Tola’s sermon preached on Aug. 20, 2023

Posted by on Sun, Aug 20, 2023 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 12th Sunday after Pentecost

Aug. 20, 2023

Due to a technical glitch, the video begins just after the opening words of the sermon.

One of the joys of our journey as Christians is the ability to see passages in the Bible through different eyes as we proceed through life. What grips us one way as teenagers looks different as young adults. And changes further as we become parents, and even more as we enter middle age. I suspect this process will continue for me.

Some passages ring with majestic beauty on first reading. Some may surprise or confound us when we are young, surrendering their truths only as we accumulate experience and wisdom.

The parable that is often referred to as the Exorcism of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter took me a little while. When I was young, I thought: “I don’t get it. Why is Jesus not immediately compassionate towards this woman and her daughter? Why does he have to be talked into it?”

To be completely honest, there are still passages of the bible that are challenging for me. But when it’s the Gospel, and the word of Christ, I try to let my feelings about what I read wash over me and drain away. Then I ask myself “what does God want me to know from this? He has a reason.” And then I will pray: “Lord, fill me with the wisdom to understand your truth.”

When I did this with today’s reading, what I was left with was this: the power of humility.

Humility is not currently in fashion in America. We live in a time where empowerment is the coin of the realm. Empowerment in voice, and empowerment in action, has been on the rise since at least the age of enlightenment exploded onto the European and American scenes in the middle 1700s. It has reached a fever pitch in the rise of the Internet, when the absence of an urge to shout your heart’s desire from the top of the tallest mountaintop is seen as some sort of character defect. Don’t you want to share your inner self? No? What’s wrong with you?

For some of us, it is very easy to go with the exultation of individuality. I have a deficit of humility. I have always enjoyed seeing myself as smart and capable, triumphing over poverty and serious childhood challenges to become a comfortable and respected member of this community. I would like to think some of this has lessened as I’ve gotten older, but it is still so very, very easy to go with the tide of expressionism.

Christ’s story reminds us that there is a different path. The more strident the chorus, the more powerful quiet humility becomes.

Consider the Canaanite, or Syrophoenician, woman. History says her people were displaced by the Jewish return from Egyptian exile. In Christ’s time they were seen as “others”, referred to in Scripture dismissively as “Greeks”. Her daughter was very sick. Yet she was so desperate to get her daughter help that she went to a holy man of a different people, which in the ancient middle east broke all sorts of rules.

And how did that go for her?

First, he did not answer her at all. She did not go away.

Then he said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Basically, go away. She persisted. She said, simply, “Lord, help me.”

Then, perhaps the worst thing you can say to someone: insulting their children. Jesus said “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

How many of us could have heard that and maintained an open heart to the possibility of a miracle? To be rejected over and over again? How many of us would not have rushed to protect our sense of honor and self-worth?

But the Canaanite woman did none of these things. She turned the comment around and embraced the words. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

You learn many things as a parent. You endure many things for the sake of your children. But to hold this sort of inner quietude and focus in the face of such rejection shows uncommon strength.

And so her daughter was indeed healed. For as we heard in Isaiah, God promised “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people,” and Jesus renewed that same promise in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

This is to me what we celebrate when we invite all who seek a greater understanding of Christ to join us in Communion. A vast and unbounded church that welcomes all to our table.

So no secret handshakes for us. Our focus on the cross is the furthest thing from a secret. It’s all around us.

We rightly focus on that which would take us away from God. Jesus names the worst. “Out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and murder.” One of the greatest truths in the Bible, one of the greatest enlightenments in all of Christ’s teaching, is that “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

Freshly armed with this truth, we turn away from self-aggrandizement and personal ambition, but seek for what comes out of our mouths to instead advance and illuminate the glory of God.

This requires us to embrace humility. We have to resist the urge to reinforce our specialness. We must not build up barriers to make this easier. We must tear down the invisible walls that separate us from others, so that we can truly see each other and join together in worship and celebration.

This is what brings us closer to God.

We invite strangers and outsiders to join us, in the hope that they too will feel God’s presence. We declare that we are one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, breaking the walls down even further, inviting God to be with us as the Canaanite woman did so long ago.

We will learn from Scripture. We will go forth with more humility. We will follow the example of the Canaanite woman. We will hear what God is telling us.

In this and all challenging parables are the powerful tools that will help bring us closer to God.


© 2023 Mr. Tola Marts. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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