From the Desktop of the Pastor – Week of the 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

This morning in my sermon (which can be found here), I talked about how it isn’t our job to change the minds of others to be more like our own. While I still strand by that, I wanted to add to that in saying that it doesn’t mean that our minds can’t or shouldn’t be changed. While I’m not trying to convince you to change your mind, I do ask you to consider this example from my own life.

As I also mentioned in today’s sermon, I grew up in a Chinese church, that while it was Lutheran in name, it was much more conservative Asian in practice. Culture came before theology, so to speak. Without getting into the minute nuances of the Chinese-Canadian culture, I was taught that things like smoking, drinking, gambling, and even swearing were sins. This didn’t bother me as I would have caught serious heck from my parents if i ever did any of that, so I stayed away anyway.

But things got more problematic when issues arose around ethnicity and sexuality. In Chinese culture (like many other cultures), being Chinese is number 1. There is a patriotism that needs to be openly displayed, or else you’re considered at best a sell out and at worst, a traitor. Also in Chinese culture, anything that is related to the LGBTQ+ community is also seen as sinful. This was just a given for me growing up, and I didn’t really think twice about it.

Until I had to.

Our church started to face these issues and wondered how to deal with it. I started meeting more and more new friends who were part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I began to wrestle with what I actually believed. It wasn’t until all the Chinese Lutheran churches (including the one I grew up at) started leaving the ELCIC that I really had to come to grips what I considered to be true.

And I my mind was changed to believe in theology before culture. God’s grace over patriotism. Inclusion over exclusion. And to be honest, I feel a lot better about it than I ever had.

Here are the readings for next week:

Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1-17
Mark 7:24-37

So I guess I’m not the only one who had his mind changed by theology. It seems as though Jesus did too. I know, we don’t like to think of Jesus changing his mind at all, but let’s not forget that Jesus was just as human as you and me as well. And as human, Jesus was operating from a “culture before theology” mindset.

That’s totally understandable, as most of us do that without even thinking. We embed much of our culture into our theology to the point where they can almost become indistinguishable. And Jesus’ culture at the time in Israel told him that anyone outside that culture were basically like dogs. Which, in that culture, were stray animals that weren’t considered pets or anything, let alone included in a family unit. So it made sense to him to call this Syrophoenician woman a dog.

But without even batting an eye, she claps back. Because in her culture out in Tyre, dogs were household pets and beloved members of the family. Her being called a dog wasn’t as much an insult to her as other cultures may have seen it to be, rather it was a way to smooth out a difference and find a common ground.

Her quick thinking and astute reasoning gave Jesus a pause, and he then went and put theology before culture. He put God’s grace over patriotism. He saw how he could include outsiders instead of exclude them. And that is the basis of his ministry. The ministry of which we are products of, and a ministry that we look to for wisdom and guidance.

May our minds be opened by God’s grace, leading us to new heights of inclusion and welcome, putting our faith in front of our patriotism and culture. Thanks be to God!

Have a great week, everyone!

Photo by Alicia Jones on Unsplash

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