11th Sunday after Pentecost- Deacon Gill- August 20, 2017

August 20, 2017

Today I want to share with you a personal story. As most of you know I was born in England to parents who weekly worshiped in the Church of England. After Rod and I married we were blessed with the opportunity to live and work in England, America and Australia for extended periods of time. These countries have national churches that are members of the Anglican Communion. So when I live in America I worship as an Episcopalian. When I live in the UK I am part of the Church of England and when I am in Australia I worship in the Anglican Church of Australia. The services in every part of the Anglican Communion are very similar and I feel comfortable and welcomed in each.

In 1995 we moved from Melbourne, Australia to Fairfax Virginia. As was our custom within 2 to 3 weeks of arrival we had chosen our new church home and were getting to know people and the area we lived in. As it turned out we were in Virginia for 6 years so we got ourselves very involved in the community. We both believe in giving back by volunteering and after a couple of years I was asked to be the assistant to the rector for Outreach and Pastoral Care…..a voluntary job.

I was so happy to be working there until the day that I received a very hurtful email. It was sent by a small group of 4 longtime parishioners who said that they did not want or need a foreigner and a woman at that in their midst working and worshiping in THEIR church and that I should leave. The Rector should also leave because they did not care for his preaching style. I might add that it was a long and graphic email which could not be ignored and was very hurtful. The resulting conflict had to be resolved so the Bishop of Virginia, Peter Lee, employed consultants from the Lilly Foundation. The result was that a now enlarged group of 10 transferred to another church.

At the time we were legal residents in America. Now we are citizens. Yes we had UK passports but after having lived previously in NY and CT we were very attuned to the American way of life. It was only about 6 months after the incidence that Rod’s company moved us to Houston. My faith had been severely tested in VA but I came out of it even more convinced of the grace of God.

The gospel today tells a story about Jesus leaving his homeland, a Jewish territory, and going into what we would now call Lebanon. There was a long-standing ethnic feud between the people of the Holy Land and the people of Lebanon. There still is today so this might well be a contemporary story.

Jesus is approached by a local woman who wants him to heal her daughter. The Israelites called such people dogs. And remember dogs didn’t enjoy the privileged place in society then as they do for many of us now. The unnamed woman was a Canaanite.

It was obvious that the woman was desperate. She would have been brought up to despise Jews. She risked being rebuffed and insulted. There are moments of desperation in our lives when we are impelled to step out of our safety zone, our secure society. Our need overcomes fear and even prejudice.

Jesus tests the woman. We don’t give dogs human food. Jesus is using a dreadful slur to test the faith of the woman. She replies with some good humor. She points out that even dogs get the scraps that fall from a table.

The Canaanite woman had a very sick daughter. What loving mother can bear to see her child in any kind of pain? She knows only Jesus, Son of David, can help her daughter. And this woman was desperate. She was desperate enough to break many of that culture’s rules concerning encounters between women and men. She shouted not only at a man, but at someone special. Then she threw herself at his feet when he ignored her. But she not only did that – she argued with Jesus. She put herself in danger of severe consequences. Her desperation overcame her fear. Her concern for her daughter made her emotional. However it’s the disciples who are uncomfortable. They don’t want to be bothered by this woman who is breaking the rules, demanding help, from their master.

We’re surprised when Jesus first ignores her, and then seems not only to ignore his own teaching, but he is rude to her. “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” What? Isn’t the second great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself?

Within our own country we find cultural and ethnic differences that may challenge us. It is easy for us to be caring at a distance. Writing checks to help other people in need is a vital and good service, but it is perhaps made easier because we don’t have to rub shoulders with the people we are helping. If we volunteer in a thrift shop or help feed the needy, we may wonder what on earth we would say to such people if we had to be in their homes or on the street.

Jesus says that if we are to follow him, he is inviting us into uncomfortable, painful, and hurting places where those who need our prayers live. He invites us out of our comfort zones. He invites us to experience the tragedy and hurt another one is suffering. He invites us to be with those who may be called dogs, or think of themselves as dogs – unclean, perhaps at the bottom of the social or class ladder, or perhaps apart because of their lifestyle or habits. God rejoices in the opportunity to welcome all people, whatever their circumstances. Those who have turned away from their false gods and have embraced Him as their savior and king

There are no signs saying “No foreigner’s welcome.” “If you’re not someone like us, then you’re not someone at all.” As we heard from Isaiah “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

It’s part of the joy of the Gospel. None of us are excluded – not for our past, not for our family history, not because we are physically weak, not because our names aren’t among the socially elite. God’s promise is that we’re all welcome, that we all belong, by virtue of our faith.  When our ancestors landed on these shores they were either poor or outcasts, yet they brought with them their personal faith.

Matthew is showing us how Jesus’ mission and ministry is growing, tearing down centuries old boundaries, and opening up the culturally identified family of God to all God’s people. Jesus responds to the marginalized. In these cases, to women, but there are many more – the blind, the crippled, children, outcasts of all kinds.

All the Canaanite woman was asking was to receive “the gifts of God for the people of God.” She persisted and at last Jesus praises her for her great faith and heals her daughter. Jesus knows that the woman gets it. No matter how insignificant she is from the Jewish point-of-view, she is willing to struggle faithfully to obtain healing for her daughter. Her faith guides her in her struggles for justice. In her heart she knew that Jesus was the way for transformation for her daughter and he knew her heart.

So our questions for today are: whom do we accept as our neighbor? Do we still harbor in our hearts signs of racism? Whom do we think of as less than dogs? Living in our current culture of fear can be a challenge. But we have to keep unified in our faith in a loving God.

When I was in Virginia and embroiled in conflict it was my faith in the knowledge that God’s grace would win out that kept me going. I stood up to bullies. In the same way we need to turn to our faith to guide us in all decisions that we may be required to make when confronted with questions of what is right and what is wrong.

Service Schedule

Sunday Services
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite I
9:15 a.m. Christian Formation
10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite II

Weekday Services
Wednesday 12:00 p.m. Holy Eucharist

Address

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
5373 Franz Rd
Katy, Texas 77493
(281) 391-2785
Website:http://www.stpaulskaty.org
Email:info@stpaulskaty.org

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