Proper 18B Sermon
September 5, 2021
A few days ago my wife and I were headed to the University of the South, Sewanee, when I saw a big sign beside the interstate that read: Biden, there is a damn crisis at the border. Support Trump. I thought of so many desperate people, people with nowhere to go, waiting at the border. People tired from long journeys. There is a crisis at the border, a human tragedy, and a sorrowful situation for people who happen to be on the wrong side of the border. That’s true on our southern border, it’s true on the borders around Afghanistan, and, sadly, it’s true in places around the world. There are crises on many borders. Human crises.
Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs. The woman in today’s gospel would not settle for the popular belief that only the sons and daughters of Israel mattered. Mark tells this story to confront the notion that Jesus came only to serve a select group. Because of this woman from the wrong side of the border, we see the love of God extended to those denied equality by popular culture.
In the story Jesus’ first inclination was to dismiss this woman who failed to meet cultural requirements. She was a Gentile, didn’t live in Israel, was unaccompanied by a man and approached Jesus, ignoring the rule that women did not question men. But there she was, and she wasn’t going away.
Her persistence paid off. Jesus was converted. Moreover, Mark goes on to relate another story of Jesus’ healing outside the boundaries of Israel. This time in the region of Decapolis, where he encountered a deaf man with a speech impediment.
These stories take the Jesus gospel beyond salvation for a particular group to universal salvation for everyone. They move beyond tribalism, beyond a particular religion, to compassion, respect and equality for everyone. And, therefore, the stories say a lot about the mission of the Church. Despite the determination of some religious groups to embrace racism, nationalism and xenophobia, the gospel maintains that everyone matters and everyone is loved. Our mission is not only to care for ourselves but to remember others as well.
The story of the woman who challenged Jesus also reminds those of us who live with privilege that many people are dependent on the crumbs that fall from the table. And, it raises the question: Should anyone have to be dependent on crumbs?
My wife and I are friends with a number of Episcopalians in Cuba. People there are having a very difficult time. The pandemic has hit the island hard and there are not nearly enough medical supplies. In addition, there are shortages in almost everything. Life is very difficult. Many would be glad to receive the crumbs that fall from the table but there are few crumbs available. Our privileged former President even instigated a rule that people here cannot send money to help with relief. Not even crumbs are allowed for the people of Cuba. They are on the wrong side of the border.
Truthfully, many of us live with privilege. We might take to heart the words of Elisabeth Johnson, professor at the Lutheran Institute of theology in Cameroon. She says, For those of us who are used to having a place at the table, perhaps we need to be reminded that none of us has any right or privilege whatsoever to claim with God. We all come as beggars to the table, and it is solely by God’s grace that we are fed. Perhaps we need also to be reminded that God’s table is immeasurably larger than we can imagine.
Larger than we can imagine. There was an abundance about what Jesus was up to. Remember the leftovers when he fed the 5000. There was plenty to go around and more. There is no scarcity in God’s grace. No need to deny others access to the table.
Sometimes the more privileged we are, the more hoarding we embrace. But that doesn’t have to be the case. The love and compassion revealed in Jesus can open our hearts and minds to generosity and grace. And, thank God, for many that’s exactly the case. Lives have been turned around. Fears have been assuaged, hope has been kindled, and justice has been embraced because of the compassion revealed in Jesus. God’s table is immeasurably larger than we can imagine.
This is the time of year when parishes are typically involved in ministry start-ups, planning new programs and ministries. It’s a good time to add some extenders to the table. A time to give thanks for the blessings we have received and be about the gospel work of putting more plates on the table.
And not only that, remember the parable Jesus told about giving a dinner party where many were invited but they didn’t show up. So the host said to the workers, Go out at once to the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Sometimes it’s not enough just to put out extra plates. A more rigorous and active approach is needed. Moreover, today’s gospel maintains that at times even the dinner table needs to be moved to where the people are. Moved beyond the usual borders.
St. Dunstan’s has been about this for sometime. Breaking down borders that deny people love, respect, and justice. Today’s gospel reading confirms that everyone is invited to the table. Everyone is included in the abundance of God’s mercy and respect. Even borders do not stop the love of God.
We give thanks for this breakthrough story about a woman who helped to expand Jesus’ imagination, and for once again revealing that the love of God can be manifested in ways we don’t think possible. Grace is truly amazing. Salvation is always knocking on our doors. Even waiting at our borders.