Worship Service for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 15th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on September 5, 2021! We are looking forward to September 19th, when we will return to in-person worship. But in the meantime, we continue to gather only like this and we will continue to livestream those services through these same channels. So if circumstance or comfort levels don’t allow you to return in person, you could always continue to worship online in this same fashion (although it will look a little different).

Anyway, here is our worship bulletin for this service. The bulletin will have the order of worship, the words of the liturgy, the hymn numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. The sermon is also pasted below the video, and the words of the liturgy that you need to know will be on your screen.

For an enhanced at home worship experience, you may find it helpful to have some props in your space. For the Thanksgiving for Baptism, you may want a bowl of water to interact with. For communion, you might want to have something small to eat and drink. And for the whole service, you can have a lit candle that can be extinguished during the sending hymn.

May God’s grace and peace be with you, today and always!

If the video doesn’t work, please try clicking here.

Holy God, send your Spirit that comes to us in both strength and weakness, that we might be humbled to hear you speak into our lives and hearts, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

You know, I love myself a good action movie.  Even more than a regular action movie, I love it when the movie has martial arts in it.  And even more than a regular martial arts action movie, I really love me a martial arts action movie based on Marvel comics.  As you might have guessed, I’m talking about Marvel’s latest theatrical release, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which opened up this past Friday (well, technically Thursday but ain’t nobody got time to go on opening night).  I watched it on Friday with our two sons, and I have to say, it was pretty awesome.

I’m not going to get into the story or anything here, as I’m sure only about 1% of you listening to this would care (that 1% being myself), but the big take away that I got from the movie was about the yin yang philosophy that you might have heard of.  Basically it is about balance between light and dark, good and evil, right and wrong.  The philosophy wasn’t talked about specifically in the movie, but it was totally hinted at when the main character Shang-Chi realised that he doesn’t always have to fight with his fists, but he can change it up and hold an open hand instead.  This might seem weird as a punch does more damage than a slap, but there was a symbolism there in the correlation between the aggressiveness of a closed fist against the thoughtful welcome of an open palm.  In that, in the two, there can be balance.

You might remember this gesture *palm over fist

It is a traditional East Asian greeting, symbolising that exact balance and total unity that Shang-Chi alludes to.  It is a symbol of hospitality, honour, and humility, as apparently back in the day in China, people would walk around always ready and armed for a fight, so this symbol meant that your weapons are turned on yourself.  It means that you’re not here for a fight, but here in the name of trust, relationship, and peace.

This gesture and its meaning all play in really well with the deeper themes of balance and peace in the movie, but I also think it lends really well in our modern, non-kung-fu-driven lives, especially these days when handshakes are almost frowned upon.  Also, I think it speaks really well to our gospel text for today, where we get one of the rare times that Jesus acts and speaks out of an aggression that we’re really not all that comfortable with.

“It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” is what Jesus says in response to a poor Gentile woman’s request for healing for her daughter.  The children that Jesus is talking about of course are the people of Israel, and the dogs that he mentions are basically everyone who are not of Israel, you know, like her.  So Jesus calls this woman a dog for the sole reason that she wasn’t born within the borders that surrounded the so-called “chosen people”.

Yes, it is as racist as it sounds.

You might think, no it’s not racist!  It’s just Jesus testing her.  No, it was racist.

Or no, it’s not racist!  Jesus was just highlighting the mentality of the day.  Yes, he was, and the mentality was racist.

Still, some say, no, it’s not racist!  Jesus was calling her a cute puppy and not a full blown dog.  Well, actually in those days for a Jewish person even cute puppy were seen as scavenging and filthy beasts and not welcome anywhere near the home so it’s still racist.

And we have a hard time accepting this. 

We have a hard time thinking that Jesus could say something so horrible.  We have a hard time thinking that Jesus would stoop so low.  We have a hard time believing that Jesus could act out of such racism because in our minds, racism equals bad, and Jesus can’t be bad, can he?

I hate to say, in this case, he is.  Maybe not in his innate nature, but the culture from which he comes from and that he currently holds is.  Maybe Jesus didn’t intend to be insulting or offensive, but the idea of insider/outsider can only be that.  Maybe Jesus didn’t want to draw the line between the us and the them even deeper in the sand, so with this woman’s help, he erases it.

And this paves the way for Jesus to continue erasing those lines, as he did for the woman’s daughter, and the deaf man he healed, and further for all those who didn’t belong in the “in” crowd and were outcast for a variety of reasons.  Not saying that this woman completely changed the trajectory of Jesus’ ministry, but she certainly helped.  She helped him and continues to help all of us to see the folly of our own ways, our own perhaps passive aggression, our own denial that we too could be bad.

I mean think about it, how many times do we make excuses and justifications for our own racist remarks?  I’m not free of it either.  I cringe when I look at all the times that I was racially insensitive to my own heritage and to that of others, and the many times that I was being offensive in the name of “getting a laugh”.  How often do we draw lines in the sand between us and them because they aren’t such and such enough, or from the right mindset as us, or didn’t vote the way we did?  How many times do we look at someone who sits on the opposite side of the fence from us and scoff at them, completely writing them off as even a person because clearly they are of a lesser species than us who are on our side of that fence?  How many times do we judge others as a “dog” or some other kind of undesirable animal because of whatever kind of criteria they don’t meet?

Or, to name the elephant in the room, how many of us would look down on someone because they, for whatever reason, did or did not get the COVID vaccination?

I know, it’s not comfortable.  We want to make excuses to exclude and justifications to judge and reasons to refuse others.  But the fact of the matter is that God loves us all.  God accepts us all.  And God welcomes us all from wherever we hail, whoever we are, and whatever sins continue to plague us. 

And in that welcome, God forgives.  Us.  Them.  All. 

That doesn’t mean that we go and hate on everyone still because we know we’ll be forgiven anyway.  But it means that as we realise we are forgiven, maybe we will be able to see and accept that same forgiveness is extended to others by God as well.  And perhaps, if we can see that, maybe we can do that as well.

I know, it isn’t easy. And I know there are a lot of reasons to hate.  But if the Chinese have taught us anything besides being able to produce really good looking preachers, is that aggression can be met with peace, and together they can bring about a humility that just might be able to bring us all together and unite us in God’s Spirit, and show us how God saves us from our own evils and demons from within.

So maybe we can bring down our hate.  Maybe we can level out the aggression.  Maybe we can extend our welcome to those we have always thought to be unwelcomeable, and together we can work toward a common ground on which we can all see the gracious salvation of God, brought into light by the work of Jesus on the cross, allowing us all the joy of opened eyes and unblocked ears, giving us the ability to see and hear the promises of God that bring us into relationship and community as the body of Christ in the world. 

We are living in very polarized times.  It seems like the lines we draw and walls we build are getting thicker and taller.  It all can seem so very hopeless.  But I believe that God brings us balance in our lives and in the lives of others.  I believe that God joins us together in spite of difference and shows us how all of us can indeed be welcomed.  I believe that God’s grace can cover us all, lifting us up in salvation, and loving us into new life.

So as we approach the end of the summer season and look forward to meeting to worship again in person, may we all join and balance our difference and love together, that we might humbly accept each other as fellow children of God, saved by grace and welcomed in love.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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