A Courageous Woman!

Sermon – September 6th 2015

15th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

Mark 7:24-37

I love the story of the Syrophoenician woman!  This is the only story in the Christian Scriptures where Jesus is challenged and the other person wins the argument.

Many people don’t feel comfortable with this Scripture because Jesus does not look good.  He is having a bad day.  I can only imagine that he is tired from all the traveling and people he helps every day.  He just wants some peace and quiet.  I think we can all relate to that.

Yes Jesus was an amazing man, but he was still a person of his time.  He was impacted by the religious and cultural values of the time that required Jews to have no contact with foreigners, especially women.

Jesus, besides being tired was annoyed by this woman because she was breaking taboos.  For one thing women were not to speak to men.  Even more so that foreign people should not even be recognized as they are believed to be unclean.  I think Jesus was feeling grumpy.  Jesus was having a bad day.  Most men of Jesus time would have reacted this way all the time.

Then there is this amazing gutsy woman who had the courage to ask for Jesus to heal her child.  She had the courage to demand justice.  This was a very risky thing for this woman to do.  She was risking her life.  Yet she had a strong faith that Jesus would come around to her point of view.

What is also momentous is that Jesus had a change of heart.  He could not argue against her come back, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”.  He could not refuse her and still follow God. It was her courage and faith that brought healing to her child.

We don’t know how the end looked and felt like. Was Jesus moved to compassion or did he reluctantly agree to do what she asked.  I would like to think that Jesus was able to give her a big hug at the end.  But we will never know.

I feel empowered by this story because Jesus shows me there is nothing wrong in saying that I am wrong when I am.  Experiencing Jesus imperfection in this story gives me hope that I can follow in the way of Jesus.  Not many men in Jesus time could admit they were wrong, especially when it was a women who is challenging their perspective.

Who are the marginalized in my world whom I need to be transformed by?  This week the tragic death of a young child in the Mediterranean Sea has woken the world up to the continuing terrible tragedy of thousands and thousands of people who are trying to escape from war torn countries such as Syria.  It is sad that it takes the picture of a young drowned child on a beach that finally wakes up the world.  Then how long will it stay in the memory of the people of the world after some other big news story comes along.

One of the largest groups to help refuges come to our country is the church.  I believe that the voice of people of faith across our country and world need to speak up even louder putting pressure on our government to welcome more refugees who are leaving their homelands to survive.  Congregations and parishes such as ourselves are being called to sponsor even more refugees.  Yes it is a lot of work, but I believe we are called to help our brothers and sisters from around the world when they are distress as we would expect them help us if needed.

I remember when I was growing up how the Vancouver Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends welcomed a large family Vietnam, one of the families of boat people.  It was a rich experience for the congregation to get to know them and learn of their story.  It took a lot of courage for them to find their way to Canada.  We helped them to learn how to live in Canada and they offered us their friendship and appreciation.

There are many marginalized people in our country.  It is not only people of different races and nations but it includes the mentally ill, people living with disabilities, gay, lesbian, transgendered and bi-sexual people.  The Syrophoenician woman shows us how the Spirit keeps on calling us to recognize all people as children of God.  There is no such person as an enemy.

I have been blessed by people who have challenged my prejudices and racist views.  I once had qualms about same gendered couples having children.  Some friends of mine challenged me on this, just like the Syrophoenician woman did for Jesus.  After conversations with them I could no longer hold the same point of view.

What do you think the Syrophoenician woman would say to us at Foam Lake United Church?  I wonder if she would call upon us to accept all people even if we don’t agree with all the choices they have made in life.  I wonder if she would call upon us in the United Church of Canada to never divide the world into the good and bad, the sheep and goats because the Spirit never does .  Instead of wanting to blame others, she would want us to look at our own shadow side, the parts of us that are need of healing.  I wonder if she would call upon us to really listen to each other.  To take a risk of being transformed by another person as Jesus was transformed by this woman.

I pray that we can all learn something new from this courageous woman to care for those we would otherwise walk away from.  I hope we can learn from Jesus that to admit, when we are wrong, is a sign of courage.

Sometimes we do need to take a stand like the Syrophoenician woman when our hearts burns with love.  Sometimes we need to admit it that we got it wrong.  We all need to keep expanding our understanding of God’s love. God’s love is always much bigger than we think or want to admit.Syrophonecian Woman

Grounded in Faith

Sermon – March 29th 2015

By Roland Legge

Palm/Passion Sunday (Year B)

Isaiah 50:4-9a:  Philippians 2:5-11:  Mark 14:1—15:47:

 

I am indebted to William Willimon for the idea of today’s sermon.

How many times have you heard this story?  Anyone want to venture a guess?   In all the times I have heard this story I have rarelly focused on the woman in the story who challenges Peter.  So I invite you to join me on reflecting on the importance of what this woman did.

Willimon summarizes the story like this: “It is late at night, toward the end of this Holy Week. It is after the last supper when Jesus had gathered with his disciples in an upper room. The Passion of Christ has begun. The soldiers have seized Jesus and have led him away to the palace. At the palace, Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate and is on trial. But out in the darkness, in the courtyard, down below, another trial takes place. Judge and jury at the trial is a servant girl. And though we don’t know much about her, if she is only a girl, but also only a servant, we know that she is small, insignificant, powerless person. She is not only a woman in a patriarchal culture, but she is also a servant woman. And she is young and you know that also means you are powerless, on the bottom. And this little, powerless girl is the one who puts Peter, the premier disciple, through his paces.

Pulpit Resource Vol. 36 No. 1 Year A January, February, March 2008 by William H. Willimon Published by Logos Production Inc Inver Grove Heights MN Page 46

This oppressed, simple girl challenges the faithfulness of Peter, the one Jesus is to call the rock of the church.  She challenges him and he fails miserably.  He claims to her that he never knew Jesus.  He does this to save his own life. But soon Peter realizes the terrible error of his ways and begins his healing process.  In effect this girl is the one that challenges Peter into being the person he claims to Jesus and the other disciples to be.  This girl was challenging Peter to walk his talk.  It was a tough lesson for Peter to learn.  It was even harder to learn from a person that society had impoverished, oppressed and ignored.  But he had to move on.  Why?  Jesus wasn’t going to let him off the hook!

We all need people in our lives to ensure we remain grounded in our faith.  We all need people to challenge us to walk our talk no matter how hard or easy life seems to be.  Willimon tells of this student:

A few years ago a student was telling me that he and his roommate were not getting along too well.  I asked him why, and he said, “Because he is a Muslim and I’m not.” I asked him how that made a difference.  And he said, “When we moved in together, he asked me what my religion was. I told him that I was a Christian.  A Lutheran—I  told him that my family wasn’t the very best of Christians and that we only went to church occasionally and it wasn’t that big a deal to me.  My roommate has this nasty habit of asking embarrassing questions.” “What sort of question?” I asked. “Well after we had roomed together a few weeks, he asked me, “Why do you Christians never pray?”

“I told him, ‘We pray a lot.  We just sort of keep it to ourselves.”

“He said, ‘I’ll say that you do.

I’ve never seen you pray.’ He prays like a half dozen times a day on his prayer rug in our room, facing the East.  When I came in last Saturday morning, and he asked me, ‘Doesn’t your St. Paul say something about joining your body with that of a prostitute?”

I told him, “Look, she is not a prostitute, she is Tri Delta. I told you I am not the best Christian in the world.  You shouldn’t judge the Christian faith by me!”

And I, hearing of his torment said, “Well how should he judge the Christian faith?  I think I need to write your Muslim roommate a thank-you note.  If he keeps working on you with these questions, he may make you into a real Christian.”

Pulpit Resource page 47

I hope this person learnt from his Muslin roommate.  He was giving him the opportunity to grow in his faith.  If he engages his roommate by choosing to learn more about his own faith this relationship could turn from being a curse to being a blessing. I wonder if Peter was ever able to look back and see the encounter he had with the young girl as a blessing.  What do you think?

Most of us have had experiences with people who drive us crazy.  There are people out there who will push all the “buttons” we have.  These are people who have much to teach us; if, only we would listen.

When I was training for ministry I was in a class called “Basic Christian Beliefs”.  Every week I was part of a seminar group.  We were made up of Seventh Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, Anglican, United Church and possibly Mennonite. We were definitely a diverse group. What has stuck in my mind from my seminar group was the Catholic sisters understanding of communion and why open communion was not acceptable to them.

This was challenging for me because I believed as I do today that communion should be open to everyone.  For me it is so tragic that Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox cannot have communion together on a regular basis.  I say how you can break up the Christian family! But by the end of the seminar gatherings I could respect my Catholic sisters in the group.  You see the Roman Catholics believe that in the bread and wine is the real physical and spiritual essence of God and Jesus.  This is one of the main ways for Catholics to connect with the Holy,   So to have Communion with Protestants, who understand communion as an active remembrance of Jesus, takes away some of sacred power for Roman Catholics.  While I do not agree with my Catholic sisters I came to understand them much better and learned a lot more about my own understanding of communion.  I am thankful for my encounter with them even though it was not easy.

Who have been the people in your lives who have challenged you into being more the person God calls you to be, just like the young woman did for Peter?

God will always ensure that there will be irritating and challenging people in our lives to challenge us to be even more authentic Christians and people of planet earth.  May God give each of us the wisdom to learn from these occurrences.  May we never fear the light of God being shone on us by people like the woman who challenged Peter.1-donkeyhttptheblogthatwasthursday.wordpress.com20120403a-two-day-late-palm-sunday-reflection

Whom do we choose to live by?

Sermon – October 5th 2014

16th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46

I don’t like today’s passage from Matthew!  It has such violent images.  Why am I using it?  I am using it because it has been used by too many Christians over the centuries to oppress our Jewish brothers and sisters.

First, I think it is important to remember that Jesus was a Jew.  Jesus was an Israelite. Jesus never intended to start another religion he only wanted to reform his own.

The Gospel according to Matthew was written by a Jew in a time when there was a lot of pain between Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and those who didn’t.  It was a painful time—not unlike some of the conflicts we have faced in the United Church of Canada which divided congregations.  These conflicts divided many families, just like conflicts in the early days of Jesus’ ministry.

The parable of the Vineyard was probably adapted from a Parable that Jesus actually said.  In Jesus’ time he was simply wanting to his encourage his followers to keep on going despite the anger by those in power both the Roman Empire and the religious establishment.  I need to be clear that the religious establishment did not represent all Jews.  There were many who were opposed to their intention to keep the power in the hands of a few people—not unlike the Papacy of today or sometime even our General Council of the United Church.

Sadly, this scripture has been used as justification to abuse and kill Jews throughout the centuries.  We must change this way of thinking throughout Christianity.  This is why the United Church of Canada has been working hard to build relationships with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Through these relationships we can better understand each other and find ways to work and worship together.  This doesn’t mean we are always going to agree. No two Christians or Jews will agree on everything.  There is great diversity of views in both religions.

I love this re-telling of the Parable, told by William H. Willimon, which reflects on how Christians have treated Jews. He says:

The church in its dealings with the Jewish people has acted like the bad relations in this parable:
A family, who lived in a beautiful house beside a blue lake, was surprised to hear a knock at the door one morning. There stood at their front door a couple with two children. They were even more surprised when the couple told them, “We are your long-lost relatives from out west. We have come to visit you for just a couple of days. Can we come in?”
The family, though surprised by these relatives whom they had never heard of, graciously received them into their home, and began to graciously entertain them for the next couple of days. After two days had passed, the relatives said that they would like to stay a few days longer. The family graciously agreed.
But then, the family began to notice that their guests, their long-lost relatives, were beginning to behave less like guests and more like permanent residents. The relatives began to redecorate the room they had been given. In fact, they spilled out of the guest room and took over two additional rooms in the house, rearranging the furniture, taking pictures off the walls and putting different pictures there that they had brought with them, and in general, acting as if they owned the place.
Still, the family tried graciously to welcome them and make them feel at home. The trouble was, the guests were beginning to feel a bit too much at home. Two weeks went by, and still the relatives, whom the family thought were only temporary guests, were with them.
One day there was a knock at the door and the family was surprised to see six or seven people standing at the door, holding their suitcases. They had never seen the people before and were startled when their relatives called out from the four rooms they were now occupying in the home, “Oh, those are some of our friends from out west. We told them what a nice house you live in, and invited them to come stay with us and visit. We knew you wouldn’t mind because you are so gracious.”
Well, I won’t go into the rest of the story, but you can probably figure out how it ended. After a couple of months, the family had been reduced to living in only one room of their own house, while their temporary “guests” had taken over the entire house for themselves. Eventually, in dismay, the family – feeling like strangers in their own home – moved away, driven out by those whom they had once received so graciously.
Take this as a parable, akin to the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 21 of the wicked tenants in the vineyard.

 

Sadly, we Christian began to impose our particular ways on our Jewish brothers and sisters and tried to make them look inferior. We would go to great lengths to destroy their communities.  We must not let this happen again.

So what can we get out of today’s Scripture? I think we all fall short of following the way of Jesus and we need to reflect on ourselves.   It is against the ways of Jesus to put down his own people.

I believe the Spirit calls upon us in our families and communities to hold each other responsible for following the Great Commandment: love God with all your heart and soul, to love your neighbour as yourself and to honor and respect yourself as a man/woman of God.  We are the only ones who can change ourselves and we need to focus on ourselves rather than put others down to lift ourselves up.

Canada is becoming more and more a multi-faith country.  I hope we will seek to get to know people of other faiths and philosophies and recognize what we have in common. We can allow our differences to help each of us grow into being more understanding, compassionate and open minded.  May the Creator help us, of different faiths, to work together for a better world and let the Spirit lead us to a just, loving and sustainable world that will honor all of Creation.

 

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