God will mess you up

6 September 2009
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 18B (RCL)

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Psalm 125
James 2:1-17
Mark 7:24-37

Some sermons just write themselves. In church on Sunday, I explained the new hands-on, face-to-face ministry cards. On the front, people are invited to write whatever hof2f ministry they have been involved in during the last week, and on the back, reflect on how this has changed them. They then place the cards in the offering baskets.

Jesus engaged in a little hof2f ministry this week, and it changed him. He “resurrected” and went to the region of Tyre, Mark tells us. There, he stayed in a house, and didn’t want anyone to know. I’ll say, he didn’t want anyone to know — he was staying in the house of a Gentile, I would guess. Hard to do for a Jew (if Jesus was in fact a Jew). But a pesky woman found out about it, and came to him with a request that he heal her daughter. Jesus essentially calls her a dog, and she replies by wondering if he is so cruel as to sweep up the crumbs under the children’s table, just so the dogs can’t eat. She turns his insult back on him. And Jesus’ heart is changed.

This healing happens between the second sea crossing (the walking on water — clearly a resurrection appearance) and the feeding of the 4000. The healings between these miracles happen in Gentile territory. So, this time, baptism and eucharist are bringing Gentiles to the table! The shift wasn’t easy for the community. They told their story in the story of Jesus needing to be confronted in order to change his mind. I wonder why it is that we think God made up his mind once and for all, and gave us a complete set of instructions in the Bible, when in the bible itself we have stories of God changing God’s own mind.

I also love the lesson from Proverbs. At issue is what will count as “goods” in Wisdom’s community. A good name (relational identity) will count for more than silver or gold (market economy). We are made who we are, and given value, by our relationships, rather than by what we can achieve alone.

James says essentially the same thing. The first sentence should really read, “Do you, brothers and sisters, by your acts of favoritism, really trust in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” The issue is trust, not belief. If we show favoritism, if we want to get next to money and power, then we don’t trust Jesus, and whatever it is that Jesus offers, namely the kingdom. God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in trust, and heirs of the kingdom, says James. What counts as a “good”? Relationship, Kingdom, not gold or silver.

But, also, of course, gold and silver used in community. What good does it do to say to your brother or sister, “go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,” if you don’t supply their needs? The kingdom has to be real here and now, also. What counts as a good? Hard question to answer.

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