The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 15A (August 17, 2014)

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 [Jesus] 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.

Mission… and Grace

There has been a lot of talk throughout the church about how important it is to be clear about one’s sense of mission. Churches are developing mission statements. Task forces and committees and teams are using those mission statements to shape their objectives. Leadership groups are making personnel and programmatic decisions based on those mission statements. It all is done for good reason: research shows that the clearer an organization is about its mission, the more apt it is to be moving forward in a way that is meaningful. We continue to find our stated mission here at Saint Peter (Welcomed into God’s love just as we are; Sent into God’s world to be a reflection of Christ’s love) to be a helpful way of focusing our efforts.

Jesus also had a mission; one that is described in a variety of ways in the New Testament. It was, at least in part, articulated by his mother even before he was born (St. Luke 1:46-55). John the Baptizer gave people a glimpse of it just before Jesus came upon the scene (St. Matthew 3:11-12). Jesus himself announced his mission in his first sermon at Nazareth (St. Luke 4:18-21), and refers to one aspect of it in the 24th verse of today’s text: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Clarity of mission can fine-tune our efforts to excel at a particular ministry, or with a particular group of people. That is true for us. It was even true for Jesus. But clarity of mission is, by nature, exclusive. To focus on anything in particular is to decline to focus on something (or anything) else. We observe that in this week’s Gospel lesson as well. Jesus is approached by a Canaanite woman; a woman whose people had been at odds with the people of Israel for many generations. He initially rebuffs her attempts to solicit a miracle of healing for her daughter. After all, his mission is to care for the lost sheep of Israel. She, being a Canaanite, certainly wasn’t included in that target audience.

But she is persistent. Despite his rebuff, she comes back again, with humility and courage, telling Jesus that although she may not fit his preconceived notion of mission, her daughter’s needs are real, and her faith that he can make a difference is strong. Jesus is touched by her faith, and he instantly heals her daughter.

In doing so, he teaches us something very important: clarity of mission can focus our efforts, and make us more effective in what we are doing, but as faithful people we are also called to be on the lookout for those unexpected and serendipitous opportunities to become vehicles of God’s grace and mercy. We dare not become so focused on our mission that we miss the chances that happen upon us to touch the hearts and souls of those who surround us. That, too, is our mission. May God grant that we be faithful, in those anticipated and unanticipated opportunities to be the hands and feet and voice of Christ in this world.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does it mean that Jesus seems to change the way he relates to this Canaanite woman?
  2. How is this similar to the decision he made in St. Matthew 14:13-14?
  3. What do these two images teach us about his character?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is my personal mission in life? What do I feel called by God to pursue?
  2. When have I had opportunities to serve God that might not have clearly fit within my expectations of what God was asking me to do?
  3. How can I discipline myself to be open to those surprising chances to serve Christ that God might send my way?