Monday, September 10, 2012

A Crumby Sermon

The story of the Syrophoenician woman is one of my favorite in all of scripture.
I love it because it presents a different view of Jesus than we are used to.
The story is about a discussion between a mother possessed with a determination and love for her child, and Jesus who doesn’t seem to fully understand the importance of his ministry outside of Israel.
In this story Jesus does not stand a chance.
For a mother’s love for her child can move heaven and earth, and in this case can move even the son of God.
Some have suggested that Jesus is merely testing this woman to see if she has enough faith.
However, the story does not lend itself to this interpretation.
Jesus never mentions her faith, and in other stories in the Gospel of Mark people are healed as a result of faith.
He merely says, “For saying that you may go…”
So what happens is that this woman, this mother, wins an argument with Jesus.
The argument is over whether or not Jesus ministry is for those outside of people of Israel.
Can it be for this woman too?
Jesus says that he came to heal the sick of Israel, and has no time for this woman, who he calls a “dog”.
You might be thinking at this point that Jesus would never be so unkind.
But that is the wonder and beauty of the story is that it flies in the face of what we commonly think about Jesus.
We think of Jesus as always having the perfect answer to every situation.
We think of Jesus as always using the best manners.
But this story reveals to us a Jesus caught up in his mission and forgetting that the consequences of that mission went far beyond what he could imagine or see.
In the process of this conversation Jesus mind is changed.
By the way there is biblical support for this.
In other places in the Biblical witness people argue with God, and because of that argument change God’s mind.
Jesus is revealing to us a characteristic of God we often dismiss.
In our time of winner take all propositions and changing one’s mind as a sign of weakness, Jesus tells us that it is in God’s very nature to change God’s mind.
Think of Moses arguing for God not to wipe out Israel in the wilderness, or Abraham arguing for God not to wipe our Sodom and Gomorrah.
Think about God rethinking destroying the world after the flood in Noah’s story.
This woman that Jesus meets while he is on vacation in Tyre changes Jesus mind about his ministry.

And in changing Jesus mind this tenacious mother gives us an eternal truth.
The Gospel and its message, the grace of God is big enough for all.
“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
There is enough food that the crumbs fall from the table and touch other lives.
We all know this to be true.
For we never know fully how the good that we do in our lives will be spread.
You may hit your intended target, but you also spread good news to more people than you know.

I was reminded of this while on internship.
It was my last week and one of the members of the congregation who I knew but didn’t know well came up to wish me good luck.
He said to me, “Your sermons have really helped me in my life. I have learned a lot from you.”
I was shocked because never before had he said anything about how my sermons touched him.
He never even gave one of the obligatory, “Nice sermon pastor”, on the way out of worship.
It was a reminder to me of the power of the word of God, and how it helps others.
We never know who will walk through our doors on Sunday morning.
We never know what their life is like at that moment.
We never know the way that God’s love will speak through us and convey to that person God’s grace.
We just never know how the crumbs will fall from the table and be of help to someone else.

Today we start our program year.
Today we start Sunday scho1ol, adult education, and a whole bunch of things.
And I am wondering who will receive the crumbs from our table.
What lives will we reach and impact that we have no expectation to?
How will God’s grace spill over the table and touch someone this year?
I see this all the time in our Sunday school.
The work that our teachers are doing is really remarkable.
Because what has been happening is that kids like Sunday school so much they are bringing friends.
In fact, one parent told me that their child said to them, “Church is the funniest place in the world.”
And we are touching lives with God’s love and grace in ways that none of us could expect.
There are children coming to our Sunday school experiencing God’s love who never would have otherwise.
When we start the year we have 35 names, but every year more than merely those 35 names are touched by the ministry we do here.
When we welcome children into our midst, and when we make Church a place to play, make friends, and laugh then we invite people to experience God’s grace.
Not through doctrines, but through experience.

The same is true in all aspects of our ministry together.
Jim Mikesell our new treasurer told me this story about when he was at the tent for Market Days.
A woman walked by our display and looked at it intently.
She then walked a few paces past our booth stopped and turned around.
She went up to Jim and said, “I just wanted to thank you for all your church does for the homeless in Concord.”
This little congregation is known in our community for helping people in need.
It is a great and wonderful thing.
It is part of the mission of the church to feed those in need.
But our real mission, the crumbs that fall from the table, is more than that it is to offer hope to give people a place of welcome and love.
It is to spread the kingdom and Good news.
That is what we are doing.
That is what that woman recognized.
And the truth is that you are all reaching more people than you realize.
Because of your giving and your love for outreach I am able to be in the community also sharing the crumbs.
I am able to help numerous people on behalf of our congregation.
And like I said before we just never know how that good will spread to others that we don’t know about.

Every week we come together to be fed, we come to hear the Good News of Jesus, to receive his body and blood, to be uplifted in word, song, and sacrament so that we can have hope, welcome, and love.
But you see if that was all this was about that would be too small a vision for God.
 I really believe that we are all here because the Holy Spirit has called us together, but that the Holy Spirit is always working through us to bring all the benefits that we know to others who have not yet experienced it.
We are the children of God given the real gifts of God’s immeasurable grace.
But it is not just for us, the crumbs that fall off our table are enough for all.
This is what the Syrophoenician woman points out to Jesus.
In so doing she is given her request, and her daughter is healed.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.
What the Gospels teach us all the time is that we never know who is going to show us some surprising new way of thinking about God.
We never know when a mother will show up with a tenuous unyielding faith to change our perception of God.
We never know the ways that we will be challenged.
And we never know the way the crumbs fall from the table to sustain others.
We too might be able to have our minds changed.
In doing so, we grow closer to the mind of God, and the kingdom of heaven.

So let us take what we have received here.
And be ready to spread the crumbs to everyone.
Never fully knowing how what will heal someone, offer them hope, and give them new life.

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