The 9th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 15A (August 14, 2011)

Lessons Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 Psalm 67 (3) Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 St. Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

Semicontinuous Series Genesis 45:1-15 Psalm 133 (1)

Prayer of the Day God of all peoples, your arms reach out to embrace all those who call upon you. Teach us as disciples of your Son to love the world with compassion and constancy, that your name may be known throughout the earth, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson

[15:10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

St. Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Insiders and Outsiders

What is it that divides those with whom God is pleased from those with whom God is displeased? That is the operative question in today’s Gospel lesson, and that was the operative question in the religious circles of Jesus’ day. Some first century believers considered ceremonial practices to be the answer. Their line of thinking was: if you follow the laws and regulations and religious codes of our ancestors, your life will be pleasing to God. Others thought it had to do with one’s lineage: if you were a descendent of Abraham, a member of the Jewish people, you are included in God’s family.

Jesus knew otherwise. He understood that it had nothing to do with ceremonies or ancestry. He taught that what most concerns God is the state of a person’s heart. The laws and regulations and religious codes passed down from generation to generation were intended to transform a believer’s heart and turn it back toward God. To the degree that they accomplished this key objective, they were worthwhile. But if they became ends in themselves, they served no useful purpose (and so Jesus felt free to disobey them at will). If being a descendant of Abraham drew a believer deeper into the covenant relationship God desires to have with every person, that sense of ancestry was an important gift. If that wasn’t the case, it made no difference at all that Abraham might have been in someone’s family tree. What most concerns God is the state of a person’s heart.

This weekend at Saint Peter, we will hear from a group of High School students and adults who took a significant portion of their summertime this year and invested it in a mission trip to the Ozark Mountains. There were countless other activities that they could have chosen to do instead. And most of those choices included the possibility of living in much more comfortable surroundings. But the state of their hearts is evidenced by the fact that they traveled all those miles, and put up with all that discomfort, in order to reach out in Christ’s name to the people of that region. They provide an example for us of what it means to have hearts that have been captured by God’s love, and are committed to sharing that love with the world around us.

I am so grateful for their example. And I pray that as you and I consider it, we might be stirred to realize anew what it means to be loved so deeply by our God, and invited to respond with our own acts of love and compassion for the world around us. It is this spirit of love and grace and care that bears witness to a heart that has been claimed, transformed, and empowered by God’s grace. Touch and heal our broken hearts, gracious God, that we might become signs of your presence in this world.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor (August 8, 2005)

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why are the Pharisees offended at what Jesus says?
  2. Why does Jesus at first dismiss the Canaanite woman’s plea?
  3. What does it mean that Jesus eventually relates to her in a different manner?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What boundaries do I tend to imagine that divide the good from the bad?
  2. When has God helped me to see the foolishness of maintaining those boundaries?
  3. What does it mean to me that I am loved unconditionally by God?