Sunday Sermon 12th February - The Reluctant Healer?
The Reluctant Healer?
Call to worship
Hymn 522: The Church is wherever God’s people are praising
Time for all Kay
Hymn 641: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
Reading: Mark 7: 24-30
Hymn 348: Praise the one who breaks the darkness
Prayer of Dedication
Hymn 718: We cannot measure how you heal
Welcome to our reflection for 12th of February.
We live in an instant society.
Everything has to be done yesterday. It’s all in the names we use...
We don’t want coffee, we want instant coffee, we don’t want food, we want fast foods.
When we want information we don’t try to work it out, we Google it on our phones.
And that often makes it difficult for us to understand the complexities of the Bible when we are dealing with a different type of culture that had different expectations.
Sometimes we need to work out what was going on then, to see how it may have meaning to us now.
And today is a case in point.
Taken at face value Jesus seems cruel and heartless but maybe something else is going on here.
We will consider that after the reading and prayer for today.
The word of God is not always easy listening.
The word of God is like a two-edged sword.
The word of God can cut and divide.
The word of God is a challenge and to maybe should be challenged.
The word of God is a relationship that is ever changing.
Remind us as we listen to it that
it can hurt, it can bruise, it can divide, it can split, it can amaze, it can heal, it can renew.
Today, we join as your people in awe and wonder, as well as humility and bewilderment.
We thank you for entrusting us with the incredible world, the creation of your hands, that gives us the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.
We thank you for the gift of uniqueness that you have given to us all making each of us... us.
But sometimes we forget that uniqueness is a gift, and we use the uniqueness of others to keep them apart from ourselves, we use our differences as an excuse to be separated from them.
Forgive us when we messed up a friendship or relationship.
In a time of quiet, we bring to mind the things we have and have not done;
the words said and left unsaid...
We give you these confessions, not only in the hope of your understanding and forgiveness
but also seeking clarity for where to go from here.
thank you for listening.
Thank you for caring.
Thank you for guiding.
And in thanks we say the words you taught us to remember;
Which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil;
For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever.
I truly believe that scripture has a lot to teach us.
I truly believe that if we read scripture often then it will always teach us new insights about God and ourselves.
But I also believe that when we read scripture it should always be guided.
I try never to read scripture cold.
I usually have a book or two with me to help me understand what the scripture is saying.
I know many of you benefit from the UCB Bible Study notes.
And if there was ever an example of needing to look more deeply into a passage then it is this one.
If we look at the passage at face value we have Jesus being asked to help a girl who is struggling. Jesus doesn’t say that he won’t help, but that he is busy at that moment.
Unfortunately the way he does that is really insulting.
The mother of the struggling daughter gives a smart answer back, and Jesus tells her to go home because her daughter is better.
Here’s the thing.
Mark gives us this version of what happened because it has an important lesson to teach us, he just doesn’t tell us what that lesson is.
Mark could very easily have told the story without any dialogue. Something like...
Then Jesus left with the disciples and went to the city of Tyre. There a mother asked for help for her daughter who had an evil spirit. And Jesus told her to go home, for the evil spirit had left her.
All the important parts of the story are in my version. But that isn’t what Mark gives us, and the reason he doesn’t give the story that way is because it isn’t the healing that is important to him, it is the dialogue that is important. It is the interaction between the mother and Jesus that is important and has something to teach us.
So let’s look at it at face value.
Jesus wants himself and his disciples to be alone for some reason.
He has left the Jewish territory and gone into Gentile territory; probably because he can be anonymous.
But even here word has got round about the Jewish miracle healer.
And so a desperate mother comes to Jesus and asks for help.
I suspect a rather wealthy woman.
Someone used to getting her own way.
A poorer, isolated, woman wouldn’t feel safe going to a group of strange men.
A poorer, isolated, woman would be worried about what signals she, going to a group of men, might send to neighbours.
But a wealthy woman with servants to accompany her, one who has enough wealth that she doesn’t care what the neighbours think as long as her daughter is helped, well that is another thing.
This mother asks Jesus directly for help.
She falls at his feet, she is begging Jesus for help.
Jesus tells her, ‘Let us first feed the children. It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’
The children are obviously the children of God, the Israelites, that is what they called themselves.
The dogs, well that is everyone else. In those days dogs were not domesticated, they were not household pets, they were scavengers, carriers of disease, the unclean...a fitting description of foreigners.
There is no way that this isn’t insulting in extreme.
Maybe it is because Jesus is really tired and lost his patience.
He came to this place for rest and already people are bugging him.
But does that fit with the image of Jesus that we have?
Remember we have images of Jesus and women throughout the gospels; he seems to be very compassionate towards them.
To a woman at a well who is disgraced by her community Jesus treats her with respect.
To a woman who has been unclean nearly all her life; he treats with compassion.
To a woman caught in adultery and ready to be stoned to death by the crowd; he treats with gentleness.
So what is Jesus doing here?
John Ortberg, an American preacher, felt that Jesus was mirroring the voices of the disciples, showing them what their beliefs would lead to.
To understand that we need to go back a wee bit.
You see Jesus was not trying to teach the disciples the way of the law, they would already know that.
What Jesus was trying to teach the disciples was how to live the way of the law.
At the very start of the chapter we have Jesus arguing with the Pharisees about the meaning of the law.
To them the law was black and white, if the Bible said ‘JUMP’ the response was ‘HOW HIGH?’
If the Bible said ‘TITHE’ the response was ‘HOW MUCH?’
But we all know that the law is often just words, and how you manipulate those words is important.
So Jesus was trying to teach his disciples that when you lived the law, it wasn’t about the letter of the law, it was about the spirit.
So the law said, ‘Honour your father and mother.’
And the way the law was then written meant that if you dedicated your wealth to God then you didn’t need to use to wealth to help your parents, because God always trumped everything else.
But you could used that fact to manipulate the law; you didn’t need to give your money to God until you were ready to, say once your parents were dead and you were old and had no need of it any more than to try to bribe your way into heaven.
The letter of the law was fulfilled, but the spirit of the law was broken; because people were using this loophole not to honour God, but to keep their wealth to themselves and ignore the needs of their parents.
So Jesus was teaching his disciples that the spirit of the law was more important than the letter of the law.
The law was created to help relationships between humans and God, and between humans themselves.
So the spirit of the law would always lean towards helping those relationships flourish.
That is why this argument between Jesus and the Pharisees is immediately followed by Jesus talking about how our heart is developing.
Is our motivation love, compassion, honour, respect?
For these are the things that should motivate our actions.
So from there Jesus and the disciples move from the Jewish territory to the Gentile territory.
And it may be that the disciples understood all that stuff about love meaning love towards fellow Jews.
But the words they spoke as they arrived in Tyre may have indicated to Jesus that it didn’t matter to folk who were not Jewish.
Because non Jews weren’t the children of God, non Jews weren’t loved by God, not in the same way.
Non Jews weren’t chosen by God, Jews were the chosen of God.
And if they are different then you can treat them different, you can treat them as lesser people.
And we all do that.
It is shocking how easily we treat the other as different, and so they deserve less.
How many of us have passed a beggar in the street and not even noticed them, or worse, we have noticed them but decided not to have eye contact with them?
But what if we recognised the beggar as the child of a friend that we hadn’t seen in ages?
Wouldn’t our heart reach out to them and want to help them?
So if that’s the case why am I treating this child of someone else differently than the child of a friend?
Over the last few years I have tried to treat every child in Zones as if they were one of my grandchildren.
Because I know that if my grandchild misbehaved I would give them a lot of slack.
And yet I know I struggle to do that.
There are times I want to scream and shout at them.
I don’t know the struggles they have come into the hall with that night.
I don’t know the triggers that are setting them off that night.
And sometimes the problem I had wasn’t in the behaviour of the children.
Sometimes the problem I had was my attitude, because I didn’t care what was setting them off, all I cared about was that they were messing up my night.
I suspect that as the disciples were passing from Jewish to non-Jewish territory the disciples were looking forward to the rest; the rest that would obviously be there because they were now off duty.
They were off duty because they were in non Jewish lands, they didn’t need to care about anyone, they didn’t need to help anyone: they could just rest and relax.
And Jesus was seeing with pain, just how limiting was the love and care of the disciples. Their heart didn’t reach out to the children of God, because they didn’t even recognise gentiles as being children of God.
So along comes this very wealthy, woman, she is in need, but she is no pushover, she is the type of woman who will not leave until her daughter is helped.
And knowing this Jesus treats this woman the way the disciples’ logic would take them.
If this woman isn’t Jewish then it doesn’t matter what happens to her child.
If this woman isn’t Jewish then it doesn’t matter how Jesus treats her.
I wonder how the disciples reacted when they heard Jesus speak?
When they heard how the logic of their hearts looked when confronted with real life?
Like when we grieve when a five year old asylum seeker washes up drowned on our shores.
Why grieve when they are all really criminals that we can’t afford to house anyway?
Jesus senses this woman well.
She isn’t going to be hindered by some racism.
If Jesus is calling for open generosity to God and others, then she is one of those others that he should be generous to.
She rightly calls him out, the way the disciples should have, but didn’t.
And Jesus honours her insight, telling her that she is right, that she is a woman capable of faith and trust in a loving God, no matter what her background.
And that is the challenge to us; well one of two challenges to us.
Are we open to others the way we should be?
Do we honour and respect and help others the way we should, or are we looking for excuses to not help? Because they are different, other, not like us, not deserving?
That’s the obvious challenge.
The second challenge is not as obvious but equally as important.
Are we open to God’s love to us?
Do we truly believe that God generously cares for us?
Because often we see ourselves as undeserving, unworthy.
And that’s a big problem. How can we ever see God’s love for others, if we don’t believe God’s love for ourselves?
Jesus was a stranger in a strange land,
the person who came to him was a stranger from a strange land,
there is comfort in knowing that it made no difference to Jesus.
God’s love was open to the other, no matter the creed or colour, God’s love is still open to others, even us.
Let us pray
There are times when the church has been powerful and wielded its influence to control the moral battlefield of our country.
And sometimes we used that power destructively to keep people down.
Sometimes we used that power to undermine other denominations and other religions.
Sometimes we abused that power to protect our reputation rather than stand up for the justice needed by the weak.
We no longer have such power, but we do have influence, and what we do matters in the lives of those we come into contact with.
Where we can,
may we find ways to bring life into situations where abuse of power has caused death and destruction,
to animate situations where pools of healing have become stagnant,
to stand in solidarity with all who seek to overcome the tyranny of the powerful,
and to be a part of the patient challenge to the ways of power.
Where we have power, may we use it to uplift others rather than enhance ourselves.
Where we have influence may we use it to help others rather than help ourselves.
May we see the stranger as a friend we don’t know yet.
And may the fellowship we share make the world more in your image.
This we ask in Jesus name.