A sermon for Proper 15; Genesis 45:1-15., Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
Is Joseph right God is involved in his story. A question today’s Genesis reading raises is, well it is lots of versions of the same question, how is God involved? Did God cause his brothers to sell him into slavery? Did God cause Potiphar’s wife to try to seduce Joseph, who refused, enraging her to the point of accusing him of seduction leading to his being thrown in Jail (Gen 39)? Did God cause the baker and cup bearer to behave suspiciously causing their arrest and imprisonment? Did God send them dreams? Did God give Joseph the interpretation? Did God cause Joseph to share it (Genesis 40)? Did God send Egypt’s Pharaoh dreams? Did God send Joseph the interpretation of this dream also, and cause him to share it (Genesis 41)? Did God inspire Pharaoh to give Joseph power over all Egypt (Genesis 41)? Did God direct all of Joseph’s instructions about how to prepare for a famine? Did God send the famine to Egypt and all the surrounding area? Did God direct the back and forth between Zaphenathpaneah; (Joseph’s Egyptian’s name) and his brothers (Gen 41-44)? Did God lead Jacob to make the crushing decisions to send Benjamin to Egypt, and to move the whole clan to Egypt?
We read this morning that Joseph believes God caused it all. We do not read if his brothers believe him. However, it is reasonable to believe they should have, because, in the day, gods were the causal agents of the cosmos; they were responsible for everything from sun rise, to eclipses, to the stars of the night sky. The question now becomes, how do we think God acts today? We no longer believe in a host of godetts controlling all the cosmos. So why would God micromanage human behavior? I do believe God is intimately and actively present in the world and in our lives. I do not believe God causes anything. I believe God/Spirit suggests many things from all imaginable to many things unimaginable. But it is up to those who hear the divine whisper it is up to those who receive divine inspiration to act. To believe in a God who is intimately and actively present, but is not the active causal agent of anything at the same time makes every bit as much sense as believing in a God who is God the Creator, God incarnate, and God the continuing Holy Spirit presence at the same time; which, as you know, is a basic tenet of our faith.
More than raising the difficult question of how God is present in the world, this morning’s reading is also a source of hope. No matter how badly Abraham’s 4 generations of misfits mess up following God’s call, God does not abandon them. Paul says it powerfully,
God has not rejected God’s people. … the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Folks, God isn’t going to let you, or me, or anyone else go.
The Gospel reading for this morning is another source of hope. There is some considerable debate as to what is really going on here. Is Jesus as insensitive as it appears? And no, we cannot take away the insult of “dogs” by insisting it really means household puppy pets; it is an insult. And yes, it is not the picture of Jesus we so cherish; none the less, it is Jesus. This is a story of the fully human Jesus. We do not tend to read Gospel stories this way, this one is clear. One way or another, Jesus and his disciples have ended up in Canaanite territory; which for us would be like being in North Korea, or ISIS territory, or some other geography we consider to be the domain of an existential enemy. A woman asks for help healing her daughter. Jesus is silent. The disciples tell him to send her away. In a position of reverence and worship, she asks again. Jesus speaks an inconvenient truth, he has been sent to the house of Israel, the gifts he has are not to be wasted on Israel’s enemies, the dogs. The woman says, “even the dogs eat the crumbs.” The human Jesus is inspired, recognizes a truth he had not previously seen, Canaanite’s are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) so all people are God’s people, and then he grants her daughter wholeness, shalom. In the process Jesus knows shalom; he now has a more complete, a whole, or closer to it, image of God’s people and the love of God. He has it as fully human. This means we can have a similar experience, we can learn a more complete image of God’s people, and the power of God’s love.
In this morning’s collect, we ask to
receive thankfully the fruits of [Jesus’] redeeming work.
We now realize they may come to us in the image of crumbs, discarded leftovers, and that is more than enough to bring us Shalom. All this is important because of the events prior to, of, and that have and are following Charlottesville.
This morning’s Gospel story reveals the ugly truth of Israel’s superiority relationship over the Canaanites, we are better than you. Charlottesville reveals that there continues to be in the United States those who believe white people are superior to other people, we are better than you. Jesus learned that thinking is wrong, and acted on his learning by bringing shalom to a mother and daughter. We must learn white supremacy is wrong, and we must learn the as Jesus did, we must also act. God is our inspiration, but God will not be the causal actor bringing healing and shalom to the errors of white supremacy and other forms of racial discrimination and oppression. We are inspired to see the truth. We are called to act.
Drawing on Martin Luther King’s book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry points the way. He wrote
the way through the chaos … is the way of love … the way to be right and reconciled with God … and each other.
The life, ministry, and death of Jesus teach us that the way of love does not confront violence with violence (Curry). We must not confront armed Neo Nazi, White Supremacist, KKK hate with arms of our own; and there were Antifa counter protesters in Charlottesville who were armed. We may have to practice keeping a nonviolent manner, which includes the nature and tone of our speech, in the face of a demeaning, violent charge, as the Civil Rights movements of the sixties practiced. We will have to remind ourselves, that like generations Abraham’s people, we will mess it up; but that God will never abandon us, the Great Shepherd walks with us through every valley darkened by shadows of evil intent. We will have to remember Jesus healed the Canaanite woman after he was healed from a limited view of God’s people; so, our first step may be to look deeply into our own hearts. Remembering, not only did Jesus have a change of heart, so did Joseph; in the previous couple of chapters, he is abusive and highly manipulative towards his brothers, including Benjamin, and his father. We too can see and repent of a less than divine heart.
I do not know if you have realized it, and I have not read much and haven’t heard anything about it, nonetheless, there were three armed opposing groups in Charlottesville, the Police, who should have been, some of the Alt-right, and some of the Antifa of the counter protestors. Not a shot was fired. Just maybe all sorts of people followed the Spirit’s whispering guidance; who knows, I don’t know; but, I find it both hopeful and just may be a sign of how the Kingdom of God is present. Which means we have nothing, nothing at all, keeping us from joining our neighbors, of all races, nations, and creeds and powerfully, peacefully, and lovingly face down the forces of racism and discrimination that we face right here, right now; and by that, I mean right here in Blytheville, in Mississippi County, in Arkansas. And remember God is with us to the end of the ages (Matthew 28:20).
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