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Proper 15/A: 8/17/14
The Rev. Dee Anne Dodd

Just back from vacation, and I'm already feeling a bit spent
thanks to the steady stream of
achingly bad news which is this summer.

Controversy over whether we should help
unaccompanied little children from Central America.
Continuing bloodshed in Syria, Gaza and Ukraine.
Iraq devolving so fast that our Presiding Bishop
has called for a Day of Prayer.

Closer to home, terrifying pictures from
the town of Ferguson MO look more like a war zone
as we mourn the death
of yet another unarmed African-American youth. 

Into this tragic mix comes news
of the untimely death of Robin Williams,
a lifelong Episcopalian who devoted himself to making us laugh.
It seems unfair that he of all people should suffer
from the debilitating illness of clinical depression.
Yet the sad truth is that most of us personally know someone
or have ourselves struggled with this potentially fatal disease.

So we come together today looking for uplift and hope.
We come to hear some Good News in the midst of what feels like
a particularly heavy dose of bad news.

And what do we get?
The story of the Canaanite woman
who shouts at Jesus for mercy to heal her tormented daughter . . .
while he ignores her.
The disciples urge him to send the woman away.
Jesus appears to take their advice,
saying that he was sent "only" to the lost sheep of Israel. 

But the woman is not so easily dismissed.
She must've been listening to Jesus' previous sermons
about love and compassion,  hospitality and healing.
She must've noticed how Jesus practiced what he preached
by healing lepers, welcoming the outcast and even calling
this motley crew to be his disciples. 
And she couldn't help but notice that
it was Jesus who came from Galilee
into the Gentile district of Tyre and Sidon. 

You see, Jesus was the stranger, the interloper if you will,
in her neighborhood.
Yet even after what he'd just said to her, she kneels before him --
this strange visitor -- as if he were a king, saying, "Lord, help me." 

Let's pause to consider what we might expect
the Jesus we know and love to say in this situation. 

I don't know about you, but having Jesus say that
"it's not fair to take children's food and throw it to the dogs" 
wouldn't be my first choice. 
But the woman to her credit persists even so,
managing a respectful: "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs
eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." 

I won't pretend that this is a passage I love,
or am able to neatly explain away.
But let's entertain some possible approaches to this difficult passage. 

Maybe the woman was aware of what Jesus had
accomplished with crumbs a few days earlier when he fed
more than five thousand men, women and children
with just five loaves of bread.
Maybe in Jesus' abundance crumbs weren't such a bad deal. 

Or how about the word "dog" which in this instance
might be akin to "doggy", more of a domesticated animal. 
We know many folks spoil their pet dogs
just slightly less (or more) than children.
Could it mean, then, that whoever we are, however we feel,
whatever social  conventions or prejudices we face,
we're never, ever beyond the love of God in Christ --
and neither is anyone else in all creation? 

Or maybe it's that Jesus really was, well, human. 
That he was as much flesh as he was the Word. 
That what we see in this story is what we say in the Creed:
that he became incarnate and was made man. 

As a man, as a human, Jesus was changed
by this encounter with the Canaanite woman. 
He wasn't the same as at the beginning of the story. 
Now he commends her faith. 
He assents to her wishes.  Her daughter is healed. 

In many ways, this vignette between Jesus and the Canaanite woman
foreshadows the Great Commission at the end of this Gospel.
There, Jesus' final -- Great -- command
is to reach out to all nations, all peoples.  All creation. 

At times when heartbreak seems all around us,
when we're most apt to give up hope
and give into cynicism or despair,
I say we look deep into the Gospel,
especially the passages which challenge us most. 

Let them urge us on to proclaim far and wide, in word and deed,
the Good News of God in Christ Jesus --

  • That the name of God is not about fighting and division,
    but
    unity and healing.
  • That our nations, cities and towns are not to be war zones,
    but
    communities.
  • That we're here to love God in one another,
    starting with the most vulnerable.
  • That God loves us so much that it's only right that 
    we love ourselves.
  • That it's never too late for change, transformation, resurrection.
  • And, because God knows it's easy to lose sight of all this,
    we need each other.

We need each other, 
we need to be able to talk honestly with one another
without judgment or shame or fear of stigma;
to feel safe reaching out when we need help. 

I suppose a lot of us have been revisiting some of our favorite
Robin Williams moments this week,
wishing he could have known more of the joy he was giving us.
It's been noted that some of his comments, even in character,
seemed prescient.

"Don't worry so much.  In the end none of us have very long on this earth. 
Life is fleeting.  And if you're ever distressed, cast your eyes to the
summer skies, when the stars are strung across the velvety night,
and a shooting star streaks through the darkness turning night into day. 
Make a wish.  Think of me.  Make your life spectacular.  I know I did."
    (Robin Williams audio from the graduation speech in the 1996 film "Jack"))

 

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