Proper 15 Year A, August 20, 2017

Reverend Deacon Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Proper 15 – Year A

Genesis 45:1-15 and Matthew 15 (10-20), 21-28

August 20, 2017

Come Holy Spirit.  Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. 

         With the reports we are hearing everyday, and the fear and conflict that is currently living in our country, how do we find our way in this?  As I prayed and contemplated that question this week, what occurred to me was – conflict, anger, and pain have existed for thousands of years.  Followers of Jesus tried to wrap their brains around what happened to their rabbi, Jesus, and what to do next, and early Christians tried to figure out how to live out Jesus’ message and live as one people – not a divided people. Throughout all the generations between them and us now, conflicts between humans have continued to occur.  So my question became, what did people of faith turn to for guidance and comfort?  They turned to the teachings of their tradition – to what grounded.  As Christians, one place we turn to are the teachings found in scripture.

         This week’s readings seem strangely relevant to our world right now.  Today we witness two interactions – first in the Old Testament…Joseph and his brothers and in the New Testament Jesus and the Canaanite woman.   Let’s take a moment and first look at Joseph.  To place this in history…famine has struck the land, and though Egypt was prepared…thanks to Joseph…Canaan, where his family was originally from, was hurting.  His brothers traveled from their drought-stricken homeland to buy grain from Egypt.  Surprise, surprise…the person they ended up buying from was actually the brother they sold into salary.  Eventually Joseph reveals himself to them - much to their shock and horror - but here is the twist – Joseph forgives them.  He explained that it was God who sent him ahead so to preserve life  - to prepare Egypt and the people for the drought.  His brothers were understandably befuddled and distrusting of Joseph’s words.  But what is most striking to me are these words, “Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck.”  They wept with one another.  How powerful is that?  The anger and fear gone as two brothers, who had every right to not trust one another, cried in each other’s arms.  Forgiveness is such a beautiful and life-giving gift from God.

         And then we jump ahead to our Gospel reading today.  Jesus has crossed from Galilee to Tyre and Sidon.  Why is that important?  Because it was the territory of gentiles – those people who were seen as unclean.  In our story, a Canaanite woman begs for Jesus to heal her daughter.  Jesus not only disregards her pleas, he eventually says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (…) It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 

         Did our Jesus – the Jesus who spoke of love and compassion for all, just refer to this woman as a dog?   Because she was a foreigner?  Or was this another opportunity for Jesus to teach his disciples that true faith is persistent and reaches beyond borders?  The Canaanite woman was willing to be vulnerable by seeking help from someone she knew should despise her due to the racial division of the time.  Even after he dismissed her pleas, she knelt before him…implying her deep understanding of his divinity…and still he referred to her and her daughter as dogs.  Yet, she persisted in her pleas for healing.  We are not promised that faith in God will be easy and handed to us.  She was clearly willing to fight for her daughter and through her faith, she reminded Jesus and taught the disciples that everyone is worthy of God’s grace…that even the life-giving crumbs from the Table are eaten by the dogs.  This brave, Canaanite woman – a foreigner – teaches us all, that God’s love and grace belongs to EVERYONE…ALL THE TIME.   “Not only does she see clearly who Jesus is, but also she understands how great is his power to heal…there is enough not only for the children of Israel, but also for the entire world.”[1] 

         In these scripture pieces, we see two different calls to action – two different responses.  Joseph forgives his brothers’ actions and shows them compassion by caring for them during the drought.  He frees them and himself from the bonds of anger and resentment into the arms of love and compassion.  And the Canaanite woman’s persistence by demanding that Jesus acknowledge her and heal her daughter teaches us all that though faith may require our determination and devotion…everyone is worthy of God’s love and grace – that no one is a foreigner in the kingdom of God.  

         In these times of strife and challenging conversations over equality, over our history, and over what is right and wrong, we will each need to find our own call for response.  We each must find our own words and choose what actions we will take.  But the good news is we are not alone in that walk.  We have one another.  And we have Jesus’ life work as an example and his message to guide us.  It is through our faith we know that everyone is equally created by God and worthy of forgiveness, compassion, love, and grace.  

         At the beginning of every service, we pray several prayers – one of those prayers, that the priest says, is called the Collect.  It focuses our attention and in this prayer we petition or ask God for something specific. 

         In our Collect this morning we started by praying the words… “Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, AND AN EXAMPLE OF GODLY LIFE.”    Our petition today – what we asked God for this morning -  “Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work (insert here…“forgiveness”…the fruits of Jesus’ redeeming work was forgiveness ), and to… follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life.”   We prayed first thing this morning – for help in receiving God’s forgiveness and for help to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Regardless of what’s happening in the world around us, we can turn to our faith in God and the example of how to live this life as seen and heard through the actions of Jesus Christ to guide us – to give us strength – and to remind us that we are all loved. 

[1] Susan Butterworth, On Breaking Boundaries, Episcopal Digital Network


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