Sermon – September 6, 2015 – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost


Pentecost 15
September 6, 2015
Pastor Bob Rasmus

On the wall behind the altar at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, where my brother lives and my mom used to, there are tall icon paintings of saints of the church. There are the usual suspects Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. The prophet Isaiah is there Mary is there.  Surprisingly a Norwegian Pietist named Hans Neilsen Hauge is there. There are a couple of women one of whom, I think, is Julian of Norwich or maybe Hildegard. I just can’t remember and they were hard to see from the pew. That’s not unusual to go into a church and see the church heroes and martyrs depicted in one form or another. You can probably remember your own experience. If you’ve ever worshiped in a Roman Catholic Church have a lot more characters on display. And that’s good because it tells our story. They are there to remind us of the story of the people of God, the story into which our lives have been caught as they witness to Christ and as we are called to his family.

Somebody I haven’t seen. Someone who is glaringly absent from all of these is this woman in our Gospel text today.  Though we don’t know her name, I guess we would have to call her the SyroPhoenician woman.  . . . She ought to be on the wall somewhere, because she is a foremother of all of us Gentiles who were grafted onto the vine.  All of us non-Jews who now make up the body of Christ.

In our story today, Jesus was in Gentile country, and so there was a pretty good chance he was going to run into some Gentile people.  Now, He had been characterized as the Messiah of Israel. His job was to bring restoration to the chosen people. And when he runs into this lady, and things change. Those of you who have been paying attention in church over the years will recognize the story. It comes up in Mark and it comes up in Matthew. So, we hear of it fairly often. And it always gives us a little bit of a squirm. And that is because, Jesus is rude and dismissive of the woman whose pleading on behalf of her child. There is no escaping the tone of his voice or the sting of his words. He calls her a dog and by implication her daughter too. We don’t like this, because it is uncharacteristic. We like the Jesus who heals everybody. We like the Jesus who embraces everyone. We like the Jesus who breaks the law in order to reach out to the outcast the disenfranchised, or the stranger.

So here, Jesus – maybe a little tired, burnt out from his travels – learns something. The woman challenges his characterization of her need and her personhood and essentially demands that he share what she knows he is able to share. It is almost as though she gets Jesus before he gets himself. It’s almost as if she’s witnessing to him of his power and the scope of his ministry, and he appears to get it.

I love this story because it reminds us of the humanity of Christ and the humanity to which he was called. The humanity of Christ in that he is able here to learn from the people he encounters. Lest that is too far removed from the all-knowing and divine Jesus who could do long division in his head the moment he was was born, we must remember that Jesus was a human being. Human enough to cry. Human enough to suffer. Human enough to beg in the Garden for a change in plans because he was afraid. Human enough to die. We should not be surprised or offended or scandalized that he is human enough to change.
Karoline Lewis is a professor of preaching at Luther seminary in St. Paul and she posted this week a poem I want to share with you by a woman named Kaylin Haught titled “God says yes to me”
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes, God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

God has said yes to that woman. God has said yes to her daughter. God has said yes to her prayer for relief. God has said yes to this humanity that this woman represents that cries out to God for inclusion, for healing for hope, for the bread from the table that she know would heal and sustain her and her daughter.

God has said yes to everyone who has crossed the threshold of this church and come to worship today, seeking forgiveness, seeking understanding, seeking a place. God has said yes. God has said yes to the prayers of these parents brought their daughter/son to baptism today that God would gather this child into God’s holy and divine and eternal family.   It doesn’t matter that they’re too young to know that yet.

God has said yes to this world.  If God has said yes to me, and to you, and to her, and to him, then we are not to say no to those whom God has called beloved, those whom God has called in to his family, those whom he has blessed and made in his own image.

We began our service today with a prayer of confession and forgiveness for racism and exclusion and prejudice that is rampant in this country still. God has said yes to all of us. Christ died for all of us. It is not ours to say no. Instead, it is ours to understand how we say yes to one another even when we are struggling with divisions of race or class or nation or religion. God has said yes to this world and it is not ours to say no.

After Jesus encountered this woman, his ministry changed.   Soon after his encounter with the woman, and still among the Gentiles, he opens the the ears of a deaf man, and later fed 4000 people presumably the Decapolis, this Gentile territory. Suddenly Jesus mission blew up,  came to all those who experienced his presence and power—what this woman proclaimed and recognized, that God is breaking in to the world and conforming to no one’s rules or expectations. This new thing has been made manifest, and the woman and the people like that woman in our story today are still teaching us about the wideness of God’s mercy. Still teaching us that God’s final word to his people is always yes.  And still teaching us and leading us to one another so that we can be changed.

You know what I think? I think that this woman was on Jesus’ mind when he was lifted up on the cross. I think that Jesus died for that woman and because he did, he died for you and for me, and for those people that are different from us and those people we fear most, people we don’t yet know and those whom are called to serve.  You see it turns out that God knows all about us, and has said yes to us, just as we are.  God knows our sadness, our fear, our sin, yet through Christ, he knows us as his children, claims us as his own.  He might even have a picture of us hanging on his wall somewhere.  And as we live into that grace, may we come to know that he has claimed the other also, and leads us to encounter them, welcome them, invite and share this good news with them, to be reconciled and made new with them.   That our hearts and minds, like Jesus might be changed.   . . . . That we would know what he is telling us is yes,  yes,  yes.
Thanks be to God.  Amen