The following texts were used in the sermon this morning. Genesis 45: 1-15, Romans 10: 5-15 and Matthew 15: 10-28. The title was as listed above. It wasn’t spoken exactly like this, but unless I listened to the tape, I wouldn’t know what it is.
Before we get too involved with the scripture and the meaning, I would like to thank you and Pastor Bergman for allowing us to be gone the past two weeks. It seems like so long since I have been standing here, but last weekend was really good for me to go and hear someone else interpret some meanings and give me some words to think about, though I am not sure I want to do that so very often as I feel a bit out of rhythm and behind on what has been happening in the stories we have been sharing, especially in terms of Jacob and what he has been up to.
One of the things that was mentioned last Saturday night as we gathered, and the program was led by Rev. Enno Limvere of the Ipswich church (He grew up in the Jamestown church.) was that we are a denomination of covenant. We are united as a church and a group of churches by covenant, not by any supreme order. We are ruled by local congregations made up of members and not by any regional or national leaders. It was the congregational way, and that was the polity chosen in the denominational merger in 1957. Because of it, we choose our own leadership and do not listen to the dictates of a Bishop or Larger Council or any one ruler. Yes, we sometimes have leadership or strong directions from General Synod, but those ideas or resolutions are decided by voting delegates that are made up of the people of the membership. It is people just like us. We are covenanted members who walk together in a united relationship that does not have a dictated belief.
I bring this up this morning as a reminder to ourselves of that fact as we look at the scripture in Matthew and then in Genesis, but before we do, I just have to share about being on my blogging site and coming across an article by someone who was berating our denomination for not being more like the “main line” churches. This person couldn’t understand why we bother to exist or why we weren’t more like the other protestant Christians. He didn’t see the point of a church like ours. I wanted to reply, but held my tongue or fingers off the keyboard as it were. I wanted to ask if he had really ever read the words of Jesus to find out what he really said to the leaders of his day. I wanted to ask him if he reads carefully the words written about Jesus, and thinks about what they mean to his life today. I want to do that today, both with the story in Matthew and the one in Genesis. This is perhaps too much to cover in one message, but I promise not to drag this out. So here goes.
Our scripture in Matthew today is really in two parts. The first past is another story of Jesus pointing out the rules and rituals of the Jewish leaders that are basically out of control. Now we all know the importance of washing our hands and in our day there is the hand sanitizer craze to keep germs away. For those of us with a weaker immune system or working in an area with lots of exposure to germs, it is really important to wash so as not to get or worse yet, pass an infection to someone else.
The truth about the Jewish rituals of washing probably began in an effort to keep infections at bay. Let’s remember there were no anti-biotics in those days and an infection could wipe out a population. But like many good things, this practice had gone over the edge. It had become a ritual for ritual sake and really lost its true meaning, and so Jesus makes a point that basically exposes the truth about the inner thoughts of the leaders. They were no longer doing the washing for the right purposes. They weren’t following their own beliefs for the right reasons.
Jesus pointed out that it wasn’t what they were taking into their bodies that was making them sick. It was what was coming out of their mouths, and what was in their minds that was making them unworthy of being a leader or even a believer. It is still true for us today. It isn’t what we eat; it isn’t necessarily what we read or watch, though I am sure we could get ourselves into some pretty bad things if we tried. It is when we allow evil thoughts and ideas to enter our minds, and it is when we allow ourselves to not only think, but say hurtful things to one another. This is one of those passages that I probably need to copy and stick on the refrigerator beside my little list of new house rules that I put up this June, and one day magically was turned over with a new rule: Do whatever you want, put on the back. Perhaps the real rule should be, Do as Jesus would like you to do. Wasn’t there a popular saying not so long ago of: What would Jesus Do?
Now in that same chapter, Jesus was stopped by a Canaanite woman asking for him to cast the demon out of her daughter. This passage is one that appears to be a problematic one. Apparently by the time this was written, it was unusual for anyone to be referred to as being from Canaan and if they were from that region, they certainly would not be referring to Jesus as the Son of David. Matthew probably includes this particular story here to let the readers of the early church understand that the ministry and teaching of Jesus was for everyone. We take that fact for granted, yet early on, many felt that his ministry was only for the Jews.
The woman in speaking to Jesus compared herself to the dogs licking up the crumbs under the table. Some experts like to explain this difficult passage as being a joke. They try to say it is Jesus humor. Perhaps it was just written as one of those really awful comparisons that makes us as the reader finally sit up and take notice. Sort of like that story by Jonathon Swift, “A Modest Proposal” when he suggests they feed the over population of babies born into poverty to the starving as a way to solve two problems at one time.
As a woman of Canaanite heritage likely felt like a lowly animal slinking around the floor begging for the scraps when she was around the leaders of the Jewish religion. And why was she coming to Jesus for help for her daughter? Why wasn’t it her husband? It doesn’t tell us if there is a husband, and if we haven’t talked about this before, a daughter would not really be worth bothering a doctor or a healer about. It would only be the sons who had any value, yet here she is asking for help of this Jewish man, for her daughter.
If nothing else, this story should tell us that Jesus reached out to all people. He didn’t care the age, or nationality or community importance. Jesus was there for all. Because the woman had faith, and because she asked, he healed her daughter. I hope this lets us know that we need to have faith, and also that we need to ask for our needs to be met. Prayer. There is nothing like real honest sincere prayer. But I don’t have to tell you that. You know that far better than I do.
Our final story that I want to touch today is the story from Genesis. I suppose we could have spent the entire time talking about Joseph. Now we missed a few things in the two weeks that I was gone, but really I am pretty confident that we know the story of Joseph. He was the darling child of Jacob’s favorite wife Rachael. He was the envy of his brothers, probably more than spoiled. Well they got even all right selling him into slavery. Then he ended up working for the Pharaoh because he was in jail after being falsely accused of “going after” his master’s wife. He has come a long way, but in the story we read today. Joseph is finally reunited with his brothers.
Now wait a minute here. I can work out the hand washing story and the woman who is unworthy that Jesus finally gives in and heals her daughter, but these brothers of Joseph gaining his forgiveness, to me this is a bit much. Think about the person who has pulled the most rotten thing on you that you can remember and double it. Think about how badly these brothers, blood relatives, wronged Joseph. They sold him into slavery. He was still a kid really when they threw him in a pit; they were thinking of killing him; in fact they told their father that he was dead. A secret they kept for all these years. Now here at this reunion, Joseph is the one weeping in joy, and telling them it is ok, because it is part of God’s plan.
I will tell you straight out that the one thing I can’t do is the hypocrite thing. I cannot in good conscience stand here today and be all smug saying, yes, yes what Joseph did is the only way to be. Yes it is the way to be, it is what God asks of us, but boy or boy, I can tell you straight up, it is not something that I am capable of doing all the time. I understand how happy Joseph was to be reunited with his younger brother Benjamin, but I don’t know how Joseph could look at those older brothers who sold him into slavery for some [pieces of silver/sounds like a recurring story.] How could he just let them get away with it? How could he take them in and care for them?
Joseph did what we are asked to do. Just as Joseph reached out to his brothers, the very brothers who wronged him, so we are asked to reach out to our brothers and sisters no matter what. For me this week, this is hard. I have to remember back to some words from Dr. Strandness. He said we don’t always have to like someone’s actions, but we do have to show Christian love. This story about Joseph is one of those Old Testament stories that point us to Jesus and the love that he brought to earth. This story reminds us that we need to love everyone. The story of the Canaanite woman with the demon possessed daughter lets us know that Jesus came to bring the gospel, the good news about him to everyone, not just to the righteous. The word is not just for those who wash their hands, those who follow the ways of God and the law. It is for everyone out there.
Perhaps part of the pondering of our mission as a church should be to think about whom in our community is the Canaanite woman with the demon possessed daughter, not literally, but you know what I mean. Who are the unwashed, and how do we act more like Joseph. Remember we are a people of covenant, we are a united people. Let’s look around for those missions that will help us fulfill those tasks. Amen!