Proper 15 - Trinity 9
56. 1, 6-8
Matthew 15.(10-20), 21-28
It is so easy for Christians to fall into the trap of being exclusive
of creating barriers and boundaries that others find difficult
or impossible to cross. Sometimes we do it unwittingly and with
the best of motives - so working on our ministry of welcome is
something that we can all do, at all times.
And this morning's readings
come as a wonderful reminder of the inclusivity - rather than
the exclusivity - of God's love for the world.
We tend to think that this
is something Jesus invented
. But actually the argument
is there long before the time of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah was
teaching the children of Israel that, although in Exile they
struggled to keep their identity and remain faithful to the Law,
God was quite prepared to accept foreigners / aliens who might
want to worship him - as long as they too kept to his justice
and mercy in their lives. So the precious Temple in Jerusalem
was never intended just to be for the exclusive use of the Jews
- it was to be a house of prayer for all peoples.
And when they returned and rebuilt the Temple, this was recognized
in the creation of the Court of the Gentiles
the Jews still wanted to restrict access to the Holy of Holies
- the Ark of the Covenant itself that only male Jews were allowed
to draw closest to and only the High Priest was allowed to enter
- and then only on one day a year. In time, the kind of religion
practised by the Jews became very exclusive. They surrounded
the worship - the joyful worship - of God by so many rules and
Jesus - in contrast - wanted
to show the wideness of God's love. He taught against the strict
rules of purity that the Pharisees had imposed on the eating
of certain foods and the rituals to be gone through before eating.
Not that he was against the hygienic washing of hands - but he
was certainly against the obsessive ritualistic washing that
the religious professionals were criticising him for not doing.
So he said that it wasn't a particular food that made a person
unclean (unfit to approach God) it was what was within their
heart and mind that might do that.
And in the second part of our
Gospel story we find Jesus outside Jewish territory, in the land
of the Phoenicians. They were great sailors and navigators -
the first we think to navigate using the stars. They traded with
the whole of the Mediterranean - and even made their way to Britain
to get our Cornish Tin - so they were used to meeting people
of every kind and learning new ways of looking at the world.
To be so successful commercially, they had to be accepting of
other people's customs and practices - even when they did not
agree with them.
And here a Canaanite woman
- (or a Syro-Phoenician as Mark calls her) but at any rate, a
Gentile woman, comes to ask for help. She was breaking the regulations
of the Jews twice over by speaking to him in public. She is a
gentile and a woman so would make Jesus ritually unclean by having
any contact with him. But she is moved by love for her daughter
and who can go against a Mother's love?
She has heard about Jesus' power as a healer and so she doesn't
just ask, she shouts, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David,
my daughter is tormented!" She obviously has some faith
in the power of this Jewish faith healer. Her faith may be small,
it may be poor and unschooled, but she is desperate. And we discover
that it doesn't matter how small our faith is, if it is in a
big enough God. A God who doesn't recognise man-made restrictions
of nationality or custom.
At first Jesus rebuffs her
and can seem to be quite insulting - 'dogs' were how Jews commonly
referred to Gentiles. It sounds like and was intended to be an
But I am reminded of a lovely
little story that we used at the Pet Service. A legend of how
dog came to be Man's best friend.
The legend has it that Adam and Eve were complaining that they
felt lonely during the times of day when God could not be there
to walk with them in the Garden of Eden. They had each other,
but wanted another companion - one to remind them of God. So
God says he will do just that - make them a companion to be a
reflection of his love for them. And the creature's name will
be a reflection of his name too - and so Dog is created and loves
the human beings and is devoted to them - just as God is loving
and devoted to all of creation.
Well the Canaanite woman takes
Jesus' harsh words and turns them around reminding Jesus that
even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the master's
table. Her witty reply seems to delight him as does the strength
of her faith. Jesus rejoices in her - seeing in her a sign of
the universality of the love of God as revealed in Jesus.
And while we're thinking about
. You know that I have two dogs and like all their
kind, they like their food. But whereas Grace will focus first
on her bowl and the contents therein
moving on rapidly
to anyone else's bowl, , and only then seeing if she has dropped
anything on the way, in contrast, Jandi is most particular about
making sure no crumb is wasted. If anything falls outside her
bowl, onto the floor, she will make sure this is 'hoovered' up
first - before turning her attention to the main course as it
It strikes me that this is
a good metaphor for our actions as we come to find God in our
worship and our Communion week by week. We know what the 'main
course' is - the thing that will satisfy our hunger - but before
we get there we need to focus on the things that might have been
dropped along the way; the mistakes we have made, the mess left
behind. We need to clear that up, in our prayers of confession,
before we approach the Lord's table and feel that wonderful sense
of being included in his Church, in his love. The old BCP service
has that line in it as the invitation to confession, "those
who are in love and charity with your neighbours and intend to
lead a new life following the commandments of God, and walking
from henceforth in his holy ways; draw near with faith
Today's readings comfort us
that even if our faith is small and imperfect, providing it is
a faith in a big enough God who has the power to forgive even
us, then God will not - will never - reject us.
August 2014 - Sunday Evening- Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs
Sermon for Sunday evening
- 17th August 2014
Proper 15 - Trinity 9
2 Kings 4.
Acts 16. 1-15
I wonder if you know the poem
by Robert Frost?
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Tonight's Readings make me
think of this poem - and how often we are presented with choices
in life... we choose one path - and then perhaps often wonder
what life might have been like, had we chosen the other?
With the A level results coming
out this week, there will be many young people - not to mention
their anxious parents, making choices about courses of study
or other options for their future that will have long-lasting
and life-changing effects.
After all - where one chooses
to go and study or indeed work, may affect the choice of a life
partner - apart from either opening up or closing off certain
career options... Had I not decided to study Russian and French,
I would never have lived in Cheltenham... sometimes I think I
might have done better to study electronics - then a very new
branch of physics, but one in which I was also interested...
Or, of course, had I known
that the Church would eventually ordain women, I might have opted
to study theology.... I remember being rather annoyed at School
that because of the particular option choices available to me,
we were not allowed to enter for O level RE! Had I become a vicar
much earlier in life, then maybe I would indeed be contemplating
the House of Bishops now!
Oh but think of all the people
I would then not have met or experiences enjoyed!
Paul and Timothy are on a journey.
They have been sent by the apostles and elders - the Church in
Jerusalem - to check up on all the new churches that were springing
up all over the Roman Empire - or at least the Eastern half
of the Mediterranean. There is a sense that this growth is becoming
exponential and Peter, James and the others back at base are
worried that they cannot control the movement that is being spread
in the name of Jesus.... And we human beings do not like being
out of control! And there was no telephone or social media then
- not that much literacy around even. So word of mouth was critical
- and it was important that all these new churches were taught
the right messages, the right teaching, the right dogma.
So with Paul in the lead, the
pair set off - intending to travel around the country we know
today as Turkey.
But something stops them going
further and then Paul has a dream in which he sees a man from
Macedonia - northern Greece in today's world, begging for help.
Well we know that preaching to the Gentiles was something that
Paul was very much in favour of, so this chimed in neatly with
his own agenda!
But in the end, it is not a
man, but a woman who proves the key person in the church moving
beyond the Middle East. A woman who is a power in her own right
- a business woman; independent, confident - not afraid to argue
and dispute with Paul - however strange and charismatic a preacher
he may be. And it is she who shows Paul how God's Holy Spirit
is moving beyond the confines of Judaism and Asia. This is an
unexpected path that Paul and Timothy find themselves on... what
would have happened if they had remained in Bithynia? We will
never know - it was the Road not Taken...
And in our earlier reading
it was two different women who provided the opportunity for the
prophet Elisha to demonstrate the power of God's Holy Spirit.
Whether in endlessly replenishing the oil and flower jar in a
poor woman's house, or replenishing the family of a rich woman
who had everything bar a child, the miracles are performed to
demonstrate God's power - not to be particularly caring for either
of the people concerned. That their lives are improved and made
more secure is a happy coincidence.
But what about the threat to
the Shunamite woman's happiness? How cruel to grant her her heart's
desire, only to snatch it away again!
But this too provides an opportunity
for God's Spirit to be seen at work as the boy is restored to
his mother and father.
But what if Elisha had chosen to stay with different people?
Or declined to help the widow? The story might have been very
different - except that God - if he has a purpose to reveal -
will find a way eventually ... even if we human beings put stumbling
blocks in the way at times.
Life is full of dilemmas -
and our modern world only adds to them it seems. Should we go
in with troops to help those refugees in Northern Iraq? Should
we arm the Kurds. Should we have followed ex-President Bush in
the first place into war in Iraq. What should be our response
to those countries fighting the Ebola virus?
Should we take that new job? Choose this University over that
one? Set up home with this person, rather than that?
Whatever choices we make in
our personal or national lives there will be consequences that
we do not expect. The Road not Taken presents us with unknown
possibilities, unfulfilled hopes and dreams. But as Christians,
we have to believe that whatever our mistakes; whatever idiotic,
wrong-headed choices we might make, God's Holy Spirit will find
a way to bring good out of bad; light out of dark; happiness
out of sorrow. That, perhaps, is what redemption is all about?
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.