had a wonderful time. I got back just last week. These are my Crumbs, very sweet crumbs. Let us not miss any of God’s blessings. They are our crumbs.
Have you found yourself in this story? Perhaps you’re wondering about the demon part. I want to suggest in our world today, demons abound. Some are visible: alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness, homelessness. Some are not so visible: greed, addiction to pornography, family feuds and broken relationships, chronic pain, depression, boredom, loneliness. These and other things like them bring us torment. These are our demons and I suspect that every one of us here this morning has one or more of them in our lives, right now.
So we are not strangers to crying out for mercy and pleading for help. The part I find hardest is saying “Yes” to God when I see no evidence and have no idea of what God is doing. My hunch is that God is doing something in me, in my heart, softening it, enlarging it, teaching it patience and compassion. And that’s where faith comes in. Someone defined it this way. Faith is trusting that God cares about what is happening right now. Our Canaanite women had that faith. She trusted that Jesus cared, and so she pressed in, and pressed in, and pressed in, whatever the cost.
One of the reasons I come to church on a Sunday morning is because this place helps me press in and come again to where I can say, “Yes, Lord.” Whether we gather here at James Bay United or at Saanich Community, or at the Franciscan Friary or Church of the Lord, wherever we come together as the body of Christ, we come as a community, as family, as Brothers and Sisters; we remind each other that God cares. We sing and pray together, we laugh and sometimes cry together, we hold hands and help each other bare the load. In this place our trust deepens in a God who cares, a God who is up to something Beautiful. It may be something shocking. It may be something scandalous. It may be something heartbreaking. But it is and will be beautiful. And it is happening right here in this room, right now in this moment, in my heart, in your heart, and through our lives out into our families and the wider community.
As we go into this new week, may Jesus look at each of us and say, “Great is your faith”. And may it be so, by God’s grace