Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 20A)
Sunday, August 16, 2020
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
I’m here today, because I changed my mind.
Years ago, when I was looking at seminaries, I had considered several, including the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP)*. I remember that for some reason, early in my discernment, however, I had decided to cross LTSP off my list. I don’t remember any particular reason, perhaps it was something in the course catalogue or brochure sent through the postal service (that’s what they did in those days) that gave me a feeling the seminary wasn’t for me. And so, I asked to be taken off their mailing list.
As I visited seminaries, the spring of my senior year of college, and traveled east with my parents for planned visits to seminaries in New York City, Gettysburg, and Columbus, Ohio, LTSP was not on the itinerary. As it turned out, because we were driving by LTSP on the way from New York City to Gettysburg, and we had some time, I decided – “Why not visit LTSP?” And so on the New Jersey Turnpike, I remember calling the admissions office to schedule a drop-by visit that morning. The admissions office scrambled, arranged for a visit with a professor, who turned out to be born in Iowa just like me, and whose wife happened to be there that morning and happened to have relatives in the very same nursing home that I had worked in as a custodian the previous summer in Iowa.
Here were two Iowans at LTSP in Philadelphia who received and welcomed me. The Spirit worked on me, and after my trip, after I had considered the other seminaries, I changed my mind. The seminary I had decided against, became the seminary I decided to attend. Everything that has followed in my life, is a result of that decision.
Perhaps you can recall a time in your life when you changed your mind? Maybe the first time you met your spouse you were unimpressed or underwhelmed or maybe even annoyed – but then something happened in which you changed your mind? Maybe you changed your mind about an opportunity, or a job, or a living arrangement? What you had decided against, you now decided for, and you were surprised with a blessing?
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus changed his mind.
And let’s be honest – it’s a good thing he did, because Jesus comes across as a jerk in the reading this morning. Theologian Hank Langknect puts it a bit more charitably: There is no way to soften the blow of Jesus’ scandalous lack of mercy towards this mother of a stricken daughter. It is hard to imagine that “dog” is ever heard as a charitable reference to another adult human.”
In the gospel story, Jesus ignored, dismissed, and then insulted this hurting mother. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” he said, after the third time she asked for help and he refused to respond to her need. His mind was made up – his ministry was not for this Canaanite woman – this outsider – but only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Why had Jesus made up his mind against this woman? It doesn’t jive with our understanding of the grace and mercy of Jesus. In a way, it doesn’t even fit with St. Matthew’s presentation of Jesus in his Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel begins with the announcement of Jesus’s birth not to the Jewish insiders – the shepherds; but to the outsiders – the Magi in the East. Matthew’s Gospel ends with Jesus commissioning his disciples to go and make disciples, not just of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but of all nations.
Why had Jesus made up his mind against helping this woman?
Was he having a bad day? Was this an example of Jesus’s humanity – that fully human, here was Jesus like us, at the end of his rope lashing out, like we do when we are tired, or hungry, or stressed? “Not now. Go away.”
Or, was he drawing out the woman’s faith – testing her to see just how truly she believed in him as the Son of God? Was he establishing an interaction to set up the woman as an example of persistent prayer and faith … creating a story to inspire our persistence today, that we would not take no for an answer? That we would continue to, as Martin Luther once said, “rub God’s ears with God’s promises” in our persistent prayer today?
OR, what about this?
What if the scandal in today’s gospel reading, is not how Jesus treated this hurting mother, but the fact that Jesus changed his mind as a result of his interaction with her? Think about that! This outsider, barging her way into the presence of Jesus, changed Jesus’s mind and perhaps his mission in the world?
The breaking point of the story is in the mother’s response to the insult. “Yes,” she replied, [was she Unphased? Exasperated? Astonished? Was this her last gasp effort?]“But even the dogs lick up the crumbs from the children’s table.”
It was then, that something broke in Jesus – a flash of recognition, of compassion, tenderness … Melinda Quivick writes: “The woman’s need coaxed Jesus out of his distance from her, breaking the power imbalance and allowing him, finally, to see her as one of his own. As a result, she received the blessing she requested.”
Think about that line: the woman’s need coaxed Jesus out of his distance from her.”
Or as theologian S.D. Giere puts it: “She persuades Jesus that there is enough mercy to go around. Could it be that this unnamed Canaanite woman stirs something in the Son of God? Is such a notion any more outlandish than our asking for healing or mercy or forgiveness?”
Think of the implications of this … think about what this means to worship a savior who changes his mind as a result of his interaction with us?
- Could it be possible, that because of the persistence of this woman – Jesus became more loving, more filled with grace and mercy, and more fully the savior we worship today?
- Going one step farther – could it be possible, that God in relationship with humanity – becomes even more loving – as a result of that relationship with us? That God becomes a better God by being in relationship with us?
- Could it be possible, that God’s own mind is changed by the power of grace and love and mercy that might even be bigger than God?
Think of what this means for us as disciples …
If Jesus can be changed in the power of love and relationship,then we as disciples of Jesus are invited to be ready to be changed as we live in relationship with those around us.The change to which we are called begins in confession, confessing the ways we ignored, dismissed, and insulted people in need around us. As Ann Edison-Allbright writes: “When Jesus calls the Canaanite woman a “dog,” we are called to a moment of uncomfortable self-recognition. Every person I’ve dismissed or excluded, every slur I’ve used, thought, or chuckled at … Lord, have mercy. And not just me, individually, but how about us, the community?”
By acknowledging the ways we are like Jesus at the beginning of the story, we are invited, in faith, to change our own minds about the people we have labeled “dogs” through our words and deeds, actions and inactions, so that we can be like Jesus at the end of the story. We are invited to change our minds about people we would exclude, and instead, to know, feel, and respond to their pain, to recognize the faith, humanity, and dignity of all people around us.
Who is crying out for mercy, relief, and help to you as an individual, to us as a congregation, to us as the United States of America? How have we ignored, dismissed, or insulted these people in need? What are the blessings of healing, liberation, and mercy that may flow if we had the courage to change our minds about those we have rejected?
THE GOOD NEWS TODAY is the changeable heart and mind of Christ, changed by an ever expanding wideness of God’s mercy and grace.
Deirdre Good puts it this way: “No one, not even Jesus, and possibly not even God, understands the infinitely expandable dimensions of God’s open arms.”
On the cross, God in the broken body of Jesus, proclaimed that infinite love. In the open arms of Jesus on the cross – there is love, grace, and mercy poured out for you, for me, and for the world. There, is the love proclaimed by Isaiah as told in our First Reading this morning [56:1, 6-8], love that gathers foreigners and outcasts upon God’s holy mountain.
The Good News of the Gospel reading this morning is that Jesus changed his mind so that God’s love may be more full known and that healing would be known by the child in bondage to a demon.
In faith, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, may our hearts and minds be changed for the sake of love, healing, and liberation.
As disciples of Jesus who changed his mind, we may we have the courage to change our minds so that God’s love and healing presence may be known to people of all races, tribes, nations, peoples, and languages.
Thanks be to God.
*In 2017, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia joined with the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg to form United Lutheran Seminary (ULS) with classes offered on both campuses.