Here is the video for the worship service for August 16, 2020. You can find the bulletin here.
If you want the full worship experience, please have a bowl of water, something small to eat and drink, and a lit candle. None of these are necessary, but they can help in your worship.
As always, the sermon manuscript is found right after the video.
Have a great week!
O Lord, by the power of your Spirit give us your words of life, that our faith may increase and our hearts made whole, through the love shown to all people by Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I’m not going to sugar coat this, but what on earth is going on with this gospel text? Why is Jesus acting so standoffish, so privileged elite, so… racist against the Canaanite woman? I know, calling Jesus a racist is probably the most sacrilegious thing anyone, let alone a pastor, could do especially in times like these, but the words recorded coming out of his mouth here make it really hard to think otherwise. I mean, he ignores her cries for help, dismisses her plight, and then calls her a dog. And calling someone a dog in those days wasn’t as endearing as it is now, calling someone a dog back then was an insult of the highest degree.
Jesus insulted this woman.
In her time of need, he kicked her down. In her time of pain, he shut her out. In her time of trust and faith, he disappointed her. Disappointed all of us, really.
And I’ve read people trying to explain away Jesus’ attitude here. They say he’s just reiterating what is on everyone else’s mind, but not his own. Or he’s testing the woman to see how she handles the situation. Or perhaps the least plausible to me, he is testing his disciples to see if they can point out the error in his words.
I don’t buy any of those. They just don’t seem to be in Jesus’ character. But then, neither does this. So I’ve just conceded to not try to figure out what is going on in Jesus’ head here, but rather, just look at what happened.
Jesus starts off talking about the heart being more important than custom and ritual, offending the Pharisees in the process. And Jesus, in a “matter of fact” kind of way, just says that they’re like the blind leading the blind. Which, in my opinion is kind of offensive to blind people, so it looks like Jesus is on a bit of a roll here with his non-politically correct words. But then this Canaanite woman walks up to them, which makes sense as they’re currently in Canaanite territory, and asks for healing for her daughter. Not a strange request, most parents want their children to be well. But Jesus says nothing, completely ignores her. The disciples try to shoo her away and Jesus’ response was only that he’s responsible for the Jewish nation, which of course the Canaanite woman isn’t part of. But she persists and that is where Jesus drops the hammer and says that it won’t be fair for him to take food from the children to throw to the dogs.
Ugh, makes me cringe every time. And I think this time around, in this day and age, in light of all that has been happening in the last few months, well, this just hits differently now.
And regardless of why Jesus said what he said, he is pointing out the systemic racism that existed even back in those days. This unfair treatment toward an outsider that someone of Jesus’ time and culture had accepted to be just normal is systemic racism. The fact that this woman had to get on her knees, call out the name of King David, an oppressor of her culture, just to be turned away and ignored because she isn’t seen as worthy is systemic racism. The fact that Jesus could openly call this woman, who by the way has done nothing wrong as far as we’re concerned except for being a loving mother, such a derogatory term as “dog” and no one bats an eye, is systemic racism.
See, systemic racism is the racism is that is so built into our culture, into our paradigms and worldviews, into the very fabric of how we do things that we often fail to see how our actions have served to oppress people of other cultures, other faiths, and other genders than our own. And it seems like Jesus is part of it as well, with how he treats this woman. But we don’t like seeing Jesus as racist, because we know racism is bad. So then, I ask, why is it that we as a society don’t seem to mind when we’re seen as racist?
I mentioned last week that the body cam video that recorded the events that led to George Floyd’s death was released, and the internet went crazy. If you haven’t seen it, it basically shows how the police officers calmly tried to arrest George Floyd, who was clearly impaired probably on the drugs they found in his system in his autopsy. Those who are against the Black Lives Matter movement have said that this video shows clearly how George Floyd died of an overdose and not at the hands of the police, and so they are completely blameless and the media has spun it out of control. But do you know what that argument and rationale is? You might have guessed it: systemic racism.
This idea that a black man who had to turn to drugs for various reasons, a man who has led a difficult and crime-riddled past, a man who isn’t at all the model of decency and morality deserved to die at the hand of the authorities is a product of systemic racism. The very thought that the people who are just fed up with how unfairly they and their ancestors have been treated for centuries and finally triggered to riot by this man’s death are acting unjustly for knocking over statues of oppression is a result of systemic racism. And thinking that this Canaanite woman’s daughter didn’t deserve Jesus’ healing or compassion is what systemic racism does to us all. It teaches us that there are classes of human. It teaches us that we can be judged because of the colour of our skin or the culture in which we were raised. It teaches us that it is ok for us to openly yell to the “foreigner” to “go back where they came from” even when… I was literally born in Vancouver and still am here, where I came from.
You know, the offended Pharisees in this passage were probably thinking all those things about Jesus as well. So much so that they did actually have him killed, and turned around and blamed it on his own actions and his insurrection.
So in this light I see that Jesus is just speaking out the injustices of the day and apparently our day, matter-of-factly. He speaks to the Jewish culture of the time and to our culture now that says anyone who doesn’t look like us or didn’t come from where we expect them to have come from is somehow of less value than we are. He speaks to the evils of inequality that aren’t bound by time but are bound by sin, in thinking that the measure of one’s worth is in their heritage, their upbringing, the colour of their skin, or anything other than the fact that we are all God’s created and loved creatures.
And this woman, this foreigner in her own land, this outsider that by all definitions given to us by systemic racism has much less important or worthy than Jesus or his disciples, had enough. So she presses on with courage, with strength, and with faith. Faith in that God’s grace and mercy are abundant. Faith that God’s blessings are a gift to all, deserving or not. Faith that God’s love is available to all people, regardless of which side of privilege they land on.
And she was right.
Jesus is impressed by her faith and resolve, and her daughter is healed instantly.
Jesus honours her for rising above the oppression and racism and brings her to wholeness. Jesus blesses her for her belief in equality, not because she was asking for a special status or to be better than others or even for her enemies to be punished, but she only asks for the same love and mercy that has been offered to the privileged, knowing that she too is included in God’s open and welcoming arms, and that God’s abundance is enough for us all.
So in the light of systemic racism, this woman stood up and declared her God-given worth as a child of God. A child of God, mind you, that by all definitions of the time, wouldn’t even have been seen as a child of God, but a mere dog. A child of God who didn’t fit in, who wasn’t born in the right place or of the right family, who shouldn’t have been welcomed according to the customs of the time. A child of God who didn’t deserve it or earn it, but still was destined to receive all of God’s grace and mercy. A child of God who was dearly loved, cherished, and saved like all of God’s children, regardless of ethnicity, gender, social class, or creed. A child of God, who in God’s eyes looks and is regarded just like Jesus, a human being with feelings and emotions, dreams and aspirations, enemies and oppressors, who wants nothing but the best for the world but keeps getting dealt a bad hand.
We live in a difficult time. Not only is there this pandemic looming over us, but turmoil over what is fair, what is just, what is equal has been creeping up, threatening the privileged, oppressing the outcast, and forcing us all to rethink what it means to live as a child of God in this day and age or at any time. And just as Jesus showed us with his naming of the injustices of his time, may we accurately and faithfully name the injustices of our time and in spite of it, act with grace and mercy and above all, the love that has been freely given to us by God in our communities through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit as we are reminded that we aren’t by any means rejected by God, but that God’s gifts and calling for us are irrevocable.
So in this time after Pentecost, may we see and feel the Spirit moving through us and through our hearts, teaching us how to live and how to love, that we might reflect God’s kingdom of equality and community, now and always. Thanks be to God. Amen.