Finding the Lessons

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Proper 18B/Ordinary 23B/Pentecost 15 September 6, 2015

"Many times it has been disciples who have least understood the issues as they have uncoupled devotion to God from devotion to people, because they have uncoupled God and people. Then a prejudiced "god" feeds a prejudiced people."


"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 14, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"A few months ago on my morning walk I was surprised by 'crumbs' left behind. They were not meant for me at all. I even knew there were not meant for me, but left over, they fed me still."

"Of Sidewalk Messages and Crumbs from God's Table," Janet Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2012.

"...there is your story and mine−that Jesus is in our house, with full power to heal; that we need to approach him with compassion and perseverance, praising God the sender of the Savior of all people, not just people like us."

Commentary, Mark 7:24-37, Alyce M. McKenzie, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.



Prayer

O Good and gracious God, you have chosen little ones, the worlds' poor and lowly, to become rich in faith and to be heirs of your kingdom.  Help us to speak words of encouragement and strength to all whose hearts are fearful, that the tongue of the speechless may be loosened and all of our wounded humanity, unable so much as to pray, may join us in singing the mighty wonders of your love.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

So, we might pause for a moment and ask: what has Jesus been up to lately? He has challenged dietary laws, offered a new vision of sin and its root cause, challenged community separation based upon these laws thereby offering to the religious leaders of the day a vision of a new kingdom of God.  All of these also have offered a vision of a kingdom that is no longer divided between Gentile and the faithful community in Jerusalem.  Early church theologians such as Chrysostom saw the erasing of this "particularism" clearly as they reflected on this passage. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol. 1, 466)

I remember this passage clearly from my seminary days because of the fact that we debated its meaning over coffee.  We used it as the case study for whether or not God changes God's mind.  Certainly the passage is unusual in the way that it offers the story.  Jesus says no; makes what is nothing less than a horrible metaphor about dogs.  Jesus then listens and then offers healing.  In the midst of this debate about God and God's changing mind (or not) is a critical New Testament scholar debate over the two pieces of dialogue belonging together.  A number of scholars march through that debate very well and you are welcome to read more about it in either Joel Marcus' work or in Adela Collins' text.

So what do we have here?  Joel Marcus has a great reflection on the characters and events. He writes: "In the overall Markan context it forms an inclusion with the narrative of the woman with the hemorrhage in 5:21-43.  The latter is, like the heroine of our story, an anonymous, plucky, ritually unclean woman who 'hears about Jesus' and receives healing from him, and is coupled with a younger girl (Jarius' daughter, the Syrophoenician's daughter) who is healed." (Marcus, 466)  Joel Marcus also gives us the short and sweet of the story in his words when he writes, "Not only does it present the only example in the Gospels of a person who wins an argument with Jesus, but it also portrays a Jesus who is unusually sensitive to his Jewish country-men's claims to salvation-historical privilege and unusually rude about he position of Gentiles: the Jews are God's children, and their needs come first; compared to them, non-Jews are just 'dogs.'" (Marcus, 470)  Thank you Joel for the frank reader's digest version!

So here is what I find fascinating.  Never in our discussions in the bottom of the student center at seminary, over our steaming cups of coffee, on a cold winters day, arguing over God' changing God's mind did we stop to think about or discuss what this passage might offer us as individuals trying to follow Jesus or what it might offer the church communities we were preparing to serve.

This is what I have come to understand.  I am challenged by others who are not like me or my preconceived notions about Christianity, church, the Episcopal Church, life the universe or anything for that matter. I am predisposed to believe, as a human being, that I am right.  As an old T-shirt I had once offered: "I may have my faults but being wrong is not one of them."  This uniquely human condition (sometimes called sin) always gets in the way of what God is doing in my life when by providence he introduces me to people that are different than myself. 

Second, I believe that I and our Episcopal community are challenged to see in our brothers and sisters, specifically the Jewish people, God's special dispensation; and we might add the Muslims as well.  This is not to deny our particular revelation at all but it is to say  that God does have a special relationship with ALL THREE of the Abrahamic faiths and that such a relationship deserves attention.  At times such a relationship may be difficult and painful but all three religions hold a special place in God's heart rooted deep in a promise made on a desert's eve to a wandering but faithful Abram and Sarai.

Lastly, I am challenged and I believe our churches are challenged to see that God may in fact be, in this very moment, choosing a new people to incorporate into our family.  The passage is very clear that God's kingdom and its embrace of the Gentile world is key to God fulfilling God's mission.  Certainly the word "Gentile" itself means in particular those people who are not Jewish.  That is certainly true.  It has a broader meaning as well, as an adjective it means: not belonging to one's own religious community.  And, this is the catch for us. It is very difficult for those involved in a privatized world of religious faith to see that God is at work in the world around us; in a very public manner. 

In order to embrace the kingdom of God and be a missionary church we as Episcopalians must come to terms with the fact that God offers his healing balm to those who do not belong to our church.  We are challenged and encouraged to join in the Gospel work when we see that God's is out and about and in particular at work in the community of people who are NOT in our churches or who are particularly Episcopalian. 

Now that, my friends and readers, is a challenge far more interesting to preach and consider as we hear this story.  And the church would be well served by a whole host of preachers on Sunday morning got up and instead of talking about the woman who changed God's mind, talked about the followers of Jesus and how they were encouraged by Jesus' witness to go out and accomplish a mission to the gentile world that would change the course of history and would begin its work of building the Kingdom of God.


James 2:1-17

"The second chapter of James opens with an illustration that is as relevant in the contemporary church as it must have been to James's first readers."

Commentary, James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17, Sandra Hack Polaski, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"...James is making himself quite clear: Christians, both individually andcollectively, have a moral responsibility to the poor."

"Poverty, Wealth, and Equality?" Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2012.

"Social justice christology is 'in' at the moment - but like the term, social justice, itself, can die of its popularity as our fascination with it innoculates us against engagement and the vision dies to become just an idea and a good concept to include in our strategic plans and visions."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 15, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


Textweek Resources for this week's Epistle


Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text

We continue this week with our readings form the Epistle of James. Our theme continues to reflect the author's challenge that we “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers”.

I found a few quotes that are I find very helpful to me in thinking about this passage. They are from theologian's Miroslav Volf and amplify well this portion of James.

As James offers the notion that our relationship with God leads to a response from the follower which necessarily includes the other. Challenging the reader to understand that God shows no partiality so the follower of Christ in turn shows no partiality.  There is not stranger in the intimacy of relationship with God. If we believe in the triune God then we are always and everywhere connected with the other(s). 

Volf writes in his book AFTER OUR LIKENESS: 
“Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God- a "foursome," as it were-- for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God.” 

If we truly believe in a triune God, and we are truly followers and intimately connected with this God, then we are forever connected to others. There is no "favoritism". We are not the judge of appearance, or to discriminate.

Volf continues:
"The sufferings of Christ on the cross are not just his sufferings; they are “the sufferings of the poor and weak, which Jesus shares in his own body and in his own soul, in solidarity with them” (Moltmann 1992, 130). And since God was in Christ, “through his passion Christ brings into the passion history of this world the eternal fellowship of God and divine justice and righteousness that creates life” (131). On the cross, Christ both “identifies God with the victims of violence” and identifies “the victims with God, so that they are put under God's protection and with him are given the rights of which they have been deprived."
We are to conduct ourselves differently because we are saved by a God who opens himself up to us and shares and gives of himself for us - even when we were far off. We are to love God and to love others as a response to God's mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

James is clear if in any way we do not recognize God's impartiality, love of neighbor, special relationship to the poor and the lowly then we are not ourselves in relationship with God. For to be in relationship with God at this deep level is to recognize our true and common humanity with everyone.  To honor others, to not kill, or destroy, to share and to not steal, to care for our family, and to not use God to build up our own power are all ways in which we reveal the health of our own relationship with the Godhead.

Finally, Volf offers:
"Engagement is not a matter of either speaking or doing; not a matter of either offering a compelling intellectual vision or embodying a set of alternative practices; not a matter of either merely making manifest the richness and depth of interior life or merely working to change the institutions of society; not a matter of either only displaying alternative politics as gathered in Eucharistic celebrations or merely working for change as the dispersed people of God. It is all these things and more. The whole person in all aspects of her life is engaged in fostering human flourishing and serving the common good.”
If Christians do not accompany their faith with love and care for the other then they aren't much of a Christian I am afraid. The hard news here is that claiming to be one is quite a different thing than living as one.

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