Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

We are all beggars

Sermon 8-17-14
Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Though Hailey won’t remember much of anything that happened on today her baptism day, I still sort of feel like I still ought to apologize for Jesus here. This might be the first time that Hailey has gotten to meet him, and I’m just afraid that he might not be making a very good impression.

As F. F. Bruce wrote his book Hard Sayings of Jesus –– “His yoke is easy and his burden is light, but his sayings are often hard.” And this one is certainly no exception. It goes right along with Jesus’ teaching on plucking out our right eye if causes us to sin, with Jesus saying he wants us to hate our parents for the sake of the Gospel, with Jesus saying he came “not bringing peace but a sword,” with “the camel going through the eye of a needle” having a better chance than a rich person being saved, and also cursing a poor innocent fig tree that was just minding its own business. And here, we have a couple of whoppers like the blind leading the blind, what comes out of the mouth from the heart is what ruins a person, and finally, Jesus seeming to ignore this woman in need and then apparently comparing her to a dog.

So much ink has been spilled over the centuries to explain, soften, or justify what Jesus does here, and I don’t think any of them are completely satisfying. Trust me, this week I consulted way more commentaries than I regularly do, looking for a brilliant key to help unlock this story. This key turns out to be rather elusive, like the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price. Instead of a key, what we need to look for is more like a crumb, or rather, a trail of crumbs, that we follow like lost children through a dark forest, hoping that we will be able to find our way home.

For this Canaanite woman, the hope of just a crumb was enough for her. It was all she felt that she deserved. She was, after all, an outsider in nearly every possible way. She lived on the wrong side of the border; she was from a people who worshipped the wrong gods and was on the wrong side of history. She was likely a single mother in the wrong century, and her only child was the wrong gender, and if that wasn’t enough, her daughter was suffering from a very wrong-sounding illness. Even this woman’s whole approach to getting Jesus’ attention seems all wrong.

And yet, this woman could not have been more right about Jesus.  She called him Lord and Son of David while the religious leaders of Jesus’ own people despised and rejected him. She knelt before him and engaged in spirited dialogue with him, while his own disciples seemed almost totally in the dark. She knew what she needed from Jesus, and was not afraid to do whatever she needed to in order to get it, for the sake of her daughter. Even if it meant adding one more demand when Jesus already had his hands full dealing with his own people. Even if it meant facing a tired and frustrated savior. She knew that in the end, he would not and could not go against his nature. She knew he would do the right thing – that he would “throw her a bone,” so to speak. And she was right. And I think that’s why he called her faith great.

I wonder if Jesus ever thought about this woman and her great faith again. I especially wonder if he thought about her on that dark Passover night, as he prepared to face his passion and death.

I wonder if he remembered her as he blessed the bread and broke it, and watched the crumbs from the broken pieces fall onto the table and roll to the floor.

I wonder if he remembered the look on her upturned face as she knelt before him and so wisely said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” as he looked at the blank and confused stares of his own disciples, who would soon abandon, deny, and betray him.

As Jesus has proven, though, deniers are welcome at his table. Abandoners and betrayers are welcome at his table. Canaanite women, and Roman centurions, hemorrhaging women, the blind, the mute, people possessed by demons or fear or hate or their busy schedules. Liars and cheaters and doubters and selfish people all have a place at the table.

And God is continually adding extenders to the family table, like family thanksgivings when everybody’s home and the normal size of the table would not be enough. And just when we think that the table is full and can’t possibly be extended any farther without completely collapsing, God keeps pushing.

Sometimes we are pushing outward WITH God, participating in the mission we share as baptized children of God, bearing God’s creative and redeeming word of love to ALL the world. Other times, we find ourselves pushing the other way, telling God that the table has gone far enough and surely THOSE people are not welcome at the table. But they are. Because you are.

Hanging above the dining room table at my grandma’s house is a poem copied out by my uncle when he was in school in fancy calligraphy letters. It’s hung there as long as I can remember, and to this day it’s still my grandma’s favorite poem.

It goes like this:

I dreamt death came the other night and Heaven’s gate swung wide.
An angel with a halo bright ushered me inside.
And there! To my astonishment stood folks I’d judged and labeled
As “quite unfit”, “of little worth”, and “spiritually disabled”.
Indignant words rose to my lips but never were set free,
For every face showed stunned surprise --Not one expected me!

The good news is, Jesus expects you. The good news is, Jesus really, really meant it when he gave his disciples his marching orders: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of ALL NATIONS, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And if you haven’t noticed, that’s exactly what we’ve done today. Hailey Page Green was welcomed with open arms into this community of faith, where nothing has barred her from being gathered into the body of Christ – not gender or nationality or status or anything else that threatens to divide us when we leave from this place every Sunday. From now on, no matter what, she will have a place and a people to belong to.

During his ministry on earth, Jesus began the work of breaking down the boundaries between who’s in and who’s out, between the haves and the have-nots, sometimes reluctantly and sometimes with gusto. In his death, Jesus is our Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Not just the sins of a chosen few in a certain time and place, but for the whole world. And in his resurrection, we all are reborn as children of God and we are all gathered into the Lord’s household. We, as gentiles and foreigners in God’s original promises, are not left to be satisfied with the crumbs from the children’s table. We have been adopted as children in the waters of baptism, and given a place at the table.

Martin Luther once said: We are all beggars, telling other beggars where to find bread. Now that we have been given a place at the table, and been given the life-sustaining bread that is Jesus, how can the smallest crumbs NOT get all over everyone we meet? And how can we deny even the smallest crumbs to the people around us, even to those the world considers to be as good as dogs?

The world right now this world is begging for even just a tiny crumb of hope to hang on to. Together, as Christ’s body here on earth, let’s show them more than a crumb. Let us show them what a place at the table can look like. Amen.

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