The chosen hymns for this week, Nearer my God to thee and O for a thousand tongues to sing can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
What makes you good?
Matthew 15: 10-28
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday for 16th August.
Sometimes the problem we have with the Bible is that it talks about things that we don’t often talk about. And because we don’t often talk about it we don’t think it interests us, or is even relevant to us.
Today’s passage is a bit like that.
First of all it starts with Jesus talking about uncleanliness and cleanliness.
What makes us clean, what makes us unclean?
Then it goes through this scene where Jesus insults a woman and refuses to heal her daughter because she is a foreigner.
What is all that about?
So to make it a bit more relevant to us, I want to give you a puzzle, the puzzle that Jesus was trying to solve for the people of his time.
I want you to imagine you die and lots and lots of people come to your funeral.
Your body is buried in the ground and your soul goes up to heaven.
So here’s the puzzle...
If your body is in the ground and your soul is up in heaven...where are you going to be?
With the body or with the soul?
Hopefully we can understand what Jesus was getting at once we study the passage which Elaine will now give us
Elaine: Reading Matthew 15: 10-28
Ok let’s look at this passage.
Normally they are taken separately but today we will look at them as connected because they are, that’s why they are in the Bible beside each other.
In the first passage Jesus is talking about purity.
The Jews were very into purity. God was pure, the world was corrupt. We were made pure by God but the world is trying to corrupt us all the time.
So the laws of the Old Testament were there to protect us from the world’s corruption and keep us pure.
If you’re a good person you keep the rules, if you’re a bad person you break the rules.
Don’t kill people. Good people will keep that rule; bad people will break that rule.
Don’t steal from people. Good people will keep that rule; bad people will break that rule.
The problem comes when the world is not as black and white as we would like.
What if the rules are cultural?
All male boys should be circumcised when they are eight days old.
Well the Bible say good people will keep that rule, bad people will break that rule...only most Christians would say that that shouldn’t define whether we are evil or not.
I have been reading the book of Numbers and in Chapter 15 a man is out collecting wood, maybe to cook with, maybe to heat his house. But he is caught doing this on the Sabbath. So he is taken out the camp and stoned to death because he has broken the rules, so he must be evil.
Or what about washing our hands?
There are strict rules about washing hands in the Bible.
I think we would all agree, especially in the world we are living in just now, that regular washing of hands is a good thing, a hygienic thing to do, but would we define someone as good or evil on the criteria of whether they wash their hands or not?
Now all that seems academic, except that for the people then they weren’t looking at it as an academic subject, this was a deadly serious subject.
If you were clean, holy, good then you had a place in heaven, if you were unclean, unholy, evil then there was no place for you in heaven.
If your dead body is in the ground, and your soul is in heaven...are you with your corrupt body or your pure soul?
And Jesus turns round and says that it isn’t the rules and regulations that matter, it’s the attitude in your heart.
It’s not about ritual, no matter how precious the religious ritual is, it is about relationship...relationship with God, relationship with others.
Do we accept the love of God? If not why not?
Are we sharing that love with others? If not why not?
That’s all very fine.
But then Jesus gives us an example of how that works.
A woman appears out of nowhere asking for her daughter to be healed.
Now Jesus has been talking about how the important thing with God is relationship.
If God is in relationship with this woman, and God is in relationship with every person, then how should we treat this woman?
This is a moment of conflict. Have the disciples understood what Jesus has been saying?
If they have heard what Jesus has been saying then they would treat the woman the way God would treat the woman, and seek the best for her.
But culturally, at that time, they would treat her differently.
She was a woman. In that culture no woman should talk to a man unless she was accompanied by a husband or a father.
What is worse she was a Canaanite woman. Jews were pure, everyone else wasn’t.
So she was an impure woman of another race that by her very presence could contaminate the purity of everyone else there. She knows the rules. If she wants her daughter healed she should ask her husband or her father or her brother to ask Jesus...which they wouldn’t because no Canaanite would ask a Jew for help.
It’s tough, but that is the way of the world.
So Jesus tests the disciples. And this is the test, what is more important, the rules or the person?
First of all he does what a polite Jewish rabbi would do.
He ignores the woman.
Jesus is hoping one of the disciples will come up to him and say, ‘Look you were talking about relationship five minutes ago, what about this woman and her relationship with God. She needs help, shouldn’t we help her?’
Instead they say to Jesus, ‘Look send her away, she’s embarrassing us. Worse she could contaminate us. If we go to this woman’s daughter and the daughter is already dead then that would automatically contaminate us and make us impure in God’s eyes. Tell her to get her husband to ask for help. ’
So then Jesus really insults her, he articulates what their actions feel to her.
‘Look in the eyes of God you are a dog and don’t deserve have any help whatsoever.’
Now I am sure the disciples would have been horrified if they thought that was what they were doing. But to a desperate woman in need of help. they ignoring her was as much a slap in the face, as if they had literally slapped her in the face.
Her daughter was going to die because they were embarrassed by her.
Her daughter was going to die because they were afraid of what others would say if they found out they had talked to her.
Her daughter was going to die because the disciples felt unsure about her standing.
I am sure we would all say it is a disgrace and they should just accept her because God loves the woman.
We would question why the disciples even hesitate to help the woman the way she wants.
But what if a couple of lesbians’ came to up our church asking to be married?
I am sure the lesbians would say, ‘Why are you even hesitating to help us when God loves us?’
But our Church would be going apoplectic trying to work out what the right thing to do was.
If a transsexual wanted to become a minister and applied to the church authorities I am sure the transsexual would say, ‘Why are you even hesitating to accept me as a candidate when God loves me?’
I am sure the church offices would be struggling to know what to do.
And I am sure when Jesus said those words he was hoping that one of the disciples would say, ‘That’s out of order. All she is asking is for her daughter to be helped. Maybe we could give her some money for some medicine.’
But the disciples stayed silent.
So Jesus heals her daughter and tells her that she has great faith.
Because she has seen the truth that the disciples still hadn’t seen.
Jesus reached out to the woman because he knew that God’s love for her sick daughter was even greater than the mothers.
The mother knew deep love for her sick daughter.
That love was more important that any cultural barriers.
That love was more important that any social embarrassment.
That love was more important than any pride that might be hurt if she was rejected by Jesus and his disciples.
And that love conquered all because it was sourced in God’s love for her daughter and for herself.
That’s what Jesus saw in the woman.
That’s what Jesus responded to.
Now it is our turn.
What reasons do we have for not helping people?
They come from the wrong type of family?
They have hurt our feelings at some point in the past?
They don’t deserve any help because of the lifestyle they have lived?
Jesus says, ‘None of that matters. It is not the religious rituals we preserve that keep us holy. Holiness, God’s holiness, is not about saying the right prayers or singing the right hymns or attending the right church or listening to the right sermon.
God’s holiness is about loving others the way God loves us.
It’s about caring for others the way God cares for us.
It’s about giving others the same dignity and respect that God gives us.’
So at the end of time our body is in the ground and our soul is in heaven...where will we be?
I hope it will be where God is, the way it always can be, if we love like God, care like God, using God’s strength to live God’s way.
Let us pray.
It is so easy just now to get selfish and self centred.
So easy to get caught up in our own needs and forget about others.
Help us to see you in the lives of others,
to see the great love and care that you have for them.
The deep respect you have as they cope with all the struggles they face.
And as we see your love for them, may we remember that same love is there for us.
May we be as generous to others as you are to us.
This we ask in Jesus name
Until next time...
Remember the church is open for prayer on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 4pm
And Sundays between 6-8pm.
During those times we are also open if you want to collect the next lot of UCB Word of Today Bible Study notes, hand in your collections or hand in the milk bottle tops you have been saving.
Also remember to support the food banks at your local supermarkets.
So many people are struggling out there. On their behalf thank you to all of you who are supporting the Food-banks in Alva and Alloa and beyond.
May you be blessed with the hope of a brighter tomorrow.
May God raise you up from the depths of your despair.
May sunshine chase away your fear and may you know the love of God, and show the love of God to others, this day and for evermore.