Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ, Amen.
Wow! This is great. It’s wonderful to see you all here, together. It’s great to have this place teeming with energy and enthusiasm again. (Hopefully?) Fall is near, we’re experiencing the return of routine and we’re so grateful that part of that is being here with us today. Summer comes with wonderful freedom and possibility, there are cabins and camping trips, there’s travel and there’s sleeping in. There are all kinds of good and beautiful things that come with summer, and we’re grateful for a season that creates space to do these things. It’s a kind of Sabbath time.
But Mary and I (or Ben and I) we’re pretty sold on a kind of sabbath that happens here too. We’ve been having an exciting summer as well. One filled with conversations with members of this congregation, conversations about what we need to be tending to in the coming year, how our work together continues to grow, change and evolve. We’ve got some things that we’re excited to share with you. But first,
Did Jesus just say that? Did he just say what I think he said? There’s not really any dancing around it. It’s there. Right there in black and white. It’s ugly. It’s offensive. It’s certainly not the language we come to expect from the savior of the world, the son of God.
Others in positions of authority may deign to call somebody a dog. But not Jesus. Others might use coarse language to alienate, to separate, to demonize, and categorize the other, but not Jesus. Who is this guy and what did he do with Jesus?
Throughout history, people have tried to make excuses for Jesus in this story. Oh, Jesus is just testing this gentile woman. Oh, Jesus is tired, he was looking for a little reprieve after a grueling couple of days. It wasn’t time yet. Jesus’ mission was to the Jews first and then to the gentiles.
But we’re not interested in making excuses for Jesus, this is supposed to be the Son of God, and here he’s downright cruel to a woman in need. It’s really hard to hear.
But then there’s this woman, she, of course, doesn’t get a name. They seldom do in the bible. This gentile woman seeks out Jesus when he doesn’t want to be found. She demands his attention when he doesn’t seem interested in giving it. She makes Jesus see her, really see her, and he can’t help but be opened.
There’s power in this tenacious vulnerability. There’s power in being seen, fully and completely. There’s power in forcing those that would characterize and stereotype to see you as you truly are. To see you. To actually know you.
We don’t often think of things in this way. We’re afraid of being seen. We’re afraid of being known. We’re afraid that if we’re vulnerable if we let people in, if we show them who we really are it’ll be used against as in some way. We have good reason for this. We live in a world that tries to create bulletproof personas. We create images of ourselves to try and stand up to the scrutiny of societal pressures and the glare of social media. We try to fashion lives that are flawless, attempting to hide our pain and our suffering under a thin veneer of sunshine and rainbows.
But this woman kneels before Jesus, laying it out there, demanding to be seen. Even after an initial rebuke, after this caustic insult, this unnamed woman demands that Jesus notice her and act. And he does.
I don’t know about you, but I can be pretty good at not seeing people. Like, actually seeing people.
Hi Mary how are you…
Well, you know, it’s been a bit of week.
Oh, really I’m sorry to hear that. Whelp gotta go.
Vulnerability is scary. You might get drawn into someone’s stuff, someone’s life, someone’s pain, and shoot I’m not equipped for that. When I was in seminary, and even on internship, the thing that scared me most about this whole pastor thing was the thought of having to show up in people’s lives and being expected to know what to say or do in moments of pain and suffering and humanness. I thought who was I do enter into people’s stuff.
I still remember my first hospital call 20 some years ago. As part of our seminary education, we’re required to do a hospital chaplaincy. My first day I made several trips up and down the hospital stairwells and made rounds on every single floor. But with only a few minutes left in my shift–I still hadn’t made a single visit. I was so scared of who knows what that I had walked passed every room in the hospital without entering a single one. After all day of trying to summon up courage, I finally made one visit–and it didn’t go well.
The woman in our bible story doesn’t have the luxury of time on her side. She’s desperate. Her daughter is “filled with an unclean spirit” Mark writes. Mom wants her to have a different kind of life. She believes Jesus has power to heal–and not just Israel, but power to heal the whole world–which means there’s hope for her daughter too.
Based on what Jesus has been up to, her ask doesn’t out of scope. But Jesus responds with rudeness and rejects her request. She persists. She challenges Jesus. With a quick turn of phrase, she helps to remind Jesus or maybe helps him to see for the first time that God’s mission of infinite compassion and mercy is for all people.
In this encounter, Jesus is challenged, his mission is changed, it’s expanded and he recognizes that he’s sent to be God’s presence for the whole world.
This unnamed woman’s vulnerability invites, maybe even compels, Jesus to see her differently, to know her differently, to know even her a gentile, an outsider as a beloved child of God.
We are a large congregation. 2 campuses. 3 if you count Spirit Garage and increasingly were working together to find ways to count Spirit Garage. We have multiple worship services. Countless opportunities to participate in work that joins with what God is already doing. It can be easy in this context to make assumptions that people know each other here, that everyone feels that they belong; that they’re connected, known, cared for and loved. But these assumptions aren’t helpful.
Increasingly we find ourselves living in a world more and more relationships that are shallower and shallower. I know what the kids of some random people I went to high school with were for Halloween last year, but I don’t know anything about what they’re passionate about, what brings them joy, or what pain they are navigating. I know a lot about lots of people, but I really know very few.
So in the coming year, we’re going to be intentional about this being a place where you can be known–your whole self is welcome here–the good and the ugly, the restored and the broken….
It’s the only way we’re going to be able to join God in healing this world.
This is hard work but we don’t do alone. We’re in this together. And God is with us too.
So we’re going to practice being vulnerable. Sounds scary. But we promise this first step is a small one. You can do it. It’s a safe space–it’s called a SANCTUARY after all.
We invite you to try something that the Franciscan community incorporates into their daily life; 2 prayer petitions with responses that are an everyday discipline: a prayer of thanks for any goodness experienced, trusting it is a sign of God’s presence and 2) a prayer of lament for where brokenness or pain exists, and you’re longing for God’s presence to be made known.
So we’re going to give you a few minutes to do this: turn to someone who’s a newer face for you–and share with them either something for which you’re grateful OR something about which you lament. One sentence only. Listen to each other. And respond. If you hear gratitude answer “Thanks be to God”. If you hear lament answer “Lord, have mercy.”
That wasn’t too hard, right? And still, a meaningful exchange just happened. We were vulnerable with each other–open and fully present in that moment. It’s in that space, where we let our guard down and seek to be known and to know others, that God promises to show up and that healing can begin. It’s just a first step. But not the last. We hope to continue practicing this together. Start here. And take it with you–to home, to work to your neighborhood. It’s a different rhythm than what our culture encourages–to pause, to listen, and to be open. But it is a divine way of being in the world. Jesus shows us this.