Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
September 6, 2015
Mark 7: 24-37
“Invite Jesus to Your House”
Hear now these words from The Gospel of Mark, chapter 7, verses 24-37.
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, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 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.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
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.
They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.
They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
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Reverend Dr. David Lose, the President of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, speaks of today’s scripture lesson in this way: “I tend to think that the more challenging or difficult a passage, the more likely it is to lead to a great sermon. Which means, of course, that there should be a lot of great sermons heard across the country this coming Sunday, as this week’s Gospel reading is a doozey!” It’s a ‘doozey’ is an understatement! All we need to do is deal with the ‘exorcism’ of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter!
“Syrophoenician” is one of those words worship leaders and preachers cringe at and try to avoid. Well this whole passage is about avoidance so we cannot take that route today! The name tells us we are dealing with a Greek, a Gentile born in the Phoenician part of Syria. This tells us right away that this is someone that Jews avoided and definitely a Jewish man (a man like Jesus) would (or at least was expected to) avoid a Gentile woman for certain, and most certainly a Greek Syrophoenician gentile woman! Well, by now the seasoned Christian knows “Jesus’ repudiation (rejection) of traditional taboos.” /Brian Stoffregen/ Our Jesus never took “the easier softer way!” That’s what we are dealing with this morning: Jesus jumping right into a controversy and breaking down yet another wall thus drawing ‘in’ the ‘outsider;’ thereby forcing us into that very uncomfortable position of dealing with our own biases!
David R Henson tells us this about this morning’s scripture lesson. “It asks us to do the unthinkable: to own our racism and to be changed by society’s most marginalized.” So that harsh subject no one wants to discuss is now in the middle of the room. Thank you Jesus! That is not what I wanted to talk about today! Did You? Of course not, no one ever does. But it is more than that! This passage deals with a multitude of biases! And we are pushed to look to our own homes, our own churches, our own communities to flush this out!
One theologian, Matt Skinner, challenges us even further with his remarks on this topic! “Look for the Syrophoenician woman in the back row of church this Sunday. Maybe she’s the one whose reputation discourages her from getting involved or the one who slips out during the last hymn to avoid having to mix with the churchy ‘insiders.’ But she keeps coming back, fiercely convinced that if anything you preach week-in and week-out is true, then it’s got to be true for her, too.” If you are here today and you identify with this thought, please, please, keep coming back!
We are told that Jesus had traveled to a place where he could be alone “Jesus did not want anyone to know he was there.” /Verse 24/ “But a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” /verses 25 & 26/ 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.” /verse27/ One author points out that “By playing the part of the religious authorities, Jesus actually highlights the absurdity of exclusion based on superficial issues such as ethnicity and gender.” /Holly J. Carey/ From the dialog that follows we learn that Jesus does heal the daughter and Jesus tells the woman that it is her tenacity that has healed her daughter; and her willingness to cross social boundaries for the good of another! “Jesus … essentially says, ‘Good point. You get the same food as all of God’s other children anyway, so why not have a seat at the table?'” /Karen A. Keely/
We can be proud that we as a church have been led to cross social boundaries for those who have been marginalized in our society. Even in the shadow of this historical truth we must be vigilant – recognizing that many of our neighbors have not followed our lead. There is still much work to be done. We cannot hide our accomplishments under our timid-ness. We must continue to speak out against what we know to be wrong. We must continue to oppose those who misquote Jesus. When we slant the teachings of Jesus to fit our biases, we are going against the intended teachings of Jesus.
The very nature of my sermon topic suggests that we should be inviting Jesus into our homes. Let us take that to a deeper level: if Jesus is in our home, will we be proud of who we have also invited to our home? That is to say “will Jesus be comfortable with whom we have invited?” Have we invited a good cross section of our community? Or will we have set an appropriate standard that we think our Lord’s position in creation demands, thus forcing those we invite to fit a particular profile? Let us be careful and mindful of how we pick and choose, especially, in our own church; and most especially in our own homes. Let us step back for a moment and remember who Jesus invites into his Father’s house. And let us not forget those, in the homes that are recorded, that Jesus did visit.
As today is Communion Sunday, here in our ‘church home’ we may want to reflect on who we invite to the communion table. Clearly, we invite our full understanding of God; Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Heavenly Father that Jesus so often refers to. The only qualifier I ever mention when inviting “all to the table” is that we, as individuals, ought to have some desire to know God through Jesus, (who invites us to the table.) Thanks to the goodness and mercy of our God; we are all invited to the table. And that table is set in our house!
Pastor Alyce M. McKenzie points out that this is the overriding point in our lesson this morning. She says clearly that: “…there is your story and mine – that Jesus is in our house, with full power to heal; that we need to approach him with compassion and perseverance, praising God the sender of the Savior of all people, not just people like us.”
“Why is this such an important story in Mark’s Gospel? Mark wants us to holler for transformation the way that woman hollered for the transformation of her daughter’s life situation, even when all the signals say, you ought to shut up, give up and go home!’ /Brian K. Blount/
In conclusion, let us examine ourselves carefully. “Who is ‘under the table’ in your life,” /Carl Gregg/ or perhaps better said: who has been marginalized by some superficial qualifier that we have conjured up? Racism, sexism, ageism, and discrimination of any sort, including disabilities, these are not qualifiers that our God uses when inviting us to the table! Neither should we put such qualifiers on those that we invite into our house! Let us be certain we are reminded to lift up the over-ridding statement “God’s love has no strings attached!”
In verse 37 of this morning’s lesson we hear how the disciples: ‘They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”’ Therefore, let us not close our ears to the truth of life; for it is in various stages all around us. Neither can we hold our tongue and not speak out the truth as we see it, especially in the lives of those who have been pushed aside. Rather let us be like the “deaf man who had an impediment in his speech;” /verse 32/ after being healed by Jesus: “immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” /verse 35/
Let us be reminded of this inclusive statement that was drafted, written and agreed to by this congregation before you even know my name: “Riviera United Church of Christ is a Christ-centered church, open to all manner of God’s people. Whether red, yellow, black or white; young, middle-age or old; handicapped or able-bodied; gay, bisexual, transgender or straight, you are welcomed and honored here just as you are – a beloved child of God’s.”