What Forgiveness Is and Is Not

Inspired by Matthew 18:21-35

Today begins five Sundays in a row of parables from the gospel of Matthew. And in this first one, we get a lesson from Jesus about forgiveness. But I want us to go even further than Jesus did in this lesson. I think this lesson on forgiveness was Jesus way of getting us started. In other words, this isn’t going to be a sermon on why we should be a people known for our forgiveness. Nor is this going to be a sermon trying to convince you to forgive others.

I mean, after 2000 years of existence, the church should be past that right? If I have to get up here and convince you to be forgiving people, then we should probably stop and totally rethink why we are coming here week in and week out! But I don’t think I do. Think of it this way, Jesus teaching us to forgive was the baby food, the milk for an infant church. But at some point we grow up, and are ready to sink our teeth into something meatier, something deeper.

So, Jesus tells us to forgive, but doesn’t really tell us how. How do you get to that place when you can forgive? But before we can even begin to talk about how to forgive, we have to talk about what forgiveness is! Jesus doesn’t really tell us that either. And I think that trips us up. I think we often have a misguided sense of what forgiveness is, and that keeps us from being able to do it! So that’s what we are going to explore today. And let’s start with three things that forgiveness is not.

Number one, forgiveness is not a feeling. Like love it is an action. But unlike love, forgiveness is not both a feeling and an action, it is solely an action, something we do or not do. Now, there may be feelings associated with forgiveness. Running alongside the action of forgiveness but those feelings should not be confused with the actual act of forgiveness.

Two, forgiveness is not easy. Like I tell my kids all the time, good things usually are not! Jesus knew that! He didn’t tell us to forgive thinking that it was going to be something easy for us. Like he flipped some spiritual switch in us that somehow made forgiveness easy! We have this strange tendency as humans to assume that when things are hard or unpleasant then they it must be bad for us. That may be the case for some things but forgiveness is not one of them. It is always hard—and not just hard, but the painful, gut-wrenching, choke-on-your-ego kind of hard. Yuk! You know what I’m talking about. It may be one of the hardest things we are called to do as children of God. But, I think we may be making it harder than it needs to be, so let’s keep moving.

Three, forgiveness does not mean we allow ourselves to be abused. And I don’t mean just the physical kind of abuse, but also the emotional, spiritual kind as well. God does not call us to remain in abusive relationships. I cannot stress that enough. God does not call us to remain in abusive relationships, of any kind: whether it’s with a spouse, parent, sibling, friend, coworker, any kind. That is not what forgiveness looks like. Here’s the thing, you can forgive someone and know that you need to make a clean break from them, no matter the kind of relationship it is.

Ok, so if forgiveness is not a feeling, or easy, or allowing ourselves to be abused, then what is it? Here are three truths about forgiveness. The first is this, it is about redefining a relationship. It is not about getting rid of the hurt feelings or the anger, you can forgive someone and still be angry and hurt, but forgiveness is making the decision that this is no longer going to define our relationship. Whatever wrong was done, whatever needs forgiven, that is no longer going to be the lynchpin of our existence together. Because when there is a wrong that has not been forgiven between us, then many times that is all there is between us, it can be that all-consuming. So, it’s an acknowledgement that we could be so much more, which leads me to my second truth about forgiveness.

It opens up a future that was not there before. When you finally come to the conclusion that your lack of forgiveness is holding you back, is keeping you from being all that you were created to be, you long to be set free from those shackles. And sometimes that means that the relationship can now become what it was meant to be, but in the case of two people needing distance, a separation if you will, then it may mean that each individual can now be who they were created to be. The point is, forgiveness opens up a future that would otherwise not be there, without the act of forgiveness.

And my last truth about forgiveness is that it takes practice. It’s not something that you try one time and so now you know how to do it. No, it takes practice, it takes repetition, over and over and over. The most depressing thing about that is that we have lots of opportunities to forgive people every day! Think about it, is there a day that goes by when you don’t have to say to yourself, I’m just gonna let that slide, I am not going to allow that stupid thing that he just said to me ruin my day or our relationship. And to be fair, most times it’s little things. It’s not like we suffer a major betrayal every day. But if we can make good on forgiving others on those little everyday things, when the big ones hit, at least you’ve been practicing!

Here’s what I want to leave you with, especially because this forgiving business is a daunting topic to cover. This is more a truth about our God, than forgiveness. We cannot forgive the way God does. We just are not capable of that kind of forgiveness. And God does not expect that of us. That’s why God is God! After all the practice that this world gives us, we are never going to get it perfect. And that’s ok. It’s ok, because we have a God who has perfected it. We worship a God who has said that our wrongs will not define our relationship with God. We worship a God who has opened up a future for us like no one can. We worship a God whom we give countless opportunities to practice forgiveness on us. And God never fails to deliver that forgiveness. Thanks be to God. Amen.

You're Here Too?

Inspired by Matthew 18:15-20

Maybe it’s just me but, it seems like it is becoming more and more common for people to correct other people, about anything: saying the wrong thing, supporting the wrong cause, having the wrong belief, eating the wrong food, shopping at the wrong place, whatever people want to correct you on, it just seems like it’s a free for all these days! And then sometimes I think, maybe it’s always been that way and I just didn’t notice. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and have less patience these days. Maybe it’s the internet’s fault! Oh lord, two days after my birthday and I’m complaining about the internet! Is this how it begins—the road to crabby old man?

Seriously though, I really do think the internet has played a part in this. And I’m not alone, many scholars much smarter than I have written about this. The internet has brought with it a false sense of anonymity. And with that false sense of anonymity, comes a growing ease in correcting other people online, typically on social media. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people feel it necessary to correct my spelling or grammar. I had one person tell me, I can’t help it I used to be a teacher. I said, OK, and I dropped out of her class, which means I hit that unfriend button. I know, that sounds harsh, but to be fair I do give people a warning, sometimes two depending on how benevolent I’m feeling that day.

But it really does seem like this growing ease with correcting people is bleeding over into the physical world as well. At the conference that I went to last month in Atlanta, it was a conference just for pastors and deacons, I know, I must be glutton for punishment, but I’m sitting in one of the sessions and this pastor sitting next to me is correcting the speaker or adding information that he felt should have been said by the speaker. And he’s doing this out loud! On what planet is that acceptable behavior? He wasn’t speaking to anyone in particular, just to anyone who was stupid enough to listen to him instead of the speaker, ie me.

Ok. Rant over. My point is, we live in a world where at any given time you could be corrected about any number of things—and Jesus seems to know that in this great passage from Matthew this morning. It’s one of those passages that makes you think, this should be required reading for all Christians. I mean, the Bible is pretty big right? We can’t expect people to remember the whole thing! So if there was a list of passages that summed up some of the most essential teachings of the Bible, this passage should most certainly be on that list! Trouble is, I think we use this passage incorrectly many times. See! Here I go about to correct us on our use of this passage! You can’t even escape being corrected at church! Someone should talk to your pastor about that!

Here’s the thing, this passage seems to provide a very clear formula for conflict resolution. Someone does you wrong, go directly to them. If that doesn’t work, bring a friend along. If that doesn’t work, involve your church family. If that doesn’t work, well, to hell with them. Literally! Jesus says to treat them as they would a Gentile or tax collector, people that they traditionally saw as unfit for the kingdom. Now, like I said, all of that seems to fit into this nice neat little formula for conflict resolution. Cut and dry, no questions asked. But, I don’t think it’s that simple. Do I wish this formula were used more by us. Yes, of course, but as long as we use it in the context of the entire passage. Because, though this is great for conflict resolution, I don’t think that was the point Jesus was trying to make.

Jesus merely uses this formula to get to the whole point of this lesson which comes in that last verse, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” As the reader, we’re supposed to be like, “Oh…wait…what? You’re going to be there too Jesus? That was not part of the formula you just gave us! You said that if someone does you wrong, go directly to them. If that doesn’t work, bring a friend along. If that doesn’t work, involve our church family.

If that doesn’t work, then, to hell with them. You didn’t say anything about you showing up! We were fine with the formula as is! You know what Jesus, you’re a busy person. You have billions of people to tend to, what with the whole God on earth, Emmanuel thing. No need to change the formula on our account. We’ll take it from here. You just go do, whatever it is that you do. We got this.”

I imagine Jesus just shaking his head and sighing. Because the whole point of this formula, the whole point of conflict resolution, the whole point of living together as a community of the body of Christ is for Jesus to be with us—whether we want Jesus there or not, as he reminds us in this passage. He didn’t say, when two or three invite me. No, when two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them. Trouble is, we don’t always want him there.

Think of it this way. Remember when you were a kid, and you got into a fight with a sibling or a cousin, or a friend? All one of you had to do was say, I’m gonna go get my mom. Now the one who said that was usually the more injured party right? And what would the other say? “No, no, no, wait, just wait a sec. Let’s not be hasty. We can settle this without getting the boss involved.”

Because when the boss is involved, all of sudden the accountability factor goes through the roof right! When the boss is involved you gotta mind your p’s and q’s. When the boss is involved you do things by the book, no pun intended. When the boss is involved you settle things a little more fairly, you are reminded of all the other lessons that the boss has taught you, and when Jesus is the boss, you remember lessons about love, compassion, love, justice, love, sacrifice. Did I mention love? And remember, Jesus doesn’t need an invitation. Jesus just shows up! And it might do us a world of good to acknowledge his presence more than we do.

Image by David Hayward, nakedpastor.com
In a quarrel with your spouse? It could do you a world of good to remember that Jesus is in the room before you open your mouth! Is a family member about to pluck your last nerve? Might do you a world of good to acknowledge that Jesus is in the house! Has a fellow church member offended you for the last time? Might do you some good to remember that Jesus is there! Let’s think bigger! Are you at a church budget meeting? Might do some good to acknowledge that Jesus is at that meeting. Making a tough decision on council? Might do some good to pause and say prayer.

Can we think bigger? When trying to decide how we can make sure all means all when we say we welcome all? Might be a good idea to acknowledge that Jesus is in that conversation. When trying to decide how we can best serve those whom Jesus urged us to serve: immigrants, poor families, homeless veterans, children and youth, the aging, the LGBTQ community. Might be a good idea to acknowledge Jesus’ presence in those decisions. Can we think even bigger than that? Whether we can  or cannot, Jesus’ promise to be present remains. Whether we want him there or not. Thanks be to God. Amen.

A Kingdom of Death

Inspired by Matthew 16:21-28

Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of our beloved dog Katie. And a week ago we got our new puppy, Pearl, named after a character from one of our favorite TV shows, Spongebob Squarepants. She’s a 15 week old Great Pyrenees. Yeah, she’s gonna be a biggin. So, we took her to her first vet appointment on Monday, and I knew it was gonna be a rough time for us because the last time we were at this particular vet we were saying goodbye to Katie.

And as we were sitting in the waiting room I was thinking to myself, don’t take us to the same room, don’t take us to the same room. And what did they do? Took us to the same room. I wondered for a moment whether or not I should ask them for another room but then I thought, what if I’m the only one that remembers which room we were in! I don’t want to remind them if they don’t remember. Silly me. Of course they remembered, as I learned afterward.

So we walk into the room and sit down to wait for the doctor, and it dawns on me, that we are all sitting in the same spot as a year ago when we said goodbye to our Katie, Sara and I in the same chairs, Grace and Jesha in the same spot on the floor. And in my mind’s eye I can see us all sitting there a year ago. And superimposed over that image is this new image of us all in the same place except, instead of Katie taking her last breaths with us, it’s this youthful, energetic, joyful puppy.

Now of course we’d love to have never lost our Katie. We never want to lose our loved ones. If we could have had her forever we would have, no question. But, as I sat there with my mind playing with those two images, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that we wouldn’t be experiencing all this puppy awesomeness, without Katie dying.

Whew! Ok, I got through that first part of my sermon. Moving on to our gospel story for today. Thanks to this story, my wife and I implicitly call each other Satan on a regular basis. Whenever we tempt each other with something like desserts or snacks that we shouldn’t be eating we will just say, “Get behind me.” We don’t even have to say Satan, we know what we mean by that.

In our story, Jesus scolds Peter, calls him a stone that’ll make Jesus stumble, notice the irony there, last week he called him a rock, part of the foundation of the church, and now he’s a stumbling stone. But why he calls him that is what really caught my eye, because Peter was not thinking like God, but thinking like a human! And I thought, well of course he is, because he’s not God, he is a human! Cut him some slack! But maybe that was just my way of saying, “Cut me some slack.”

But he doesn’t. Because Jesus knows that wrong thoughts, are not just thoughts in and of themselves, but thoughts lead to actions. But I’m getting ahead of myself, what was this wrong way of thinking that Jesus is referring to? Life without death. Opportunity without change. Gain without loss. Freedom without sacrifice. Resurrection without the cross. This was the kind of thinking that really rubbed Jesus the wrong way.

Of course, he had good reason to be salty about it, according to Matthew he knew how his ministry would end, in death, one of the brutalist kinds. Last week I talked about how following Jesus meant more than just a different way of thinking and believing, but it meant a different way of living. And then we get this story about what following Jesus looks like, and it looks like death.

The kingdom that Jesus keeps referring to is not just a kingdom of new life full of joys and opportunities and puppies! It’s first and foremost, a kingdom of death. Oh pastor that sounds so depressing! People aren’t gonna join our church if you’re gonna keep talking like that. People wanna come here to be uplifted and feel good about themselves! Well, that’s fine, as long as you’re ok with the fact that meanwhile, people are hurting, dying even, because we don’t want to face death, we just want to skip to the end with the daisies and puppies. And the death Jesus is talking about is not the physical kind, but the metaphorical kind. Let me give you some large scale examples.

In the years leading up to World War I and culminating during World War II, the Lutheran churches here in the states were faced with a bit of a dilemma. Up until that point in history, they carried their German heritage with great pride, to the point that many churches were still worshiping in the German language. But during the time of both world wars, being pro-German wasn’t something you really wanted to be known for. So they had to ask themselves, is this something that we need to distance themselves from? Is this something that needs to change in us? Is this something that needs to die in us in order for new life to emerge?

And they answered that with a resounding yes. If they hadn’t already done so they switched to worshipping solely in English and that is when you began to see American flags in sanctuaries. Now, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with our German heritage, or the German language, but they had to determine if their tie to it was worth the cost. Was this keeping them from spreading the good news that they were called to? Their answer was yes, and it ended up opening up opportunities that they could not have imagined.

Likewise, fast forward to 1970 when the Lutheran church in America was faced with the decision to ordain its first woman. It was not a popular move by any stretch of the imagination. It solidified the divisions already in place within the church as well as creating new ones. But again, the church had to question whether or not this was something that had to change within us, our views regarding women. Was this something that we were being called to allow to die within us, so that new life could emerge from it? Their answer was yes, and it ended up opening up opportunities that they could not have imagined. Some of the most life giving pastors in my family’s life have been women, without whom I may not be here today as your pastor.

Fast forward to 2009, when the ELCA had another decision before her, whether or not to fully include homosexuals into our ministry. It was not a popular decision by any stretch of the imagination. On one side there were people saying finally! And others could not even believe we were debating such a heresy! But the question before them was this same old question that Jesus had told them about 2000 years ago. Is this a moment when we are called to take up our cross? Is this something that needs to change in us, meaning our views against homosexuals? Is this something that needs to die in us, so that new life can emerge? And the church said yes, opening up opportunities that we could have never imagined.

Being called to the kingdom of God means being called to a kingdom of death. In our baptisms we are called to die with Christ in the waters of our baptism, so that we can be raised with Christ. And not just after we die, but here and now. Why? For the sake of the world. This same ancient question is still being asked of us. What needs to change in us, be transformed in us, die in us, in order for new life to emerge in our world? Another way to ask that is this, what are we being called to sacrifice in order for us to bring life into a world filled with so much death? If we are not willing to ask ourselves these tough questions of faith then we have to be prepared to say that Christ died for nothing. And I am not prepared to say that. Because Christ died to bring life into this world. And Christ brought us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Baptismal Keys

Inspired by Matthew 16:13-20

A few weeks ago I was putting a new key on my wife’s keychain for her and I noticed a key that I wasn’t familiar with. So I asked her. “What’s this key for?” She looked at it and said, “I don’t know.” Now, she doesn’t have that many keys on her key chain! It’s not like she’s a prison guard who has to keep track of fifty different keys! But I thought, remain calm, don’t say anything stupid. So I said, “How can you not know what this key is for on your own key chain!” Well, that didn’t last long. Apparently, “Don’t say something stupid.” Only lasted from the time I thought that to the opening of my mouth! She didn’t respond. Because she’s much wiser and has more self-control than I do. So I stand there and look at this key and realize that it does look vaguely familiar.

And then it dawns on me, that it’s one of the house keys that were given to us when we moved to our current house. Now you might be thinking, “They haven’t lived there that long, and how could he not recognize one of the house keys anyway?” Or, “Wow, he ain’t lying when he says he has a bad memory! Maybe he should see a doctor about that!” Well, that may be true but, that’s not why I didn’t recognize that key. I didn’t recognize that key because we never used it. You see, when we moved there, the property management company gave us two keys. One for the front door, and one for the garage door. But, only one of them worked! The one for the front door worked but the other one didn’t work on any other lock in the house! And we never took it off our keychain so there it sat, unused, and forgotten.

In our Gospel story for today, Jesus has this profound conversation with his disciples where he makes this connection between who Jesus is and the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Peter says, “You are the Christ. The Son of the living God.” Let’s pause there for a moment and consider what that means. For our Gospel writer Matthew, this was more than just a title. This was about more than what Jesus is. This was about who Jesus is.

And what is the one thing that Matthew wants you to take home after reading his gospel about Jesus? That he is Emmanuel, God with us. And how does Matthew communicate what that means to us? With story after story of Jesus preaching, teaching, healing, feeding, comforting, welcoming, forgiving, and loving God’s people. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, and this is what that looks like.

This story comes in chapter 16 of Matthew’s gospel, more than half way through, so these disciples have seen and heard a lot already! They have seen first-hand what it means to follow the Christ, the Son of the living God, Emmanuel, God with us. And by follow I don’t mean just physically follow him around, but follow him in practice, in action, in everyday life. And I’m thinking that by this time, in their journey with Jesus, they are beginning to realize that this is more than just a new way of believing, but that this was a new way of living. What Jesus was teaching and demonstrating was more than just a new way of thinking about God or the scriptures or their people. But that following Jesus also meant a change of heart, and that change of heart was going to have life-changing ramifications.

Ok, now with all that in mind, who Jesus is, and what that means for those who claim to followers of him, he moves right into what is known as the office of the keys. I know, that sounds so formal, the office of the keys. I’m going to be honest with you, it’s just a fancy term to make pastors feel important. I know a few seminary professors that are feeling a disturbance in the force right now but don’t know why. But let me explain why I say that. When you study church history, like any other kind of history, you soon realize that many of the decisions that were made revolved around power, and more specifically, decisions to either gain more power or maintain the power a group already has. Much of the Reformation came into being because of the abuse of power by the church.

Ok, why am I talking about power. Well, because Jesus was in this story. After Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus told him, “I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it.” What is the rock that Jesus is referring to? Well, the church has answered that in two major ways. Some said it was Peter. And some said that it was his declaration of who Jesus was, the Christ, the Son of the living God. The former saw it as an opportunity to claim some legitimacy to their new religion. Saying that Peter was the rock on which the church would be founded gave them a figure head that they eventually claimed to the first bishop of the church. Like I said, power was the driving force there.

But even those who claimed that it was his declaration that the church was founded on and not him, had power at its roots too. If you didn’t believe this than you were not one of us! You were out! And going to hell too but that’s for another sermon! And so, the office of the keys, the power to fasten and loose, or as I’ll put it in a moment, to lock or unlock, was thought of as being only for pastors and was connected to the forgiveness of sins. So for centuries you had to go to a priest in order for God to forgive you. And remnants of that remain to this day even in our liturgies, as only a pastor is supposed to proclaim forgiveness on a congregation with the words “you are forgiven.” If a layperson says it, as when the youth led worship a few Sundays ago, it’s changed to, “we are forgiven.”

Ok, enough of the history lesson what does this have to do with keys? I believe that the power that Jesus was talking about here, the power to fasten or loosen, the power to lock or unlock, is given to all of us. And that power, and how we use it, has ramifications here and now, in the kingdom of heaven. Remember, when Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven it was always in the present tense. It was not in the future in some far off place in the clouds. It was now. Think of it this was, the idea that we puny humans could really have an effect on the afterlife by what we do here on earth, is an exercise in gross egotism. It’s quite laughable really. As if God really needs our help in the other world.

It’s in the here and now that Jesus knew he needed our help. It’s in the here and now that we can have a real impact in unlocking the kingdom of God. How? By following Jesus, the ways of Jesus, all those ways I mentioned earlier, and more: feeding, healing, visiting, loving, forgiving, clothing, welcoming, etc. You have the power to lock or unlock certain things on the path that you find yourself on. What will you do with that power. And also recognize that there are things that need to be locked away, for good: racism, homophobia, islamophobia, xenophobia, sexism. Those things need to be locked in safe and thrown into the depths of a fiery hell never to be seen again! Can I get an amen?

When we are baptized we should have been given a keychain, maybe not in place of a cross or Bible, the usual baptismal gifts, but we really should be given a keychain with keys on it. Because as baptized children of God we have the power to lock and unlock the things that are worthy or unworthy for the kingdom of heaven, here and now. I know it’s a heavy responsibility. Many of us don’t want a key to the church cuz we don’t want that responsibility and we certainly don’t want people to be looking at us when something goes awry at church right? Well, I’m sorry to break this to you but when we were baptized, and again when we were confirmed, we didn’t have a choice, we all were given a set of keys, which is why I think we confirm kids too young but I digress.

We were all given the power to fasten or loosen things in this world, to lock or unlock things in this world, the kingdom of heaven. What will we do with that power? How will we use those keys? What in your life, in your work, in your family, in your church, in your county, in your world, needs locked or unlocked? What will you do with the power that Christ, the Son of the living God, has given you? Because when the world goes awry who will the world look to? It is looking at us less and less. Before the world stops looking to us, before we are completely dismissed, maybe it’s time to polish those keys. Amen.


Inspired by Matthew 15:10-28

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew is broken into two sections, the first of which I just read to you, the other I will read in a minute. In that first section, we have Jesus teaching the disciples about what contaminates a person, what defiles a person, or more literally, what makes a person dirty. And it’s a teaching the disciples, or at least Peter calls, a riddle. It was such a different teaching for them that they just didn’t get it.

They had been taught something different, all their life, and let me just stop there and allow you to recall some of the things that you grew up believing, that you eventually changed your mind on. Some of us have had some pretty drastic change of hearts on certain topics. I know I have. I grew believing in a literal six 24 hour day creation, and that women shouldn’t be pastors, and that suicide victims were going to hell. None of those things I believe anymore.

Likewise, the disciples grew up believing in what’s known as a holiness code, or purity laws. They were rules to follow, and if you didn’t, it meant that you were no longer right with God. And many of these laws had to do with food. You couldn’t eat pork, shellfish was a no no so lobster and shrimp were out of the question. Most insects were off limits. That’s right, not all, there were certain locusts they were allowed to eat. You couldn’t mix meat and dairy together, so no cheeseburgers. Just to name a few of those holiness codes that involved food. So there was this emphasis on what a person put into their body, very inward focused.

And Jesus comes along with this teaching about what comes out of the mouth being more important. And they seem very caught off guard by this, as if the rug has been pulled from under their feet. It probably caused them to rethink everything they’ve ever believed! And what these dietary laws were really about was segregation, plain and simple—keeping outsiders out and insiders in. It allowed the leaders of a community to look at outsiders and say, this is not for you. Whether “this” meant this land, this community, this resource, this worship, this, is not for you. It’s for us.

And actually, this teaching about what comes out of the mouth wasn’t really a new teaching. There a lot of proverbs for instance about how we wrongly use our mouths and tongues, but humans, as we know well, need constant reminders about how we are to live with each other and with God. And so, Jesus attempts to reteach them this lesson. However, it seems the disciples aren’t the only ones that needed a change of heart. And so Matthew shares a story with us, immediately after this teaching of Jesus.

And make no mistake, it’s no accident that this story is what follows that lesson. Not everything in these books is in chronological order, but rather scenes and teachings and stories are paired together or put into an intentional sequence. Almost as if Matthew thought to himself, if the disciples were stumped by this, then maybe my readers will be also, so I’ll share this story that will help to illustrate what Jesus was trying to teach here. And so he shares this story about a Canaanite woman and her daughter.

At this point I did an interactive exercise with four volunteers. It's an alternate version of scripture tableau. It's very effective! Here are some video clips of portions of it. Sorry for the distorted orientation and out-of-sync audio, but it gives you an idea of what we did during this portion of the sermon...




Thank you for indulging me. It’s a powerful story. And sometimes stories like that are even more powerful when you slow down and really allow each scene to sink in like that. This story really stands out for me, from all the stories of Jesus, because of the way that Matthew paints Jesus for us. He’s not only cold with the Canaanite woman but also seems downright rude. Not to mention the fact that he has a change of heart at the end. It’s almost as if Matthew is painting Jesus as the bad guy in this story. Matthew seems to portray Jesus as the one who needs to learn something here. And from a Gentile woman with a demon possessed daughter no less, I mean, there’s three strikes against her right there! And she’s gonna teach Jesus something? Hmmmmm.

So, let’s back up to that first scene. Jesus is walking and then she pleads with him that first time, and what does he do? He just keeps on walking, doesn’t say a word. He ignores her! Remember that lesson Jesus was trying to teach them right before this story? “It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates a person…what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart.” And sometimes, what comes out of the mouth is silence. And sometimes, that silence is the most destructive thing imaginable.

Here’s an example, imagine being on the playground at school and the guy who everyone knows as the school bully is beating up one of your classmates where no one can see. You are on your way to your class, notice the bullying, but keep on walking, you don’t say a word, you ignore it. You might think, that’s none of my business! That’s between them! I don’t want to be next! And so the cycle of bullying continues, to the next classmate, and the next classmate, and the next classmate.

Now that’s a small scale example. Here’s a few large scale examples. The church was largely silent during slavery in America, and when it wasn’t, it often perpetuated it, landing on the wrong side of history. The church was largely silent during the suffrage movement, and when it wasn’t, it often wasn’t supportive, landing on the wrong side of history. The church was largely silent during the Nazi regime, again, falling on the wrong side of history. The church was silent for far too long about LGBTQ rights, and when it wasn’t, it was destructive rather than supportive, landing on the wrong side of history. Silence, can be just as deadly, if not more, than our words. But let us return to our story.

The Canaanite woman then kneels in front of Jesus, maybe in honor, or respect, or desperation, but maybe, to make him stop and listen! And after pleading with him again, he speaks, and says, “I’ve come only for the lost sheep, the people of Israel.” In other words, THIS IS NOT FOR YOU.  Can you imagine, meeting Jesus, the savior of the world, the ruler of the cosmos, God incarnate, the Word made flesh, and hearing, THIS IS NOT FOR YOU! Whatever “this” she was looking for, this community, this deliverance, this salvation, this help, this healing, THIS IS NOT FOR YOU. Can you even imagine that? Well, I hope so, because that’s where empathy begins, that’s where a change of heart begins.

And then these two have spat about bread and dogs and crumbs and then Jesus has a change of heart, and ends up saying, this is for you after all, and the daughter is healed, and everyone’s happy. But we can’t even address that happy ending until we deal with the silence problem that we have. And when I say we, I want to be clear that I am including myself in that equation. I do not preach sermons that I don’t have to hear myself, ever. I want you to notice the progression that Jesus makes in this story. He goes from silent ignoring, to speaking a word of exclusion, to stopping and listening, to debating, to having his heart changed, and then speaking inclusive words from that new heart, and finally acting on them.

Where I think we get stuck is after God has transformed us, changed our hearts and minds, many of us remain silent about it. Or just share it with those immediately around us: family, friends, church. But God does not call us to be silent. Why? Because there are people in our world that need to hear that hearts have been changed. There are people in our world that need to hear THIS IS FOR YOU.

And we need to be specific about who we are talking to. Saying all are welcome is not enough. Everyone says that! Every church in America says all are welcome. And yet, Sunday remains the most segregated day of the week! The LGBTQ community doesn’t know if “all” includes them, because at that church over there it doesn’t, and at that church over there it doesn’t. How do they know that? Because they learned the hard way, the painful way.

I want to give you some homework. I want to give something very specific to do. I want you to reach out to the people of color in your life, the LGBTQ people in your life, the Jewish people in your life, and ask them if they’re ok. Reach out to them and ask, “In the wake of Charlottesville, how are you doing?” Some may not want to talk about it but may appreciate the question. Some may legitimately be ok. But my guess is that most are not ok these days! I’m not! I’m not ok! So now you know at least one person of color in your life is not ok! I have to watch people on TV march with torches because they do not want me here, who do not want my parents here, who would have rather my grandpa stayed in his own country.

And then I have to get up Monday morning and kiss my children goodbye, my children of color, and send them out into the world as if nothing happened, when the reality is that I send them out with fears that I should not have. Are they gonna get bullied today because of the color of their skin or their last name? Are they gonna be called the “N” word again? Are they gonna have to put up with another swastika at school again. You heard that right. Again! In our county! So no, I’m not doing ok!

Reach out to the people of color in your life. Reach out to the LGBTQ people in your life. Reach out to the Jewish people in your life. There are lots of ways being shared in the media of how you can combat the evil messages that we heard from marchers in Charlottesville. All of them are great, but this way in particular is what I’m feeling called to urge you to do—because so many are hurting right now, so many need to hear, out loud, THIS IS FOR YOU. This love, this community, this table, those water, this heart, THIS IS FOR YOU. Thanks be to God. Amen.