The Gospel: Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: So, it is good to be back with you. The last two weeks were certainly full and a blessing in so many ways. Thank you for your prayers and support for all of our family during that time.
As we begin this morning I would like to introduce the theme idea, that I will be speaking about, then we are going to do some review, and then we will come back to it.
I want to spend some time talking about The Unknown God. This is a concept that Paul addressed in Acts when he was in Athens. I am sure most of us are familiar with that story. We will come back to it a little later.
This morning we are returning to our post-Pentecost/ordinary time journey. You all know that is the period we are in the church calendar. Deep into the season of green. Until later in the year when we get into Advent and Christmas.
I thought maybe it was time to remind us of how we started out on this journey. Does anyone remember the definition I shared, way back at the beginning of June, about Ordinary Time?
I said then that I really appreciated the definition from the Episcopal Dictionary which said Ordinary Time was: "Ordinary time can be understood in terms of the living out of Christian faith and the meaning of Christ’s resurrection in ordinary life." So we are living our ordinary Christian lives - our personal faith journey - in the light of Christ's resurrection.
I said back in June that I believed that it was important for us to consider how we were ordinary people who were living our ordinary lives in relationship with, and under the influence of, an extraordinary God.
In the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and in the early times of Christianity those who called themselves Christians or Christ followers lived in societies where there were a range or variety of gods. Individual nations - the Greeks and Romans for instance - had a variety of gods that they worshipped and revered. Israel's neighboring nations also had a wide variety of gods. All of these people made sacrifices to these gods to appease and please them. They understood that their lives often depended on staying in the good graces of these gods. Their religious practices, and their daily lives, were designed to show who they worshipped, their god or gods. But often the gods were distant and unapproachable.
We hear about that in the story of Paul and his visit to Athens in Acts chapter 17: "Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and, after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him. While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols."
Here was a society that was open to the worship of all kinds of gods. They acknowledged a wide variety of gods and erected idols to represent them.
Paul begins to talk to the Athenians about their practices and tries to introduce them to God. This causes some confusion and so he is taken to the Areopagus, where they asked him: “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.”
Before we go too much further can I say that one aspect of what made the Christian God extraordinary was the very fact that Christians - Christ followers - believed that they could have a personal relationship with God.
Even in the stories of those people, we now consider Old Testament believers, there was always a personal aspect to the connection between people and God. From the very beginning, God spoke with people and sought to be in relationship with his creation, his people. Then, with the coming of Christ, the most significant aspect of Christian belief and practice became that God was willing to become human. God came "in the flesh" so he could be in a relationship with his people.
Then in a series of extraordinary events, God in his human form was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of his, all, people. But it didn't end there. He rose from the dead and broke the curse of "death for disobedience" that mankind had lived under from the beginning of time.
So, what does all of that have to do with us and the unknown God from Paul and Acts?
Briefly back to Paul and his encounter in Athens. "Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely spiritual you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all peoples to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps fumble about for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being" Acts 17: 15 - 28
In the world, we live in - particularly here in the United States - there isn't that same plethora of gods that existed in Old Testament times or even in Paul's time in Athens. Of course, there are a variety of major world religions with an even wider variety of smaller religions. But for the most part, we understand that this is a nation based on Judeo/Christian principles. That here Christian people have been free to worship the living God proclaimed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. We would consider that our lives and worship reflect our relationship with the living God.
Now, if we were to talk about idols I believe we could identify plenty of evidence of idols. Things that people hold in awe or adoration. Things that they make sacrifices for, and things that shape their daily life practices. It doesn't take too long to look at someone's life and realize what it is they are committed to and what the focus of their endeavors is. What takes priority in their lives? How people live their daily lives points you to what or who they worship.
So, with not much time left what does all this have to do with our scriptures for this morning? Well, I would like to suggest that each one of them contains some action that identifies the God who the individuals serve. Joseph in the forgiveness of his brothers tells us what he has learned about God, about God's grace, in his time living in Egypt. The God who Joseph has come to know, in a personal way, by all of his experiences in Egypt is a God who is gracious despite all human failures. "God sent me before you to preserve life ....... God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God" Joseph understands the God who he serves and he shows his brothers that God.
Then in Matthew, we have the illustration, once again using the Pharisees as the example of outward obedience and following of the set religious practices, of how Jesus brings the disciple's focus to their own heart motivation. Jesus challenges the disciples to understand that their actions must come from the convictions of their hearts. The things that they do and say should come from their "heart knowledge" of God. Matthew follows that story up with the story of the Canaanite woman. If Jesus were to follow the strict letter of the law he would have ignored and reviled the woman. Instead, he responds out of the love and openness that he has been sent to establish in the world. The woman's daughter is healed because as it says in John 3: 17: "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him."
As we close this morning I would like to suggest that there are many in our world today who consider God as an unknown God. Perhaps even an unknowable God.
Can we ask this morning: "Who is the God we serve?"
Then might we ask: "How do our words and our actions - our spiritual practices - help others to recognize the God we know?" The God that we know loves us so much that he came, lived, died, and rose again for us.
Bishops & Father Mike