Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:10-28

I had a hard time thinking about what to say this week. In the light of what happened last week in Charlottesville, Virginia, and then what happened in Barcelona, Spain, and then what was supposed to happen here and a few other major cities this weekend, and all the anger and hatred in the world right now, well, everything seems a little bleak. Actually, a lot bleak.

When I was watching the situation that happened last week on the news, I was a bit in shock. It was like it wasn’t even real news. It was like we were living in this overly dramatic and unreal world of the movies and fiction. It felt like, quite literally, a nightmare. Like this surreal situation teetering on the brink of what is real and not and I had this feeling that I have to wake up soon because this is just out of hand..

Except I didn’t. I couldn’t. This is real life and it doesn’t look good.

It is like all the progress we made in terms of social justice in the past 100 some odd years just disappeared. Like the movement toward not just racial equality but equality in general has just taken a giant leap backwards. It’s like all the closet racists and boogeymen that I was warned about as a minority growing up in Canada have come out of the woodwork and they came with reinforcements.

It is like we, sitting in our comfortable Canadian armchairs, here in South Burnaby, said to be one of the most multicultural neighbourhoods in the word, with a relatively low crime rate, just got a wakeup call of what the world is really like. Like, violent racism still exists? The KKK is still in operation? New groups are popping up in the name of this radical fanaticism?

It is sickening.

It is sickening to think this could be our reality. It is sickening to think that I may have to fear my kids safety because of the colour of their skin and the sound of their last name. It is sickening to think that there are people out there that are so messed up that they would think others whom they don’t even know deserve to die because they happen to have a different background, or are of a different ethnicity, or hold to a different creed. It is sickening to think that the world could still be run by power, greed, and evil, even after all this time.

And don’t even get me started on that president.

No, literally, don’t get me started. I don’t want to talk about him today. But what he has been representing over the past few months of being in office, what his actions have told us about him and the state of the world, and what has risen up possibly because of things he’s said or clearly have stood by, well that is what I want to talk about. Yes, it is bleak for us now, but it isn’t new.

I mean, the world has been run by power, greed, and evil for a very long time. I mean, in our bibles, which isn’t necessarily a history book but it does give us glimpses of what the world is like, we read story after story of persecution, oppression, abuse of power, and people being manipulated by greed. We read about Israel, God’s supposed “chosen” race, being challenged, defeated, and exiled. We read about how the people in power, people like Pharaoh, King Saul, the Assyrians and Babylonians, the Roman empire, the Pharisees, and even the disciples, how they work, operate, and are driven by the goal of power. We read about how Jesus, who clearly meant no harm to anyone but set out to help the needy, feed the hungry, and heal the sick, was murdered in an attempt to silence him because he was going against the powers that be at the time and their own claims to fame and more power.

And yeah, maybe it is kind of expected for this kind of stuff to happen back then. I mean people in bible times were uncivilized, uncultured, and not yet enriched by the wonders of the internet. Back in those days it was very much a dog-eat-dog world, and that was normal for them.

But that’s not normal for us, is it? Shouldn’t we, after all these years of culture and enlightenment, be somehow better? Didn’t we grow out of that childish and greedy power mongering and learn that the world could be a safer place if we were just to inject a little love in the mix?

To be honest, it doesn’t seem like it anymore. It seems like it is very much a dog-eat-dog world now too. But today we heard that even the dogs eat what falls off the master’s table.

See, the world in Jesus’ time was the same world as ours, maybe just a bit worse because again, no internet. But they had the same struggles, the same racial tensions, the same evils that plagued their people and their hearts. They faced gender inequality, government manipulation and oppression, and apparently really big jerks.

I hate to say this, but don’t Jesus and his disciples sound like a bunch of jerks here? Before I get hit by any lightning bolts, I think that is actually the point of this story, to show us how even the greatest of people, namely Jesus Christ, the very embodiment of God With Us, might have been coloured, even if ever so slightly, by racism and sexism. I think the point of the story is to show us how when completely inundated by the cultural and societal norms, even the best of us could start to think that it is normal. I think the point of the story is to show us that when we don’t speak up or act against injustice, then it all too easily gets swept under the rug and treated just as some kind of joke.

The problem is when the joke turns into an excuse which turns into an actual opinion and then turns into your world paradigm. I’m not saying that Jesus was a racist, no, far from it. But I do think that his living in the ancient middle eastern culture had reinforced in him his sense of call and mission, which was to minister to God’s chosen people. Far too easy for us to see people we don’t know going through something, and we think “not my problem”. Or we see someone in need and we think “it is their own fault”. Or we see a nation under bad leadership and we think “well I didn’t vote for him”.

And that is what I think this story is telling us, that complacency is the foundation on which evil can grow. Edmund Burke famously said “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing”. See, Jesus was still well within his rights to refuse to help the Canaanite woman, as she wasn’t in his “jurisdiction” so to speak.

But the woman wasn’t going to have it. In her desperation to see her daughter well and strong desire to see justice, she speaks out. She stands up and demands to be seen as a somebody, a human being, a beloved child of God.

And Jesus saw that she was right. Jesus saw that his mission was indeed to God’s people, but the definition of God’s people was opened up. Jesus, the greatest of all of us, learned that justice isn’t about our convenience, but it is about the love that God has for all people.

So I see this is a call for all of us to act. A call to stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves. A call to speak out against injustice and do what we can to ensure that people know that they are loved.

And this isn’t easy. It isn’t easy when we feel like nobodies who cannot make a difference. It isn’t easy when the powers that be seem so overbearing and intimidating. It isn’t easy when we are threatened with violence or even death if we go against what the established rules are.

But the joy in knowing that the right thing has been done will overcome that. The peace that we get in believing that we are not alone in our work towards justice and equality will carry us through. The hope found in the promise of resurrection, that death will not have the last word, that the cry for justice cannot be silenced, that our actions for the good will not go unnoticed, will remind us of who we are and whose we are, and what we are called to do and to be in a world that seems so full of darkness and despair.

A few days after the horrors in Charlottesville killed a young woman by the name of Heather Heyer, her mother spoke at her memorial service. The speech was really good, and can be found online, but here I have this weird facebook-y edited video, and it captures much of what she said very well. (note to readers: this isn’t the same video I shared during the service, for various reasons I don’t want to get into right now, but this is the full speech instead)

That is gospel, right there. That is the good news that we are given. That is the promise of resurrection, that even in death our lives remain, our effect on the world will last, we work for justice and peace will be magnified and continue.

See, the world is full of evil. The world can be the thing of nightmares. The world can be a very dark place. But the promise of God is that there is a light in the world, and the darkness shall not overcome it. And God’s promise is irrevocable and everlasting, and will give us peace, joy, and hope.

Yes, the fact that there were rallies put together in the name of racism and inequality is disheartening, but the counter rallies that greatly outnumbered them evoked hope. The fact that there is terrorism and violence in the world is scary, but knowing that there are people that will stand with us in name of peace is strengthening. The fact that there are unspeakable evils in the world truly breaks my heart, but knowing that there are good people out there willing to do something about it fills my heart up and reminds me that God’s abundant blessing is enough to overflow and fill us all.

I don’t know what the future holds in terms of world politics, racism, and terrorist violence, but I do know who holds our hands through it all. I know where peace and joy can be found in the midst of the horrors and evils of the world. I know that there is hope found even in the face of death, because there is resurrection.

As we go forth in uncertainty of the way the world is going, may we live in the sure and certain hope of God’s promises of grace, mercy, and overflowing and abundant blessing. Peace be to Heather Heyer and her family. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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