Sermons

Genesis 45: 1–15; Romans 11:1–2a, 29–32; Matthew 15: 21–28

Yesterday, I had the incredible privilege to walk two miles down Tremont St., from the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center in Roxbury to the Boston Common to witness for peace, to take a stand against white supremacy, racism, and antisemitism. I’ve never seen so many people – the Boston Globe estimates it was about 40,000.  Forty thousand people were inspired to respond to the events of the past week by putting their bodies into action, and so many more joined in prayer. 

It was inspiring, and I had no doubt the Spirit of the living God was there, moving through the crowd and creating a sense that God was calling us forward, into action.  The march showed me, once again, that God has given us everything we need to make God’s dream for the world a reality, because it was there on display for all to see.

Maybe what we lack, though, is the will.  Not that any of us would say we would prefer things to stay the way they are, or think that racist and anti-Semitic words and actions should go unchecked. But the will to break the patterns of oppression in this country that run so deep requires vigilance, and vigilance is hard to maintain over the long haul.  It’s exhausting, and it can be demoralizing.  To get up every day to fight the same battles for justice over and over again takes a hard toll.

But only some among us can choose whether or not they want to fight these battles.  Those of us who are white can choose to take a day off of racism, but our brothers and sisters of color cannot.  Those of us who are Christian can scan over the stories of Islamaphobia and antisemitism in a way our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters cannot. 

For the targets of hate, oppression is a battle not of their own choosing, in which they have no option of participating. 

While I was inspired to respond to the crisis of Charlottesville, the Holocaust Museum and Barcelona by marching on Saturday, there are others who are forced to respond to the crisis of oppression every single day of their lives. Without 40,000 people walking next to them in love and support.

As we prepared to set out for the day, clergy and communities of faith gathered to pray, and sing, and prepare ourselves spiritually for the day ahead.  The woman who led us reminded us that, while we were there responding to one crisis, there are crisis happening every day, in just about everyone’s life, all over the world.  She asked us to see yesterday as just another beginning to the long, hard, exhausting work of responding to these crisis with love, peace, and the opportunity for transformation each and every day of our lives.

We’ve been in this moment before, when large crowds have marched for what they believed to be right.  As I stand in this moment I pray yesterday was not the end of our collective response, but another beginning.  I wonder how each of those 40,000 are continuing the work today.  How will they continue the work tomorrow?  How will I?

In my message to you all earlier this week, I named racism and antisemitism as the sins they are.  What makes something a sin?  When it separates us from God, and when we separate ourselves from another child of God we separate ourselves from God. Racism, Islamaphobia and antisemitism are sins from which I benefit in countless way. 

I wish it were not true, but it is.  And for me to even begin to get right with God, I need God to help me to see it, to name it, to beg God’s forgiveness for it and then to show me how to change it. 

It is tempting to lay the blame for the sins of oppression on members of fringe fractions, other parts of our country, or the president. But that’s avoiding the truth, not confronting it.  Yes, I think our leaders bear a moral responsibility for casting a vision of justice and reconciliation I currently find sinfully absent. 

But if I expect anyone out there to change, I have got to expect the same of myself.  Playing the game of “at least I’m not as bad as…” only gets you so far, as Jesus discovers in this morning’s Gospel.

This is a hard Gospel to take.  It doesn’t cast Jesus in a very good light, which is evidence that the events portrayed probably took place.

Jesus is caught up short by a woman who had no business talking to him.  She comes to him in crisis, her daughter is ill.  Jesus is exhausted, perhaps.  Tending to crisis after crisis of those with whom he has been ministering, this Gentile woman begs for the mercy, justice and love she has heard Jesus offering.

She is not his to worry about.  He’s got enough on his plate.  He cannot waste his precious time or energy with this woman from a culture seen as below his own.

In this incredible scene it is this woman who reflects back to Jesus his own understanding of God’s love and grace – that it is for everyone.  I like to imagine there is a long pause between the woman’s challenge to Jesus and his response. 

What’s it going to be, Jesus?  Is God’s grace for everyone, or isn’t it?  Are we all made in the image of God, or are some of us better than others?  I imagine Jesus’ followers study his face waiting for him to respond.

Of course, she is right.  God’s grace is for everyone.  No one is above or below God’s love.

It would have been easy for Jesus to retreat into his privilege.  Easy to walk past her, blow her off and to stick to his agenda.  But it wouldn’t have been in God’s nature.  And so it wasn’t, finally, in Jesus’.

The Canaanite woman asks Jesus to check his privilege.  And he does.  And Jesus asks us to do the very same.

Who knows what the next crisis will be.  Who knows what acts of hate will be visited upon this city, or country or world.  Who knows what crisis are happening right now in the lives of those we know and love, those who are sitting in this place, or those we will meet on our way.

Who knows who will call out to us while we are busy tending to our agenda; who will need us to respond, even when we’d rather not.  Even when we could choose not to.  Even when we’re not sure we’re making any difference.

Each time an event like yesterday’s is over, I pray the work will continue.  That it is only a beginning.  And I pray the same thing every Sunday.  I pray that these times when we gather are not the end of our response to God’s call to us, but just a beginning.  Just another beginning to the work that God calls each of us to – enacting the reality we know is possible. 

This morning, let us pray for justice and reconciliation.  And let us confess to God whatever needs forgiveness and then let us come to this table – where there is a place for all – to break bread; to share a common cup; to feast on God’s love that we might be renewed and sustained for the work ahead.

And as we leave this place let us ask ourselves, was this it?  Are we done?  Or are we just beginning again?

AMEN

© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello[i]



[i] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing.  Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here:  David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .

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