Reader: Kim Tadei. audio begins with the scripture passage; sermon begins at 1:35.

Text: Mark 7: 24-30

For some of us -- many of us, perhaps? -- that story in Mark’s Gospel is kind of alarming.  Blows the picture we have of Jesus.  It’s just not like him to be rude, dismissive, impatient, uncaring.
But he was tired we’re told … at least that’s what’s implied: “He entered the house and did not want anyone to know he was there.” He’s hiding … had enough of people, needing a break.
But our task isn’t to find excuses for Jesus so we can overlook this exchange between him and this woman, pretend we didn’t hear it so we can hold onto whatever that impermeable image is that we might have of Jesus.  Our task is to let this exchange be …for if we give it space to really let it speak to us, there such goodness, inspiration, courage to be found here.

Let’s shift the spotlight for a moment from Jesus to the woman.

She’s on a mission. It’s no trivial matter … it’s about her daughter … she’s looking for healing for her little daughter.  It’s a measure of her eagerness that she locates Jesus in his hiding place. It’s a measure of her fearlessness that she disrupts his peace. Or who knows, maybe she’s filled with fear and is pushing through it, refusing to be stopped by it … it, and all the cultural expectations that forbid an encounter like this. Here she is a woman, entering the home of a man; a Gentile approaching a Jew. Whatever the consequences, nothing matters more than the fate of her daughter, the health, the well-being of her daughter.

She begs Jesus for help.
That’s when we hear Jesus respond with that racial slur calling her and her little daughter “dogs” -- a reflection of his enculturated bias that Gentiles are inferior to Jews. Notice she doesn’t get stuck there … so why would we? Let’s move along with her and notice what she does. She doesn’t walk away in defeat. She doesn’t allow those words to diminish her, or deflect her from her purpose. She doesn’t move into a rant, or even chastise Jesus for stooping so low. What does she do?
She takes the insult and works with it, re-imagines it and re-deploys it. What was designed to shut her down, she lobs it back in a way that can’t be refuted. “Sir,” she says, (with all due respect!) even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
How wonderfully creative is that?!
If she was a musician, she’d be a master at improvising. But here, in this moment at least, she’s a mother … and nimble as anything she takes this slur and uses it to project a new awareness.

Jesus loves it! That’s what’s remarkable about this too.
As a gifted verbal jouster, not only does he see what’s happened … he appreciates it. He appreciates her. He’s met his match.  And he’s been bested -- by a woman … and he’s okay with it.
Far from anger, you can see it can’t you … a smile breaking out on his face! Not only has she opened his eyes to see more than he saw before.  It’s as though -- like a dam giving way -- there’s this new rush of Mercy that begins to flow in him, and through him, to this woman’s daughter.

It’s beyond telling, the impact of this mother’s voice -- not just for her daughter … but for a race … for Jesus … for all who come to hear this story.

How in touch with our voice are we? The gift of our voice. The power of our voice. The power of our voice to destroy, dismantle, to heal, to bless, to awaken, to create. How in touch are we with the range, the versatility, the agility of our voice?

On Thursday night last, I came to the ‘Free the Voice’ workshop led by Odeya Nini in our sanctuary right here. It shows up on my list of last week’s practice of doing something different. We moved through a whole number of exercises … with remarkable freedom I thought, thanks in large part to Odeya’s way with us.
In one of those exercises she simply said to us “try this” … and in quick succession she led us through this vast array of expression … her leading and us joining her. So in one moment we’re arms thrown up with an ecstatic “YES”, and the next we’re on our knees “WOW!”, and the next, turning to our neighbour “WHAT?” and then "SHHH," and then hands covering our face in agony “NO! NO!” And on we went … making all these sounds, moving through any number of emotional expressions. How wild, how agile, how versatile, how remarkable is the gift of our voice. Do we know the power of our voice to connect, to communicate, to care, to contradict, to resist, to gentle, to affirm, to stir, to move?

Last week, Monday morning I think it was, Colleen sent me a link to CBC’s As it Happens. In one of the interviews she heard something of an echo of our reflection last Sunday.  In this case it was Michael Berg who’s young son Nicholas had been murdered, beheaded actually, by the al Qaeda leader in Iraq. Some time after that, when it was reported that the person responsible for Nicholas’s death was killed by an American invasion, the father was asked how he felt about that. His response: “sadness, at the death of a fellow human being.” For that he was met with a huge outcry, with hatred really, even death threats -- he was even shot at -- for daring to say such a thing.

Peter Katz, a young musician from Toronto happened to be in his car listening to the radio when Michael was being interviewed on As it Happens. He was so moved by Michael’s response, and so shocked by the backlash. He found himself pulling over, and right then and there, the words started to flow for a song he would write … a song he came to call Forgiveness. A song he sent to Michael, and was invited to perform at an anniversary gathering in Nicholas’s hometown.

Peter also made a music video … which I watched … at first wondering is this the ad that precedes it or is this the real thing? You see this young guy come into his kitchen, place a red bucket in the center of the floor. Now he’s stirring up something in a pot on the stove, then pouring it into the bucket. The next you see he’s in a print shop, then walking out with a stack of paper. The red bucket reappears as he makes his way from pole to pole along the sidewalk, painting on the glue, up goes one of those papers. forgiveness … that’s all it says. The video takes us with him, plastering the word everywhere he can, til the streets are covered, forgiveness everywhere. We see, him guitar in hand, telling the story to a crowd of all kinds of people … and singing … each person holding one of those signs, forgiveness.

Nicholas’s father, Michael, talks about how much it meant to him when he heard Peter’s song. Amidst the fury, to hear a different voice, a voice that understood him, that stood with him … how it strengthened him. [1]

Do we know the power of our voice? What would it be to set our voices free? in speaking, in writing, in singing.
There are so many stories … stories among us, our own and those that have inspired us, of the uttering of words, of voices raised for the sake of peace, for lending courage and strength, for resisting destruction, violence, war, racism. There are so many stories … so many voices.

What needs our voice to live, to be seen, to be strengthened?
What of the earth and earth’s creatures needs our voice?

Here and there in our scriptures we read the summons to raise our voice, to “sing a new song.”
“The singing that scripture commands is the sound made by people for whom life is all astounding gift, whose alert hearts register the vibrations of mercy thrumming everywhere, who love the adventure of marvelous grace, and fear nothing at all except missing the ride.” [2]

What needs our voice … today, this week … for as long as we have breath?


[1] CBC Radio, As It Happens, October 8, 2018 “Man who forgave son's killer reunites with Canadian musician who sang his story” 

[2] Mary Luti, “Battery Acid,” posted on Still Speaking Daily Devotional of the United Church of Christ, January 7, 2017