(Modified 2021-09-05: Added recording of this sermon.)
St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Trinity 14, September 5, 2021 Canon Claude Schroeder
There is a think I certain timeliness to our Scripture readings on this 14th Sunday in the season of Trinitytide in our church calendar, where in our cultural calendar on this Labour Day week-end we are also marking the 85th Sunday in the season of Corona-tide, and the 4th Sunday in the season of federal election-tide.
In our Old Testament reading this morning, God instructed Isaiah to “say to those with a fearful heart,” Be strong, do not fear! “(Isaiah 35.4)
I need to ask you this morning, on a scale of 1 to 10, just how fearful are you with respect to the future? God knows we have reason enough to be afraid. On top of the usual stresses and struggles around health, marriage, family life and work, we now have advent of the 4th wave, with delta variants, our government printing money as if there was no tomorrow, and climate change prophets announcing the end of the world.
The usual excitement and anticipation of Labour Day long week-end over the restart fall activities after the summer lull, has been somewhat dampened. And yet, “Go Riders…”
It’s why there has never a better time on Sunday morning to beat a path to the local parish church that you might to hear and take to heart the word of the prophet, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35. 4-6) That is not something you are going to hear listening to 6 o’clock news, but it is what you get hear at 10.30 on Sunday morning.
Here is the thing about God. We do not simply believe in God, (which doesn’t take your very far in life.) We believe that God who is outside space and time, enters space and time, and comes to us. God is the Coming One, and He comes to save us. coming means salvation. And so, hour by hour the Church makes her prayer, “O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us.” (Psalm 70.1). And then on Sunday morning, like the bridesmaids awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom at the wedding banquet, we cry out “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” And just as He came in the word spoken through the prophets, and the Word made flesh, He comes to us He comes to us, in the bread and wine that is His Body and Blood of Christ, and in the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
His coming to us in the Holy Communion fills us with the anticipation of His coming again. We leave church, and can’t wait until next Sunday. And so, this how we life our lives. We go from Sunday to Sunday, anticipating His coming, until that Final Day when “He comes in glory to judge the living and the dead.” (Apostles Creed)
The Christian life is a life lived in anticipation of the Coming One, who is Jesus Christ, and this shapes out attitude towards the future, which is not one of fear, but rather of hope. In this hope, we are saved.
When He comes, as Isaiah declares, “then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame shall leap like a deer, the tongue of the speechless sing for joy, waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and steams in the desert.” (Isaiah 37.5-6)
Here we see what the coming of God to save us in the person of His Son Jesus means. It means healing for the world healing for the world, which is something we are constantly in need of. If salvation properly means healing, then we know what sin is. Sin is not so much a crime that needs to be punished, but wound that needs healing. This is why we come to church, to find healing for wounded bodies, wounded minds, wounded hearts, wounded spirits, wounded relationships. The Holy Communion is the great healing service of the Church, and it is, dare I say, an “essential service.”
At the end of our Gospel passage this morning, Mark tells us that the crowds “were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.” (Mark 7. 37).
This comment by the crowds is enormously important for helping us to understand the deeper significance and meaning of Christ’s healing ministry, and by extension the healing ministry of the Church.
That line “He has done everything well” takes us back to the very beginning of the Bible, where in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, we read that God made mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them… God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
The healing work of Jesus Christ properly understood has to do with restoring male and female in the image of God. And what is the image of God in male and female. It is Jesus Christ, who, on the Cross was wounded for our transgressions. Healing then isn’t just about getting a broken body part to work properly. Healing is about our ongoing transformation into the image of Jesus Christ, our wounded healer, so that we might more perfectly represent Him to the world, and continue His healing ministry through works of love. As St. James reminds us, “Faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead.” (James 2.17). We do we locate this power to heal, this power to love? It is in the wounds.
According to Psalm 115, the idols of the nations are silver and gold.
They have mouths, and speak not.; eyes have they and see not.
They have ears, and hear not; noses have they and smell not.
They have hands, and handle not; feet have they, and walk not neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto them; and so such are all as out their trust in them.” (Psalm 115. 4-8)
Here is a basic spiritual principle: You will become what you worship. Either you worship the One true God, or you worship idols.
For Jesus then to open the eyes of the blind, and open the ears of the deaf, make the lame to walk, and the speechless to sing, means that He is healing people from the consequences of their idolatry, and restoring them to the true and proper worship of God.
Which brings us to today’s Gospel lesson, where set out and went away to the region of Tyre on the Mediterranean coast, which is non-Jewish territory filled with pagan idolaters. It was the perfect place for Jesus to “get away from it all” as we like to say. with great beaches and palm trees with nobody to bother him. But as Mark tells us “he could not escape notice. A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed at his feet.” In the Bible bowing low to the ground, is the posture of worship. What a remarkable for this woman, a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin, and thus a pagan idolater, to do. She is worshiping Jesus Christ.
But little did St. Mark know how in the telling of this story he would be pushing a number of cultural buttons. We hear a lot these days of racism, where one people group, excludes and looks down upon another people group, one account of their ancestry, and this racism is built into “the system.” Here is Jesus the Jew calling this Syrophoenician “a dog,” which is what Jews had been calling Gentiles for centuries. Mind you, Gentiles, had their own special vocabulary to refer to Jews, and still do.
We hear also here a lot about patriarchy these days, about how men throughout history, have demeaned, exploited, and oppressed women, keeping all the privilege and the power for themselves. Here we have Jesus, the man, refusing to help out this woman who has come seeking healing for her daughter.
On the surface it seems that what we have here is another sad example in the history of race relations and relations between men and women, but where a woman sets Jesus straight, and rebukes him for his restricted viewpoint, and ends up getting what she wants.
Here is an example of where Biblical interpretation often goes wrong, where rather than taking the story on its own terms, we read into the story a narrative of our own making, and make the story serve that narrative.
In order to interpret this story aright, we need to see it as part of the larger story which the Gospels tell, which is the Good News of Jesus Christ, who came as Israel’s Messianic King, and as such would bring the rest of the world under the saving and judging rule of Israel’s God, who was the Creator of the World.
This explains Jesus ‘puzzling statement, “Let the children, (that is the Jews), be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
The time would come, after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension and the sending of the Spirit, when both Jews and Gentiles would sit down at table together as equals, but that time had not yet come. Lest he be mistaken to be some kind of generic wonder-worker, a kind of universal problem solver, Jesus must not be distracted from his primary mission to preach the Gospel of the kingdom to the people of Israel.
Nevertheless, Jesus ends up doing as the woman requested, but only after her winsome and humble confession of faith where she acknowledges that as a Gentile she had no claim on Israel’s Messiah. She was not asking for a place at the table. But rather like a dog under the table she hopes to catch some crumbs of the children’s bread.
It is an incredible statement of faith to which Jesus responds, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.”
By casting the demon out of the daughter, which is to say, by cleansing and healing her spirit, Jesus was also simply putting into practice and reinforcing something which he said, in the passage immediately preceding today’s story, which we heard read in church last week. This is where Jesus declared that practices and habits around cleanliness, which served as a kind of protective fence around the identity of God’s people, and distinguished them those who didn’t belong to God, wasn’t principally about ritual observances and eating the right food. Cleanliness is a matter of the heart. “What makes a person unclean” said Jesus, “is not what goes in, but what comes out. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7. 21-23)
Immersed as she was in an idolatrous society, is it any wonder that this little girl had an unclean spirit? But her uncleanliness was inward, and not outward, not a function of her race or gender. And it was into that place of inward uncleanliness that Jesus reached in, touch and healed her.
This too belongs to the healing ministry. And so it is that as we begin our service we pray for the Holy Spirit to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, and as come forward for communion, following the example of the Syrophoenecian woman, we make our own ‘humble access,’ where we pray, “We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.” And though “we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under Thy table” the Lord, makes it so, and lifts us up, to sit at the table to feed on His Body and Blood, so that “our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, that might evermore dwell in Him, and He in us.” Amen.