Saturday, 19 August 2017

Proper 15 “Whose God?”

Matthew 15: 21-18, Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8

Sometimes I wonder whether to keep watching the news – it certainly doesn’t aid restful sleep, some nights.
The coverage of the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia have been particularly disturbing.

White supremacists, upset at the proposal to remove a statue of Robert E Lee, a general from the Confederate – pro-slavery – side of the American Civil War, marched through the streets with flaming torches chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!”.
It is not surprising that anyone who was not a Southern, white, young or middle-aged man would have felt they were being warned to get of off the streets – they are ‘Our streets’ chant the mob, not your streets.

Meanwhile other groups want to protest that they are also their streets, that the USA is also their country, that history should record their stories too.

You will even find extremists  - in the US, in Islamic countries, in the state of Israel - who want to say that God is on their side, that they are the superior people, blessed by God and given the land they live in: they could just as easily chant “Whose God? Our God!”.

In a sense this is nothing new. In Jesus’ time the Israelites had gained the land by defeating the Canaanites, and then they in turn had been conquered and then occupied by the Roman state. But the Jews still looked down on the Canaanites, because they had many gods, whilst the Jews believed in One God. Whose God? Our God!

Yet we have heard today some of the words of Isaiah, where God specifically teaches his people that although he is their God, he is not only their God – he is the God of all lands and all people,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.”

Jesus has come to the Israelites, God’s own people, but he has come to bring in the rule of God and to declare the love of God for the whole world.

So we see a shift in Jesus’ mission through this conversation with the Cannanite woman – maybe we even see Jesus himself growing in his understanding of why he is walking this earth.

Jesus is in the territory of Tyre and Sidon – an area we would now call Lebanon.
When the woman asks for help for her daughter, Jesus first ignores her – which is how any decent Jewish man of Jesus’ time would treat a woman he didn’t know – especially a non-Jew, a Gentile.
When she persists and the disciples ask Jesus to send her away, Jesus says to her
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
It was common practice in Jesus’ time for Gentiles to be referred to by Jews as ‘dogs’. But I’m sure it causes a shock to our modern ears when Jesus does that, too. There really is no way of dressing this up – Jesus calls this woman a dog.

We might expect her to either slink away, rebuked for bothering the Jewish healer, or even to react in anger – having come for help, not abuse. But the woman’s reply is courteous and quick ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’
Jesus replies, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed instantly.

Whose Healer? Her healer.
Whose Good News? Her good news.
Whose God? Her God.
And what is true for this woman and her daughter is true for the whole world – even us.
There is no-one who Jesus did NOT came to save and heal.
There is no-one for whom he is not the door to eternal life. There is no-one beyond the scope of the love of God.

You might think there is nothing very new is this. We all know that God is the God of the whole world, we don’t believe he is only the God of the United Reformed Church and not also the God of the Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics and all the rest. We don’t believe that God is the God only of the Western part of the world – or that he speaks English but not Chinese.
If we were to chant anything we might chant
“Whose God? Everyone’s God!”.

And yet we sometimes treat others as if they were not part of God’s care, as if they were not beloved children of God.

Church leaders stood linking arms against the marchers in Charlottesville because every time a human being is treated as someone of lesser worth because of their colour or history or gender or sexuality, the Gospel is denied.

God’s love is for all people, all kinds, ages, colours, nationalities.
Everything we do as a church, everything we each do as individual Christians, should proclaim God’s love for all – for the lowest, the least, the poorest, the most desperate.
We need not shout it but we should say it, lovingly
“Whose God? Your God!
Whose church? Your church.
Whose sister, whose brother? My sister, my brother.”
For each person we meet is a child of God, and the Good news of God’s love is for them.

May God fill us with the grace to proclaim this truth and to know and share his love with all.
In Jesus’ name.

Amen.

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