Monday, August 18, 2014

God As A Canaanite Woman

Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28
Chatfield United Methodist Church
August 17, 2014
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

You think you know a person and then they do something that blows yo
u away. It might be a good thing; it might be a bad thing. But to you it is so out of character that you can hardly recognize them.

I remember when my grandmother swore in front of me. I was shocked. As it turns out she had a pretty colorful vocabulary but around us grandchildren she would say “Oh sugar” when something wasn’t going quite right. But one day she let it rip. I wasn’t quite sure what to think about that.

People are and should be complex. But we want them to fit into our preconceived notions and when we don’t we aren’t sure what to do. But then on the other hand, we want others to accept us for all of our complexity.

This is what makes relationships so hard and understanding and accepting each other so complicated.

This is what makes this Gospel lesson so relevant.

We think we know Jesus. He is Savior of the world. Lover of everyone. Not given to crudeness and certainly not prejudice.

Yet, here in Matthew 15 he does both. He is crude and he demonstrates bigotry if not down right prejudice.

Our English translations don’t convey the crudeness of what Jesus tells his disciples. You think it is about nasty talk or swearing or rudeness. Like what I heard my grandmother say that one fateful day. Jesus says, “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.” What he really is saying in the Greek language of the day is: what is vomited/spewed/upchucked out of the mouth. But when asked to explain it he is more revealing: What comes out of the mouth is even worse than what gets deposited in the sewer/toilet.

Sorry, I know it is Sunday morning and you have all had or are looking forward to a nice Sunday meal. But Jesus said it so we need to hear it. What comes out of mouths can be worse than what comes out the other end.

But Jesus wasn’t talking about swearing. Or even crude jokes or nasty stories. He was actually using a nasty story to illustrate his point.

I don’t know exactly what happened in Ferguson Missouri this week. No one will ever know what exactly happened. But we do know that a snap judgment on the part of a police officer with a weapon took the life of an unarmed teenage boy. We do know that something in that police officer’s heart was vomited out of his mouth, metaphorically, and a teenager died. Was it fear? Hatred? Prejudice? Anger at what his neighborhood was becoming? Was it power? Violence? The inability to see justice? To only see vengeance or revenge?
We don’t know. We can’t know.
But we do know is that his act precipitated more acts of violence, hatred, fear, power, abuse of power and a world of hurt.
We saw the flames, the bruises from rubber bullets, the mobs. We saw the vomit.

We have been seeing too much of it lately. In Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Missouri…

Jesus must have been seeing too much of it, too. Because he feels the need to call it out.
People, you think that you are being holy and good because you are practicing all of your religious and cultural traditions. You are careful what you eat or what you drink. But it is nothing. No actually it is worse than nothing, it is disgusting because your blindness to your neighbor is creating a world of hurt. Your insistence on your own holiness, rightness, goodness is creating a worse stench in the land than the sewer.
Do you ever drive between Chatfield and Stewartville on 30? You know that farm that has the open manure pit? Have you ever driven by when the wind is just right? That is a nicer smell than the stuff that comes out of our mouths when our hearts are self centered and self-serving. When we look at our neighbor with suspicion rather than trust.

Are these hard words to hear? Absolutely. Absolutely. Are they necessary? Absolutely. We sit watching the events of the world unfold around us and we wonder, why? How? And maybe we are thankful that we live in a quiet community in the middle of rural America.
But before we become complacent we need to hear the rest of the Gospel lesson. It is as if the gospel writer is saying: whew those were hard words; now let us see what happens to Jesus. Just to remind us that we all have some work to do. All of us who are human beings have some work to do, including the son of Man, Jesus.

Enter the Canaanite Woman. A non-Jew. An enemy of Israel.
Here we have Jesus who had just taught his followers that they were not to be hung up on their traditions and their customs and their preconceived ideas about others. Here we have Jesus in a place outside of Israel trying to find some solitude.
Here we have Jesus ignoring a woman in need. A woman crying out with great agony because her daughter is sick.

When Jesus does speak to her it is not with the words we expect is it? “ I have come only to the people of Israel. In other words, not you. You are a gentile not a Jew. I have not come to this place to minister to you. It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Of all the passages in the bible I think this one is the hardest to hear. My Jesus saying something like that.
My Jesus disrespecting a woman in need.
My Savior…
He is more complex that I want to allow him to be.

He is more human than I want him to be.

He is tired, depressed, needing rest, and like most humans under stress, he reverts to his cultural biases. What he has been taught by his peers. Canaanites are not worth the time of day. They are dangerous idolaters and could never be God’s people.

But this woman won’t have it. She won’t allow him to revert. She won’t allow him to sin. She won’t allow him to become like so many others, unable to see the good in the enemy.

Jesus needed to see and be with a person of such great faith as this Canaanite woman. He NEEDED her to remind him of his true nature. His true way of being in the world.
He NEEDED her just like we need people in our lives to remind us: when we get tired or scared or confused. When it seems like the world is going up in flames and we are tempted to take a side. Chose an enemy. To revert to our cultural biases and traditons. To spew vomit. We need Canaanite women in our lives.  

This week a Dutch man, Henk Zanoli, gave back his Righteous Among the Nations Award. (http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2014/08/europe-and-israel)
Zanoli and his family suffered gretly because his family harbored Jews during WW2. The Nazis murdered his brother and brother-in-law; his father was died in a concentration camp.
In the current conflict in Gaza, some of Zanoli’s extended family were killed by Israeli bombs. The very people he saved killed his family. So, he gave back his award. Saying eloquently and powerfully that Israel was now committing war crimes.
That is conviction, bravery and discipleship. That is being a Canaanite woman to the nation of Israel.
We saw other Canaanite women this week. In Ferguson, a police officer who led a peaceful protest march, a pastor who took a rubber bullet in her stomach while leading a prayer vigil. Friends who spoke words of comfort and clarity and charity in to the news of depression and suicide.
Canaanite women who changed the story from one of hatred and bias to a message of Salvation. We need such saving.

WE need and have a Savior. Who has smelled the worst that we could offer. Who has stepped back from the edge of the sewer. Who knows our every weakness. And who has taught us how to live.  

And who has taught us how to live.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Wet Feet

Matthew 14:22-33
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Western Days Worship 2014
August 10, 2014

There are two ways to get into a canoe. You can carefully work your way from the shoreline to the seat of the canoe, climbing over the bow, the seats, the thwarts, and anything stored in the center, hanging on to the gunwales. Carefully crouching so as not to tip the canoe. Keeping your feet dry.

Or the other way is to float the canoe a little ways off shore while holding onto the gunwales and carefully hoisting one leg and then another over the gunwales into position letting the water drain a bit from your shoes as you get into the canoe.
Using this method guarantees that your feet will get wet.

In our safe and carefully orchestrated world you would normally think that keeping your feet dry is the wisest option, wouldn’t you? But in getting into a canoe it is actually better to get your feet wet. To take the risk and get into the water. It might be cold, it will definitely be wet, and maybe even a little muddy, but trust me; it is the safer way of getting into a canoe.
And I believe that getting our feet wet is the safer way of living our lives as disciples of Jesus the Christ.

And by safer, I don’t mean free of danger or discomfort. I mean safer as in: when all is said and done, you will feel as if you lived the life you were meant to live. You will know that you have been saved, have been sanctified by the grace of God through the power of the holy spirit.

We often disparage Peter for his lack of faith. Peter if you had only kept your eyes on Jesus. If you had only proved to us that it could be done. But let us not be too hard on Peter.
Peter WAS was willing to step out of the boat. He was willing to get his feet wet. He was willing to give it a go. And I bet he has never regretted that for one minute. I bet Peter would often look down at those feet that had gotten wet and said, “Let’s do it again, ok? Let’s keep on getting wet.”

That remarkable storyteller Madeleine L'Engle said that if Jesus was fully human as we believe him to have been, and if he could walk on water, then so should we be able to walk on water. That we cannot, she said, probably means that we have just forgotten how.

Or maybe it isn’t that we have forgotten. Maybe it is that we need to recognize those times when we do walk on water if even for a few steps.

Maybe we need to think of those times when we have taken the risk to step out of the boat, when we have gotten our feet wet.

So that we can believe that we are able and capable of the impossible. That, really and truly we haven’t forgotten.

Think with me just now: what has been a recent experience when you did something really, really hard. Something you didn’t think you were able to do. Something that you might term: Like walking on water.

What happened? Why were you able to do it?

Did someone reach out his or her hand to guide you along and onto the water?

Did someone give you an encouraging smile or word to help you move forward in the direction you knew you needed to go?

Did you feel God’s presence within you and around you giving you the courage you needed to take that tentative but firm step out of the boat onto the unknown?

By saying to Peter “Come.” Jesus gave Peter the confidence to get out of the boat and take those first steps.

Jesus didn’t say, oh Peter, you can’t do that. This is a little trick that I learned in Heaven; people like you haven’t learned this trick yet.
Nor did he say, “Peter, when you are more spiritually mature, then I will teach you how to walk on water. For now just stay in the boat. Keep your feet dry.”

Jesus said “Come” “Come ahead, Peter.”
I imagine it was said in a matter of fact tone: Come Peter, step right this way. Jesus expected Peter to walk on water.

I believe that we have all heard this invitation to get our own feet wet. Come, child of mine, God says to us, step out of the boat.

My road into ministry was very much like that. I could almost audibly hear God’s word coming to me matter-of-factly saying, “Come. Others tell you it is impossible, but I say to you; come. Get your feet wet, leave the rest to me.”
And like Peter’s journey there were times when I thought for sure I was going to drown. But God didn’t leave me out there in the middle of the lake alone. Like Peter, hands reached out to me. People became Jesus to me. Saving me from the perils of the seas. Friends who said, “you can do it” “I am walking this journey right along side you.”
Colleagues who said, ‘you are gifted for this, you can do it.’
Scriptures that offered words of encouragement and affirmation.

With all of these God moments there was no way I could NOT get my feet wet.

The hand that God extends to those of us who take the risk to leave the boat and get our feet wet is the hand of Jesus who comes to us incarnated in so many ways. Encouraging each of us to come, step out of the boat, get those feet wet. Journey with me into the realm of the impossibly possible.

Now, like most of us, Peter looked down and got scared, seeing the storming waters Peter cried out: I’m going down. Save me. I, a person who grew up on the Sea of Galilee, who knows these waters like the back of my hand. I, Peter, who can swim as well as any fish; I am going to drown. Save me.

So here is where we would expect Jesus to say: Yep, I knew you couldn’t do it. Walking on water is too hard for someone like you, a mere human. Give it up and go back to your safe existence, to what you know how to do, don’t go trying any of these beyond this world’s tricks. Keep your feet safe and dry.

But what Jesus really said was: Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.
Jesus is telling Peter and us that he almost had it. This walking on water wasn’t impossible, Peter a little more faith that is all it would have taken. At least you were willing to get your feet wet.

God expects us to go beyond our comfort zone, our own preconceived notions of our capabilities and even what we think are the confines of the normal every day physical existence.

I would even venture to say
that if you haven’t been excited about stepping out of the boat and onto the water,
that if you can’t remember the last time you stepped out of the boat and onto the water,
that if you have noticed how dry your feet have been in your life lately,

Then I would venture to say that you missing the kind of Life Jesus envisions for you. You are missing the Life God has gifted you for.

I kinda like the way Peter lived his life Living on the edge expecting to be able to jump out of a boat and walk on water, not because we are so special, or capable or good, but because we have been invited to step out by Jesus the Christ. That is true living.

For I believe God says to us on a regular basis:
“Come out of the boat. I expect you to remember how to walk on water. or at the very least, get your feet wet.” Come on and risk it so you can be safe. So you can be saved.