HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
August 20, 2017
Matthew 15: 21-28 (CEB)
From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” 23But he didn’t respond to her at all.
His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.”
24Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”
25But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”
26He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”
27She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”
28Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed.
I’m going to try something today that I’ve never done before. I want to share with you some of the thoughts I have had as I have processed the events of the last week or so. I want you to listen in as I wrestle with processing what’s happening in the world around me and consider it all in light of the faith of this Canaanite woman who stands at the center of this passage we just heard.
So let me begin by saying this: faith is a gift. Like the grace of God that is offered so freely and generously, faith is something that is given to us. But by the same token, I think, the power of faith lies in how we choose to use it. So, here is this woman. She is a Canaanite, which in those days was like the arch-nemesis of the Israelites. Canaanites were not known to be believers in the one true God. In fact, they were pagans. At that point in time, some of them might have worshipped Herod, or Roman gods, or others. But this woman, like all people, has been given the gift of faith in God. Through this little seed planted inside her, she has come to believe. She has faith that this healer she has heard about, Jesus, the Son of David, the Lord, can make her ailing daughter well. So when word gets out that he is in her “neck of the woods,” she seeks him out and she pursues healing for her daughter with such dogged determination. I don’t know that there is anyone else in all of scripture that exhibits the strength of faith of this woman. She will not and does not give up or get discouraged. She is ignored and rebuked and demeaned (which is another sermon entirely), and still she is not deterred. She has such faith in the depth of her being that she doesn’t give up. She not only believes, she KNOWS that Christ can heal her daughter.
So I was thinking about this Canaanite woman this week. I was thinking about her faith, and the way she acted on it; the way it compelled her to such unequivocal and undeterred action. She knew that her daughter was not right. She knew that Jesus Christ could make her daughter right, and the Canaanite woman’s faith led her to pursue healing for her daughter at almost any cost, it would seem. As I considered this, I wondered, where is my faith compelling me to act? What do I see around me that is not right, and how is God nudging me, in faith, to be a part of making it right?
Now, at this point, let me give you some background information. I’ve been teaching this study on Sunday nights; some of you are a part of it. It’s based on the book Holding Up Your Corner, which was written by a pastor who serves in Ferguson, Missouri, and ministered to his community during all the unrest that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown. Rev. Johnson wrote out of that experience, and the book addresses matters of race and white privilege, but it also seeks to look at justice issues more generally and how to confront matters of injustice in our communities. One of the first steps Rev. Johnson lays out is to “affirm,” which in part is to recognize that all is not right in the world. Can we affirm that, friends? Can we all agree that all is not right in our world? I think we can. But God sent Christ so that the world can be put to rights, and as his disciples, our faith compels us to be a part of Christ’s world-changing work…if we are willing to act on that faith.
And that’s where I found myself this week; watching all this crazy upheaval in the world around me—North Korea and Charlottesville. There I was, nodding my head, affirming, recognizing that all is not right in this world. Then in the midst of it all, there’s this Canaanite woman. Her daughter’s world is completely wrecked, yet she maintains this faith that tells her things can change, things can be made right through Christ. And I realized, God wants us to have that kind of unwavering faith when it comes to making the world right. God wants us to have a faith that doesn’t give up in the face of fear and adversity. God wants us to be right out there, in the midst of it all, pursing healing for our world. The tough part is, when I realized those things, I also recognized that I don’t act on my faith with anywhere close to the kind of conviction I should. So let me share with you my story, my struggle. As I share my struggle in recent weeks, perhaps you will see the place where you have struggled to go where God is leading you. And then, together, maybe we can start working together in faith to make this world right by the power of Christ Jesus.
I shared with you all last week that I received an invitation to go to Charlottesville several weeks ago. That’s where this story begins. The invitation came in the form of a link from another clergywoman here in Chattanooga. The link led to a website called “Congregate C-ville.” Here’s an excerpt from that site: “Call to Clergy and Faith Leaders: To our Colleagues in Ministry and Friends in Faith, We need your help. On August 12th we call for 1,000 clergy and faith leaders to show up in Charlottesville, Virginia, to confront a national white supremacist rally…hundreds of white supremacists from around the country will rally with white nationalist leaders for hours in our most prominent public park. From information that these groups are presenting and sharing online we have concluded that there is an extremely high potential for physical violence and brutality directed at our community. We need your help – we don’t have the numbers to stand up to this on our own.”
I’ll be honest in saying to you that I paid this message almost no attention. I don’t condone white supremacy—no race is superior to any other, nor should we exert ourselves as superior to others in any way. Racism is wrong, it is incompatible with Christian teaching. But, several weeks ago, I simply did not see any reason to make the long trek to Charlottesville. I have a kid to take care of, things that need to be done around the house, a sermon to preach on Sunday morning. I figured there were hundreds of clergy who would heed this call, and so I didn’t. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but as we now know, it was. Even as events unfolded last weekend, I still didn’t feel that I was supposed to be there. It was horrifying and brutal, but it wasn’t my community, it was hundreds of miles away.
Then Monday came. People began to reflect on what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend. I sought out reflections from my friends who had been there, on the front lines. There were four close friends of mine, and others I am familiar with through the United Methodist connection. I looked to them first. Overwhelmingly, they were discouraged, scared, maybe even a bit traumatized. And then I read this reflection from my colleague, Anna Golladay, who serves at St. Marks and St. Elmo. She said, “[W]e [the clergy] didn’t have the numbers. The call went out for 1,000 of us. When all was said and done, there were about 100. Once we split into focused action groups, 40 of us held the line at the park and the rest went to do other necessary work.” She continued, “I’m sitting deeply in this question today – why is it so difficult for leaders to be faithful to the call of Jesus both when in front of our congregations, saying the difficult things, and faithful in our call to be in the streets, doing difficult things?”
That’s when it hit me. I should do more. My faith compels me to do more. My faith tells me that this world can and will be a better place because of Christ Jesus. But as a disciple, as a person of faith, I have to engage in Christ’s work. I have to believe with the same sort of profound faith as the Canaanite woman that Christ can indeed heal this massively broken world, and then I have to act in pursuit of that healing, and I can’t ever give up, no matter what.
I can’t turn back the clock and go to Charlottesville. And to be honest with you, I’m not sure if I would, even if I could, though I would certainly give it a lot more thought. Still, there is much more I can do; much more my faith calls me to do. For one thing, I’m going to stop letting a “fear of offending” keep me from saying things that need to be said both in this congregation and in the public sphere. I am a minister of the gospel of Christ, and that gospel is nothing if not offensive. It is messy, it makes us uncomfortable, and it challenges us to change (which we don’t like), but it is truth, the greatest truth that there ever was, and it must be shared. I will be bolder in saying that racism is wrong, that anti-semitism is wrong, that violence is wrong. But there’s so much more. I will be more ardent in calling us to the kind of radical love and forgiveness that Christ exhibits towards us; a love that challenges us to forgive even the kind of people who shoot up armories in “little-ol’ Chattanooga,” or drive cars into crowds of peaceful protesters. These things don’t come easy. I understand that. But my faith tells me this is what I must pursue with unwavering determination.
So I share all of that to say this. The Canaanite woman exhibited this amazingly immense faith. Her faith compelled her to seek healing for her daughter without faltering. In these tumultuous days, my faith urges me to pursue truth and reconciliation with greater determination. For you it might be something a little different, but I know it’s there because God has planted that seed of faith in each of us. Maybe you are called, like the Canaanite woman, to seek healing for the sick. Or maybe you are compelled to make sure the hungry are fed, or children learn to read. Perhaps your faith calls you to find that one lost sheep. There is this yearning of faith within each of us. Where do you feel led to act? Where is Christ calling you to put that faith into action as we work together to make this world right? Whatever it is, the time is now. It is time to act and to live with a faith that doesn’t falter.