Friday, November 7, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 15

Things fall apart

Pema Chodron is a Buddhist
who is a gifted teacher and writer.
She tells this story in her book Things Fall Apart.
A holy man and his disciples were on their way to visit a temple.
To get into the temple
they had to pass by this enormous, very ferocious attack dog.

The good news was
the dog is kept on a chain
so if you keep out of the dog’s reach you were okay.
They arrive that day
and all that stands between them and their destination
is this growling, baring his teeth huge dog.

They pass by safely
as the dog strains against the chain that holds him.
They think they are home free
when the chain breaks
and the dog comes running straight towards them.

The disciples freeze and begin to scream.
The holy man begins to run as fast as he can—
not AWAY from the dog, but straight towards the dog.
The dog sees the man running towards him—
something he has never seen before—
and the dog stops
then walks away and lies down and goes to sleep.

Sometimes when things fall apart,
the best approach is to run towards all that is collapsing.
to face the disappointment, the anger, the prejudice, the shock
head on.

In our reading from Genesis
Joseph is part of a family that has fallen apart.
In a surprising twist of events,
His brothers come before him needing food.
These are the same brothers who showed him no mercy.
Joseph faces his brothers head on.
He could have easily turned away,
not met with them at all.
He could have easily had them all thrown in prison—
or killed—

These brothers had deceived Joseph and their father.
Jealousy and greed and selfishness
caused Joseph’s brothers to conveniently throw him in a pit—
and walk away.

Things had indeed fallen apart in that family—
as in many families.
But Jospeh doesn’t sweep that dysfunction under the rug.
Rather than transform his power
into anger or revenge or hatred,
Joseph forgives his brothers
and in the process he IS transformed—
along with the rest of his family—
by the true power
of compassion and forgiveness and love.

Joseph faces into the growling dog
that has kept him and his family hostage all these years
and lets go of the past
so there is room for the future.

In Matthew’s gospel today we have a very painful encounter
between Jesus
and the Canaanite woman.
This is not the “love is all you need” Jesus,
we are so comfortable knowing.

Jesus is downright hateful in this scripture passage.
He is cruel to this woman.
Because she is not a Jew,
not one of the chosen people,
not one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Jesus’ disciples urge him to send her away
and he is set on a collision course to do just that,
to show no mercy.

The woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter
And Jesus replies cruelly:
“It is not fair to take the children’s food
and throw it to the dogs.”
He is telling this woman that her ethnic and religious background
mean that not only will he not listen to her,
not only will he not heal her daughter,
but Jesus thinks she and her people are the scum of the earth.

Harsh words can fool us into believing
that Jesus is running straight toward the growling dog.
But the reality is Jesus is ducking out the side door.
He doesn’t want to deal with this problem.
He doesn’t want to take the time to really see who this woman is
beyond the stereotypes and prejudices of his day.

You see, it is the woman who runs straight towards the growling dog.
This mother is not about to let go of her hope
that her daughter can be healed.

You can call me anything you like, Jesus.
You want me to be a dog?
I will be a dog.

But please—
Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

And Jesus stops short.
His carefully constructed prejudices fall apart.
Jesus realizes how wrong he has been.
Not only wrong in the way he has spoken to and treated this woman
but how wrong he has been about his mission in the world.
Suddenly Jesus realizes that God’s love and mercy and grace
are for ALL people.
Not just a select few.
All people. No exceptions.

The church is not a private club, not a gated community.
Paul gets it so right in his letter to the Romans.
God doesn’t exclude anyone.
God welcomes all.
All people.

When we face the things in our lives that bother and disturb us the most,
We have hope for real healing.

When we run away, when we hide, when we keep secrets,
when we respond with anger or cruelty or apathy,
That growling dog keeps running after us, nipping at our heels,
smacking his lips
keeping fear as the ruler of our lives.

Our scriptures this morning tell us that is not God’s intention—
to rule us with fear.
This does not mean that God gives us a “pass GO and collect your $ 200”
highway to life is easy street.

There is an enormous difference between
life is easy
life is good.

Joseph’s life was transformed first by God.
Joseph had to let go of his privileged family position as beloved son
and suffer slavery, prison, and many harsh hardships.
Yet God transformed evil into good.
God transformed a curse into a blessing.

What Joseph then offered his brothers
was that same mercy, that same love
that had been offered to him by God.

Anger and hatred and revenge destroy.
Love and mercy and forgiveness transform.

Jesus was running from the truth—
the truth that all people are worthy of respect and dignity.
That all people are God’s children.

The Canaanite woman had every right to be furious with Jesus—
his words and his actions are plain hateful.
But she believes in his power to heal—
and she focuses on that good she believes is inside him

She faces up to the growling dog of rejection
and Jesus stops.
He recognizes and realizes his mistake,
How wrong he has been.
The Canaanite woman’s love for her daughter
And her love and belief that God will heal her daughter
Opens Jesus’ eyes.
And the child is healed.

When we stop running away from all that keeps us captive,
When we face the growling dog head on,
we too have hope for healing, for wholeness.

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