Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 09/06/2015

Our theology, our Christology if you will, says that Jesus is fully human and fully divine which our brains tell us is impossible, that you can’t be fully both, except that it’s Jesus we’re talking about so we pretty much accept it as a matter of faith and move on. Because our brains can only go so far with this we mostly lean one way or the other on it, sometimes seeing Jesus as mostly human with a little divine mixed in, sometimes mostly divine with a little human mixed in depending on the situation.

We do want him to be both though; we want him to be divine because to be the savior of the world, he has to be. We also want him to be human because we want him to understand what it’s like to be us. We don’t want him just aloof and distant, we want a sense of Jesus here with us, identifying with us. With the doctrine of the two natures, that’s pretty much what the early fathers were going for as they tried to put into words a concept that really can’t be put into words.

In today’s gospel though, Jesus is maybe a little too human in his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman. In this story he’s too much like one of us at those times when we just don’t want to be bothered. Jesus was looking for a little rest, trying to escape notice inside someone’s house, but the word was out, he couldn’t escape notice. When this Gentile woman finds him though and asks him to cast a demon out of her daughter, we expect to get the nice, accommodating Jesus we’re used to, but that’s not what happens.

Because of her ethnicity, because she isn’t one of the children of Israel, Jesus is dismissive of her. That in itself is troubling enough because so often Jesus did cross ethnic boundaries without making a distinction. Remember in last week’s gospel how he took on the Pharisees when they accused him of not observing the boundaries that set the Jewish people apart? On top of that though, you could say that he adds insult to injury by equating the woman and her daughter to dogs: “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” not what we expect from Jesus.

At this point the tendency is to rush in and defend Jesus not so much for his sake, but more for our own, in order to preserve our image of him as meek and mild and, like a superhero, always ready to come to the rescue. So we say things like, “He knew all along what he was going to do; he was just testing the woman.” Regarding the insult of calling her a dog we say, “He didn’t really call her a dog, he compared her to a cute little puppy,” which doesn’t fit the context of the story at all, but it preserves our image of a Jesus who would never have the very human impulse to insult someone. Going back to the fully human/fully divine thing though, if Jesus was fully human maybe he did have such impulses.

We have to consider the possibility that the text says what it says even if it challenges our assumptions about Jesus, even if in challenging our assumptions about Jesus, it also challenges our assumptions about God because remember, besides being fully human, Jesus is also fully divine. It’s a lot to absorb so like I said at the beginning, in order to preserve our sanity what we do most of the time is accept fully human/fully divine as a matter of faith and move on.

Moving on with this text, Jesus does ultimately consent to heal the daughter of the woman after affirming the woman’s audacity and boldness in rebuking him for his initial rude response. In considering this interaction, what occurs to me is that the woman gives us a model of prayer more like what is common in the Old Testament. As Christians, we’re nicer than the Hebrew people when it comes to prayer. Our prayer tends to be deferential and polite lest we offend God. Not so in the Old Testament.

For the ancient Hebrew people there was no fully human/fully divine doctrine concerning the Lord, their God; they didn’t have to worry about that. For them, God was divine, but…their way of interacting with God was like the way they interacted with each other; very human in other words. It was a real transaction, perhaps not between equals, they weren’t that bold, but a transaction between two parties who both had legitimate expectations of the other. Experience tells you that such an interaction can sometimes be contentious; one hopes for civility but as we make demands of each other, things can get testy.

To consider interacting with God this way can make us uncomfortable; to consider such an interaction as prayer can make us uncomfortable; this isn’t “Now I lay me down to sleep…” Such prayer though, starts with the assumption that there is a God, a God who listens which is the assumption with any kind of prayer. In ancient times and throughout much of history that assumption was pretty much a given; it was just a question of which God you were talking about. That’s not so much the case anymore. Now to make the claim that God exists and is at the center of life can be a somewhat risky intellectual proposition. In some circles you might be dismissed as hopelessly naïve.

For many though, there persists the belief that we’re not on our own, that it’s not all just up to us, that there is a God who not only exists, but one who loves us and forgives us, one who has blessed us with gifts and talents and continues to be involved. It’s a God from whom we draw strength, a God who we believe does new things, one who creates new life and new possibilities. Such belief imagines a life and a world in which hope is never exhausted because that’s the truth that’s proclaimed over and over again in the Bible, a truth most fully revealed as Jesus brought new life out of the finality of death. That’s our truth and our reality and it’s the truth and reality we welcome Jackson into this morning as he is baptized.

The question that then comes up is how do we relate to this God? Praise and thanksgiving is certainly part of the equation, the starting point of the relationship, praise like we had in today’s Psalm. But what happens for all of us is there are times when to offer praise and thanksgiving would be dishonest and phony. For the Syrophoenician woman to say to Jesus, “Praise the Lord! You’re right; my daughter deserves to stay in the demon possessed condition she’s in,” might be polite, but it wouldn’t be real and based on the witness of scripture, we’re invited into a real relationship.

The defining description of God in the Old Testament is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. As the revelation of that God, we see Jesus the same way, the Syrophoenician woman saw Jesus the same way. Prayer then that might sound rude to us is really a reminder to God that this is who you’re supposed to be. It’s an insistence that the situation that prompts the prayer doesn’t represent the way things are supposed to be and that God can do something about it. What might sound like a lack of faith to us, is actually an expression of deep faith.

In today’s gospel, Jesus does respond to the woman; her prayer is heard and it is answered in the way that she wanted it answered. Experience, of course, tells us that that’s not always the case. Prayers are not always answered the way we want; especially with prayers for healing, the person doesn’t always get better. Part of faith is accepting that there is mystery involved in this relationship, things that we can’t understand. What we have to come to terms with is that God is not a vending machine where you insert your prayer, push a button and out comes the desired response. It can happen, but not always.

Some people, when the vending machine doesn’t work, they kick the machine and go home. Some people do the same kind of thing with prayer; they blame God and give up. The biblical witness though offers a different approach which is to pray again, to vent if necessary, to express how you really feel and lay your anger and dismay on God. It doesn’t fix what has already happened, but rather than keeping it all inside, as you pray again it helps you to leave it with God and…it keeps the relationship alive.

Out of that relationship, in time, come hope and new possibilities, new life that didn’t seem possible. It usually doesn’t happen as quickly as it did for the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter, but it does happen, so as we pursue the relationship, as we pray again, we never lose hope because we worship a God who is in the business of new life out of death and brokenness.

Again, this is the relationship and the reality into which Jackson is baptized this morning. With him and for him we celebrate his relationship with Jesus, and we pray that he too never loses hope in that relationship, that no matter what, he always prays again.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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