Saturday, 16 August 2014

'Crumbs...': a sermon for ordinary 20A

based on Matt 15:(10-20) 21-28 and Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

It’s not easy, being a disciple.
There you are, having left your nets,
your flourishing tax business,
to follow this rabbi, Jesus.
He has some pretty amazing things to say -        
but not everyone in the wider community is particularly chuffed by what they hear.
He seems to like challenging the religious authorities -
making them uncomfortable...
and sometimes, making you rather uncomfortable in the process.
His cousin John did a similar thing,
and...that didn't exactly turn out well.

He throws some pretty astounding
on-the-job training your way,
like catering for the multitudes
or walking on water.
He does some pretty astonishing things too.
Miracles, sure.
But... he also seems to like spending time with the kind of folk 
your mother always warned you about -
you know,
the edgy ones, the outsiders...
the ones who are definitely
‘not     like     us’...
the ones who don’t belong.

It’s hard, being a disciple,
because you find yourself so conflicted at times:
his words, his deeds, and sometimes the company he finds himself in,
often seem to get attention:
the wrong sort of attention.
Abandon any hope of future career
advancement here...
following the rabbi will not only
not make you rich,
you may also lose your respectability.
And yet,
there’s something about him:
he’s a visionary, a prophet,
and you occasionally wonder:
could he be the Messiah
with all his talk of the kingdom of heaven.

It’s not easy, being a disciple.
Perhaps it never has been.
If you think about the long history
of the children of Israel
it’s been a pretty mixed bag of
blessings and woes:
God’s promise to Abraham - of becoming a great nation...
and yet, becoming a nation of slaves in Egypt.
God’s deliverance under the leadership of Moses
and then... 40 years wandering and wondering in the desert.
Reaching the Promised Land,
and crowning your first king,
only to discover that Saul really isn't going to cut the mustard...
The golden years of God’s beloved king, David...
and Solomon the wise, who ruled in splendour...
but then the nation dividing into two...
weakened by infighting.
The kingdom of Israel eventually becoming a spent force
in the face of the might of other kingdoms...
and eventually conquered.
The temple destroyed
the best and brightest sent into exile...
The homecoming,
the rebuilding,
the hope for the future...
followed by further kingdoms
taking over the land...
until eventually, the Roman occupation.

And then,
...Jesus turns up.
He talks of a kingdom
that doesn't follow the usual format of
‘might equals right’,
a kingdom which doesn't put a lot of store 
in power and prestige at the expense
of the weak and the vulnerable...
A kingdom that is totally upside-down
and unlike any other:
the kingdom of God -
the kingdom of heaven.

It isn't easy, being a disciple,
but talk of this very different kingdom,
this very different way of being,
intrigues you enough to want to know more.
Which is why you find yourself
following the rabbi
as he travels the land,
walking around towns and villages,
and where you often land up
in awkward situations.

He’s just offended the Pharisees again -
this time in a conversation about things clean and unclean.
You think the plan to move on to another area is a good one,
except you find yourself in Gentile territory -
with all their strange ideas and customs -
pfft, dogs, the lot of them.
Not like us.
And now there’s some wifey who’s chasing alongside shouting out,
causing a scene.
It’s embarrassing.
It’s...  awkward.
You keep your head down, and keep walking...
and, to your relief,
so does the rabbi.
He outright ignores her:
actually, it’s about the only socially acceptable thing to do 
in the circumstances.

She keeps following, making a scene.
Perhaps the rabbi's silence isn't actually helping - 
maybe he needs to be more firm,
tell her to shove off.
Tell her ‘sorry, love, but you don’t belong here - you’re not one of us.’

And, it seems like he’s going to do just that.
Do the sensible thing;
the right thing,
tells her that it’s simply not in his job spec to speak to such as her.
But instead of going away,
...she stays,
makes an even bigger spectacle of herself.
She falls on her knees and begs...
‘Lord, help me.’
...Funny, Peter said the same thing the other day,
when his experiment with walking on water went wrong.
Seems she thinks that anyone
who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved. ...

They get into a conversation.
To share, or not to share?
Is it fair to throw the children’s food to the dogs -
to people like her?
Even with that usual, casual insult,
she persists...
a strange clash of cultures here:
dogs are scavengers, pests...
for her, they’re family pets...
she talks of puppies and crumbs.
Crumbs...
And suddenly you remember:
you see in your mind’s-eye 
12 baskets of left-overs
from an improbable feast of a couple of days ago.
So     many     crumbs...
And you’re shaken out of your thoughts as you hear him
marvel at her faith
hear him agree to heal her daughter.
And you know that even as he’s said the words,
somewhere in a house nearby,
a young girl has been restored.
And somehow,
you can almost hear the crazy upside-down kingdom’s borders
getting bigger...
enlarging
expanding...
where all belong,
where all are God’s children,
not just the children of Israel.

It isn't easy, being a disciple.
Perhaps it’s never been.
Here, in the 21st century, with the benefit of hindsight,
we look back over 2 000 years of church history
and see a mixed bag of blessings and woes,
as disciples through the centuries
have tried to work out what following
Jesus is all about.
Too soon, in the history of the Church,
followers began to buy into the idea of 
building the kingdom of heaven in brick and mortar...
in gold and marble...
caught up in thinking of power based on
earthly models:
of getting caught up in carving out an earthly empire 
where the nations of the earth would 
submit       or   be    crushed.
Where entry was through conversion by the sword 
as the New World was discovered...
where entry was by agreeing to adhere
to long lists of rules and regulations
and if not,
the doors of God’s grace would be slammed firmly shut.
Where the vision of the kingdom of heaven
decreased...
grew smaller and smaller
and only allowed the right sort of people in -
the ones who were just like us.

Somehow, over the centuries,
the children of God appointed themselves 
to the task of being God’s gate-keepers -
holy bouncers -
and in doing so, wholly losing sight
of the vision of the heavenly kingdom
that both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus saw:
a kingdom that was bigger, and broader, than imagined.

It isn't easy, being a disciple
but nothing truly worthwhile is easy.
We’re called to be uncomfortable at times
because as Christ’s body here on earth,
we’re called to share
in the bringing in of the kingdom of heaven -
a kingdom where the powerful are challenged
and where the lowly are raised to places of honour;
a kingdom of peace
a kingdom of rich, and glorious diversity
that breaks down the barriers of discrimination
and includes the kinds of people
that our mothers may just have warned us about.

It’s a kingdom of goodness, justice, and caring for one another:
where the gates are flung wide open
for all to enter in;
a kingdom that is always, always about God’s 
immeasurable generosity and grace:
where all can 'fit under YHWH's umbrella' [FOTW]
where all may come and sit around God’s banqueting table -
not offered crumbs,
but invited to feast,
to celebrate life, in all of its abundance...
...where all it takes is the faith,
the willingness to believe that with God
all things are possible...
The poet, R. S. Thomas described the Kingdom like this:
It's a long oway off but inside it 
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life.  It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.
Amen 

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