Benediction Online

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Never Give Up

Jesus and his disciples took a trip to Tyre and Sidon. Ever since he heard that John the Baptizer had been beheaded, Jesus had been trying to get some time away. First he went to a deserted place but five thousand men with their families followed him asking for healing. So he healed and fed them, creating 12 baskets of left-overs from just a few loaves; then he did manage a few hours of private prayer but when he got to Gennesaret once again he was mobbed. And then Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem showed up. So now Jesus is off to modern day Lebanon for some rest and quiet.

But it is not to be. Just then, we read, a Canaanite woman came out and started shouting at him. And Jesus didn’t respond. Jesus “did not answer her at all.”

Today the Benediction Weekly tells us about the humanitarian crisis at our borders; the Presiding Bishop has also called for today to be a day of prayer for Iraq and the Middle East in response to the violence there which has included the slaying of Christians, Yazidis, and other Iraqi religious minorities; the destruction and looting of churches, homes, and places of business; and the displacement of thousands under the threat of death. Ebola is spreading in West Africa, and doctors are leaving for fear of contracting the disease; in Liberia there are only 250 doctors left to serve a population of four million. Tensions are mounting in Ukraine. And closer to home, currently 43 wildfires are raging in the West; rising sea levels are threatening archaeological sites and global warming continues apace. Our political system is at a stalemate and our democracy is threatened by the corrupting force of big money.

What is there to say?

It’s all too much. “Jesus’ disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’” Like the disciples, we don’t want to know…

And neither it seems, does Jesus.

In the midst of the tragedies of our day, it can seem that God is silent. But God is always present and God is always working in us and around us for our own good. But God works with things the way they are, with people the way they are.

Perhaps this is what is going on in this perplexing story. In Mark’s gospel, this demanding woman is called a Syro-Phoenician, but Matthew calls her a Canaanite. That was an archaic term, rather like us calling a Danish person a Viking; an archaic term which underlines the woman’s status not only as a non-Jewish foreigner, but also as a member of a historically hated race. So she has two strikes against her – to a Jew she is the lowest of the low and she is a woman. In the honor based society of the day, for Jesus to acknowledge her would be to allow her equal status, to agree that she has some kind of claim on him.
It’s not surprising that the disciples expect Jesus to send her away. We are offended by Jesus’ silence and his apparent unwillingness to respond to her evident need but his contemporaries considered it normal.
Jesus and the Canaanite woman were not social equals. Jesus saw his ministry first and foremost to the people of Israel. Those were the givens. That was the situation within which God was working. And what makes the difference is the woman’s faith. Jesus commends her in the strongest possible terms, “Great is your faith.” This is unique. It is the only time that Jesus says “Great is your faith.” 

There is not much that we can do directly about Ebola in Liberia or the advance of the Islamic State fighters in Iraq or the death toll in Gaza. But we can pray. And God will use our prayers. Our prayers become part of the reality with which God works. Our prayers are a positive force in the midst of the great evil which sometimes seems to be engulfing our world.

We can pray, and like the woman in the gospel, we can refuse to give up. Refuse to give up believing n Loves’ redeeming power, refuse to give up believing that Love can transform ourselves and our world.
It may seem foolish to think that our prayers, our actions in this privileged community can make any difference. But we are not in Iraq, we are not in Ukraine. We are in Los Osos, in San Luis Obispo county. This is where God has put us, this is where we get to bring the reign of God. We are called to bring beloved community and God’s transforming love into our lives and into the lives of those who are our near neighbors even as we pray for those who are far away in situations we can barely imagine.

The disciples were not offended because Jesus cold-shouldered the woman; but they were worried because the leaders of their religious culture, the Pharisees, were offended by Jesus’ teaching. Sometimes our own cultural lens blinds us to the places where in following Jesus we may need to give offence, the places where we are called to be counter-cultural. For Jesus was not a sweet, meek and mild person. Jesus was a down to earth gritty person who dealt with the realities of his time and place.

In our time and place it is easy to get caught up into polarized positions. It is easy to write someone off because of their political views. It is easy to assume because we disagree about one thing we will disagree about everything.  But our baptismal vows call for us to look for the Christ in all persons. Our baptismal vows call us not only to seek the Christ but to serve the Christ in all persons. It is easy for us to get caught up in contempt for those who seem misguided or just plain wrong. But we can never be contemptuous of the Christ.

We can make a difference. We can make a difference in people’s lives as we build together a spiritual center which helps mercy, compassion and peace find a place to incarnate. This is what is important, not whether we wash our hands before meals, cross ourselves at the right moment or agree with each other. We are the ones who are called to bring hope to the world. We are the ones who are called to keep the light burning and never give up. We are the ones who are called to love one another and all whom God sends us; and to pray again and again for healing and peace.
And so now let us pray. For the people of Iraq, of Syria, of Gaza; for those effected by Ebola; for those in the Ukraine; for those in South Sudan; for those in detention and displaced persons camps; for all those living with war and conflict.

Eternal God,
in whose perfect kingdom
no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness,
no strength known but the strength of love:
So mightily spread abroad your Spirit,
That all peoples may be gathered
under the banner of the Prince of Peace,
as children of one Father;
to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


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