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Stories Matter

REV. CHRISTIAN BARON – August 17, 2014 – Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:10-28 (21-28)

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 “Oh how good and pleasant it is when bretheran live together in unity”

The Psalmist sings out: “Oh how good and pleasant it is when bretheran live together in unity.”

Have you seen the news lately? Anybody out there feeling good and pleasant? Am I the only one who thinks the whole world has gone to hell? Recently, the news has been especially ominous.

I promise this sermon won’t finish with “Repent! The End is Near!” But the current state of the world, does seem to indicate that the writer of the Left Behind Series may actually be right. The world does seem to be spiraling into a dystopian condition.

I spent Friday morning trying to explain to Montana, my 8 year old daughter, what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri. We spoke for quite a while about her experiences with racism in school. She asked me, “Papa, why it it like this?” As you can imagine, I stumbled and fumbled through my words trying to figure out a way to verbalize the complexities of race, and violence, and privilege to an 8 year old.

Oh how good and pleasant it is when bretheran live together in unity

I wish Ferguson was the only topic of conversation this week. I wish that race and injustice in America was the topic I was most prepared to explain in a simple way to her. I’m trying desperately to keep her from knowing about the horrors of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. About what is happening to the most vulnerable and how I can’t think of any other way to bring a stop to the situation other than retaliatory violence.

Oh how good and pleasant it is when bretheran live together in unity.

I’m hoping she doesn’t see my news feed on my phone and discover the ongoing crisis on “our” southern border and in Central America. How can I explain hunger to her. How can i teach her about a place that isn’t able to offer safety to its people. Educate her about a place that violence spurs people to flee… where the best option may be to walk through unimaginable trouble… to gamble on a hope that will most likely never be found.

Oh how good and pleasant it is when bretheran live together in unity.

Buried on page five of the news, is the report of over 2,000 people who have been infected by ebola. With a 90% fatality rate, the story is alarming to say the least. And, this is a much larger story if the world wasn’t currently filled with calamity and seeming darkness. But it isn’t a story i want to tell my daughter.

Oh how good and pleasant it is when bretheran live together in unity.

And how can I even begin to speak to her about depression and suicide? She is far too young to understand. She is far too impressionable. I can’t break her heart… not right now… not yet.   As I write this she is laying on the floor in my office. She is looking up at the ceiling playing with the chord for the window blinds. She’s thinking about Ferguson…. i know it. Maybe she understands it better than I do… maybe… “Papa”, she says, “you and mama always say ‘things are complicated’. I don’t like that.”

Oh how good and pleasant it is when bretheran live together in unity.

The gospel today is rough isn’t it? It is for me. If Jesus was a newly ordained Deacon… and said this to a desperate parishioner or member of the community, he would certainly find himself in the rector’s office and most likely the bishop’s. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Really Jesus?

In hearing this story, we are forced to ask the question “Who learns the lesson?’ If we say the syrophoenician woman, we have some serious problems. Was Jesus engaged in a kind of chess match with her? Just seeing how serious she was about this whole “healing” thing? Was he just gauging her faith to test her? If so, then I’m not a big fan of Jesus’ teaching method. I’m certainly not gonna ask Jesus to hand out pop-tarts in Sept. for Feeding America. But perhaps this is what Matthew wants to communicate… Perhaps he was testing the woman’s faith. Seeing if she would buckle… Perhaps.

Or… maybe Jesus is the one who learns a lesson. Maybe Jesus is the one who has his understanding of the Kingdom expanded. Maybe Jesus needed to be taught a lesson by a non-Jewish, woman with a demon possessed daughter… Maybe Jesus was the one who was tired… and impatient… and took the easy way out on this one… Maybe… Maybe I’m still gonna find a way to wind up in Jen’s office. Maybe she has already texted the bishop to set up an appointment for me to meet with him. Maybe…

So, Jesus teaches a lesson or Jesus learns a lesson??? Both options I think are acceptable. Both perspectives are maybe equally terrible. They answer one aspect of the question but create other problems. Sorry Montana… Sorry Grace Episcopal Church… things are complicated.

Two weeks ago, Jesus was feeding 5 thousand… there were 12 baskets left over… We listened to Jodi talk about God’s love and abundance… Jesus?… is there not enough food for all of us? Must we beg for the crumbs Jesus?

Last week Jesus calmed the storm for Peter… is there not enough to go around Jesus? can you not also, calm the storm for the Syrophoenician woman? Jesus, must we compete for your Grace and Mercy or is there plenty to go around?

Well, I must tell you… you’ve gotta know… I think that the woman changes Jesus’ mind. I think Jesus is tired. He does want to be alone. He appears empty. He just wants some peace and quiet. But she is desperate. She won’t take “no” for an answer. She won’t be ignored… She feels overwhelmed… like this is maybe her only shot at healing for her daughter. And… her story changes Jesus. Her story compels Jesus to stop… compels him to listen… compels him to remember… compels him to think in a new way… Compels him to take action…

Stories are powerful… Stories change things… Stories affect the trajectory of the future… Like Jesus… I’m tired… I want some peace and quiet… I don’t feel like i can stomach one more article about violence in the Middle East… I don’t want to think about the violence on our southern border… My heart is breaking for Africa and I’m kind of terrified of ebola… I don’t want to be challenged on my thoughts about race and privilege… I want to hide… to get away. I don’t want these problems to be my problems. I’m tired. And, things are just so complicated…

Oh how good and pleasant it is when bretheran live together in unity.

But if we want to expand the Kingdom… if we want to be open to the movements of God… if we want to create a world where things are a bit less complicated and where justice is more prevalent… we will buckle down and listen to the stories of the weak, the orphan, the marginalized, the oppressed, the outcast, the other, those we disagree with. We must listen to the stories of the African American Community… We must let these stories challenge our current paradigms… We must let these stories penetrate us and we must cover these stories with prayer and then take action.

Our hope is that these stories will change us… our hope is that these stories will transform the Church. Our hope is that they will transform the world. Stories change things… Let’s get to work Grace… People have stories that they need to tell us…

“Oh how good and pleasant it is when bretheran live together in unity.”