15th Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7a

4Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
  “Be strong, do not fear!
 Here is your God.
  He will come with vengeance,
 with terrible recompense.
  He will come and save you.”
5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
  and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6then the lame shall leap like a deer,
  and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
 For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
  and streams in the desert;
7athe burning sand shall become a pool,
  and the thirsty ground springs of water.

Psalm: Psalm 146

1Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
  I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
3Put not your trust in rulers, in mortals in whom there  is no help.
4When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
  and in that day their thoughts perish. 
5Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help,
  whose hope is in the Lord their God;
6who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
  who keeps promises forever;
7who gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who    hunger.  The Lord sets the captive free.
8The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are    bowed down; the Lord| loves the righteous. 
9The Lord cares for the stranger; the Lord sustains the orphan and        widow, but frustrates the way |of the wicked.
10The Lord shall reign forever, your God, O Zion, throughout all     generations. Hallelujah! 

Second Reading: James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

1My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
  8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. [11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.]
  14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Gospel: Mark 7:24-37

24[Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
  31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Share with your neighbor where your favorite vacation spot is?  What do you like to do there?

Prayer:  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

         We take vacations to get away and unwind from our normal routines.  For those of us who have jobs in the public eye, it’s nice to be incognito for a week or two and enjoy family.  My family loved to go to Mombasa on the Kenya coast where we could go out on the reef and snorkel when the tide was out.  It was like swimming in a tropical fish aquarium.  My son and I went reefing one day and jumped into one of the tide pools of water to see the fish only an eel was looking out of the reef at me.  That was the fastest exit I ever made.  Many times we read that Jesus withdrew and tried to take his disciples for a rest but the crowds followed.  Today our text finds Jesus as he has gone to the coast cities that are now in Lebanon, totally Gentile area. Even here, though, he is recognized. 

         In the last couple weeks our texts tell of Jesus traveling around the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, followed by the crowds and so feeding 5000 with two fish and five loaves of bread.  He debates with the Jews about him being the bread of life that we must eat, and then last week he confronts the Pharisees. Jesus says, it is what comes out of our heart and not what goes into our stomach that defiles us.  I wonder if he was as tired as I am of talking about bread and yet here we are again today talking about bread, or crumbs of bread anyway.

         Perhaps Jesus has gone to Lebanon, the Phoenician coast, for a break. Our text finds him in Tyre and Sidon.  It says he did not want the  people to know he was there.  But we know, just as the girl in Borne Trilogy knows about Jason Bourne, “Jesus does not do random.”  I do not think Jesus was taking a vacation because he was tired, but he did head to the area of the Gentiles.  Something is about to happen.  We best pay attention.  While the Samaritans were descendants of the Jews, the Canaanites on the Phoenician coast were Gentiles, total heathens. They probably spoke Greek and worshipped pagan gods. Why did Jesus go there?

Jesus’ ministry included Gentiles!

         We do not know why he went there but we do know Jesus “could not escape notice.”  Romans 1 talks about the reality of God being obvious to all people – regardless of the presence of Christian witness.  God’s fingerprints are on creation. People may not know about Jesus but they are aware of God.  It would appear in this case that Jesus’ reputation has preceded him so that as he enters both Tyre and Sidon he is recognized and sought after. 

         Our ears should go up as we hear this.  Are we listening?  Just as the Magi arrive at the birth of Jesus thus including us Gentiles, you and me, in the Christmas story and in God’s plan, our text today brings you and me into legitimate recipients in the ministry of Jesus.  This is not a parable but a real story of God in Jesus caring for Gentiles, for you and me.  We are not after-thoughts but we are part of “the Plan.”

         Have you ever found yourself whining about the hierarchies of power and prestige in our world?  Feminists grumble because of male power.  People of color talk about white entitlement.  The discussion of masks now is becoming a “rights” issue as people with health issues have the right to be protected and safe in schools.  Texas courts are revisiting the abortion question.  It is exhausting.  The woman and the man in our reading today face all the social protocols of their day.  The woman is at the bottom of the power chain with a child with an unclean spirit.  I bet people avoided her house.  The man in Sidon is deaf and tongue-tied. Carrying on a conversation with him would have been very limited and frustrating. I would wager to say that his friendship circle was limited also.  A woman’s child and a deaf man are in dire need of help and have nowhere to turn in their culture.  Jesus comes to town.  Is Jesus going to work outside the box of everyone’s expectations and engage with Gentiles, with you and me?  Let’s see.

         I note that neither of the sick Gentiles directly approach Jesus, neither the sick child nor the deaf man. Their representatives, their sponsors approach Jesus.  The little girl’s mother bows before Jesus with her request.  The anonymous “they” bring the deaf man to Jesus.  Neither the girl nor the deaf man is able to represent themselves.  We know this scene. We bring our children to baptism even before they understand, even before they are able to express faith.  We come like the Syrophoenician woman and like the friends of the deaf man and we bow before Jesus.  We are helpless to save ourselves or the people around us.  We can only intercede for them.

         I do not know about you but I recognize that feeling these days as I watch the evening news.  I am powerless to impact the scenes coming out of Kabul, out of Louisiana, out of the hospitals strained with Covid, and helpless families seeing their homes burned.  I suspect many of us are on our knees for wayward children caught in difficult marriages or addictions, for friends fighting cancer or the diminishing of age…all those things that drive us to intercessory prayer.  Bringing others to Jesus is an important ministry.  This woman and this man’s friends give us hope that Jesus listens, cares and can handle our fears and anxieties.

Jesus responds, 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Let’s name the elephant in the room.  To our American ears this sounds like an insult.  Jews considered Gentiles dogs.  The Jews were the chosen people and this woman, not even a man, was pleading for help for her daughter.  Did Jesus see the woman as a dog and insult her?  Our culture struggles here and often reads it that way.

         Perhaps we might consider Jesus was tired and impatient but that interpretation offends our belief in him as true God and true man.  Can God be impatient with us? Uuuuummmmm??  Maybe.  I fear we often treat God like a credit card.  Request in and response comes out.  But as we look at the heroes in the Old Testament, we often see this tug of conversation over “The Plan.”  Moses goes back and forth with God at the burning bush about sending him back to Egypt to face his past and be the agent for bringing deliverance to the Israelites.  Later in the wilderness when God tells Moses to lead the people but God will not accompany them, Moses responds – just kill me cause I’m not going forward without you!  Then there is Abraham bartering with the angels over the out come of Sodom and Gomorra.  50 people, well how about 40, maybe 30, on down to 10 good people to change God’s wrath.  I believe we have the whole book of Job arguing with God that he is innocent and undeserving of a rough life. God is a real being and does not shy away from real interactions with rough edges.  He is not afraid of our angry feelings or our grief.  The lamenting Psalms comfort us greatly.  This exchange between the Syrophoenician woman and Jesus falls well within the boundaries of honest, transparent conversation.  He does not pull rank and confront her with her powerlessness in life but gives her an idiom. 

         Jesus gives this Gentile woman an idiom, the same way he has been giving parables to people throughout his ministry.  In Matthew 7:6 in the Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of his ministry he admonishes the Jews not to cast their pearls before swine.  Is he calling the Jews pigs or is he making a point about faith?

         From my experience as a missionary in Africa, I soon found that there were strong eating habits – even as we have.  The men ate in the living room and got the best.  Next the children were fed.  Last, often eating the leftovers in the pot were the women.  We women were serving a banquet for visiting church leaders for the graduation the next day.  One of our staff stood and tried to hush the children.  He said, “Let’s be quiet because we know what is coming next!”  My five year old daughter yelled out, “CAKE!”  The room cheered and I realized she would have been very out of place yelling like that at our church banquet.  Let us not be hasty to jump to conclusions from our culture about Jesus’ intent.

         Jesus has made a major new move by going into the Gentile area and performing miracles.  He has included us in his plan.  Jesus has used similar techniques for engaging with people, speaking in parables or idioms that challenge faith.  But amazing in this first encounter is the woman’s response.

         The amazing thing is not the idiom but that the woman took the idiom and ran with it.  “Even dogs eat the crumbs from the master’s table.”  She did not act insulted at the comparison because prejudice was known but she was able to speak into the saying with faith. She was not asking for anything more than a crumb of grace for that, she knew, was enough.  She understood the vastness of God, her own insignificance, and her desperate need for a crumb of grace.  How guilty are we of wanting the whole solution to our problems as we think they ought to be handled – right now.  We are so impatient with God’s timing and God’s ways.  Do you hear the little voice on your shoulder saying, surely God doesn’t want you to suffer.  Surely God doesn’t love your sick child.  Surely those other people deserve their struggles for secret sins.  The woman acknowledges the broken, prejudiced world she lived in and asked for a crumb…for her daughter.  Jesus responded to her faith.  Jesus responds to our faith also!

         The “friends” bring the deaf and tongue-tied man to Jesus for help.  Jesus takes him aside, puts his fingers in his ears, and spits and touches his tongue.  This encounter does not seem to deal with Jesus confronting evil as much as Jesus correcting the impact of sin on birth.  Not all problems are punishments from God or evil seeking to destroy us.  We are broken people living in a broken world.  When we play with fire, we get burned.  When wars break out, innocent people are killed.  Martyrs die for standing up for the truth.  Jesus dealt with this man differently but more importantly, Jesus had compassion and healed him.

         We do not know what happened to the healed people nor to their sponsors but we do know that people could not keep quiet about the healings.  When was the last time we were so touched and so excited about God acting in our lives that we were just bursting at the seams and had to tell someone?  Perhaps we are back to Jesus’ idiom, “the food of the children is not meant for dogs.”  We are the children of God and his grace is meant for us.  We do not need a whole loaf, we only need a crumb.  God’s grace is so abounding that we not be afraid of the person who worships slightly differently than us, speaks differently than us, or comes from a different background than us.  God will deal with each of us personally and with love.

           The crumbs are meant to feed people so perhaps we can also ask who we are feeding.  Who are we bringing to Christ today?  I do not believe Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon to vacation but to show you and me that we too are recipients of the crumbs of bread that fall from the master’s table.  But like the Syrophoenician woman and the friends of the deaf man may we never forget the power of standing up for someone else who needs God’s grace.  Jesus healed Gentiles and he is here working in Bethany today.  Thank you Lord.  I feel refreshed by taking time with you – just as good as a vacation!  AMEN!

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