(Sermon draft for August 17, 2008)
Isaiah 56:1-8 (New Revised Standard)
Thus says God. Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil. Do not let the foreigner joined to the Holy One say, “God will surely separate me from God’s people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” For thus says God: “To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to God, to minister to the Holy One, to love the name of God, and to be God’s servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says God, who gathers the outcasts of
Will you pray with me? Holy One, bless this time, hallow the words spoken and heard, open our hearts and spirits to what you want us to hear. May I be a channel of your truth, your peace, your love. In all your names, amen.
This is an interesting pairing of readings. The Isaiah passage is one of my favourites in the Bible—poetic and hopeful, so welcoming and inclusive. The
That’s hard…very hard to hear.
But she’s brave—she doesn’t let him get away with that bigotry. At some level, she knows she deserves to be heard, and reminds Jesus that while he may view her as an outcast—a dog—she is still one of God’s children, made in God’s image, part of the household of God, and that God cares for her, too—even if it’s just to give her crumbs.
My first thought was sarcastic, I’m sorry to say. “How generous—giving away stuff you don’t want anyway!” And then I thought again. Those folks were giving food, after all; it might not be the kids’ favourite, or mine; it might not be terribly practical for a food program; but it was good food and edible. The cooks at
Those cans of lima beans and artichoke hearts may be crumbs—but they are food for the hungry.
The woman who insisted on healing for her daughter didn’t get crumbs, though, did she?
Later in Jesus' life, when he’s at the Temple in Jerusalem, he becomes angered by the profiteering he sees there, and overturns the tables, and says that God’s temple should be a house of prayer—and everyone who heard him would have known the rest of the verse—A house of prayer for all nations. He took the woman’s words fully to heart, and made them part of his mission.
Who do we think of as dogs? Who do we begrudgingly pray for, knowing we “ought” to, when we really feel that those persons don’t deserve our prayers or our time? Is it the
Over and over, I have found that people I thought I didn’t like, or people I feared, turned out to be people I could like, or accept, or even be friends with. When I accepted the invitation to speak at Conservative Church a couple weeks ago, I was, I’ll admit, a bit scared. I assumed that the congregation would not be very welcoming, that the pastor was setting me up just to knock me down and make the congregation feel all right about their beliefs on same-gender love. I was afraid of the person I was opposing in the debate—he’s a journalist, experienced with words and media, how could I hope to appear as informed and glib?
The reality was far different. The pastor
They were not dogs. Nor was
Can we do that? You and I, every day? Can we open our eyes to those around us, and offer them a willingness to understand, to share, to get to know them?
Next time we are faced with someone we think is outside that circle of God’s love, can we open up and allow ourselves to learn from them? Can we come to see those “others” whom we fear or distrust as a part of God’s people, not as outcast dogs? That’s our task—difficult as it sometimes is—to see God in every person, to learn from them, to hear their story and try to understand them.
Be warned, though—just because you are willing to be open and learn from them doesn’t mean they will be willing to be open in return. You may only get hostility, mistrust and dishonesty in return. But I guarantee you that if you don’t reach out, you won’t gain any understanding, and they won’t either. All you can do is make the attempt—try to learn from them—and if they are not willing to teach, at least you know you attempted.
Next time we are faced with someone we don’t like or trust or understand—can we agree to talk to them? Try to understand their beliefs, try to find out why and how they think and feel and act the way they do. What barriers have they faced? What do they believe? What is lacking in their lives—or what is there too much of in their lives?
Once we learn something about them as individuals, whether we come to like them or not, we can see them as truly God’s people, as we are. And then indeed, in the words of the Psalmist, how pleasant it is when families live together in harmony! I might add, especially when the family of God lives together in harmony.
In all God’s names, amen.