August 16th: Proper 15, the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, August 16th, was preached extemporaneously based on the below manuscript . The gospel text was Matthew 15.10-28.

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
After Jesus has a back and forth with the Pharisees
about whether the traditions of the elders,
or the Law and the compassion at its root
are more important,
Jesus gives us a strong warning
about what comes out of our mouths.

Jesus lets us know that what we say,
especially as our words are motivated by our hearts,
can make us clean or unclean,
defiled or undefiled,
shown to be loving or unloving.
He then goes to a different part of the country,
and there encounters a Canaanite woman.
Her daughter is being tormented,
and she wants Jesus’ help.

She cries out,
Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!
Jesus ignores her.
She keeps shouting,
and the disciples come to Jesus
and ask to send her away.
Jesus reaffirms his own mission:
he has come to restore Israel
to right relationship with God.
He’s directed the disciples to go nowhere near Gentiles,
and he doesn’t plan on deviating from his mission.

This is a woman not from the cities,
but from the general region.
As a Canaanite, she’s the most despised kind of Gentile.
Her people occupied the promised land,
before the Jewish people could inherit their promise.
She is an outcast among the Jews
because of her ethnic background.
As a woman, she is not supposed to call out
to men walking through town.
As a Canaanite woman
she’s certainly not supposed to be shouting
at an itinerant rabbi.

After he’s told the disciples
that his focus is on saving the Israelites
she comes and worships him.
We catch Jesus with his compassion down,
when he says that helping her
would be giving the children — Israel —‘s food
to the dogs — gentiles.

As the pandemics and public health crises
of coronavirus and systemic racism
rage on,
we’ve done some crying out.
A group of you gathered what seems like years ago
to participate in a vigil against police violence
in front of the church.
Someone online this week said
that they feel like Oompa Loompas
should sing a song at the end of every month
recapping all the things
we should have learned in the last 30 days
but didn’t.

Whether it’s about voter disenfranchisement,
police violence,
or an utterly failed response
to this pandemic:
we’re crying out again and again.
It may feel like we’re not being heard,
like the Canaanite woman.
How dare we challenge those
who are in authority,
those in leadership?
If we’re tired of saying the same things
to the same people
about the same issues,
we might get caught
with our compassion down.

After Jesus call the woman a dog,
she doesn’t get defensive
and she doesn’t give up.
She claims her place —
not God’s chosen like Jews —
but acknowledging Jesus as the Savior of Creation.
“You may not have come on a mission
to my people, Jesus,
but even the dogs get the scraps.
Help my daughter.”

Just before today’s passage
the religious leaders
are rejecting Jesus
as has happened in his home town.
Last week Peter and those in the boat
were a people of little faith.
This week, in sharp contrast to them,
this woman —
wrong ethnicity, wrong sex —
knows that Jesus can heal her daughter.
Even when Jesus snaps at her
she knows that he has the power
and has faith it can happen.

If we’re like the people in the boat,
struggling to have faith,
Jesus reaches out a hand to save us.
If we’re like this woman:
wrong and not supposed to do something
but desperate for help
Jesus reaches out a hand to save us.
There is nothing we can do
to make God love us more or less.
Through God’s choosing of the Jews
and opening salvation to us all through Jesus
we have been saved.

Demonstrators against police violence
are still protesting around the country
crying out to be heard and get what they want,
ignoring when people say that they’re protesting
in the wrong way.
Some folks, some of us even,
are crying out to raise alarm
about the necessity of the post office —
not just for voting in a pandemic
but for the vulnerable to continue receiving
their prescriptions and government assistance.
Despite months of COVID deaths
and “recovered” patients having long-lasting effects
some leaders are continuing to cry out
for people to take precautions
and do their best to mitigate the spread of the virus

God is there in all of it.
God is there listening.
God is there reaching out a hand
to hold people up.
God is healing voices
so that they can keep crying out.
If we’re like the people in the boat,
struggling to have faith,
Jesus reaches out a hand to save us.
If we’re like this woman:
wrong and not supposed to do something
but desperate for help
Jesus reaches out a hand to save us.

Even if in our crying out,
we get tired
and caught with our compassion down.

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