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					Prop. 18, Yr. B, Sep. 6, 2009 The Church of the Epiphany – Glenburn The Rev. Craig C. Sweeney Soli Deo Gloria

So - just as I’m starting to write this sermon, my laptop decides to go online and check for updates. We have ‘wifi’ at home, and so I’m always online, I think. I suspect my laptop gets lonely with just Robin and me, so it goes off into the clouds to find some of its friends. I don’t particularly need this update, I note, but I am always uneasy – I don’t pretend to ‘get’ all this technical stuff, which makes me feel old and stupid. And I figure, ‘what the heck,’ can’t be too safe these days. Needless to say, I did something to upset the update process and it froze up. I am frantically pushing keys and buttons and when I give up and force the process to quit, THEN it fires up and finishes the download. Then it has to restart the computer, and when it comes back up it is ready to install something else – Bluetooth, which I don’t use. I try to argue with the computer, but it won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Eventually I figure out how to stop this download, and even then the computer is arguing with me about it. I suppose I’ll have to give in eventually… Now, I take my sermon writing seriously and spend a good deal of time in prayer and thought before I begin – I pray to be in just the right spiritual place so that the Holy Spirit can find her way through my usual immediate concerns and anxieties to speak to us. Needless to say,
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by the time I was done with all of this unexpected exploration and updating my laptop has done on its own, my mood is not a good one. I bring this up because as I was sitting there seething about this unexpected delay, it crossed my mind that perhaps this was how Jesus felt this morning. Goes to show you that God can work with anything! Here’s the scenario. Jesus has been working hard in the Galilee, which is up north of Jerusalem and sits to the West and North of the Sea of Galilee. He has fed people, healed people, walked many miles, even walked on water – he’s probably tired out and perhaps confused. Confused because in spite of all his good works, no one there in Jewish Galilee seems to understand his teaching – they are all following him around like a carnival, hoping for more miracles. So Jesus decides to go on retreat. Our Gospel passage this morning is paralleled in Mathew, who gives us a few more details. But Mark makes it clear that Jesus wanted some downtime – he makes it clear that Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there. He has entered a house up in Tyre, perhaps a friend’s house. Probably he has gone to Tyre because it is gentile country, in other words, he’s gone there to get away from his own Jewish people. Tyre is on the Mediterranean coast in what is now Lebanon. It’s a goodly hike from the Galilee. But even so, word spreads fast in that small area, and people have heard of him and his miracles. Today we
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hear from a young mother, whose daughter is possessed of a demon. Likely that meant the poor child had epilepsy or some kind of brain damage. The mother is desperate and when she hears of Jesus’ arrival, she goes to him. Here in Mark, she approaches Jesus directly, note that Mark makes clear that she is a Gentile, a Syrophonecian woman. In Matthew, she stands off a ways and shouts, ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!’ In Matthew Jesus simply ignores her and keeps walking, but she keeps hollering, bugging his disciples until they beg Jesus to send her away. Jesus, clearly, either has things on his mind or simply is trying to rest. He wants nothing to do with this gentile woman. But, like my rudely insistent laptop, she demands Jesus’ response. At completely the wrong moment and when Jesus doesn’t want to be bothered, there she is insisting that he attend to her – and she won’t go away. And in a most un-Christ like manner, Jesus tells her to bug off. After all, he tells her, he has come to the Jews, not gentile dogs like her. Now this is more than a little bit brusque, it is hugely insulting. Dogs weren’t the cute and pampered darlings we have in our homes these days – back then, dogs were mostly wild, filthy and mangy, scavenging on garbage and dead animals. To call someone a dog was to compare them to that kind of filthy and disgusting beast. Jesus is practically using a racial epithet here. Apologists have tried to soften this harsh response from Jesus by saying that was trying to test her faith.
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Faith? What faith? She’s a gentile and knows nothing of the God of the Jews or Jewish customs. No, Jesus was just being a fully human man, and he was angry at being disturbed. This is another one of the places where I find my conviction that Jesus did not know who he truly was bolstered up. If Jesus knew who he was, surely he wouldn’t have lost his temper with this poor, desperate woman begging for help. But in any event, the woman is, like my laptop, not taking ‘no’ for an answer. She points out to Jesus that at her house, even the dogs are entitled to scavenge for scraps under the table. Indeed, folks kept dogs for that reason, to act as canine garbage disposals. And hearing this, Jesus relents and – from a distance – heals the daughter. I always like to point out that the only person to win an argument with Jesus in all of Scripture is a woman, and she’s a foreigner! This appears to be a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, for he decides to return to the Galilee by way of Sidon and the Decapolis. Either Mark doesn’t know his geography or maybe Jesus has gone to look at what he can do with the gentiles, for Sidon is a further 40 miles north up the Mediterranean coast, and the Decapolis is way south and on the East side of the Sea of Galilee. This is a long, long way to go if all he wants to do is return to the Galileee. In my opinion, Jesus had some thinking to do. He is a good young Jewish man, and was raised on the Torah
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and the Prophets. In his mind, he was sent by the Father to be a prophet, calling the Jews back to the true teachings of their God. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus response to the woman is to exclaim that he had not found faith like hers even in Israel. Surely this starts him thinking. For Jesus obviously knew that this gentile woman had no faith in the Jewish term of that word. Yet he sees in her something powerful – that she believes in him, she has faith in him. It is worth reminding ourselves that in those times, women simply did not approach men by themselves, they could only meet men in the company of their family or husband. This woman, a gentile, shows a lot of guts to go off by herself and approach Jesus and his disciples, calling out to him. But, she was desperate, her daughter’s life was at risk. She doesn’t care about social conventions or the rules of Jewish cleanliness – she has nowhere else to go for help. She reminds me of the woman who had bled for 12 years: she, too, brushed aside the rules to approach Jesus for help. And Jesus sees this desperation and responds. And once again, as Jesus interacts with the weak, the sick, the hungry, the desperate in his world, there is new life. This woman has been given a new life, and certainly her daughter has been given a new life. And this gentile woman believes in Jesus, even more then the Jews had back in Israel. So Jesus had some

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thinking to do about what his ministry is, and takes a long, long walk before he goes back to the Galilee. And we don’t know what it was he thinking about, but it seems clear from this story, important to both Mark and Matthew, that Jesus comes to the conclusion that he is not sent only to the Jews, but to the whole world. Mark and Matthew surely include this story in their gospels because they include in their communities many gentile converts to Christianity. And, I suspect, Jesus comes to this conclusion out of a sense of pure justice because of the many, many passages in the Hebrew Scripture that speak to the care of the poor, the widows and orphans, and also those that speak of Jerusalem being that place where God’s light shines so brightly that all the world will stream up to find God in that place. It’s about justice, and it’s about the poor finding justice. We can be nearly certain that Jesus knew the Proverbs, like the one we heard this morning. In those days when almost no one could read or write, people memorized the Psalms and the Proverbs. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that speak to morality and common sense in living a good and holy life. They were teaching tools. My Old Testament professor referred to them as ‘theology, down on the ground.’ And many of these Proverbs speak, as this morning’s does, to justice, to the care of the poor. ‘Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor… for the Lord pleads their cause...’ In other
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words, the poor deserve to be fed, deserve to be cared for, deserve a decent life, just as the rich do. ‘The rich and the poor have this in common; the Lord is the maker of them all.’ Perhaps God has sent this gentile woman to pester Jesus in order to shake him up a bit, in order to remind him of the ‘big picture:’ God’s grace, goodness and mercy are for all of his children, not just the Jewish ones. God sends Jesus a little, irritating, pestering computer update – in the shape of a desperate and frightened woman. Early Christianity spread like wildfire across the Eastern Mediterranean, mostly among the poor and the oppressed. One reason it did so was because of this basic message of justice: God loves the poor just as much as the rich, perhaps more so. Throughout Scripture we hear harsh words about the rich who are not generous, and hear again and again about how we are bound to care for the poor – it’s a justice issue for God. James writes to some congregation to castigate them - apparently the rich are accorded greater honor in that place. James doesn’t pull his punches, either. ‘Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the Kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’ Jesus has been brought up short and had to rethink his message. Perhaps we need to rethink our faith as well. Yes, Jesus dines with the wealthy, but he seeks out the poor. Can we do any less? AMEN
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