Message: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
We heard from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry this past week. He reminded us of Martin Luther King, Jr. final book, entitled Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Written in 1967, one year before King was killed by an assassins’ bullet, it is the season of the march against racism characterized by Freedom Riders, the Voting Rights Act, peaceful demonstrations, angry mobs, and riots resulting in death. King asks, “What’s next?” Do we accept that racism and bigotry is our status quo? Do we march on “relinquishing our obligation to love”, as King would say? Do we turn in repentance, toward healing change? King writes that “a moment of crisis is a moment of decision.”
The Canaanite woman we meet today is in a moment of crisis and a moment of decision. She’s desperately seeking wellness for her demon possessed daughter. As far as Jesus and his disciples are concerned, the woman is not part of the community. Her ancestry stems back to ancient idolatry; always a threat to the Judaic faith. As a Gentile, a Canaanite, God has expelled her community from the kingdom. She’s among Israel’s most hated and insidious of enemies. Never mind. First and foremost, the woman is a mom. What’s next for this mom in a moment of crisis? She must make a decision. Does she throw her hands in the air, overwhelmed by the despair of the wrong that has been done to her daughter? Children aren’t supposed to suffer. Children are supposed to run and play and grow and love and learn. Not this young child. Possessed by demons, she lives in chaos. This mom, she’s going to do what any mother has to do for her daughter to be well. Vigilant she seeks out a solution as she comes looking for Jesus.
Somehow, the woman knows of Jesus and his reputation. Resilient and armed with every bit of flattery, she shouts out to him, addressing him by his Judaic title, “Lord, Son of David. “ Much to our surprise, Jesus ignores the woman. His indifference may well be the attitude of Jewish teachers of the time. Why pay attention to this wailing woman who is clearly not a part of the chosen community? To add to her lack of appeal, the woman is alone; unaccompanied by the family patriarch who customarily would speak on her behalf.
As the chaos ensues Jesus’ disciples sense a crisis of their own. The persistent woman will not leave them alone either. She keeps shouting. She’s annoying and rudely insistent that Jesus must help her. Was she not around earlier when Jesus was teaching about words that contaminate?
Exhausted by her efforts, the woman falls to her knees at the feet of Jesus begging, “Lord, help me.” With no apparent change of heart Jesus attempts to put the woman in her place reminding her that he comes only to the chosen people of God. He’s got no time to tend to the dogs. God bless this resilient woman in her crisis. Vigilant, the woman comes back at Jesus, “even the dogs get the crumbs.” It’s amazing how a crisis can increase our faith.
Eclipsed by the woman’s trust in his healing power, Jesus turns to put an end to her crisis. “Woman, great is your faith,” Jesus proclaims. “Let it be done for you as you wish.” Her unseen daughter is healed with only the power of Jesus’ words to assure that the crisis is abated. The story is ended as we never hear from the Canaanite woman again, nor her daughter. Jesus and his disciples go on toward the Sea of Galilee where a community of seekers await his holy presence.
Where do we go from here?
Crisis peeked a week ago Saturday as white nationalists marching on Charlottesville shouting Nazi slogans and carrying hate signs protested the removal of a confederate soldier statute and the renaming of a local city park. Counter protestors claimed their first amendment right, marching in opposition. As the crowds grew and contamination spread; chaos erupted. We can remain in the chaos slinging vitriol and hate and fail to move forward. We can stand in the chaos with indifference. We can let the contamination of chaos twist our hearts into evil thoughts. Or, as Presiding Bishop Curry recommends, we can move forward as followers of Jesus Christ and strive to listen, understand, and heal as a beloved community. Bishop Curry invites us to “rededicate ourselves to the way of Jesus, the work of racial reconciliation, the work of healing and dismantling everything that wounds and divides us.” This, Bishop Curry claims, is the work of becoming God’s Beloved Community.
This week many churches and municipalities, in an attempt to become God’s Beloved Community, are removing plaques, and tributes to Confederate soldiers, including and especially those attributed to General Robert E. Lee. While General Lee remains controversial; he was a beloved community builder.
With the start of the civil war President Lincoln called Robert E. Lee to the White House extending to him the invitation to lead the Union Army. A West Point graduate and military leader admired and respected by both sides Lee chose to lead the Confederate Army out of deference to his home state, Virginia. At the same time, he opposed slavery. He wrote to his wife, Martha Custis Lee, in 1856, “in this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil in any country…a greater evil to the white man than to the black race.” After the surrender at Appomattox, Lee went on to heal the wounds of war advocating tirelessly that the monuments not be erected and tributes not be rendered as the reminders are far too hurtful.
All the while, Lee remained until his dying days, a devout follower of Jesus Christ and a faithful Episcopalian. Following the war, while worshiping at St. Paul’s, Richmond, immediately across from the Virginia State Capital, Lee watched as during worship a black man rose from his seat in the balcony, descended, and processed to the communion rail. Kneeling he held out his hands to receive as the congregation sat aghast watching the man defy the order that no black person was eligible to receive communion. To halt pending chaos, Lee, without hesitation stood up from his prominent seat in a front pew and took his place alongside the black man kneeling at the rail to receive the Lord’s Supper where all are invited.
A moment of crisis is a moment of decision. Regardless of where we stand on the placement of historical monuments, now is our moment of decision. Will we choose to be leaders of chaos or leaders of a beloved community?
The chaos of white supremacists angrily marching the streets of Charlottesville is not beloved community. Ramming a car into a crowd of innocent counter protestors is an act of terrorism, not an exercise of the first amendment formed to protect our community.
This week, another mother pleading for her child spoke up. Susan Bro, Heather Heyer’s mother, before a fully packed Paramount theater made her moment of decision declaring that she’d rather have her child but, if she must give her up, she’s going to make it count. Heather, with her efforts to put down hate, has not been minimized but magnified.
Regardless of our political proclivities, this historical moment calls for beloved community. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes of communities permeated with a spirit of mutual trust: responsible, efficient and alert. Such beloved communities may begin with those who cross our paths in our everyday lives.
King is reminded of two men who fly across the country to Atlanta to meet with a civil rights leader awaiting them at the airport. As the men deplane and prepare to meet…the civil rights leader is pulled aside by the porter who is sweeping the floor. It seems the porter has a troubling matter to discuss. One of the men restless and anxious to get on with the meeting and then back on the airplane complains to his companion, “I’m too busy for this kind of nonsense. I haven’t come a thousand miles to sit and wait while he talks to the porter sweeping the floors.” The other man responds, “When the day comes that he stops having time to talk to a porter, on that day I will not have the time to come one mile to see him.” May we simply pause wherever we come and go, day in and day out, and take note of God’s call to be in beloved community. Even Jesus needed to be reminded of beloved community by a mother on the verge of chaos.
Jesus says, “great is your faith.” I’m counting on it. As we go along, are we on the verge of chaos or community? For me, with Christ, I’m choosing to once again examine the racism I harbor in my soul that prevents me from seeking honest, beloved community.
Ancient Hindu belief understands an eclipse as an angry spirit having a score to settle with the sun. Consequently, the spirit swallows the light causing the darkness. The eclipse scheduled for tomorrow will be brief. As well, total eclipses are rare. So may the darkness of these difficult times be brief and rare. Rather, may God’s brightness shine once again in our hearts, that our words may not defile, that we not contaminate with hatred but instead serve, grow and build a beloved community that bring God’s saving love to us all. Together, beloved community, may we take steps to begin anew.