“But they are Outsiders!”
Mark 7:24-37, September 5th, 2021
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words from the gospel of Mark, chapter seven, verses twenty-four thru thirty-seven.”
24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
“Having heard this ancient writing describing the actions and words of Jesus let us consider their implications in our own time in history.”
“But they are Outsiders!”
Labor Day weekend is upon us! Perhaps some of us will celebrate it with a simple barbeque, a couple hot dogs and some cheeseburgers, maybe some potato chips and a glass of lemonade or iced tea. Perhaps have some family and or friends join you. I wonder how many of us will invite or would invite the new neighbors across the street, those folks from “the other side”? You know who I mean, the ones that were not here back in Eighteen-ninety-four when Labor Day was declared a holiday for those who labor. Their parents came from over there. Perhaps, as we celebrate Labor-Day we might reach out to those “outsiders” as a friendly gesture. Surely, it can’t be that hard to do… can it?
I’m sure we all have seen some of the pictures and such of the destruction caused by hurricane Ida this past week. Category four storm as it hit the mainland in Louisiana ripping its way through the country till it slammed into New Jersey, New York City and the surrounding area with record flooding and destructive tornadoes. So much destruction and damage that we have even pulled our attention away from Afghanistan for a moment. It is hard to grasp the enormity of this destructive storm and the death toll continues to rise as the storm finally dissipated. Yet, at the same time, the stark reality of the end of the twenty-year war in Afghanistan is just starting to fully register. Over a hundred and twenty thousand Afrasians were air lifted out of the country thousands more are still trying to leave. There is great anguish uncertainty as the world tries to readjust to this new reality. History shall record the date: August 31st, 2021, the end of a 20-year war.
This coming Saturday September 11, twenty years after the attack by a terrorist group called, al-Qaeda, attacked the United States on multiple fronts. I remember standing on the front steps of the North Congregational, United Church of Christ… I could see the flume of the smoke over the skyline of New York City, marking the disaster of the attack on the World Trade Center by the terrorist. Earlier that morning, I was at home talking with a man that had just lost his wife; we were planning a memorial service for his wife that very evening. When I got off the phone, I had a msg from my wife, Lois, to turn on the Television. I did. I watched as an airline slammed into the second tower. I sat there watching until both towers collapsed. Then I went straight to the church. We put together a worship service at noon that day. We opened-up the sanctuary and rang the bell that hangs in the steeple. The sanctuary began filling with people off the street. I read from the Bible the day, as we tried to come to grips with what had occurred that day. History now records the details.
The Psalms can be a blessing especially on days of despair and hardship. The Psalms can also be a roadmap to remind us of the love and faithfulness of our God. Psalm forty, verses one, two and three, records the message of the scriptures in three short verses. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” As we seek renewal of our spirits this day, let us consider how we might proceed onward despite life’s harsh realities all around us. Let us consider the words of the Psalmist. Let us trust in the faithfulness of our God. In so doing we still do, in our humanness, cry out to God in times like these, which we now travel through, as a nation and yes, as a world community. We must have faith that our God hears our cries, the cries which come from across our nation because of Mather Nature’s wrath, and the cries that raise up from the people of a country called Afghanistan. God hears their cries as well. The families of all the fallen military men and women, especially those killed by yet another terrorist attack, even as the final evacuation of that war-torn country was taking place. We must look to the Psalms with hope and with faith that God will help us all through these difficult times.
With all of this going on around us, my wife and have a planned vacation ahead of us in a few weeks. We are planning to get in our car and head out later this month. Traveling can often be very enjoyable. We are planning to drive up to New Hampshire and are hoping to find the hills of New Hampshire and Vermont ablaze with bright fall colors. Of course, being with our daughter and her husband and our granddaughter and grandson are an important part of our trip. We do expect to stay in a few hotels and such during our trip and eat at a few restaurants. In the past we have usually found such a trip will have its high points and its low points. Visiting other places and other people when traveling is sort of ‘catch-as-catch can’ as we are on vacation, others along the way are not. Their plans do not include our vacation – except for a few days’ we have trips planned together with our daughter and family and friends. Vacations are meant to be relaxing jet exhilarating. Filled with adventure and joy. Yet, vacations are – in reality, an extension of our day-to-day lives and hopefully will allow us to renew our spirits as we step out of our routines to visit family and friends and see a different part of the world whether just across the state or a thousand miles away. Our scripture this morning has Jesus on the road traveling as well.
As Jesus leaves the activities of Jerusalem, Jesus sets out and enters a territory where he perhaps wanted some respite from his labors, as he was indeed a human man. “From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre.” (An area considered to be an enemy territory to Israel.) “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.” (Surely, he was seeking at least a mini vacation!) “Yet he could not escape notice.” /Mark 7:24/ While in the region Jesus does several healings. Our reading stirs up conflicting and controversial issues in his time and in our own time as well. Issues such as Who do we consider as part of our society and culture? Do we treat everyone the same, or does the color of their skin or their accent make a difference? Have others treated you different because of who you are or where you come from? Many are! How could our Jesus get caught up in yet another controversy!? As we consider the implications let us step back and be clear about a few points.
We are of course, we are talking about Jesus, a charismatic pastor and teacher who was sought after by everyone who had heard of his powers to heal! We are talking about Jesus who (as a small child) was forced to flee his homeland with his parents because his life was threatened by King Herod. Yes, Jesus and his parents became refugees, just as many who have and who still shall, flee their home countries out of fear. As an adult Jesus was driven out of his hometown because he dared declare that he was the fulfillment of the Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah. Clearly, Jesus was with his disciples and a gathering crowd, even our scripture suggests he was trying to find a quiet place to rest. In the end, his enemies plotted to have him arrested, out of fear and jealousy. As an innocent man he was wrongly arrested and unfairly judged and brutally flogged. In the end he was mocked and stripped of his cloths and nailed to a harsh cruel cross until he was dead. Yet, as the Son of God, God embodied, the very essence of God, Jesus surely knew how he would use this moment and inspired its very writing so that we too, would hear of what transpired that day in Tyre; now located in the region of the modern Lebanon!
The stage was set for a teaching moment as the women from Tyre asked to be healed. “Now the woman was a Gentile.” /Mark 7:26/ Surely Jesus had no intention of rejecting her request for healing, yet his words challenged her desire to be healed. “He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” /Mark 7:27/ Jesus suggested she would need to wait until after the Israelites, the chosen ones were to be first in line. Her response is very pointed as she confronts him, suggesting that even the dogs got the table scraps. /Mark 7:28/ Obviously, she was humbling herself, suggesting she accepted her lower status, being part of the community that was consider the enemies and adversaries of the Hebrew nation, the Israelites, the Jews of Jerusalem. The next sentence is very telling as Jesus, being Jesus declares he has granted her request because of what she said. “Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” /Mark 7:29/
In his travels, Jesus often encountered those who were outsiders, those that were not welcome in places like Jerusalem and his hometown of Nazareth. He knew of the biases and prejudices that was very prevalent even in his time. He knew that humankinds very nature was riddled with emotions that had run amuck and had become distorted. Fear and anger, jealousy, and greed had taken their toll. Yes, Jesus was willing to play the devils role for just a moment to show how wrong evil can be. Perhaps he was hoping, hoping his disciples and all the others that heard his denial of the woman would – “gasp!”; and hopefully see how clearly, he healed her after she had said what she had to say. Putting the lesson intended – in her words of outrage! David Ewart a respected theologian says it this way. “The racial and religious differences between Jesus and the Gentile woman are unchanged. But what has changed is that courage and caring for a daughter have been shown to be acceptable to God – even when they come from a Gentile heart; even when they come from a woman’s heart; even when they come from the heart of a woman who has publicly shamed herself by being out alone, by speaking to a man, and by daring to speak back to a man.” The rights of the innocent and the rights of the oppressed are often denied and subjugated by those who allow their self-interests to overshadow the rights of others! Women’s rights especially are being threatened here and abroad in our own country… at the highest levels of our society and in the country of Afghanistan where we as a nation have just withdrawn from.
The question before us this day is this: How shall we or can we make a difference? When we examine ourselves; whose lives shall we or will we touch with the ministry of this church? Will our efforts at ministry, our efforts to follow the example of the man Jesus, will our efforts be worthy of his sacrifice for our salvation? How will we be remembered in history. Will those who write about this time in which we live, will we even be remembered? And if we are what will the historians write. Perhaps they will have heard of “our open and affirming commitment to welcome everyone to be accepted into the universal church of Jesus Christ!” Or maybe they will have heard of the friendly, loving, and caring group of Christians that never gave up as we continued to seek out God’s love, even during a pandemic; even during a historic low in human rights for all of God’s people. Let us pray for all who need the hope which Jesus gave to those he touched with his compassion, his kindness, and his love!