Worship on the Lord’s Day
Pentecost 12 10:00 am 20 August 2023
Online & Onsite (Mixed Presence) Gathering as a Worshipping Community
Led by the Rev Brad Childs
Music director: Binu Kapadia Guest Pianist: Yvonne Boon
Vocalist: Lynn Vaughan Elder: Gina Kottke
We gather to worship God
L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
P: and also with you.
Lighting of the Christ candle
Welcome and announcements
Silent preparation for worship
Call to Worship
L: The voice of God gathers us this day:
P: The warmth of God brings us together as one people.
L: So we come, with joy and sorrow in our hearts,
P: With acts mighty and faltering,
L: With kindness and with selfishness,
P: With doubt and with faith:
L: So may we bring the fullness of our lives to God.
P: May we worship well this day.
Opening praise: Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Prayers of approach and confession
Welcoming God, you make all things new.
You invite all people to receive your blessing.
Justice and right relations have their source in you.
We are filled with joy to be counted among your children.
As we gather, make us one in witness and worship.
Together, we lift our voices to proclaim your all-encompassing love.
May our praise join with the praise of all your people, and reach the ends of the earth, for you are our Maker and the hope of the world you love.
Merciful God, we confess that we have not lived as you have taught us.
Forgive us those times we have not welcomed others into our community; and those times we have avoided others because something about them made us uncomfortable.
Forgive us the ways we have judged people unfairly.
Reveal to us our own prejudices and show us how to see your goodness in those who seem different from us.
Response: We come to ask your forgiveness, O Lord
Assurance of God’s grace
While it is true that we have all sinned, it is a greater truth that we are forgiven through God’s love in Jesus Christ. To all who humbly seek the mercy of God, I say, be at peace with God, with yourself and with one another.
We listen for the voice of God
Response: Jesus loves me (373)
Story: Sometimes it’s difficult to tell what is true and what is not true. Psalm 19 tells us that the word of he Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The testimony of the Lord is sure and always trustworthy.
Prayer: Our God, we thank you for our families and for our friends. We thank you for the fun that we get to have over summer. And we also thank you for the schools that will be inviting us in soon. We pray that, in a difficult world where it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s true and what’s false, that we would be drawn to you and to your true word and that we would use it to try and figure out what else is true in the rest of the world. Lord, help us over the rest of the summer to make good friends, to keep good friends, and to move into a whole new school year.
The Lord’s Prayer (535)
Song: Sing a new song unto the Lord (422)
Scripture reading: Matthew 15:1-28
Response: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet
(Much of the first portion of this sermon comes from the book The Seeds of Heaven by Barbara Brown Taylor).
This gospel passage from Matthew describes one of those strange scenes in Jesus’ life that we might well like to skip over altogether if the lectionary didn’t force us to deal with it. What makes it so difficult is how harsh Jesus sounds, how harsh and downright rude.
First, he refuses to answer the woman pleading for his help, and then he denies that he has anything to offer “her kind”, and finally he likens her to a dog before the sheer force of her faith changes something in him and he decides to answer her prayer after all. It’s crazy. A Jesus that won’t help a woman that just wants her little child to be well is not the Jesus most of us know and seems at odds with the rest of the scriptures.
But the truth is Matthew’s original audience would have seen Jesus as acting rightly and perfectly in accordance with the law. For us, the moment he waits to help is the troublesome part. For them… it was that he decided to help at all. That was earth shattering.
The problem is that she is a Canaanite, one of the “great unwashed” with whom observant Jews of Jesus’ time had little contact. She comes from the coastal region of Syria, where strange gods are worshiped, and ritual laws of cleanliness are unknown. She is a “Gentile” in other words, which is the biblical term for everyone who is not a Jew, and as such she is both an outsider and an untouchable person.
Earlier, in the tenth chapter of Matthew, it is Jesus himself who warns his disciples to steer clear of Gentiles, reminding them that they have been sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. The only catch is that many of lost sheep do not seem to want to be found. In spite of Jesus’ undivided attention to them, they are not rushing to respond to his shepherd’s call. It’s a bunch of others that keep coming to see him.
In today’s story he has just come from Nazareth, his own hometown, where his friends and family have doubted his authority and taken offense at his teaching. He has recently received word that John the Baptist has lost his head to a dancing girl, and he has tried his best to withdraw from the crowds for a while, but the crowds have followed him, and so he has (with five loaves and two fishes) fed them all. Then there was the storm at sea and Peter’s wish to cross the water, ruined by fear and doubt. Everywhere Jesus turns he finds need – need and people who want what he can do for them but who remain blind to who he is and can be for them.
Then comes this Canaanite woman crying out to him to heal her daughter. She doesn’t know him. She doesn’t understand the concept of the Jewish Messiah even. She is just desperate and willing to pray to any and every god she stubbles upon, willing even to seek out this man the people call “Christ”. But then she also no-doubt surprises him. She calls out “O Lord, Son of David.” She calls him by the title reserved for the Messiah, the title his own people have withheld from him thus far. When this woman addresses him as the Son of David, she names something in him that even his own disciples have failed to recognize, and it must seem like a mean trick of fate for him to hear what he most wants to hear coming from the mouth of someone he least expects to hear it from.
He doesn’t answer. He draws the line. He is the Jewish Messiah or Savior. He has come to save the Jews. He draws that line as surely as if he had leaned down and traced it in the dust at his feet. Enough is enough. He will go no further. The bank is closed. The doctor is out. The sign on the door says, “Closed for Business.” So what if she called him by name. She still doesn’t want him she wants what he can do for her. He will not waste his energy going to her when so many others have been clamoring so long for “the one to come” whom the prophets wrote of. While they may not all recognize him, he has come for them.
“I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” he says to the woman, and that is supposed to be that.
But the woman will not go away. She won’t stay on her side of the line.
Kneeling at his feet, she says, “Lord, help me.” Jesus has dismissed her but she will not be dismissed. She has gotten her foot in the door before Jesus can close it and she shows no sign of leaving before he has dealt with her. “Lord, help me” she says, and I can only imagine that his blood pressure went flying up. Can’t she hear? He must have thought.
He has told her “no”, told her that she is not his sheep, but she does not seem to have gotten the message so he says it again, louder and clearer than before. “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” he says. It’s a cruel rebuff. And unlike Matthew’s first readers, it shocks the modern ears. But she would not have seen it as odd or even insulting.
Still, it’s a “no.” But… perhaps it was a test. After all it was Jesus that told this story in Luke 11:5-8 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity[a] he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
Perhaps it wasn’t a test. He was discouraged to be sure and weary and a long way from home now. Every time he turned around someone wanted something from him, but at the same time no one wanted what he most wanted to give – himself.
It’s hard to imagine how that feels, even if you do not happen to be the messiah – to be surrounded by appetites, by people who want your money and your time and your gifts but who do not seem much interested in who you really are; to be confused about what you are supposed to do, how much you are supposed to give, and to be worried about whether there is enough of you to go around. That we can all relate too.
The telephone rings and it is the Disabled Veterans selling light bulbs or the fire department recruiting sponsors for handicapped children, or the kidney foundation seeking donations. The doorbell rings and it’s a sad-eyed man in overalls looking for work, while his whole family waits and watches from the battered car by the curb. Every day’s mail brings more pleas for help from every cause under the sun. And most of us already give so much to the things we care most deeply about. It’s not like we’re selfish!
You have to draw the line somewhere. We all do. Jesus had to draw the line… somewhere – right? You have to decide what you can do and what you cannot do, whom you can help and whom you cannot help just yet or you will be eaten alive. Everything you have can never be enough to feed the whole world and saying “no” doesn’t make you wrong it makes you a realist. So we draw the line.
We draw the line. Strangers show up saying “Help me” and we invoke the line, the line that separates insiders from outsiders, clean from unclean and if we have just $20 until our next paycheck we think, “How can I give you all I have when I’ve got 3 kids at home and nothing but mac and cheese in the cupboard?” We think “It’s not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”. It sounds harsh, but what are you gonna do? You have to draw that line somewhere.
Now it’s true that during this time the Hebrews often referred to non-Jews as Barbarians or Pagans. The term they used was Gentiles. And often Hebrew’s would refer to non-Jews as dogs. They called people Kuman meaning wild dog. But here Jesus doesn’t do that. What he actually said was Kunarian and not Kuman. Kunarian is a small pet dog or puppy. In other words, it’s not fair to take the children’s food and give it to their pets. Now that still sounds harsh to modern readers… but not so much at the time. Remember this is the same word the woman will use to describe herself.
Still, the Canaanite woman simply will not budge. Her responses to Jesus remind me of that game children play, in which two of them look steadily into each other’s eyes trying to see who will blink first. Amazingly she won’t blink. “Yes Lord” she says, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”. And at that the whole story changes.
“O woman” he responds (a phrase of respect) “great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter, we are told, is healed.
Many people believe that this was a test. That Jesus just wanted to see her true faith. Perhaps. That does seem to be the best way to explain this. But on the other hand, maybe, just maybe Jesus came to a new realization that day. I mean he did learn. He didn’t come out of the womb knowing how to walk, talk and read and write. He did learn and grow. Perhaps that day Jesus came to a new realization of who the Messiah was called to be, of who the lost sheep were, that his purpose was even bigger than even he could have first imagined. Maybe the lines in the sand no longer worked for him after that day? Maybe the old boundaries wouldn’t contain his new vision. Maybe his arms were opened that day just a little wider than he expected, open so wide that he could never close them again, until he allowed them to be nailed that way.
The best lesson I suppose is that God’s face can turn up anywhere, and especially on the far side of the lines we tend to draw (logical or otherwise). And once God has widened them for us, it seems there is no going back.
So let go! Step out! Look a Canaanite in the eye, knock on a strange door, ask an outsider what his life is like, trespass an old boundary, enter a new relationship, push a limit, take a risk, give up playing safe. You have nothing to lose but your life the way it has been and there’s lots more life where that came from. And if you get scared, which you will, and if you get upset, which you will, and if you get protective, which you will, remember today’s story. With Jesus as our model and our Lord, we are called to step over the lines we have drawn for ourselves, not because we have to, and not because we ought to, or even because we want to, but because we know that it is God’s own self who waits for us on the other side.
Thanks be to God because I don’t know if you know this or not… but I too am a gentile. This whole story is about me (and presumably you). We are not children of Israel. And yet we too receive salvation through the son of David when we cry out to Jesus Christ our Lord.
Song: As water to the thirsty (688)
We respond to serve God
Reflection on giving: Dayspring is empowered to carry out our mission of worship, service, and care by generously given volunteer time, talent, and treasure. Many thanks to all who give so generously!
Prayer of gratitude and for others and ourselves
Living God, people of all places and times have reached out to you in times of desperation, with so many different needs. You have compassion for each one and so we thank you for the depth of your love. This day we set before you our many different hopes and concerns. Fill us with your compassion as we pray from the breadth and depth of our lives:
We pray for all that we are and all that we do, all we wish we could do and all we long for…..
We pray for everything we work for in our church and community, and everything we hope for in the face of so much change….
We pray for the choices we face in our country and community, in our homes and workplaces, and for all the responsibilities we bear in our different roles….
We pray for the troubles that weary us, the situations that puzzle us and the uncertainty that surrounds us….
We remember before you each situation that worries us and each person we care about….
Living Christ, you are the Source of peace and new possibility for us all.
Help us trust in your grace for today and tomorrow.
Fill us with the strength and hope we need to walk with you, united in your love.
Song: How firm a foundation (685 – vss. 1, 2, 4)
Sending out with God’s blessing
May the beauty of God be reflected in your eyes,
the love of God be reflected in your hands,
the wisdom of God be reflected in your words,
and the knowledge of God flow from your heart,
that all might see, and in seeing – believe. Amen.
Response: God to enfold you
Numbers in brackets after a song/hymn indicate that it is from the 1997 Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those and other songs are being used in accordance with the specifications of Dayspring’s licensing with One Licence (3095377) and CLC (A735555).
The Rev. Brad Childs retains the copyright (© 2023) on all original material in this service. As far as Brad Childs is aware, all of the material that has not been attributed to others is his own creation or is in the public domain. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.