Sunday, August 14, 2005

Pentecost 13 - Year A

You may remember last November when both Sophie and Naomi went to the emergency within 5 hours of each other. They were both running high fevers and couldn’t keep liquids down.

But with Sophie, a small purplish-red rash appeared on her belly. We called the health hotline and the nurse said to take her in to emergency right away. So, at 11:30 pm, I loaded Sophie into the car with her pajamas on under her warm winter jacket, and she brought Winnie-the-Pooh along for comfort.

A doctor came in and examined Sophie, who was in no mood to be poked.

“Yup, the rash looks raised,” the doctor said. “I’d better get someone else to look at this as well.”

A few minutes later, the doctor appeared at the door accompanied by another doctor. They rubbed Sophie’s rash, muttered doctor-speak back and forth, they sounded so solemn and serious. Finally one of them said, “There’s someone else that should look at this. The fever and the rash could be an indication of serious illness. We’ll need to get some blood from her.”

Words every parent dreads. All at once I had visions of hospital beds, huge needles, and little tiny coffins.

What made matters immediately worse, was that, as a bargaining chip, I foolishly promised Sophie that she wouldn’t be getting any needles if she went to the hospital. These doctors were going to make me out to be a liar to my first born.

After a few more minutes, the two doctors came in accompanied by a third. So the three doctors - and me – were hovering over Sophie, who just wanted to sleep. The doctors continued their poking, their brushing, and their serious doctor-speak. Sophie continued clutching her Pooh-bear.

Then the third doctor dabbed some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and vigorously rubbed Sophie’s rash. He was lingering over Sophie’s belly so I couldn’t see what was happening.

Then finally he said, “This isn’t a rash. This is grape juice!” Then everyone but Sophie burst out laughing.

A happy ending for sure. Sophie recovered, as did Naomi. But others have not been so lucky. I think of Hannah, the cousin of a seminarian, a few months older than Sophie. Hannah passed away from leukemia this past February. Or we heard in the news about the Lethbridge child who died in Brooks last week. Or the toddler who drowned in the pool in Calgary.

Sadly, children are not except from suffering or death. As parents, we would tear off our limbs to protect our children, and we would run to the ends of the earth to help our children when they get sick.

That’s certainly the case in today’s gospel reading. Jesus had retreated to the gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon, a woman from the despised region of Canaan shouted at him, “Have mercy on me, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”

Jesus and his disciples probably picked up their pace, avoiding eye contact. “Let’s get rid of her, she won’t shut up.”

But the Canaanite woman keeps running after Jesus, dragging her daughter by the arm, “Son of David, help my daughter!”

“What’s with this ‘Son of David’ stuff?” the disciples groused, “Who does she think she is talking like that? Does she think that she can just mouth the God-talk and that will change the fact that she’s filthy gentile female rubblish? Let her and demon-possessed daughter rot.”

Like any good bible-believing Jew of his time, Jesus probably just put up his hand, and without even looking at her said, “I’m a Jew, you’re a gentile. Sorry, can’t help you.”

But her child’s life is at stake. She’s not about to allow her daughter to suffer just because of some silly religious rules. She cuts Jesus off and hurls herself at his feet, “Lord, HELP ME!” she cries in desperation.

“It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus says.

“Did he just call me a dog?” the woman asked herself bewilderedly. But this woman was NOT giving up. She hadn’t come all this way just to be insulted and blown off.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table.”

Jesus stops in his tracks and takes a step back. He lifts her up by her hand. His disciples gasp at his blatant disregard for the law. Jesus looks deeply into this young gentile woman’s eyes.

“Woman, great is your faith!” he says. “Let it be done as you wish.”

The woman turns around, and sees her daughter standing upright, eyes as clear as the desert sky.

I can’t begin to imagine the disciples’ dinner conversation later that evening. Some disciples probably got it. Other’s I’m sure didn’t.

“Gee whiz, what was up with Jesus and that Canaanite woman? I know that Jesus likes to heal folks but the bible is crystal clear – we Jews are not supposed to talk to Canaanite scum. The book of Ezra doesn’t mince words.”

“But maybe,” another suggests, “maybe God is reaching out to everyone now. We Jews were just the beginning. Maybe that’s why Jesus broke that rule in the bible. Maybe God is doing something new.”

“I don’t know,” yet another one said, “It will take a lot of convincing for me to believe that something in the bible changed.”

They probably spent the night trying to fathom just how far God’s hands were reaching; trying to work out where the lines should be drawn, trying to figure out who is in and who is out.

I once met with a fellow who confessed to me that he read the bible, prayed, and considered himself a Christian. I have to admit, I didn’t always like visiting him. His apartment reeked of stale smoke and cheap beer; and this fellow’s personal hygiene needed a thorough review.

“I don’t go to church,” he said, “I went a couple times but never went back. It wasn’t for me.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“I looked around and there wasn’t anyone like me. Everyone was dressed so nicely. It seemed like these people were better than I me, and I guess they are. They don’t drink, do drugs, or curse, or gamble, or any of the stuff that I sometimes get into.”

This fellow had a rough life. Name a vice and he probably did it. He was married a couple times; but his lifestyle couldn’t support a marriage. He hadn’t seen his kids since they were babies.

“As much as I try,” he said, “I always fall back into these bad habits. I can’t seem to get my act together enough to get to church. I look at all those shiny, smiling faces, and I realize, I’ll never be as good as them.”

This fellow’s story just broke my heart. I tried to assure him that the church is a hospital for sinners not a hotel for saints. That if we check under the hood, we’ll find, in each one of us, our dirty little sins, sins that gnaw away, sins that we keep secret.

But he wouldn’t listen. I still don’t know if he’s ever found a church, a family of believers that see him as God sees him – shining like the sun; whole; beloved.

I couldn’t convince this fellow that the Christian life is not a life of moral perfection; it’s about handing over our lives to God, following Jesus in the way of the cross, and finding forgiveness, freedom, and new life along the way. Martin Luther once described the Christian life as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

I think what Jesus saw in the gentile woman was an image of God. And that surprised him. Jesus saw how God is relentless in wanting God’s children and the world to be healed – healed of its brokenness, healed of its pain, healed of its sin.

So maybe that’s when Jesus saw a broader mission, a mission to go beyond the borders of his own people. That’s when it dawned on him that he was the saviour of the WORLD, not just the messiah for the people of Israel.

Maybe the message for us is that God’s face can turn up anywhere. When we think we have God all figured out, God moves the lines. Maybe God is telling us to step out; take a risk, trespass an old boundary, push a limit; enter into a new relationship. Maybe God is saying that we have nothing to lose but the life the way it’s always been, and there is a lot more where that came from. And if you get scared, which you will, or even mad, just remember today’s story. With Jesus as our model – and our Lord – we are called to step over the lines, not because we have to, not because we ought to, or even because we want to, but because it is God’s own self waiting for us on the other side. (paraphrase of BBT, Crossing the Line)

May this be so among us. Amen.


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8:23 PM  

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