Sermon – August 17, 2014

“Lord, Have Mercy!”

A few weeks ago, after one of our rocking overnight thunderstorms, I inquired of a friend whether she had been awakened by the thunder and lightning and the general ruckus. She said no she didn’t realize that the storm had been quite so vigorous. And I said to her I don’t know how you could possibly have slept through that. The walls were shaking the windows were rattling, the light was flashing for hours. She said no, I didn’t hear any of that, but if my kids had let out a single peep, I would’ve been out of my bed in a flash.

She reminded me that we hear our children’s voices above the din, because we are tuned into them and always alert to their well-being.

What I hear in this gospel story this morning – because it is so unnerving – is Jesus’ rude, dismissive treatment of this woman. I hear is Jesus calling her a dog. That is voice that arises for me.

What she hears is the cry of her ailing daughter. And that rings in her ears even as she receives this treatment, this dismissal, this condescending characterization of her humanity. Her rejection sounds like thunder in my ears-because it comes from the lips of Jesus, but all she hears is the cry of her daughter as she hopes for the possibility of her healing.

And in my need to apologize for Jesus’ rudeness, all I hear is his dismissal. What we ought to hear first, I wonder, is her cry “Lord, have mercy!” Kyrie Eleison! That is the cry yearning to be heard.

I don’t intend to spend any time this morning arguing about whether Jesus changed his mind or whether, out of our squeamishness for that prospect, we dismiss this as a simple test of faith. I just think Jesus changed his mind.

I think that was because Jesus had two narratives running in his head. We heard him articulate the first, “I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel”, he is the Messiah of the Jews, he is the son of David, he is one come to redeem the chosen. That’s one narrative. But there’s a second. Because fi that first were his only business, what in the heck was he doing in this neck of the woods, Tyre and Sidon? This is Gentile territory. The prospect of Jewish conversion to his mission is pretty slim. There was fully exposed to all sorts of violations of the laws of cleanliness from what his lunch might be to whom he might come in contact. So the other narrative is that, in the wideness of God’s mercy, God was going to seek out those who are other, those who are outside, those who are rejected. That is the complexion the kingdom will ultimately take. And it is this narrative that wins out

Lord have mercy! from the lips of this Gentile woman rose above the exclusiveness, the narrowness that the disciples perceived of Jesus ministry, and with which Jesus seemed for a moment to concur. Lord have mercy! rose above taking the children’s food and throwing it to the dogs. Lord have mercy! turned Christ’s head and his heart because he heard her voice suddenly, just as the mother heard her daughter’s. Jesus, although belatedly, recognized her humanity, was swept up himself in the wideness of God’s mercy and alerted to the breadth of his redeeming ministry . . . . . and he heard her voice is a mother hears a child’s. Lord have mercy.

Lord, have mercy, this is been a bad week in the world. The butchery of innocents and women children continues in Iraq. Unarmed kids are shot where they stand by local police in Ferguson. The people that populate the land we call holy continue to tear at one another with a startling disregard for the human cost. Frightened and sad children fleeing hatred and death and violence in their homelands come to our borders only to be treated as criminals taunted, rejected and used as political pawns—their humanity completely disregarded. And to top it all off, one was counted on to make us laugh in the midst of our pain succumbed to the darkness of his own mental illness. Lord, have mercy.

That cry rings loudly and clearly in our world today. The voice of the Canaanite woman is channeled through the mother who has no food for her children, the village suffering from the lack of sufficient medical care, though the family underemployed and unable to make ends meet, of the one rejected because of the color of her skin, or his checkered past, or the origin of his family and heritage, of the poor whose voices go unheard, of the children shuddering in fear and bewilderment. Lord have mercy! rises from out own experience as we wonder where God is in our pain and suffering, shame and sin.

So what are we to do? Take that gift that is ours of faith and hope and community and tighten it around us to protect us? Or do we simply dismiss it as so much pie-in-the-sky and walk away giving the darkness and the violence and hatred for quarter? Or do we tune our ears, hear the cries Lord have mercy? And then rise again in faith and hope and love to meet today. I think it’s our only choice. We feel ill-equipped, but we receive God’s mercy and love in real time in these moments. They are ours in the midst, maybe especially, in the midst of times like these. And so blessed, then we are so equipped.

I got a first hand taste of this yesterday, just before worship. I was finishing up from the wedding I just conducted. The bride and groom were wonderful, it was a great crowd, I was quite pleased with my sermon . . . about then Jeff, the homeless guy shows up. Jeff is a regular and he usually wants me to get him a room in a hotel so he can get cleaned up. That means I have to drop everything and drive him since he is in a wheelchair. Not today, I said. Can’t you see how busy I am? Well, I went off on my business and when I came back to the office, I could see his silhouette through the screen in the Concord room. He was waiting me out. I said, I really can’t do this now. And he said, It’s a matter of life or death. And I smugly replied, Yeah just like the last five times you were here. And I went to finish what I had to get done. Again, when I came back I could see him behind that screen. This time he wheeled out and said to me, “Pastor Bob. I don’t want anything.” Tears began to stream down his face. “My best friend was beaten to death and I don’t know what to do. This is the only place I know to go.” Lord, hae mercy. So, we went into the office I shared with him what he had come for . . . . an ear, some words of comfort and some prayer. Crumbs, don’t you know.

Those cries of Lord have mercy! ring out today from the Jeffries of the world, cast aside and without a family . . . from the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers seeking healing, seeking hope, seeking help, seeking justice. And even as the bombs fall, even as their humanity is dismissed . . . they persist . . . because they hear the voice of their own children or share the Canaanite woman’s’ hope of a merciful God. Whether you hear or shout those cries, it is our common hope that holds us together. Either way, we are engaged. We are in this together.

This is what we have this is what God has given to sustain his beloved creation. You and me, fed by our faith in Jesus Christ who has been to these places and known these fears and walk through this darkness and met the despair and through whom hope meets fear, love meets hate welcome meets rejection. We rag tag army of good intentions called the church, dragging behind us our own baggage, are together commissioned to reflect the light of the world and proclaim the truth of the Gospel that Christ hears and will answer our prayer.

We have not been given the wisdom to answer why to so many things, and the sooner we accept that the better we will be. But we have been given the grace to proclaim, “nevertheless, the Lord hears your cries, and in that we live and move and have our being.”

This is something we are in together. And that is the rest of the story of this Gentile woman who after great persistence, received Christ’s blessing. She then becomes a disciple, a child of God, a voice of hope. And her voice is raised among us today. This time with the assurance that she is heard. This is something we are in together. When Scripture says all are welcome, then, it means those to whom we struggle to accept. I hope that you feel welcome in this community and on this path. And if you don’t, we would want to know why not. The simple gospel fact is that you do belong, and that you have a place here. And it matters that you are here with us.

And if you think there are those among us who don’t belong, or whose voices we should ignore, we can help. Keep listening. Even you would be quick to dismiss others are welcome to learn the gospel promise that everyone belongs. If Jesus can turn his heart, so can you?

So, let’s listen together because these are the cries of our brothers and sisters, our children, our family. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton reminds us, in response to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri,

“. . . .. . . We are at greatest risk when we divide into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Then, we are unable to see each other’s humanity,” said Eaton. “In Christ, there is no ‘them,’ not Michael Brown, not the community, not the police. All are one. All are ‘us’ and all are Christ’s.”

Like the woman, Jeffery was seeking just a few crumbs from the table of Christ, but we know that those crumbs of hope, peace, forgiveness and grace are the bread of life. As we hear the cries, Kyrie Eleison!! might we with eager and generous compassion share those crumbs with the broken and hungry world.

Thanks be to God,

Amen