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Welcome the Children (Sermon September 23, 2018)

Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

Mark 9:30–37 (NRSV)jesus-blesses-children

Jesus Again Foretells His Death and Resurrection

(Mt 17:22–23; Lk 9:43b—45)

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Who Is the Greatest?

(Mt 18:1–5; Lk 9:46–48)

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 

It is always nice to see the moments of humanity within the disciples. We often think of the disciples as these super spiritual people, we regard them as saint, but often forget that they were at first human. They like each of us were prone to those pesky little nuances of humanity. They were jealous, they were seekers of power within a community, and at times they were as hard headed as me.

In last week’s passage, we saw that Jesus told them what was to happen in the near future, and Peter rebuked him. Peter the rock of faith, cursed Jesus because what Jesus was speaking about did not fit into Peter’s perspective and interpretation of the person of the Messiah. He rebuked Jesus. Have we ever done this? Be honest, I am, I have rebuked God. I have told him that this is not how I envisioned things would happen. And often the response I have sensed is much like that Peter received.

Today Jesus again tells them what will happen in his near future. They are walking through Galilee once again, heading to the town most of the disciples probably lived, Capernaum. As they walk Jesus tells them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” They did not understand it days before and they still do not understand.

For their entire life they were taught certain things. They had heard the greatest minds of their faith traditions speak about the Messiah, and they had even listened to teachers from other traditions speak on it too. I say this because the local synagogue was often more like a library is today. They were the center of community education for children and adults, and part of that included seminars from various rabbis that would travel around the nation presenting their teachings and hopefully recruiting students.

They had heard about the Messiah their entire life. They thought they knew what to expect, yet Jesus is telling them things that no one had ever mentioned. Sure, some of the prophets spoke about the suffering servant, but that was glossed over for more important things. Things like the Kingdom and the restoration of Israel. And Jesus takes this suffering thing to a different degree than they are comfortable with and they do not know what to think about it, and they were too afraid to ask.

Why were they afraid to ask? If we look at the life of Jesus, we would see that he was extremely approachable. Multitudes of people would come visit with him while he toured the country. Even when he entered the areas not normally traversed by religious leaders people came to see him. So many would visit, that even his own family, his mother, had trouble getting to the table to eat with him when he came home. This angered the religious leaders who felt that they deserved favor according to their status, but for the common people it was amazing.

The sick would come to seek healing, even leaders of the occupying military forces would come to seek answers for their problems. Yet those that opposed Jesus’s teaching often found themselves as the illustration of a parable. And Jesus even likened his closest friend as Satan, when Peter attempted to challenge what Jesus presented.

What caused this approachable teacher to become so unapproachable? I thought about this as I studied this week. What causes us as humans to hesitate in our approach to Jesus?

Pride is often the cause of hesitation. We believe that we can do all things. We believe we have enough in ourselves to accomplish what we desire. We believe this to such a degree that we often do not even question our desires. It is what we want to happen, so we proceed as if it has a divine anointing. This belief in ourselves produces bitter fruit of envy, jealousy, idolatry and more. We place ourselves in the center of our spirituality instead of Christ.

This is the dilemma of the disciples in today’s passage. They did not understand what Jesus was speaking about, and they were too afraid to ask, so they just went on with what was on their mind. They did not ask because they did not know. They missed an incredible opportunity to learn the significance of God’s abounding love and mercy, from God incarnate. Imagine if just one of them would have asked, “Um, Jesus, can you explain that again? You lost me at the part where you said they will kill him.” But at this point even doubting Thomas was too afraid to express his doubt.

When they get to Capernaum, Jesus confronts their lack of discussion. He knows that they did not understand what he was saying. He knows that they had other things on their mind. They were still caught up in this cultural interpretation of who the Messiah was to be, and each of them were debating where in this hierarchy they would find themselves in. “What were you arguing about on the way?” Jesus asks. And the disciples fall silent.

Mark informs us that they were discussing among themselves which of them was the greatest. Can you imagine that discussion? Twelve men listing off their strengths and twelve men pointing out their weaknesses. Each one insisting that they have a right to be greatest because the Messiah personally called them to follow him. And each one in turn being told that all the others were called as well. Then there were those that were called first, and those that had better connections, those that had unique skills, and those that were young enough to avoid worldly corruption. This was such an intense debate that they let Jesus walk ahead of them and did not even attempt to listen to what he might have to say, even though they were supposed to be following so close to him to be coated with the dust kicked up from the rabbi’s feet.

Consider what this argument is about. Why would someone want to be considered as having a higher status? It is selfish ambition. It is a desire for power and control. It is all about who they are and their relationship with the one who bestows the control. Their focus is on themselves. They may say that it is for the good of Israel, they might even say that it is for God’s glory, but when we seek positions within a community it is almost always because we feel we deserve more than we are getting, and we want others to know that we deserve better.

I struggle with this personally. I have desires. I have gifts that I feel are not being fully utilized and have sought out vocational opportunities that might utilize them in a greater way. I have even rejected opportunities that did not also involve compensation that I deemed adequate for the services rendered. I told you last week that I had a job interview and I did take a different job. Was this wrong? It could be. The question is was Christ at the center of the decision, or was I?

Jesus looks at the disciples as he asks them what they were arguing about. He then calls the crowds closer to him as he begins to teach. They gather in close. Some are most likely elbowing their way to the front, while others take their place behind them. There are children among the group, they are most likely doing things that kids do. They are laughing and talking in voices that resemble a yell more than a whisper. They see something that attracts their attention and they might run after it to the dismay of their parents and the annoyance of the other attenders. Jesus observes all of this as they gather.

He sits down among them, and as he sits he gets the attention of one child and this child comes to Jesus. Jesus the Messiah, the future king of Israel, the one that will restore the throne of David and break the chains of bondage from Rome. This man that has the potential of greatness, who is surrounded by worthy men of character, motions a child to approach. If we were to look at the complete gospel account, we would find that children like everyone else found Jesus to be very approachable. They wanted to be near him, and often to the dismay of the adults, Jesus called the children to be near. Jesus calls the child over to him, He gathers the child in his arms, and he says to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

All the arguments at this point should stop. All the pursuit of power and success should cease because this one statement turns everything in the world upside down. In the world the focus is on self, but in the kingdom, Jesus is ushering in it is others that are most important. And not just others, but the children. Why are they so important? It is because children are hungry. They are on this seemingly never-ending quest to fulfill their hungers. They run around exploring the world. They can spend hours following a dog around and giggle with glee every time the dog takes a drink. They follow because they are curious, they have a hunger for knowledge and if we direct them in the ways they should go our efforts will be repaid. The child is only a symbolic example. The reality is that we should invest in those that seek. We should be investing our time and energy in training those of immature faith and encouraging them to grow. And as they grow we should train them to train those of younger faith as well.

When we welcome those of immature faith and walk with them, we are participating in the very life of Christ. It does not matter who we are, what success we have in our worldly communities, it does not even matter what position we have among the religious leaders. What matters is if we are willing to learn from our teachers, and if we are willing to teach and encourage those without that learning.

The disciples are very human, they like us often find themselves acting just like everyone else. They have pride, and ambition. They seek fortune and influence. They also have a hunger to learn and to grow or they would not follow. There is nothing wrong with success in this world. It is often the wages of a well lived life, but if all we seek is to become successful in the eyes of the world we are missing the point. It is not about us. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. The kingdom is like a sower scattering seeds on various soils. The kingdom of God is like so many things, but the kingdom requires something. The sower must scatter seed for it to grow. The seed must sacrifice its life and become a plant so that it can bear fruit. We must die to self and focus on those outside ourselves if we want to participate in the kingdom. Just as Jesus taught his disciples to pray. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” For this to happen we must become a people who loves God with everything we have and loves our neighbor as we love ourselves. We must become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Because with out that we are just a bunch of windbags arguing about nothing and getting nowhere.

As we enter our time of Open Worship and communion as Friends consider what it means to welcome the children. Consider the children we have running around our Meetinghouse and how we encourage them? Are we annoyed by their desire to play the drums for worship, are we irritated at their whispers and laughter, or do we see them as ways to welcome Christ among us? Let us now center our lives on Christ and honestly say thy kingdom come thy will be done right here as it is in heaven.

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Getting Your Hands Dirty (Sermon September 16, 2018)

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

 

Mark 8:27–38 (NRSV) [1]sabine-van-straaten-280388

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

(Mt 16:13–20; Lk 9:18–20)

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

(Mt 16:21–28; Lk 9:21–27)

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

What do people say about you? I know that we try to not worry about these sorts of things, but we should be honest we really do care. At times it is important to know what some people think of you. I recently had a job interview, and that is one area where I really want to know what people say about me. I have even asked for people to freely tell me about myself, not because I am vain, but I want and need to know if I am fulfilling the expectations that people have of me.

Jesus is not a vain person, he is very humble. In this case humility is being honest about yourself. But Jesus also has a problem. You might not be able to see it, but Jesus has a problem. His disciples and everyone else, have some expectations about who or what they want him to be. The Hebrew people had been waiting and studying about their coming Messiah for centuries, if you were to ask them a question they could quote scripture describing this anointed one that was to come. And each group had their favorite description. The problem is that they were interpreting these things through the lenses of their culture. They were reading those prophecies, reflecting on them, and considering them not in the context that they were given but in their own. Everything was through Israel, and for Israel. What happens when Israel is now longer an independent nation? Well then, the prophecy in their mind must mean that the coming king will reestablish the nation, so the expectation takes on a different form.

We all do these things. In our quest to know God in a deeper more meaningful way, we consume scripture. This is not bad, I will encourage you to read as much scripture as you possibly can, because it will provide you with hope and give you a different perspective on life. But this quest to know God without discipline can cause us to neglect certain things. The main thing being that these words were first written to a culture that was different than ours. There are similarities and there are things we can learn from them, but first century Israel is vastly different then 21 century America. It is vastly different than 21 century Israel even. Paul wrote letters to churches in Corinth, Philippi, Rome, and Colossi each of those cultures had strengths and weaknesses that were similar and different than all the other churches around them. The letters were shared and read at each of the churches, but the cultures within and around those churches were very different. They each had different challenges to face.

We often approach scripture, and we want it to do things that it was not written to do. Scripture is a collection of books, written for different reason, using different styles and forms. We often want it to be the rule book, a science book, or a history book and those things are there, but often they are written in a form that does not translate into language of today. Scripture is a collection of books of teaching, it is often a conversation between a mentor and their protégé. It is more often stories encouraging us to become more aware of our surroundings than concrete hard facts. Even the gospel writers tell us the could not possibly write about everything Jesus taught or did. Scripture writers used poetry, parable, narrative, and several other styles to express truth.

Why am I saying this? Because when we approach scripture as science, we are approaching it through a culture that did not exist at the time of its writing. The scientific method as we know it, was not yet developed. If it was not developed they could not express truth in a scientific manner, instead they penned their observations and experiences in poetry because it amazed them and that was the best way for them to express it. When we approach scripture as we read a history textbook, we are applying things to scripture that were never intended because the study of history in our current era was not how ancient writers approached the subject. If you were to look at the writing of the ancient Egyptians you would find that their leaders were always amazing, they always won wars, and they never faced hard times. Of course, if you were to look at the history of Babylon or one of the other empires of ancient days we would learn that at times Egypt was defeated and at times they faced famines. The same can be said about the history in scripture, it does not tell everything, there are many things that are left out of the narrative. But the truth is there, because the writers wrote in such manner that they wanted us to learn from the stories of both the good and the bad. This past Wednesday we discussed Samson and his trouble with women and the Philistines. We discussed just a small portion of his life, we do not even know how old Samson was, but we do learn something from the story.

We have trouble at times separating our cultural perspective from scripture. And when we do this we might have trouble seeing the truth as it is. But we are in good company, even the disciples had this struggle. Who do people say that I am, Jesus asks. They list off names of people. And then He asks who do you say I am? They respond by saying you are the messiah.

Jesus then begins to teach them about what this means. He tells them that he will face a trial, that he will suffer at the hands of the elders or the leaders of the faith. He tells them that he will be killed and that he will rise again. He tells them plainly. And Peter rebukes Jesus. A rebuke is not just a little thing, it is basically a curse, it is a demand for destruction. It is the same word and feeling that is used to describe what is done when to the demons that possess individuals. Peter rebukes Jesus. He is saying stop right there Jesus. We just called you the messiah, the messiah will not be killed, the messiah will not be opposed by the elders, the messiah is the messiah. You will unite the tribes of Israel and crush our enemies under your foot. That is what the messiah will do, so stop with this dying talk.

You see, Peter and the other disciples, were reading scripture through the eyes of their culture. They were building their faith on the teachings and the interpretations of the elders that were more about wishful thinking than reality. Just like the various teachings of dogma in many religious groups, they are teachings of interpretation. Many are very good things to live by, but we must be careful not to put too much emphasis on them. The elders are human. They like each of us can at times have difficulty with scripture. They like all of us may not always take into consideration every possible factor surrounding the writing. They might take a poem and read it as a history, when the writer was speaking not about actual events but the emotions the events were inspiring.

Jesus looks at Peter and the others and he says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Think about that response for a moment. Peter had rebuked Jesus. He rebuked him because of his great love for Jesus, he rebuked him because of his great love for his nation, for Israel. Peter rebuked Jesus out of devotion. But what was his devotion to? Was it to God, or man? Was it to faith or the institution of human interpretations of faith?

Jesus then calls the crowds to join the disciples. He realizes that there is something that everyone who wants to follow his teachings is missing. His closest friends have an idea about who he is that is not accurate, and if his closest followers do not understand then neither do the others. He calls them to gather and he teaches them what it means to be a true follower, a true disciple.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” He begins. I want us to sit with this for a moment, sit with it while we still reflect on the response that he gave to Peter. If you want to be a follower of Jesus, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow him. This is not just a little statement. He is saying that no matter what is going on, no matter where you are, no matter what the situation is my followers will find themselves on the side of the minority. They will find themselves opposed to authority because the power of the worldly kingdoms are focused on different things than God. The world systems, no matter what they are do not deny self. Every system of the world is dedicated to fulfilling the desires of a self. That self might be the king or ruling class, or it might be the people, but every worldly system is focused on a form of self. Jesus says if you want to follow me deny yourself.

To deny oneself is a change of perspective. It does not necessarily mean that you give everything away and live as an impoverished monk, but it means that your focus is on those outside yourself. Your work and your life are dedicated to making the community around you reflect the one you follow. If you own a business, you run that business in such a way that those that work for you or partake of your services will see a glimpse of Christ. If you happen to earn a profit, you invest that profit into expanding the kingdom of God. You do that by expanding your business, giving raises, hiring more employees, becoming more efficient, giving toward community improvements or any other way you are led. Because if you own a business your business is your vocation and ministry. It is not a sin to profit in business, but it can be sinful if your only focus is yourself at the expense of others. But most of us do not own businesses. Most of us work for others so how can we focus on others? You serve as if you are serving the Lord, is what scripture teaches. When you work you work as if that box of cereal is the very manna from heaven. You place it on a shelf as if it is filled with divine power. When you are asked to do something you do it, and you do it not just for selfish recognition, but to make the one you are serving look good. And if you are the manager you manage in a way to make those you manage look good. And to those you provide the precious goods for, you make sure you present only the best because it is not about yourself but about them. Even in retirement you do not stop. You continue to live for others. You invest your time and your resources to continue to improve those around you. You read to children, you volunteer when you have the energy, you visit and listen to those around, you make space for others.

The idea of living for others is not to difficult to see. And we know that when we live that out in our lives it often comes back as a blessing to us as well. When we work hard we gain more opportunities to serve more and often that leads to profits that can allow us the ability to do even more. The problem with self-denial is we often forget that we must take care of ourselves, so we can care for others. We can give so much that we burn out. We can work so hard that we make ourselves sick, so we cannot forget about ourselves, we simply must be honest with ourselves.

The part of Jesus’ teaching that often causes us to faulter is the taking up the cross. Jesus used this phrase for a specific reason. The cross is a powerful symbol. It was the symbol of oppression, of authoritarianism, it is a symbol of death for all that oppose the desires of those that have power. To take up a cross is not simply carrying a piece of wood, it is being forced to carry a piece of wood as punishment. To take up a cross is to stand in opposition to oppression and to stand for justice. For a follower of Christ to take up a cross is to literally oppose Rome, but not for the sake of Israel but for the Gospel.

Often, we hear this verse quoted as a cliché, “this is a cross I must bear.” When all that means is we do not want to change the way, things are, and we will live with it. That is not what Jesus is talking about. To take up the cross means we see something that is wrong, and we will not stand for it. We will sacrifice everything we have to bring about change. We will oppose an injustice even if it means those in power will demand our life as payment. The cross we bear is the ministry we have. It is that thing in our community that we just cannot let continue, so we change it. Just down the road from here is a community that has tiny houses built for homeless veterans. Why is it there? Because someone, could not stand to live in a city where people who served their country would be allowed to sleep on the streets. Did they have to do this? No. They gave their time and their labor to correct an injustice they observed. Those involved carried a cross.

There are injustices all around us. And they should break our hearts. Jesus is telling us if you want to be a follower you must deny yourself and take up a cross. You must be aware of others not only yourself. You must be aware of situations within your community. You must be able to see through the surface into the deeper things. And you must say this cannot stand. I can list of several things in our community that we should not let stand. Our education systems are failing our children, what are you going to do? We have veterans sleeping in the streets, what will you do? We have people living in abusive relationships, will we just let them happen or speak up? We have people whose lives are exploited for the pleasures of others, can this be allowed? We could continue to make a list of the countless injustices in our community. We could spend the rest of this day listing them off, and when we stop and drive home we could continue to add things. Each one of them is a cross, a cross that someone should bear. But which one is the one that you cannot let stand? Which will cause you to say, No More!

I am not saying that we each must become what certain media outlets call social justice warriors. But what I am saying is that that is ministry. Jesus looked out on the crowds one day seeing a multitude of people and he had compassion for them, and he feed them. Jesus saw all those people coming to him seeking many forms of healing and he had compassion for them and he healed their various diseases. What moves us to that degree? What causes our hearts to ache to the point we must act? That is our ministry, that is the cross we bear. And if we refuse to take it up, we are rejecting Christ.

We began today with Jesus asking the disciples what people were saying about Him, and who they said he was. He then spoke about what that really meant, causing the followers to rebuke him. Jesus endured that rebuke because he had compassion. Jesus came down from Heaven to be born of Mary, he being God became human for us. He lived among humankind enduring the entire spectrum of life: the preborn, an infant, toddler, adolescent, and adult. He lived, he taught, and he had compassion for us because we were like sheep without a shepherd. He showed us how to live a life with God, and he lived that perfect life for us, with us. And he expressed his greatest compassion when while we were still enemies of God, he took up the cross and died for us. He took on our sin and our shame, he took our life on his own shoulders and provided the way of redemption. He died and was buried, then he rose on the third day just as he said he would. He had compassion for us. He gave it all for us. And he said if you want to be my follower, you must deny yourself and take up the cross and follow me.

This is more than just saying words, it is changing your life. It is more than just giving to a charity or the church, it is getting involved. It is more than becoming a member it is giving your life totally to change the community we live into the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Will you follow and get your hands dirty?

[1] Image from: https://www.regnareproject.com/take-up-your-cross-a-short-introduction-to-lent/

Who, What, and Why? (Sermon September 9, 2018)

By: Jared A Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

Mark 7:24–37 (NRSV) [1]syrophoenician2-53870_186x186

The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith

(Mt 15:21–28)

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Jesus Cures a Deaf Man

(Mt 15:29–31)

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

 

Last week, we had an unforeseen incident in our family, and I was unable to share my sermon personally. I do want to thank Marc for sharing it with you all and I hope that what was needed to be heard was heard. The main point of that sermon is that at times those of us who are religious can get caught up in our dogma. We can get hung up on the things we believe to be true, and at times we can neglect the why behind those rules. Often people can develop a legalistic fervor that can become judgmental of those that believe or practice faith contrary to those of their religious order. When this occurs, we become focus on performance, doing the proper things at the proper times, instead of living an authentic life of faith.

There is nothing wrong with these rules and doctrines. Most, if not all, have very beneficial spiritual and social applications behind the various teachings. Why do we practice our faith in certain ways? If you have not thought of this, if you cannot provide and answer to that question we might be leading a life of legalism instead of faith. We can very soon become known for the practices we participate in instead of being known for our faith itself. This has been a problem with religion from the dawn of time. Each group even among the pagan religions were known for their practices. The interesting thing is that most of the things we remember are not the core theological beliefs of our faith, but the oddities of it. Quakers do not practice communion and baptism like everyone else. Quakers are quiet. Baptists immerse and do not dance or drink alcohol. Episcopalians well they are merely Catholic light, and Catholics they… That is just within the practices among Christian groups, what about other religions? What do we know about Islam, Buddhism, or Zoroastrianism? If we were to look at our knowledge of other beliefs we usually compare them to our own, how similar are they to us, then we judge them accordingly. There are some things that are essential, for instance the belief that Jesus is central to salvation but what happens if those essentials are similar? We begin to look at those other things, and often those other things are not divinely inspired laws but are human interpretations of scriptures. For each of these rules religious orders have there is an equally scripture backed rule stating the exact opposite. How is it that one group can promote temperance and another moderation both use the same scripture to prove their points?

This is the situation that Jesus was found in last week. The pharisees were questioning Jesus about a rule they promoted about washing before eating. This rule can be supported by scripture, but only if we twist it a bit to include all people under the rules of a priest. Like I said earlier, it is not always a bad thing, but it is a religious interpretation of mankind not a divine order. Jesus held them accountable for this. Saying that it is not what goes into the body that causes corruption but what comes out. The various sins against mankind and God, come from within. It is our hearts that cause us to act certain ways. That is the why behind the what.

This week we meet Jesus as he travels north, out of Israel. He goes into the ancient region of Syria, part of which we know as Lebanon, to the city of Tyre. This city has a long history and relation to Israel. At times this nation had a partnership with Israel. During the era of David and Solomon, Israel and Lebanon were trading partners. It was from this area that the great timbers for construction were purchased. But at other times this region was the enemy. The city of Tyre was founded by Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were a seafaring culture that traded with civilizations all around the Mediterranean Sea. Scholars are not sure where they originated because they seem to be a culture that is similar yet distinct from the others. They are often depicted as wearing kilt type garments which would lead some to believe that they might be Gaelic in heritage, yet their tools and pottery also resemble that of the Greeks. Most likely they were a melting pot type of culture. They moved into an area established a trading post or city and integrated to the surroundings. When troubles came they fought ferociously but were also willing to live at peace.

Tyre, was part of the history of Israel for most of its existence. They were both friend and foe. They were at war and at peace. They were influenced and influential. Tyre both help Israel and contributed to their downfall. Like Israel Tyre was a desired piece of real-estate for the competing Empires. This island city was home of two harbors, making it a prominent city of trade. They were most known for purple dye, this is one of the greatest commodities that the Phoenicians dealt. But like Israel this city was once laid to waste. Alexander the Great in his conquest of Persia, filled the channel between the mainland and the island with dirt and walked across to conquer it. This was such a massive undertaking that even today, Tyre is not an island because it is still connected by this massive causeway first constructed by Alexander, although it has been expanded a great deal since. Like Israel, Tyre was conquered and reemerged to retake its former place.

Tyre, was and remains a land outside Israel. Yet Jesus traveled to this city. Jesus made a point to go out of Israel to meet with those in a city of Gentiles. I want us to think of this considering what was discussed last week. Another manmade rule that was held by the Pharisees was that you could not eat with sinners. This is contrary to the laws of Moses which tells them to treat the alien with the same hospitality as their countrymen. The reason they would not eat with the gentiles was because they did not follow that same rules and traditions as Israel. They ate unclean things, they did not follow the same customs. If they were to eat with these unclean people, the religious Pharisee might become corrupt as well. Yet Jesus made a point to visit this city, not only did he visit but he went into the home of one of its citizens.

While in that city, Jesus was met by a woman. We know her as a Syrophoenician, Gentile, or a Canaanite woman depending on which Gospel account we are reading. What this means is that she was a native of the land. She was both Syrian and Phoenician, she was a Gentile and of the tribes that inhabited the lands prior to the conquest of Israel. She was in every way outside of God’s promise as we could get. And to top it off, she was a woman. In any of the ancient cultures she did not poses the social clout to be speaking with a Jewish Rabbi. This did not stop her. Her daughter was being held in bondage and she had faith that Jesus could free her from this shadow of evil.

It is important to keep this portion of scripture in context with the conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees last week, because it will give us some understanding of Jesus’s response to her. She approaches Jesus in this house and begs Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus responds to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

This statement is very derogatory. Jesus was using the common vernacular about people outside of Israel, referring to this woman as a dog. She knew full well what Jesus was saying. He was telling her that His mission and ministry was first to his own nation. He is their messiah, he is their prophesied king, he did not come to minister to the outsiders. This does not mean that because we are not Jewish, we do not have access to Jesus. What it means is that the revelation of God comes first through the Jews. It was their nation that God chose to reveal himself to the world through. This is the only reason they are honored among the nations of the world. It is not because they are special in and of themselves, it is only that God chose them to show himself to the world. But like the manmade rules of the Pharisees, Israel often forgets their place among mankind. They are set apart not because they are greater, but they are to be the light to the nations. They are to live a life in ministry to the nations. Because of this role, they are often taken advantage of, but when they live according to the ways of God, they also become a blessing to all those nations around them because they show them what true human live should be like. They can be a blessing, but often they became a source of tension. Using terminology such as dog, is one way to cause tension.

Jesus looks at this woman and speaks to her. The fact that Jesus spoke to her even using such a terrible statement is something spectacular. And within this conversation we find a beautiful truth about life. “[F]or It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus says. And she responds, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She knows more about her relationship with Israel than most Pharisees knew about their relationship with the aliens among them. Yes, she had no right to demand a hearing from their rabbi, for she was not a member of their community, yet she did have a right to be near. She might be a dog, but a dog is able to sit under the table and no one is going to stop her getting the crumbs that might fall. Jesus is basically saying that the revelation of God is to be to and through the Jews. That is why he spends most of his time with them, that does not mean that the Gentiles are not welcome. They too can receive the revelation, but only when it comes through Israel.

She has faith that this God of Israel can do what He promises. She believes that this traveling preacher, is the one that was promised to the children of Israel, and her desire was to have this God heal her daughter. There is no difference between this woman and Ruth. Both were outsiders but knew that God was the God of all people. Jesus saw this seed of faith in her. She did not know the full extent of God’s grace, she did not know the rules, or the traditions. She was not a child of Israel, but she knew what she knew and believed. She was of a different culture, she practiced different things. She ate different foods, and she did not wash according the customs of the elders, because she did not know those customs. All she knew was what she had seen and heard. That single grain of faith was enough. That single grain of hope changes everything. She might not have a full vested faith, but it was enough to recognize who provided the wholeness she needed, and God responded, and her daughter was healed.

Jesus left the city of Tyre and proceeded to Decapolis. He returns to Israel, but he goes to the region of Israel that was settled by the Greeks. This again is a statement against the manmade regulations imposed on the religious community. He wants his followers to be very aware that human persons are not to be rejected because of who they are. They are not even to be rejected by their actions alone, but we should look deeper and understand why they are doing what they do and walk with them in faith. When he entered this town, the residence brought a man to him who was deaf and had an issue with his speech. It is important that Mark noted that the man had both issues present. If someone lost their hearing later in life, most people around them would not sense the disability. They would simply see that an individual withdrew from conversations and became more isolated. The fact that this man had impaired speech shows us that he was either born deaf or lost his hearing very early in life. I personally have experience in this area, since I have been hearing impaired from early childhood, and the doctors that examined my hearing were often amazed that I did not have impaired speech as well. I must give that credit to my mother who patiently taught me to speak as clearly as possible.

For most the lack of hearing is a forgotten disability. In ancient times, especially when dealing with exorcisms the ability to converse with the spirit was important. This man could not speak, he could not hear to acknowledge that Jesus was attempting to communicate with him. Yet the people were amazed by Jesus’s ability to heal even this man.

Let us look at the way Jesus provided this cure. The first thing to note is that Jesus did not do this in front of everyone, but in private. The second thing is that he placed his fingers in the man’s ears and spat and touched his tongue. My first response is gross. I say this because I have seen what is in ears, but the second part is how is Jesus touching this man’s tongue? Let us remember that Jesus is proving a point, he is showing the disciples and the religious leaders that manmade rules, though they may be beneficial, are not always the will of God. Jesus looks this man in the face he grasps the man’s head and places his fingers in the man’s ears, he spits and touches the man’s tongue, and he looks to heaven and speaks the word Ephphatha which means open. He speaks in Greek. He touches a man and converses to the Father in Greek. All people are loved by God. All people have the opportunity of grace. All people Jew, Greek, Phoenician, all people are loved by God. They may not act the way we do, they may not have the same traditions, or understanding, but that is not necessarily sinful. The what must be looked at through the why.

As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends let us consider the risky and unorthodox approach Jesus used to present the Gospel this week. If we look at it from the surface we might see something scandalous: the use of derogatory phrases, or spending time with people different than himself. But we know that Jesus did not sin. Let us look at our own lives and see if we are focused on the core of the Gospel or only on manmade religious dogma. Are we focused on the hope that Christ gives or our institution? And are we loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ in our lives at work, at home, at the doctor’s office, and in the store as well as here in this Meetinghouse.

[1] Image by:  Thierry Ona: Forgiveness

Jared A. Warner

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