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Original post at http://bethquick.blogspot.com/2011/08/lectionary-notes-for-twelfth-sunday.html
Readings for 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 9/7/14:Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 149, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20Exodus 12:1-14:
- God describes to Moses and Aaron the Passover, which is the festival that centers Jesus' meal with his disciples - this reading also appropriately shows up for Maundy Thursday.
- "this is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly." Ready to go. Ready to move. Prepared. Imagine if this was always the way we were, in terms of readiness to respond to God's call.
- The Passover is a hard one to stomach (no pun intended). It is hard to imagine a plague of killing firstborns all through the land, isn't it? But it is a festival, a 'remembrance' that becomes so crucial in the identity of Judaism, and even in the events that shape Christ's last days. Death, blood, lamb, sacrifice. The ways the symbolism of the Old Testament and New Testament events overlap and tie in here is important.
- Verses 1-3 talk about the juncture of praise and music. I’ve been blessed with musical abilities, and they certainly are tools I value very much in leading worship. But if music isn’t your thing, other gifts also can be used to worship – how do you use your gifts to worship our Maker?
- “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people.” I like this sentiment a lot – do you believe it? God takes pleasure in you individually and in all of us as a people.
- “Let them sing for joy on their couches.” That’s a funny image! Praise from couch potatoes…
- V. 6 – Let the praises of God be in your mouth at the same time you are getting ready to kill some of those people that God takes pleasure in – nice sentiment, eh?
- “Owe no one anything.” Sigh. I wish someone would negotiate a deal for me with my student loan lender…
- But we do owe one another love. I like that way of phrasing it – love is what is due from us to our neighbors. Have we paid up?
- “The commandments . . . are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Plain enough, right?
Love fulfills the law. In this, Paul shows that the law is not abolished but fulfilled in Jesus’ teachings, just as Jesus said.
- "you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep." There is such urgency in this statement and in this passage. I dislike our obsession, in Paul's time and today, with the end times. But i do like a sense of urgency. What are we waiting for to get going with doing God's work? We know what time it is: time for peace. time for justice. time for grace. Now is the moment to wake and work.
- "make no provisions for the flesh, to gratify its desires." No provision? Poor Paul - so black and white sometimes in his thinking - body or spirit instead of body and spirit.
- "salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers." - this is a good verse to plug John Wesley's idea of sanctifying grace - grace that grows in us as we become disciples. A time of conversion (justification) when we first come to 'be believers,' however we might define that, is not the end and all of our relationship with God.
- What a passage with great potential for preaching in a congregation, eh? This passage talks about how to settle disputes in the community of faith. Do we ever put it into practice? Check out the policies in our Book of Discipline. Do our church trials follow the format Jesus suggests?
- "whatever you bind" - note that these words are the same Jesus says to Peter after Peter proclaims him as Messiah in Matthew 16. Here, the authority is expanded to the whole group of disciples.
- "if two of you agree," and "two or three" - Jesus is talking about the power of working together for the same godly purposes.
Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/lectionary-notes-for-thirteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a/
Original post at http://bethquick.blogspot.com/2014/09/sermon-for-twelfth-sunday-after.html
Today, we continue immediately after our text from last week, where Peter proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, in response to Jesus’ question, “And who do you say I am?” Remember, we talked about how Peter claiming that title meant that he understood that Jesus, even though he wasn’t the typical picture of a king like David, an anointed one like the line of kings from the Hebrew scriptures, even still, Jesus was truly the anointed one, the messiah, ruler of the realm of God, this unexpectedly ordered way of God on earth. Jesus entrusts to Peter and the disciples the mission of continuing this reign of God. Today, our passage opens with the words, “From that time on…” These little seemingly throwaway phrases in the scriptures, especially when we’re reading the scripture in little pieces at a time, can feel so unimportant. But this phrase is important because it actually tells us: What happens next is directly related to what just happened. What’s coming next is a direct result of what happened most recently. So, we read, “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” In other words, Peter naming Jesus as Messiah is almost like a trigger, the cause. Because Peter correctly calls Jesus Messiah, from then on, Jesus talks to them about the fact that he’s going to head to Jerusalem, where he will suffer at the hands of the religious authorities, be put to death, and rise on the third day. Peter, so on top of things in last Sunday’s reading, rebukes Jesus, saying, “God forbid it, this must never happen.” Of course, it seems like rebuking Jesus is probably always a bad idea. Chances are if you find yourself in the position of rebuking Jesus, and telling him, “God forbid it” in response to something he says, it’s not going to work out really well for you. On the other hand, if the person you loved most in the world told you they were about to suffer and be put to death, even if they said they would be raised on the third day, how could you do anything but say, “Absolutely not! I refuse to let that happen!” But Jesus is not sympathetic in his response to Peter. Peter, just named as the Rock, is now called Satan. “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus says, “You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” For Jesus to call Peter a stumbling block was a pretty significant criticism. In English, “stumbling block” sounds like you accidentally left a child’s toy where someone might step on it. In Greek, the word for stumbling block is skandalon, where we get our English word scandal, and it means more literally “a trap or snare laid for an enemy.” It’s an intentional action. Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus says, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” Stumbling blocks weren’t just bad luck. They were obstacles placed by an enemy to prevent a person from completing whatever path they were travelling on. And in this case, the enemy is Satan. And the path is the path to the cross, to the crucifixion, but also to resurrection. It is Jesus’ mission. And anything that stands in the way of that is an enemy laying a trap. In fact, Jesus’ language takes us back to the beginning of the gospel, just after Jesus was baptized, when he was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness – and do you remember what happened? He was tempted by Satan. And every temptation focused on a stumbling block, a snare, a trap laid for Jesus that would lure him into believe he could do God’s will without actually … doing God’s will. For Jesus, these words from Peter, from one of his own disciples, don’t just represent someone upset about what suffering Jesus will face. Peter’s words are echoes of the temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness – the temptation, the powerful idea that he could somehow complete his mission … without all that awful suffering and death stuff. It does sound tempting, doesn’t it? But Jesus has already faced that temptation. And Jesus knows that the only way to show what it means to be truly the messiah – not a conquering, ruling by force and might messiah – is to demonstrate to the uttermost how mixed up we’ve got things. Jesus’ authority will be demonstrated even in pouring out his very own life for others – and then showing that even death can’t conquer God’s reign, God’s ways, God’s vision. Even death is powerless in the face of God. But Jesus must face it to demonstrate that. And so, Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers,” if we really want to claim Jesus as messiah, if we’re sure we know what we mean by that, we demonstrate it by picking up our own cross and following where Jesus is leading. “For,” Jesus says, in his upside down way, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Under Roman rule, those sentenced to death would have to carry their own cross beam to the site of their crucifixion. Jesus is asking us to carry not a traditional symbol of power – no sword, no crown of gold, no other symbols of status. Instead, to follow him, we too take the cross. A sign that we are pouring out our own lives in order that we might have room for God to fill them up. Jesus is trying to tell us that we don’t get to choose just part. We can’t call Jesus messiah without the part that happens “from that time on.” They go together. They’re inseparable. Trying to separate them is a stumbling block. More than that, it’s a trap laid by an enemy, trying to convince us we can follow Jesus without actually following Jesus. In some ways, then, what Jesus says is quite simple, quite straightforward. If you want to follow me, you have to follow me. And you can’t follow Jesus without following Jesus. When you put it that way, it sounds kind of silly, doesn’t it, to think anything else! It’s a package deal. If Jesus is the Messiah, then from this time on, what goes along with that is knowing that Jesus’ path leads to the cross. And if Jesus’ path leads to the cross, and if we’re followers of Jesus, if he is our messiah, well then, from this time on, following Jesus means we take up the cross too. A package deal. We can’t take it piecemeal. It’s not even possible. Trying to convince yourself or anyone else otherwise is a stumbling block. Are you a follower of Jesus? If you are, then from this time on, there’s only one thing left to do: Follow Jesus. Amen.
Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/sermon-for-twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-from-that-time-on-matthew-1621-28/
Original post at http://bethquick.blogspot.com/2011/08/lectionary-notes-for-11th-sunday-after.html
Readings for 12th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/31/14:Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28Exodus 3:1-15:
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c:
- "Here I am." These are three of the bravest words in the Bible, don't you think? And yet, so simple, such easy, uncomplicated words. Will we utter them? Dare to say such simple words to God?
- "the place on which you are standing is holy ground" - What places in life have you come upon holy ground? What makes it holy? How do you act when you are on Holy Ground?
- "Who am I that I should go out to Pharaoh?" Moses asks God. So much for his initial brave response ;) - who do you think is better equipped to judge your abilities - you or God? Do you question what God has called you to do? What would it take to convince you?
- "I AM WHO I AM." Maybe the best name for God - the one God claims for God's self. We like to describe God, paint God into corners, but God into boxes with our theological language - but God says I AM WHO I AM.
- This Psalm is appearing for the third time this summer - showing up in some variation three and five weeks ago. It has corresponded to some extent with the Old Testament lesson, though this week, it is less directly related.
- Verses 1-5 are right on target for me: Remember to praise God all the time, because God has done some pretty amazing things for you. It is amazing how easily we forget God's role in all that we claim as our own goodness.
- "whose hearts he then turned to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants." I don't warm to the idea that God makes us hate, or hardens our heart, a theme in the Moses story we'll follow in the Old Testament. Why would God do that?
- 45b makes a nice end, while skipping many verses: "praise God!"
- This is a great passage of little bits of advice that work together separately or together
- "Outdo one another in showing honor" - Wouldn't it be great if humans' competitive natures worked for good this way?
- "do not claim to be wiser than you are" - great advice for pastors, theologians, and church-people in general.
- "so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" - words for today. And it does depend on us.
- The heart of this passage - the most words are spent on advising us to love our enemies, even at cost to ourselves.
- Just before this, Peter had named Jesus as the Messiah. Now Jesus names Peter as Satan. What's happened here?
- I think Peter has said the right words (earlier), but he doesn't yet understand what that means for Jesus, or doesn't want to believe it.
- Choices. Jesus tells us we have to make some hard choices, big choices, life and death kind of choices. The way he phrases his questions, the answers should be obvious. But our actions suggest otherwise, don't they?
- "who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man . . . " Lots of people have theories about this verse. I don't have a good theory. I think - it's not the point of the passage, and if we focus on that verse, it means we're not paying attention to all the meaty stuff before it.
Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/08/lectionary-notes-for-twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a/
Original post at http://bethquick.blogspot.com/2014/08/sermon-for-eleventh-sunday-after.html
Who do you say Jesus is? Today, we’re continuing on in the gospel of Matthew. Since last week’s text, when Jesus met with the Canaanite woman in the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus healed more people, fed a crowd of 4000, plus women and children, again, with a small amount of food, and spent some time debating with Pharisees and Sadducees, who demand “signs” from heaven. Jesus says to them, in essence, “you’re smart enough to know that when the sky turns a certain color, it’s about to storm. How come you can’t read the signs of the times?” In other words, he’s already showing them all they need to know. Jesus also gets frustrated with the disciples when they still don’t seem to understand what’s he’s been doing either. They don’t seem to be able to connect what they’ve been witnessing with who Jesus is, with the significance of their experiences. Our text opens today with Jesus and the disciples arriving in the district of Caesarea Philippi. When he gets there, he asks them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” “Son of Man” is title Jesus uses for himself in the gospels, and it sort of means “the person of persons.” Who are people saying I am, Jesus wonders? The disciples answer that some say he’s Elijah or John the Baptist, others says Jeremiah, or another of the prophets. Now, this doesn’t mean that they thought he was one of these people come back from the dead. Rather, the names they mention represent more what kind of role Jesus has come to play, to fulfill. Is he like a second Elijah, critiquing the religious leaders of the day? Like a Jeremiah, speaking of suffering to come? Like his cousin John? Some other prophet? Then Jesus is more specific, more direct: And you, who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answers “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus responds by blessing Peter, and making a play on words with Peter’s name, which means literally, “rock,” naming Peter as a rock on which the future followers of Jesus will eventually be built. He speaks of the authority that Peter and the disciples will have. But, he tells them not to tell anyone that he’s the Messiah. Not yet, at least. Sometimes I think the passages of the scripture that are the trickiest for us to really understand are the ones that seem the easiest up front. I think we can read this passage and ask ourselves, well, Apple Valley, who do we say that Jesus is? And we might respond, “The Messiah, duh!” And then we’ll pat ourselves on the back for our excellent answer, and move on to the next passage. Only… What does that even mean? What does it mean to call Jesus Messiah? To say he’s the Christ? What do those labels mean? It doesn’t do us much good to call Jesus Messiah or to call him Christ, just because we know it’s the right answer, if we don’t know what we’re actually saying when we say it. Before we figure out what we mean when we say it, maybe we can figure out what Peter meant. The word messiah appears throughout the scriptures. It means “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, anointed ones were those who were named as Kings of Israel or Judah. To be an anointed one, a messiah, meant to be the ruler of Israel, chosen, essentially, by God. You might be most familiar with the story of David’s anointing by the prophet Samuel. Samuel had previously anointed Saul as the first king of Israel. But Saul was no longer following God’s ways, so God told Samuel to anoint David, the youngest son of Jesse, a sheepherder. David turns out to be a great military leader though, and eventually, he is able to replace Saul as king. Kings were anointed-ones. Messiahs, with a small m. In the gospels, as we’ll hear about again from time to time, we see that many of the crowds do indeed think Jesus is a messiah like this – a potential king, like King David was, who will be a great ruler of the Jews, who will conquer the occupying Romans, who will be a political and military great king. In fact, they want Jesus to be this kind of Messiah so much that they try to force him to become king, and more than once, he has to slip away from the eager crowds to avoid this. Eventually, when Jesus is about to be condemned to death, and he still refuses to take up a sword and fight back, some who wanted this kind of Messiah get pretty angry and turn on Jesus. What kind of Messiah lets himself get crucified? But Jesus has made it clear again and again that he’s not here to be this kind of leader. We’ve talked about the kingdom of God – the reign of God on earth that defies expectations and turns upside down the usual notions about power, and being first and best and strongest. Well, Jesus is the anointed one, the messiah, the King of this upside down realm of God: servant of all, humbling himself, putting himself last, washing feet, eating with sinners and the unclean and the people on the fringes, turning the other cheek, submitting to execution as a criminal. Jesus demonstrates real power through pouring his life out as an offering for others, and then, then, inviting us to do the same, as his followers. When Peter says, “you are the Messiah, the son of the living God,” Peter is agreeing to no less than this – that the true Messiah comes not to conquer and vanquish and beat others into submission, even the hated Romans. Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed one, comes to serve, to heal, to love, and to give his life for others. When Peter says Jesus is the Messiah, he’s not just saying Jesus is in charge. He’s embracing the whole kit and caboodle, the whole message. No wonder Jesus reacts with such words of affirmation for Peter. With passage after passage of the disciples missing the point, like we do, they finally seem to get it! Do we? I think we don’t have any trouble claiming Jesus as our Messiah. But I wonder exactly what we mean by it. What do we mean when we say Jesus is Christ? Rev. David Lose, a pastor whose sermons and notes I particularly like, suggests that we have to ask ourselves not just what words we say about Jesus as Messiah, but we must also ask ourselves what our lives say about Jesus being messiah. “Who do you say he is?,” Lose asks, “Not just say when repeating the Creed, but say with your lives; that is, with your relationships, your bank account, your time, your energy, and all the rest. Who do you really say Jesus is?” His question made me think of the book In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? by Charles Monroe Sheldon, written in the late 1800s. You might be familiar with this work because it became very popular for a second time around when, in the 1990s, Sheldon’s great-grandson published a contemporary retelling of the book and “What Would Jesus Do?” became a popular phrase for bracelets and t-shirts. I read the original work when I was in high school, and it’s pretty powerful. In it, a pastor encounters a destitute man who he more or less brushes off. The man disrupts the Sunday worship service, calling the pastor and congregation out on their hypocrisy. He dies a few days later, and the pastor is deeply shaken. He vows, and urges his congregation, to try, as seriously as possible, to only do what they believe Jesus would do in any given situation for the year ahead. The story follows the transformation that occurs in peoples’ lives when they commit themselves fully to doing what they believe Jesus would do. I think this is what David Lose is wondering, challenging us to wonder about. We say we believe Jesus is Messiah. What do we mean by that, and how, then, do our very lives show that we believe Jesus is Messiah? It isn’t as easy as we might think, when it comes down to it, to put into words what we mean by this title for Jesus, but here’s what I think, with the benefit of crafting my sermon ahead of time: When I say Jesus is Messiah, I mean that he is the embodiment of God’s hope in the world, the embodiment of God’s love and grace and vision for the world. When I say Jesus is Messiah, I mean that I choose to offer my life to serve him, rather than money, or ambition, or status, or being well-liked, or being comfortable, or any number of other things I’m tempted to spend more time thinking about than about Jesus. When I say Jesus is Messiah, I mean that he’s the living in-the-flesh version of God’s reign that flips everything upside down into God’s right-side up, which is always on the side of the least, and most vulnerable, and on the fringes. That’s just a glimpse, an imperfect attempt at what it means for me to say Jesus is Messiah. But I think in that faulty attempt I still have plenty to work on. Does my life say all these things too? I’m working on that. Lose says that Jesus wants to know who we say he is not so that we can pass some test and get the answer “right,” but so that we can experience the transforming power of being rooted in the love and possibility that Jesus offers us. Imagine, if we lived in such a way that every part of our life, every bit of the way we lived, was a demonstration of what we believed. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? Who do you say Jesus is? The Messiah? What does a life based on that claim look like? What do our lives, centered on that claim, look like? Let’s find out.
Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/08/sermon-for-eleventh-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-messiah-matthew-1613-20/
Original post at http://bethquick.blogspot.com/2011/08/lectionary-notes-for-10th-sunday-after.html
Readings for Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 8/24/11:Exodus 1:8-2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20Exodus 1:8-2:10:
- "Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph . . ." This is a great opening to explain how people once joined to Egypt under Joseph's protection because slaves of those same people - history was forgotten. We forget history, even today, even with all of our technology and archiving and ways to preserve - we forget what has happened, and act in ignorance.
- Could you be like the midwives? I admire their bravery. Perhaps we think it would be easy to refuse to kill these newborns, but commanded by the King? They were disobeying orders from the highest level - that takes courage.
- "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side" - whose side is God on? Is God always on our side? Is God always on the winning side? We want God to be on our side, but we'd do better to seek to be on God's side of things...
- this psalm is in thanks to God for escape from enemies. I've never had to literally flee from enemies, but I can relate, figuratively, to what the psalmist is feeling. From what dangerous persons/situations have you escaped by God's grace?
- "Do not be conformed to this world" - so many ways to take that, aren't there? We're called to be somehow different than others who have not known and embraced the grace that God offers all of us. What difference has God's grace made in your life? If your life is no different than anyone else's, what does that say?
- Many gifts, one body of Christ. What is your gift? Are you using your gifts? How are you helping others find and use their gifts? Do you let others know how valuable their gifts are?
- Not only are we members of the body of Christ, but we are "members one of another" - I've never noticed that phrase before. In Christ's body, I'm a member of you, and you are a member of me. Do we live like we believe that?
- "Who do you say that I am?" When all is said and done, Jesus cares more about how each of us answers that question individually than he does about how others answer that question from our viewpoint. Who is he to you? What is your answer?
- In a way, answering this question is the sign of mature faith. We can't let others answer for us, let others' answers stand as our own answers. We have to decide, we have to say it and claim it and live who Jesus is. It's powerful, answering for ourselves.
- Jesus shows us the power of knowing in the power he gives to Peter. Why not tell others he was the Messiah? Perhaps it is because we all have to come to that answer on our own - we can't be told - we have to find our own answers.
Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/08/lectionary-notes-for-11th-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-proper-16-ordinary-21/
Original post at http://bethquick.blogspot.com/2014/08/sermon-for-tenth-sunday-after-pentecost.html
In our time together, as I’ve mentioned, you will no doubt hear a lot about my 7 year old nephew Sam (and my on-the-way niece, due next month!). Sam’s one of the great joys of my life, for sure. Sam is getting to be quite grown up. He and I have “fun day” outings together pretty regularly, and we often head to Destiny USA. We see a movie, or go mini-golfing there, or play in the arcade, and eat at Johnny Rockets, but we always hit the Carousel. Sam’s a little guy for his age, so I help him onto the horse of his choice, and then stand next to him while he rides the Carousel. At least, that’s what we did. The last time I took him to the Carousel, he let me ride with him the first time, but for the second time, he said to me, so sweetly, “Aunt Beth, why don’t you go stand down there so you can wave to me when I go by.” Sweet kid was trying to gently say, “Aunt Beth, I don’t need you to stand next to me anymore!” I actually felt myself tearing up a little bit, to hit this “milestone” of sorts. But as requested, I went and watched and waved from the sidelines. It made me nervous, though, to have him even that far away from me in a busy mall. I had to count for myself the number of seconds he was out of my sight on every go-around of the carousel. Six seconds. I could handle that, right? I know I’m overprotective of Sam. I know my brother and sister-in-law want me to take good care of him, but they probably don’t realize the poor kid only gets to be out of my sight once I put him to bed when I babysit. I want to protect him from everything. I know, though, that since what I really want is for him to be happy and to enjoy life, I can’t protect him from everything, or I’ll still be standing next to him on the carousel when he’s sixteen. Somehow I don’t think that will go over so well. I know I’m not alone, though. Many of us remember childhoods where we were more free to go off and play by ourselves outside for hours on end, with our parents perhaps only vaguely knowing that we were in the neighborhood somewhere. Are things really so much worse now, so much less safe? Are we smarter now than we were then? Safer? Or just more protective? It’s an interesting question, actually, that some of my pastors friends and I were discussing a few weeks ago. My friend Richelle read a news story about a playground in Wales called The Land. (1) It looks kind of like a junk yard. It’s meant to. There’s a lot of broken things there, dirty things, even a fire burning. There are some adult staff who hang out at The Land. But they only intervene in children’s play if absolutely necessary. So far, children have gotten some scraped knees, but otherwise fare pretty well. The author of the article had a hard time watching his five-year old son try some crazy things on this unique playground, but he was just fine. In the author’s research, he’s discovered that conditions in the world aren’t really more dangerous for children. Abductions, for example – our attention was captured by the abduction and return of two Amish girls this week. The number of abductions by strangers has stayed pretty stable over the years, actually. The only increase has been in abductions by family members, likely a result of increased custody issues when parental relationships end. And we’re more litigious. If a child gets hurt on a playground, someone will probably sue. But is the world more dangerous for children? It doesn’t seem so. Believe it or not, I had all this on my mind as a read our gospel lesson for this week. Our reading from Matthew continues on a bit after our passage from last week. Last week we saw Jesus walk on water to meet the disciples as they crossed the sea of Galilee. And I mentioned that when they landed on shore, people came from all around to be healed by Jesus. Just before today’s passage opens Jesus is being questioned by some scribes and Pharisees. Scribes and Pharisees tend to get a bad rap as the bad guys of the Bible, because they spend so much time arguing with Jesus, and because Jesus has some pretty harsh words for them. But at their best, the scribes and Pharisees were those who tried to interpret the writings of the law of Moses and figure out how best to uphold the commandments handed down from generation to generation. They were the religious leaders of the day. In a church context, they would be the regular attenders, people who were on committees or teaching Sunday School or always showing up to help at events. Kind of like most of us. They had confronted Jesus, asking why he and his disciples didn’t uphold some of the rituals of cleanliness practices by the religious elders. Jesus responds to them saying, “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake or your tradition? … For the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God!” And then, finally, in that context, we get to today’s text: Jesus calls the crowd together and says, “Listen: It isn’t what goes into the mouth that makes someone unclean, but what comes out of the mouth.” When the disciples are confused by this, he further clarifies: What goes in – like foods that would have been considered unclean, or things eaten without the benefit of special hand-washings or other cleanliness rituals – all that ends up in the sewer eventually, Jesus says bluntly. But what comes out of the mouth – what comes from our hearts – when evil intentions are in our hearts – that is what can truly make us unclean. Immediately after this, Jesus travels to the district of Tyre and Sidon where he meets a Canaanite woman. This isn’t surprising – the region Jesus travels to – for no specific reason named in the scripture – would be where many Gentiles – non-Jews – lived. He could only expect to run into Canaanites and others that Jews would normally avoid. There was great animosity between different religious and ethnic groups, and Jesus’ actions could make him ritually unclean. The woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter who is being tortured by the presence of a demon in her life. Jesus says, “I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” But she persists, “Lord, help me.” He says, “It isn’t fair to take the children’s food and give it to dogs.” And she persists even still, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table.” Jesus tells her her faith is great, and he’ll do as she wishes. And her daughter is healed instantly! This passage is often hard to read. No matter how we twist it, it seems like Jesus compares this woman to a dog begging at a table, and like he’s really reluctant to extend healing to her child. But context, and what comes before and after a passage, is always so important in our understanding of the scripture. Jesus was just telling us that it is what is in our hearts, not the external stuff, that makes us clean or unclean, defiled or set right before God. And then he immediately goes to a place where he’s likely to encounter someone who every faithful Jew would consider unclean, defiled, outside of the limits of God’s grace and promises. And with a quick exchange, he extends grace and healing to her and says that her faith, the faith of a Canaanite woman, is great. What’s more, if you search the gospels for times where Jesus tells someone that their faith is great or their faith has made them well, the majority of these encounters are with a person who would be considered unclean in some way by the law. It’s a pattern. And it’s a pattern, and a specific scenario here that illustrates the case in the point: It’s the stuff inside, in our hearts, that makes us clean or unclean, not the stuff outside. So what does that all mean for us? Believe it or not, all this is why I was thinking about playgrounds. The article I read said something like: if statistics show that things aren’t really anymore unsafe than they used to be for our children, we must conclude that we’ve let our fears conquer us. Between the 24-hour instant news cycle and viral sharing on social media and our litigious culture, we’ve become afraid, and we’ve let our fears overtake us. And so we make protection and safety major priorities. It’s really even part of our national ethos, isn’t it? Desiring safety above almost everything else. Sometimes, I think this is how we operate in the world as Christians, too. We’ve gotten confused about our purpose in the world, and we’ve somehow concluded that the best way to be “Good Christians” is to protect ourselves from bad influences, from the awful, crazy world around us. And so we spend our time trying to eliminate bad influences around us – especially the influence of people that might be bad influences – or we end up withdrawing from the world altogether. We isolate ourselves. We spend time with other Christians – which isn’t all bad, for sure – but when we only want to hang around with people who think like us and dress like us and behave like us and believe like us because it makes us feel safe and comfortable, we’re in a bit of trouble. Jesus says our efforts are futile! It isn’t that external stuff that corrupts our souls! It’s what’s inside of us that has that potential! It’s what inside of us that needs tending and nurturing. And if Jesus says that loving God and loving one another is the best way to tend our souls, to make sure that what comes out from hearts is good, then protecting ourselves from the messiness of interacting with people who are different from us, who we don’t understand, who don’t live like we live – that’s the exact opposite of what Jesus wants for us. Jesus isn’t particularly interested in us playing it safe. That’s sure not the example he sets for us. Instead, he’s crossing boundaries and bending rules and breaking down walls and talking to the people on the fringes and reaching across cultures and traditions and religions and practices and saying: here, in the place you’ve least expected, is where I’ve found great faith. Ultimately, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were so threatened by Jesus’ boundary-crossing, rule-breaking ways that they sought to put him to death. He threatened the safe, comfortable way of life they were trying to substitute for deep faith. This week, I encourage you to think about how much of your time each day you spend with people who are basically just like you. And how much of your time do you spend worrying about being safe and comfortable? How many people will you have conversations with in a typical week that are from a different faith tradition than you are? Or have a different color skin than you do? Or are from a different economic class? How many boundaries do you cross in a typical week? How safe is your playground? Jesus says we can work to surround ourselves with the most perfect, sterling, pristine conditions – and it will all just still be what’s on the outside. What’s in your heart? That’s what Jesus is interested in. Where have you found great faith? That’s what Jesus wants to know. Enough playing it safe. What’s in your heart?
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