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Crumbs, Cries and Conversations (Matthew 15:21-28)

23 Feb

The Faith of the Caananite Woman: Crumbs, Cries and Conversation
A Sermon by Matthew Hundley (February 2012)

TEXT

Matthew 15:21-28

21             Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
22
            A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out,
“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!
My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23
            Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him,
“Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24
            He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25
            The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26
            He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27
            “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from
their master’s table.”
28
            Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”
And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Do you sense an odd tension in this passage?

Jesus’ actions seem a little out of the ordinary…
…His unwillingness to answer the woman’s request because she was a Caananite, a Gentile;
…the woman calling Jesus out on his stance;
…Jesus recanting because of her great faith…and ultimately healing her child.

Reading the passage, we’re left to ponder…
Could Jesus have actually been wrong?
Why would God allow a Gentile woman to correct him?
(I can see the headlines now: Gentile Woman Corrects King of Jews)

After further reflection, I would offer that Christ’s response here is very deliberate.
He allows this scene to play out in order to send a message.

What we need to ask is, “Who is Jesus sending this message to?”
Which leads us to discover who it is are we are to identify with in this passage.

To discover the answers to these questions it will help to step back a few verses and review the events leading up to this moment.

In Matthew 15:1-9 the Pharisees and scribes call Jesus to task because the disciples are not washing their hands properly when they eat. Keep in mind the Pharisees and scribes are extremely zealous, religious men. Jesus responds by explaining how they have put too much emphasis on tradition and man-made religious rules.

3 “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?

He explains that hey have broken God’s law: dishonoring their mother and father by disregarding their instruction; and, channeling their energies into enforcing rules over honoring God. Know that in Judaism to honor your mother and father is to honor God. According to the Torah, striking or cursing your parents was punishable by death. So this is a serious accusation that Jesus is waging against the Pharisees.

8 “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”

He then presents the Pharisees with a parable—which frustrates and offends them all the more. As they walk away from this scene he utters another parable to his disciples:

13 “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.
14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

The disciples too, fail to comprehend Jesus’ parables and ask for an explanation. Jesus questions them, “Are you so dull? … Don’t you see?”

The Gospel writer shifts our focus from the Pharisees to Jesus closest companions—his disciples; for they are starting to waver in their enthusiasm and commitment to Christ. In this passage we catch them in one of these moments where they are backsliding. They are still with him, but their hearts are starting to slip away. Jesus recognizes this. In their defense, they have ample cause for concern.

Imagine that a group of local church leaders (pastors, ministers, priests) from a variety of denominations started showing up at your church each week solely for the purpose of verbally attacking your pastor, questioning his teaching, and asking for proof of his calling. Now imagine those attacks carry into the public sphere, your pastor being ridiculed and questioned while he’s in line at Starbucks, Walmart, the local Quick Trip, wherever he happens to be. Even when he’s volunteering in the community—doing something good—he is attacked. What happens to your thoughts when respected community and religious leaders are attacking your pastor’s teaching, his theology and his actions? You might start to doubt; to wonder if there isn’t something to these attacks; to lost trust in your pastor. This could certainly impact your faith and belief in God.

That’s what’s going on here with Jesus disciples.

HEART CONDITION
The same heart condition he just diagnosed the Pharisees with is starting to well up in his own disciples.

As we examine this passage closer, ask yourself: Who is Jesus sending a message to in this passage? AND Who do we most identify with in this passage?

COMMENTARY

Turn to: Matthew 15:21-28

21             Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
22
           A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out,
“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!
My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

The way I picture it you’ve got Jesus up in front. Most likely conversing with Peter, John and James. The other disciples are following behind him. There are twelve men in this caravan, so they stretch out a ways on this path. The woman has heard that Jesus and his disciples are in the region, maybe she saw them pass by, she catches up to them and begins to cry out, “Lord have mercy on me.”

We do not know much about this woman other than she is a Caananite and that her child is sick and believed to be possessed by a demon. The agony and the burden of this situation must have been great, for this woman of low estate to be convicted to cross class and cultural lines; to approach this prophet, teacher, healer who some were saying was the son of God; and to be relentless in her pursuit of his healing.

It is significant that the Canaanite woman uses the title “Lord” which is an expression of great respect. Like the woman at the well, she does not fully realize what she is saying or fully who this is that she calls the “Son of David.” However, in doing so, she shows that she has some knowledge of Jewish thought. She also would have known about the temple of Eshmun, a pagan god of healing, that was just a few miles northwest of Sidon. But she has heard great stories of Jesus, she believes these stories, she has faith that he can heal her child and goes to him instead.

I wanted to quickly address the fact that she is a “Canaanite.” This location might prick our ears. While not mentioned often in the New Testament, we find Canaan and Canaanites referenced often in the Old Testament: God promises the land of Canaan to Abraham; Moses led the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan; Joshua’s battle at Jericho as the first battle in the conquest of Canaan. In the context of this passage it is used to describe this woman as a non-Jewish pagan person living in the region.

So, the woman approaches, the disciples begin to cry out, and…

23a             Jesus did not answer a word.

In not answering Jesus says much. This is one of those “pregnant pauses” which should cause the disciples to consider their situation; consider the consequences of their refusing to serve this woman.

23b             So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

I wanted to quick illustrate of this scene in modern terms…

Imagine a family with four kids on a road trip in a mini-van. The husband and wife are up front engrossed in conversation; meanwhile in the very back their daughter is whining and annoying her older brother making the car ride unbearable. The middle two children have their headphones in and are doing just fine. The daughter, realizing no one is listening, ramps up the volume of her cries. Now all the kids are distracted and finally the three appeal to mom and dad in unison:  Make her stop whining!” Now chances are, with some basic negotiation skills they could’ve settled this issue among themselves. However, they are young and don’t think about diplomacy and thus call for the parents to step in.

That’s the situation we’ve got here. Jesus is carrying on in conversation up front. This woman is crying behind. The disciples had been given the power to heal and cast out demons (we read about his in Matthew 10) and could have helped the woman and sent her on her way. But instead of helping her, they are merely annoyed by her. After all she is not a Jew. She has a sick child with her. She may smell a bit. And they simply would like to pass her by.

Hmm…Maybe, they hadn’t hear the story of the Good Samaritan yet. Or maybe we should be asking ourselves, “Is this how Christ followers behave?” If someone came to you begging to know Jesus, would you turn them down?

Next,  Jesus pipes in saying exactly what the disciples in the rear want him to say.

24             “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Certainly, at this time the focus of his ministry was on Jews and their spiritual need—though later Christ’s message will go to the Gentiles. But what about the Centurion (Matthew 8), what about the woman at the well…certainly there had been Gentiles he had healed. And the one who needs healing now is a child…how often had Jesus expressed his love for children. So we have to see that he is using this opportunity to teach his disciples. His answer echoes their thoughts, but his intent is to teach them a lesson.

25             The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26
            He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

You might think of Matthew 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is holy…” Jews frequently insulted Gentiles by calling them, dogs, which in ancient Palestine were wild, homeless, scavengers. Note, however, that the form of the word Jesus uses here translates “little dog” which would be a more affectionate term used for domestic pets. Jesus is not insulting the woman but testing her faith.

Also worth noting is what follows in Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you…” this woman has come before Christ and is now asking for his help.

26             He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27
            “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from
their master’s table.”

The woman presses Jesus by alluding to the extended blessings promised to the Gentiles through Abraham (Genesis 12:3) which she knows about.
28             Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”
And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Although God’s plan was to bring salvation first to his chosen Israel and then to the Gentiles, he responds to all who call on him in true faith. This Gentile woman’s demonstration of humility and  faith allows Jesus’ healing ministry to operate. He commends her for her “great faith”—something not demonstrated by the Pharisees; something not being demonstrated by his own disciples.

So what do we do with this? What are the disciples supposed to gain from this experience?

There are 3 things that stand out to me in the area of application. I’ll call them…

CRUMBS, CRIES & CONVERSATION

As Jesus and his disciples roamed from city to city, fragments of his teachings would travel (like Twitter posts) from mouth to mouth, village to village…and people would get crumbs of Christ’s words to feed on. Some developed a hunger for Christ that spurred them to cry out for the Savior—the Caananite woman would be one of those. Her thirst for the Gospel lead her to a life changing decision follow (literally) Christ—which led to a life-changing conversation with him.

I don’t think the disciples realized the extent of the impact that Jesus’ teaching was having on other people—particulary Gentiles. To the disciples—the crowds were a nuisance…mouths to feed, bodies to heal—they kept wondering when Christ would assume a throne, build up his armies, make them his leader. But that was not the plan. Jesus was already planting seeds—dropping crumbs if you will—for a greater kingdom. Loving people, teaching them, healing them, listening to them, feeding them, serving them—this was not the behavior of an earthly king. But it was the behavior of a heavenly king.

Christ left crumbs for the crowds, and they returned clamoring for more. These people didn’t always know who he was; but they recognized he was an extraordinary man and that he was a servant of God. They called him prophet, priest, rabbi, master and Lord.

We who call ourselves Christian are supposed to leave crumbs as well—when we are with our families, our co-workers, our friends. Christians everywhere are leaving crumbs as well. And when people are in need of Christ—when the crumbs have instilled a hunger, a longing for something more—they cry out for their savior. It is up to us to listen for their cries.

I had a co-worker, a sales rep for the ad agency I was working for, who once asked me to pray for him. He was not a practicing Christian, but he knew I was, and we had spent some time on the road together and had talked about faith. So when he was having some health issues he asked me to pray. This is a simple example, but there had been crumbs from our conversation that had led him to ask for prayer. And led us into conversations about faith.

More generally, there is a longing for a savior that we see in pop culture. In superhero movies. In pop songs. On reality TV shows. Movies…Superman is probably the most obvious allegory we find: a child with no earthly parents comes down from the heavens and has powers to save the world for destruction. Songs…there are too many to list, ”What if God was one of us…” “You’re staring at me with that Jesus Christ pose…” Reality TV…if you watched any of the last two seasons of Survivor you’ve seen faith emerge in a major role. Two season ago, a young man is stuck on redemption island with his Bible to give him strength to win challenges. This season the winning team was all about praying together before challenges and drawing upon Christ for inspiration to keep going on.

So my question to you: Are you listening for the cries of those who long to know more? Those who have tasted the crumbs and are now hungry to know more.

Ultimately the crumbs lead to cries, which lead to CONVERSATION.

I have an artist friend who was creating a piece that required for him to understand the Old Testament. He knew I was a Christian and that I was taking seminary courses and we had many long discussions about the Bible and about faith. And ultimately he wanted to know more about Jesus and the message of the Christian faith. He would not have asked had I not left a trail of crumbs before him.

Don’t make conversations harder than they have to be. When someone comes to you with an interest in learning about your faith—why you believe, what is it that you believe in—they do so with vulnerability. They are affording you the opportunity to speak change into their life. Just as Christ spoke change into the life of the Canaanite woman.

CLOSE

If you are here today and you have not embraced Christ as savior. Then you might have found yourself more closely relating to the woman. You know that there are other religious options out there, but you are here today in the company of Christ’s flock. I invite you to engage in the conversation starting today.

If you are here today and you profess Christ. Then you should identify with the disciples, the ones who seek to follow Christ—but are experiencing a lull in their faith.

Christ gives us gifts to serve, to teach, to heal, to comfort, and to guide those around us. When we are approached by someone asking for help—whether they are part of our flock, part of another flock, or not part of any flock at all—we must respond. We must reach out to them and serve them as though they were are own brother or sister.

That they may know the love of Christ that we are called to express. May God bless our hearing and application of His Word.

Amen.

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Looking at Song | O Store Gud (How Great Thou Art)

9 Nov

I love when a song has such a rich history–the telling of which sparks movies in the mind. Such is the case with “How Great Thou Art”(aka “O Store Gud” – “Oh Mighty God”).

Carl Gustav Boberg was walking home from an afternoon service at his church near Kronoback, Sweden when the peal of church bells suddenly gave way to a peaceful winter calm. He looked out over Monsteras Bay and the radiant sun filled him with momentary awe, only to be broken by the presence of a thundercloud stealing away the light and flashing it’s might across the sky as the storm it led came into full view. Once home he heard church bells ringing in the distance. Gazing out the window the glorious scenes of the day poured into his mind and he wrote this hymn which was first published in 1886 in Swedish.

In 1907 the song was translated from Swedish to German and popularized under the title “Du grober Gott.” (“O Mighty God”) A few years later, in 1912, the song made it’s way to Russia where it was called “Velikly Bog” (“Great God”). The first English translation appeared in 1925 under the title “Oh Mighty God”:

Oh Mighty God, when I behold the wonder
Of nature’s beauty, wrought by words of thinge,
And how thou leadest all from realms up yonder,
Sustaining life with love benign.

In 1931 a British missionary names Stuart Wesley Keene Hine head the Russian translation while in the Ukraine. He was the one who created the English paraphrase known as “How Great Thou Art.” He is also responsible for adding added the very powerful 3rd verse:

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

After World War II Hine’s wrote additional verses. One of which went like this:

O when I see ungrateful man defiling
Bounteous earth, God’s gifts so good and great;
In foolish pride, God’s holy Name reviling,
And yet, in grace, His wrath and judgment wait.

Hines’ final version was published in 1949. It was introduced in American in 1951.  It became a signature song in the Billy Graham crusades of the 1950s–popularized by George Beverly Shea.

In 1957 a version of the hymn was commissioned by Intervarsity which harkened back to the Boberg original.

The United Church of Christ released a revised version of the hymn in 1995, which uses the refrain:

My soul cries out in songs of praise to you.
O mighty God! O mighty God!

This hymn is one that has now been translated in a multitude of languages around the globe from Spanish to Swahili to Slovak and Vietnamese.

It is hard not to get caught up in ardent praise as you belt out:

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, How great thou art.

Amen.

[Sources: Trinity Hymnal; Wikipedia]

Looking at Scripture | Mark 3:20-27

9 Nov

PARAPHRASE (mine)
Jesus had been out speaking to the multitudes. He and the twelve return by boat. Jesus heads back to the house where he is staying. He sits down to eat with friends. The towns people, hearing that Jesus is there, begin to fill up the house. He recounts stories of the day. Soon there are so many people in this house, that those who were eating can no longer raise their bread to their mouths. Jesus’ family hears of this gathering and squeezes their way into the house to take Jesus away. His brothers shout, “He’s out of his mind, people. Let us through so this crowd can be dispelled.” His kin were not the only ones who wanted to discredit Jesus. Scribes appeared in the house as well. “He is not out of his mind, rather he is possessed by a demon. By Beelzebub. For he who drives out demons could only be a demon himself.” Christ then stands, calms his family, and addresses the scribes in parables. “How is it that Satan can drive out Satan?” Then turning their conventional wisdom upon them he says, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. AND (addressing his family members) if a house is divided against itself that house will not be able to stand. AND if Satan rises up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but comes to an end.”

EXPOSITION
There is a lot going on in this passage. There’s a lot going on. Jesus returning. Hoping to finish out his day with a quiet meal and conversation with his friends. But what he gets instead is more of what he’s encountered already that day. People anxious to connect, to hear what he has to say, to be healed by his hands, to cast the demons out of their lives and experience life anew in Christ. And because of this they come in droves–filling up the place where he is. His family shows us. They think he’s nuts. And while Christ loves his family, his heavenly position and duty to God take precedence. Then we have scribes (always a pleasant bunch) who have come to chastise him. They seek to cast doubt into the hearts of the crowd. [Remember this was a house packed wall-to-wall with people by the time these guys arrive.] his family proclaims to the crowd that he’s loony. The scribes say he’s a demon. A servant of Satan. Jesus then rebukes the scribes and his family. And in so doing makes a little dig at the religious establishment. For just as Christians today are divided; certainly the Jews in Jesus own day were divided. Ultimately his goal was to rally the troops. To gather people in unity of purpose, belief and faith. That all would one day be ushered into the Kingdom of Heaven.

PRAYER
God help us to pay attention to Jesus’ words. His teaching, his parables, his warnings. Help us to listen to one another. To seek to build one another up in Christ and not tear down what you have built. Let us gather in your house, engage in lively discussion, and break bread together. Let us think before accusing our brothers. But also let us not forget that there is real evil in this world. We do have an enemy. He does not celebrate our progress or our unity. He’d rather have us fragmented. Accusing one another. Confusing our flock for his own. Lord, give us strength, wisdom, patience, kindness, discernment and right minds as we pursue your truth.

Eradicating the Secular/Sacred Distinction

24 May

Christ is Lord over ALL. I’d like to end there, however I think we fail to understand that Christ is Lord over EVERYTHING. and EVERYTHING we do should be done for Christ. ALL that we have is His. ALL that we own is thank to Him. ALL glory and honor are to be directed toward Christ. EVERY man, woman and child bears His image. EVERY animal and plant and cloud formation has come about by His hand. This world belongs to Him. And thus EVERYTHING we do should honor Christ. Thus every action we engage in is guided by Him. Every choice we make from what we eat, to who we vote for, to how we drive, to what we wear, to how we act are ALL tied to Christ’s dominion. we are free in Christ. but we are to know that the time and place that we have been born into are by his directive. give thanks to Christ for he has given you everything you need to succeed in the plan he has marked out for you. and as the title implies, He is the ruler over all things related to life – home, work and worship – and thus there is no distinction over Christ’s involvement in ALL things secular and sacred. it is then a matter of our own perceptions. we make the choice to separate out Christ’s engagement into our lives—He is lord over my life when I’m at church and at my Bible study; He is not lord of my work life or my recreational life. that is not so. Jesus Christ is master over ALL aspects of our lives whether we believe or whether we do not. Christ is Lord of ALL. Ruler over EVERYTHING. He is God which encompasses all things we deem “secular” and “sacred.” ultimately everything is “sacred”—family, work, church, school, politics, art, sports, etc—all reflect the majesty and creativity of a living God.

Fair Trade Faith

22 May

I’ve been toying with this idea of “Fair Trade Faith.”  A relationship between Christian teachers and leaders and believers that is mutually beneficial to the Kingdom of God.  A definition (borrowing from the Wikipedia post for “Fair Trade”) might be construed to look something like this:

Fair Trade Faith is a spiritual partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in Christ. It contributes to sustainable spiritual development by offering better conditions for discipleship, and securing salvation for God’s chosen. Fair Trade Faith Organizations (a.k.a. churches), backed by believers, are engaged actively in supporting pastors, awareness raising (a.k.a. evangelism and outreach) and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of traditional churches.

I’m playing with this as it would related to notions of “Organic Community” of Christians.  Even the notion of a church coming about it an organic fashion.

Temple of the Body

6 Apr

1 Corinthians 3:16, 17 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy.  This you are. (Translation: Richmond Lattimore)

Reading this passage should cause us to reflect upon our own physicality, our bodies and what it means for the body to be “God’s temple” and to know that “God’s Spirit lives in you.”

The temple–your body–is holy. What does this mean? How does this impact how we live in this body?

Certainly there is a charge to examine our emotional, mental and physical health.  All these are critical to the state of our bodies, and thus integral to our spiritual lives.

IF we are to treat our bodies as holy; as temples of the one true God; as houses for the Holy Spirit–THEN how does this impact our diet of food and drink; also our diet of information and images–what we feed our heads with.

If we destroy the temple—we too will be destroyed.

What does it mean to destroy the temple which is our body?
How might this impact our choices as to the type of foods we eat?
Whether or how much alcohol we drink?
Whether we smoke?
What drugs or medications we take?
Whether or not we exercise?
Whether or not we choose to engage in any forms of body modification?

We are asking our God to abide in us—are we providing a suitable environment for His Spirit to dwell?

1 Cor 6:15-17 Do you not know that your bodies are the limgs of Christ?  Then shall I take the limbs of Christ and make them the limbs of a whore? Never. … Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in you, which you have from God. (Translation: Richmond Lattimore)

Since we are not our own.  Since we were bought for a price.  Let us glorify God in our bodies. (Paraphrase 1 Cor 6:19, 20)

Christ, Cave and Creativity

29 Mar

I had picked up Nick Cave’s “The Flesh Made Word” (recorded for the BBC in 1996; full text) recording a while back and decided to sit down and give it a listen.  His key focus is on discovering in Christ the heart of creativity.

God is a product of a creative imagination, and God is that imagination taken flight.  … Christ, who call himself both the Son of Man and the Son of God  as the occasion warranted, was exactly that: a man a flesh and blood, so in touch with the creative forces inside himself, so open to his brilliant flame-like imagination, that he became the physical embodiment of that force: God. … What Christ shows us here is that the creative imagination has the power to combat all enemies, that we are protected by the flow of our own inspiration. … Just as we are divine creations, so must we in turn create. Divinity must be given its freedom to flow through us, through language, through communication, through imagination. I believe this is our spiritual duty, made clear to us through the example of Christ.

I also took another look at Cave’s intro to the Book of Mark (published by Canongate, 1998; full text) in which he echoes this sentiment–at one point saying:

The Christ that emerges from Mark, tramping through the haphazard events of His life, had a ringing intensity about him that I could not resist. Christ spoke to me through His isolation, through the burden of His death, through His rage at the mundane, through His sorrow. Christ, it seemed to me was the victim of humanity’s lack of imagination, was hammered to the cross with the nails of creative vapidity. … Christ understood that we as humans were for ever held to the ground by the pull of gravity – our ordinariness, our mediocrity – and it was through His example that He gave our imaginations the freedom to fly. In short, to be Christ-like.

While Cave tends to be a bit more esoteric in his approach to Christian faith, I appreciate his recognition of the creative nature of our God in Christ.