Sunday, September 9, 2018
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
Mark 7:24-37 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=403248717)
Do you go offense?
Or defense, in today’s world?
Do you fight for what you think is right?
Or, do you defend what you believe needs defending?
There is a third option;
That is, to opt out.
Leave the fighting up to someone else.
It’s just easier to throw in the towel,
Go home and cocoon yourself in your own little echo chamber,
Surround yourself with people who will tell you only what you want to hear,
Take comfort in the luxury of modern living.
Maybe the question to fight, or not, is topic dependent?
Politics? Religion? Economics? Racism?
Who is making dinner tonight?
Maybe the question to fight, or not, is person specific?
“I can’t talk to <so-and-so> about <this-or-that>
Because last time it ended up in a <food fight>.”
“I’d rather talk to <so-and-so> because
They’re partial to my opinions.
They think like I do.”
Maybe the question to fight, or not, is fear based?
“I might say something that I might regret,
Or something that is twisted around to mean something other than what I intended.”
Such is the world of political correctness.
Maybe the question to fight, or not, is age dependent?
“I might have stood up and spoke out when I was young and full of spit and vinegar. Anymore, I just don’t have it in me.”
When all the world is defined as a battlefield,
The only outcome is warfare.
The temptation I face
Is to take a world view that is simply a dipolar:
Yes, or no?
Right, or wrong?
Guilty, or innocent?
Have I listened thoroughly?
Have I thought critically?
Have I opened myself to the whisper and will of the Holy Spirit?
These are the questions I have imposed upon myself.
Many times I have charged ahead like a bull in a china closet.
Many times when I make one choice to the exclusion of any other,
I have done so at the expense of a relationship,
Sacrificing a potentially beneficial future experience with another in our Christian journey.
Unfortunately, when I have failed to discipline myself
And have instinctively decided
To make a stand, take a stand, or fight for a stand, it
Has resulted for me, in my past,
The end of “what could have been.”
I don’t like conflict;
Few people do.
Oh, there are some who live to fight,
But most of us are conflict averse.
I don’t like conflict;
But I’ve learned with time and experience to
Engage when necessary,
Discipline my response to the best of my ability,
Stick to my values,
And live with the consequences.
There are times for us to take a stand.
A clinician might say, after a thorough assessment.
A disciple of Christ might say, after a period of discernment.
The second chapter of the Epistle of James
Gives the faithful
Vital tools for us to use
In seasons of discernment:
Favoritism, at the expense of the poor,
Judgment, without mercy, and
Faith, in the absence of works.
Let us ask ourselves, individually and collectively,
Is there evidence of favoritism and partiality?
Has it contributed to dishonoring the poor?
If the answer is “yes”
We are compelled to stand up and speak out on behalf of the poor.
Using the words from James,
Let us ask ourselves,
Are there signs that the law of liberty has been transgressed?
When judgment has triumphed over mercy?
Where mercy has been sought, but cannot be found?
If the answer is “yes”
We are compelled to stand up and speak out on behalf of mercy.
Applying the tools of discernment,
Let us ask ourselves,
Is there evidence of faith without works?
Of works without faith?
We are compelled to stand up, speak out, and behave accordingly!
Have faith in Jesus Christ,
And, be his love, his body, his Spirit
In everything we think, say, and do.
As James so eloquently states
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:17)
Jesus discerned his next step.
What makes a person impure?
What defiles a person? Jesus rhetorically asked last Sunday.
Evil intentions that come from the heart, he replied.
Evil behavior he serves up in a list:
Fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit,
Licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. (Mark 7:21-22)
As if to prove his point,
Jesus heads off into impure territory,
First, into the gentile region of Tyre,
Then, secondly, in the gentile region of the Decapolis.
When it comes to Biblical interpretation, geography matters.
This is one of the many reasons I seek to return to the Holy Lands as frequently as possible.
Jesus leaves behind the people of his original charter,
The children of Abraham,
The people of God’s promise,
He strikes out to Tyre,
A coastal city in the gentile region of Phoenicia,
Some 50 miles away from home.
There, he meets the gentile, Syrophoenician woman.
Let’s talk cleanliness.
The woman was unclean,
Caring for her demon possessed daughter.
A mother’s touch made her unclean and defiled.
She met Jesus alone, something uncalled for in that time and place.
I give Jesus credit here
For leaving safety behind
And stepping into the center of controversary.
She came and bowed at his feet.
She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
Taken aback, Jesus responds instinctively,
Like you or I might react.
“Let the children be fed first,” Jesus tells her,
Alluding to his primary charge to tend to the children of Abraham.
“For it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (7:27)
Holy political incorrectness!
Equating gentiles with dogs.
That doesn’t sit well.
It didn’t sit well with this woman, either!
With the quick discernment that is characteristic of James,
Her faith wells up and spills out,
“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (7:28)
How long was the pause, I wonder?
How long did it take for Jesus to become aware of his inherent bias?
He was placing favoritism and partiality
Over the needs of this woman and her daughter.
He placed judgment without mercy.
Would he live up to what he had just taught,
That defiles one is that which comes from the heart?
“For saying that,” Jesus responds,
“you may go- the demon has left your daughter.” (7:29)
Faith and works are returned to alignment
In this wonderful story of healing,
Setting an example for all of us to profit:
Just as Jesus humbly submits himself to accountability for his words and actions
And makes the appropriate correction,
So, too, should we.
Learn from our mistakes.
Discern God’s path forward.
Then act decisively.
Stand up, stand strong, speak out.
Oh, how the Pharisees and scribes would have howled!
The second Gospel narrative
Indicates that Jesus learned from his painful experience in Tyre.
He travels over a hundred miles south-east,
To the similar gentile region known as the Decapolis.
Deca – whose root is ten – is descriptive of the
Ten cities in the region that were of Greek origin
And definitively non-Jewish.
Each Greek city was a testament to
Greek deities, culture, sports, theater, architecture, and commerce.
“They,” … we do not know who “they” are.
Family? Friends? Officials of the city?
“They brought to him a deaf man
Who had an impediment in his speech;
And they begged him to lay his hand on him.” (7:32)
With experience behind him,
Jesus acts decisively,
Placing his fingers in his ears,
Spitting and touching his tongue.
Jesus looks to heaven
And petitions his Heavenly Father,
The immediate healing confirms
Not only Jesus’ compassionate response
But, also his expanded mission to the larger world.
Yes, Jesus was sent to forgive and save the world.
Favoritism and partiality towards the children of Abraham
Is now extended by our loving God
To include God’s favor towards all of humankind.
Let that sink in for a moment.
God really does love the world
So much that Jesus came
That all might have eternal life.
As I’ve mentioned many times before,
Eternal life begins today;
Here in now.
It began for the Syrophoenician woman
The moment the demon was expelled from her daughter.
It began for the deaf man who had impaired speech
The moment “his ears were opened,
His tongue was released,
And he spoke plainly.” (7:35)
When coupled with belief
Drawn from faith even the size of a mustard seed,
The eternal life promised by Jesus Christ also becomes
A once and future reality
As God’s gift of grace and love
To all the world.
Today, Jesus began on the defensive;
Instinctively resorting to a world view that was narrowly defined
By his Jewish values.
Yet, he rose to the occasion to go offensive.
He put words into action.
He spoke with authority.
He took responsibility.
He made a correction.
And he acted compassionately.
The words and actions of Jesus resulted in eternal life.
So, too, can we.
There are times for Christians to take a stand.
Discern when it is your time;
When it is our time.
Watch and listen for God to speak.
Then act accordingly.