“Standing Up to Jesus”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mark 7:24-37

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

Mark 7:24-37

From there he 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, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He 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.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

 

Prayer.

 

There are not many occasions

When Jesus isn’t in lock-step agreement with his Heavenly Father.

One would assume that both are on the same page

But the mere fact that Jesus was both

Human and Divine

Gives us an insider’s clue regarding

Our Lord’s more human characteristics.

 

Consider a number of Sundays ago

When we experienced the healing of the hemorrhaging woman.

Healing shot out of Jesus’ cloak

As soon as the woman reached out and touched it.

God worked the miracle,

Which was brought to Jesus’ awareness,

After the fact.

Jesus was nothing more than a sideline observer

Of God’s miraculous grace.

 

Consider Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

His prayer recorded by Gospel authors

Isn’t exactly a social chat with his Heavenly Father.

“Take this cup away from me,

For I don’t want to taste its poison.”

- as quoted from Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus is resisting

What God had already destined to do.

 

The ultimate clash between Jesus and our Father

Had to be when Jesus is on the cross,

When he cries out,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

- Mark15:34

Forsaken?

Yes, Jesus felt forsaken by God;

Forsaken by his Heavenly Father.

From our human side of the equation,  

It certainly appeared as if Jesus and God had parted ways.

Yet,

From God’s side of the equation,

All would be reconciled,

All would be brought back into perfect communion

Between Jesus and the Father

On resurrection morning.  

 

One can almost feel the dissonance

Between Jesus and our Heavenly Father in today’s Gospel.

Mark uses the theme of sowing seeds in ever larger circles.

He spreads the boarders.

He reaches out across frontiers,

Making missional endeavors even to Gentiles.

Through the lens of Mark

We are given the unique perspective

That God is growing Christ’s reality.

God’s kingdom is so much larger;

There is so much more for Jesus to experience.

 

Leave protected Galilee.

Leave all things familiar and Jewish.

Go north towards Syria, then

Head to the beach.

Jesus obeys.

He goes to the coastal port of Tyre,

In modern day Lebanon,

Where Greeks and Romans and Phoenician sailors

Outnumbered Jews ten to one.

“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The Father had led Jesus into a place of cultural discomfort.

 

Note to self:

If you or I find ourselves in a place of cultural discomfort,

There is always a reason God has led us there.

What am I doing in Guatemala?

What am I doing going back to Nicaragua?

What am I doing serving meals in this neighborhood?

Why am I working with people so different from me?

Cultural discomfort is always a sign of God stretching our canvas!

 

Jesus is about to get his canvas stretched.

In walks unannounced

An unexpected, unwanted woman.

She was

A different complexion and bone structure.

She was a foreigner,

A Gentile,

A mother with a sick child,

and therefore,

She was unclean and, quite possibly, contagious.

“She came and bowed down at his feet.”

- Mark 7:25

 

Complicating the whole Jewish purity story line

Is the cultural reality of honor and dishonor.

She bowed at his feet,

Submitting herself completely to the power and authority of Jesus.

She wasn’t known.

She wasn’t family.

She couldn’t be trusted,

Unless,

She would render herself completely submissive to Christ,

Begging him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

 

Jesus’ response is completely cultural.

It is a knee jerk reaction to unexpected circumstances.

His humanity

His humanist side shows itself in living color when he responds,

“Let the children be fed first,

for it is not fair to take the children’s food

and throw it to the dogs.”

- Mark 7:27

I’m sure

That’s one Jesus wishes he could take back.

 

Jesus associates “children” with Jews,

Even as Jewish writers of his era

Referred to Gentiles as “dogs.”

Some scholars suggest the term “dogs” is too polite,

And that a different term

- one that cannot be spoken from the pulpit –

Should be more accurately used.

 

Jews come first,

Jesus is saying.

Gentiles can go to the back of the bus.

(This metaphor with segregation is intentional)

 

Jesus’ cultural response

Is about to be turned upside down

By the Lord, our Heavenly Father,

Speaking and action through his female, Gentile messenger.

 

This woman doesn’t even skip a beat.

She speaks truth to power,

“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

- Mark 7:28

BAM!

Jesus, you’ve been schooled!

 

This woman redefines how honor is truly identified.

She has faith in Jesus,

So much faith that she is willing to submit and prostrate herself at his feet.

Even more so,

She has faith that God is stretching Jesus

To include non-Jews like herself in God’s greater plan.

 

Jesus correctly does an abrupt about face!

It is usually Jesus who turns the world upside down …

… the last shall be first and the first shall be last …

… give your life to save your life …

… give away all you have to find wealth …

Here, God speaks

Through the witty voice of a Gentile woman

And God’s voice causes Jesus to change directions.

Yes.

Jesus changes.

 

Second note to self:

Pay attention to those who speak truth to power,

For their words are from God.

 

Far too often,

We look through our own cultural lens

And we are mistakenly led to believe

That our cause is right,

Our politics are right,

Our belief is right.

We’re speaking up, all right,

But we are speaking from a position of power,

Not as a desperate Gentile woman bowing at the feet of Jesus,

Not as a deaf Gentile man with a speech impediment.

Turn off social media.

Turn off the television.

Suspend judgment and get out of the house.

Listen to the powerless who speak truth to power.

Listen for words of truth;

For truth comes from God.

 

Today’s Gospel kicks us in the shin.

We lock arms with Jesus and we take a humiliating shot to the solar plexus.

The Good News comes to us in the form of painful self-examination:

Where are the places and circumstances in my life

Where I feel most culturally uncomfortable?

This is where God has led me.

What is God saying through the poor and the powerless

When such faith allows one to stand and speak truth to power?

This is where God is speaking.

 

I like to think of myself as a new age man

When it comes to cultural inclusivity.

I’ve experienced much,

Read much,

Listened carefully,

Written and preached extensively

About how we are all God’s children.

Yet, I am always surprised,

- Though I shouldn’t be -

When God drags me to the place of cultural discomfort.

It is there

Where I am humbled,

And must fall prostrate at the feet of Jesus and ask for forgiveness.

Recently, for me, it’s been at a Guatemala orphanage,

A startling conversation with a tattoo covered stranger,

At a gathering on a deck.

 

I am not as nearly delusional when it comes to power and authority.

I understand

I’m white.

I’m male.

I’m educated.

I’m ordained.

The position of Pastor is a position of ecclesiastical authority.

The billfold in my pocket is a symbol of my worldly power.

Yet, to listen to God

I must listen to the woman and her sisters

Who work a loom for seven dollars a month

To feed their family

And care for their aging father.

I must listen to the one

Who others have labeled as “A Behavior”

Or “Demented”

Or “yet another wailing mother for her dead son

Gunned down on the streets of Rochester.”

 

How about you?

Where has God led you?

Where is God leading you?

Listen for God’s words,

Especially those words that come from the last, the least, and the lost.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Allow yourself to be at dis-ease;

For that is where Jesus heals

And God is present.

That is where,

By God’s hand,

We are stretched,

And like Jesus,

We are turned on our head.

Amen.