* a sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church on August 20, 2017 *
Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.
Texts for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost:
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 + Matthew 15:10-28
Please pray with me, church:
Break our hearts this morning.
Break open our hearts and fill them
With your extraordinary love and compassion.
Give us courage to change our hearts where change is needed,
And help us to boldly and persistently come to you in our brokenness.
My mom and I will often call each other when either of us is leaving work in the early evenings. Usually that ends up being around 6, which is much later than either of us would say we’d like to be working. But there’s always something to do…
By the way, that also reminds me, call your moms. Or call your kids. Or your dads. Or your step-parents or step-children.
Call your family. They love to hear from you, I promise.
So my mom called me this week after we had been trying to catch each other for a couple of days, and we were having a good conversation about how things were going, what’s the latest family news, stuff like that, and we got to talking about everything happening in Charlottesville, and Barcelona, and our country, and around the world, and then she just…came out with it…
“Chris,” she said…, “what the heck is going on…? What the heck is happening in this country…in this world?”
“I don’t know, mom. I wish I did…”
Spoiler alert, church…I don’t know.
This is one vexing question that I don’t have a good answer to. I have thoughts and I have responses and ways forward, but I do not know the answer to this question.
As much as I’m not my family’s Pastor, fielding some of the big questions of the universe kind of comes with the gig. And I’m ok with that. I like those sorts of conversations.
But, man, it’s tough to have to be totally honest and say, “You know, I really don’t know about this one.” Especially when what’s behind the question, the things that aren’t said in the question, are feelings of confusion, sadness, uncertainty, and a little bit of hurt.
“Well, I don’t know either,” she says, “but it breaks my heart to see all this stuff.”
Mine too, mom. Mine too.
I totally get my empathy from my mom, by the way.
It does hurt. It hurts my heart to see and read and hear about these things. I’m certain it hurts your heart, church.
At least, I hope it does. I hope that seeing displays of hatred and violence and bigotry and racism hurt.
It’s tough to hear people say hateful, violent, and ugly things. Things like Nazi slogans, like “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”
These are not things one reasonably expects to hear in 2017.
And I think of Jesus’ words in our Gospel this morning, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles. And what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this is what defiles.”
Well, if what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, then what we saw and heard in Charlottesvile is most certainly profane and most certainly defiled.
Like I said last week white nationalism, white supremacy, racism, bigotry, and hatred are rooted in a place of fear, I think. And I believe that fundamentally, they are symptomatic of the failure to see the image of God in someone else, in the other.
Which is also how I feel about Jesus’ words and actions in these verses from Matthew. A lot of scholars have a lot of different thoughts about what’s happening between Jesus, the disciples, and this woman.
I happen to not think very highly of Jesus in these verses. I don’t give Jesus a pass here.
The author of Matthew uses a term that really hasn’t been in use for hundreds of years by the time this gospel was written, the author calls this woman a “Canaanite.” It’s an anachronistic term, and not something one reasonably expects to hear in the 1st century.
But the implication is clear: this woman is an outsider, not Jewish…she is an “other.”
So Jesus dismisses her.
Which breaks my heart, honestly, to hear Jesus being so un-Jesus-y…
But here’s the thing, the entirety of the book of Matthew is an unfolding of Jesus’ own understanding of who he is and who is called to be as the Son of God and as the Messiah. It’s one of the unique characteristics to the Gospel of Matthew, we get to see the maturation of a Messiah, and follow along with Jesus as he grows in his understanding. Up to this point in the gospel, Jesus has understood his mission and ministry as being strictly to Jewish believers, “the house of Israel” as the author calls them.
And this woman, not only would it not be appropriate for a woman to be so forward with a man in 1st century culture, and it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for her to address a Rabbi like that, but to pile even more scandal on to the whole encounter, the writer of Matthew tells us that she’s a Gentile, a Canaanite, an outsider…an “other”…
But she presses Jesus. She resists. And she persists.
And Jesus doubles down, “It would not be fair—more accurately translated, “appropriate”—to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.” It wouldn’t be appropriate to take what is meant for the house of Israel, for God’s chosen children, and give it to those for whom it is not meant for.
But she resists further. And she persists.
“You just fed thousands of people and had 12 baskets of leftovers, there is certainly more than enough of God to go around.”
And here, I think, Jesus has a change of heart. I think that this outsider woman changes God’s mind, and Jesus realizes just how expansive the role of Messiah is.
“How great is your faith, daughter! Let your child be healed of what is ailing her!”
So who is “other” to you, church? Who is outsider? Who is someone for you for whom the lavish love and gifts of God are not meant? Who do you need a change of mind and change of heart about? Is it someone of a different gender, a different nationality, a different sexuality, a different racial experience, a different religious belief, a different political affiliation…?
I think this particular story this morning is full of the Gospel. Because if God can change God’s mind, and even Jesus can have a change of heart, then there is certainly hope for the rest of us.
I think it’s very apparent to us here this morning that our world is very broken. What we say and how we say it matters a great deal. Even spending just 15 minutes on social media gives me heartburn. Watching the evening news breaks my heart. Spending time with and listening to my friends who have been further marginalized by the way things are in our world, in our country, and in our city makes my heart ache.
I hear and see a common refrain from people as they reflect on the current state of things; people will often say, “The United States, or the world, has a heart problem.” Seeming to say that if we could just get our hearts right, the world would be better. Seeming to echo Jesus that it’s what comes out of the mouth that defiles, and what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this is what defiles.
So we have a heart problem.
So it stands to reason that if our hearts are changed, then what comes out of our mouths, which proceeds from our hearts, will be uplifting and building up and good and wonderful.
And I think that’s true, church, but let’s be honest, heart work is tough work. It takes a lot to change a heart.
It’s difficult work to soften a hardened heart.
It’s difficult work to break open a heart that is closed off from the world and others.
It’s difficult work to turn an inwardly-focused heart out toward world, neighbor, stranger, and other.
It’s difficult work to breathe life into and resurrect a heart that has shut itself out and died to the possibility of change and transformation.
But praise God that the God we worship is a God who is intimately familiar with matters of the heart, who has a long history of transforming things, and whose signature work is resurrection—of bringing life from death.
It gives me such hope for the world, for the world that we’re teaching these young people that we just blessed about, for the world that we’re sending these young people out into.
I desperately want us to be the world and people that these young people dream we can be.
My heart is breaking a lot recently, but to borrow from St. Leonard Cohen, cracks are how the light gets in. And a cracked and enlightened heart is a heart being transformed, a heart being filled with the knowledge of the extravagance and expansiveness of God’s immense love for all of God’s creation.
Thanks be to God.