Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 18 September 06, 2015 Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
I do not like surprises, unless I know about them in advance. Nor do I like disruptions, except for when I don’t like the thing being disrupted. I especially detest being interrupted when I’m eating, or talking with a friend, or on vacation. Jesus was on something of a vacation in today’s gospel. He had been ministering to Jewish communities, and you get the sense that the constant attention was wearing on him, so it makes sense that he would go to a region with a different culture and religion in hopes of getting away from it all. But no. When you’re God incarnate, the Word made flesh, you tend to disrupt things no matter where you go.
Good and evil may be opposites, but they have something in common: they surprise us and disrupt the status quo. Jesus found in this foreign territory the same brokenness of body, spirit, and relationship that he found on his home turf. Lives disrupted by unwelcome surprises. Jesus, just by being who he is, disrupted the disruption, setting things right and getting more of the very same attention he was trying to avoid.
But before he worked his miracles, Jesus and a local woman disrupted the norms of relationships that their cultures dictated. It’s hard to express just how radical the Syrophoenician woman’s dialogue is. Simply speaking to a man who was not a family member would have been a violation of the social norms of the time. She doesn’t just speak, she answers an insult with wit and grace. It appears that she got the better of Jesus and got him to do something he wasn’t inclined to do. But his very nature is mercy, grace, and healing. Of course he was going to expel the demon; a confrontation between evil and the divine can have no other possible outcome. Jesus didn’t just give a cure, but also a glimpse of the new standard of relationships in the kingdom of God, where oppressive social distinctions are swept away in favor of the subjection of all things under Jesus Christ.
Last week the Syrian refugee crisis reminded us just how far the world has to go toward meeting disruption with grace. Millions of people fleeing the war in Syria have been running for their lives and seeking some semblance of safety in neighboring countries. Turkey alone took in two million, but for a number of reasons that situation is becoming untenable. Some of the refugees learned of some welcoming countries in Europe, but they had to travel through less welcoming countries to get there.
While top officials of European governments argued over protocol, procedure, and prerogatives, a fresh crisis broke out on the ground as refugees were forbidden to leave places that were never intended to hold such numbers of people. But while the leaders of countries that together have four hundred million citizens claimed, in turn, that their country couldn’t possibly welcome a share of the hundred sixty thousand refugees, on the ground, many of those four hundred million citizens responded to the crisis with extraordinary grace, offering small acts of kindness that amounted to more than their so-called leaders could muster with all the resources at their command.
Not that Americans have any place to criticize the immigration policies of other governments. We manage to not only exacerbate the suffering and injustice of some of the world’s most vulnerable people, but also to turn away the best, brightest, and hardest working people, people who are ready to take risks and invest in our country, and in many cases, people in whom our country has already invested. Fear has always been a powerful motivator, going all the way back to Exodus: “Look,” said Pharaoh, “the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us.”
And God is always more powerful. God overthrew the armies of Egypt, and commands his people to offer hospitality and acceptance to those who are different, or in need. God heals our brokenness, turns our fear into courage, compassion, and hope, and makes the demons themselves reveal the glory of God. Chaos may disrupt the world, but the end result is never in doubt. The one who is sovereign over all things will rule them. And he begins with the hearts of those who are near him. He may seem far away, but Jesus is never really on vacation. He is always at work, often in ordinary choices that add up to profound changes.
In every single moment of grace, acknowledged or not, Jesus is present. He was disrupting the disruption, healing the brokenness in the world by inspiring the nobility that God placed within each of us. As he always does, Jesus pours himself out into the world, sharing pain, shielding joy, and leading souls to mercy. He is the ultimate source of both faith and works, the giver of every good gift.