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Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
It’s an ongoing theological dilemma, of sorts; just how much “blame” or “credit” should we assign to God for the stuff that happens in our lives?
In a strictly predestinarian manner of speaking, there are some who say that “everything that happens is for a purpose — it’s the will of God.” This leads to some pretty twisty interpretations of God and God’s will in the case of, say, a baby born addicted to crack thanks to her mother’s poor choices.
On the other hand, there are some who say that “God gives us free choice and has nothing to do with the consequences we bring on ourselves.” This makes God the ultimate absentee landlord, with very little influence over the created order.
Joseph certainly makes an intriguing case for some level of involvement by God in the affairs of his life; he maintains that God was at work in the long-ago choice by his brothers to rid themselves of the pesky, arrogant dreamer by selling him into slavery. “God sent me before you to preserve life.” Not only his own life, we might add, nor simply the lives of his family members…but the lives of countless thousands (or perhaps millions) by his influence over Pharaoh and the affairs of Egyptian government.
So, exactly where does the providence of God lie in the affairs of humanity — those who are people of faith and those who are not?
This psalm supports the theme of “family reunion” in the Genesis reading; “how pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity.” The two main images are of profusion and abundance — it’s a BIG blessing when barriers to relationship are removed and unity is restored.
The image of anointing with so much oil that it would run all the way down the beard and flow onto Aaron’s robe is something like a baptism. This is no mere dabbling of sweetly-scented oil. It is poured out and flowing!
Similarly, the “dew of Hermon” was supposedly legendary for its ability to water the earth. Mt. Hermon is the highest point in eastern Palestine; according to Henry Maundrell, Anglican clergyman and Oxford academic who wrote a series of travel diaries in the 18th century, “with this dew, even in dry weather, our tents were as wet as if it had rained all night.” (Read more about Rev. Maundrell here)
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Just who, exactly, is welcome in God’s family? According to the prophet, the list includes “foreigners…outcasts of Israel…and all peoples” (goyim, Gentiles.) A thought worth remembering as many of our churches continue to struggle with who is welcome. And who is not.
The repeated chorus, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you,” is not only a beautiful piece of worship liturgy, it is a fitting reinforcement of the theme that God’s work in the world is for all the people of the world — not just God’s chosen people.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
We’re all in the same boat, so to speak: “For God has imprisoned us all in disobedience so that God may be merciful to all.”
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
Boy, oh, boy…talk about who’s in and who’s out! After discussing the original case of “trash talking” with his disciples, Jesus apparently demeans a double-outsider — a WOMAN from SIDONIA. She is the wrong gender to receive the respectful attention of the rabbi, and she is definitely from the wrong side of the tracks. Who exactly did she think she was that Jesus should grant her request?
She was a lot like us, actually. Certainly, she was a “hard case.” Perhaps it was she who needed conversion on this day…or, perhaps, it was the crowd watching and listening that needed to be converted from their prejudice and tiny belief system. Whichever the case, by the end of the story we all come to understand that what God is up to in redeeming the world is always bigger, broader and deeper than we can imagine.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
A minister friend of mine grew up in a small town in Georgia. His grandfather lived nearby and owned a chicken farm. In the mid-1960s, industry started moving into the area and the small farms were turned into subdivisions. The American Can Company built a factory nearby and soon a lot of people from the Midwest were transferred down to Georgia to run the factory. Suddenly, for the first time, my friend had a lot of neighbors from Wisconsin.
They were not entirely like the people my friend and his family were used to. For example, they called a “cookout” a barbecue and they drank beer right outside in their yards in front of God and everybody. They walked up and down the road for exercise. And, they talked funny.
One day one of the new couples came to grandpa’s barn to buy eggs, just like almost everybody else in town. But this couple walked over instead of driving and they exchanged only a few brief words of pleasantry instead of chatting for half an hour like locals would have. As they walked away hand-in-hand with their eggs, Grandpa looked after them and then shook his head and said to his grandson, “They’re nice enough folks, I guess, but they’re not our kind of people.”
Have you ever heard birds the Peterson Field Guide calls a “confusing” warblers because some of them are so similar that only the size of the white stripe above their tiny eyes differentiates one species from another? Yet, they are completely different species.
We humans, on the other hand, are all the same species. African, Asian, European, Native American – Short, tall, thin, heavy, blue-eyes or brown, black hair or blond, dark skin or pink or something in between, we all possess almost identical genetic material. None of it matters – we are all the same kind of people.
And we are alike in ways that have little to do with our DNA. The people of China, or Somalia, or Haiti or Iraq of North Korea of New York or North Carolina all love our families, all are concerned with the price of food and the cost of housing, we all ponder the meaning of life and the future of our children. Yes, we are all very much alike and yet we so often live in fear of each other, keeping ourselves separate from others, not just others from across the world – but others from across town or across the street.
Not too long ago I read a piece in the “sound off” section of a southern newspaper identifying their state as a “red” state and advising that people moving from Minnesota or Wisconsin of one of the other “blue” states should just keep their mouths shut. Meanwhile I heard a radio talk show program in New England where callers were talking about the people in the “red” states should just stay away from the area. And so it goes.
And as the world becomes more and more fragmented, the church finds itself more and more divided between Protestants and Catholics and the orthodox, between liberals and conservatives, between those who ordain women and gays and those who don’t, those who baptize babies and those who don’t, those who have THE TRUTH, and those who apparently don’t, etc. etc. Currently there are 20,000 different Christian denominations in the world. And all of this not only saddens God’s heart, it is also, quite literally, against the will and plan of God for the world.
In Isaiah 56: 7 we read – “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
Our Romans text is a bit of Paul’s complex reasoning about how the Jewish people have not been rejected by God. In the midst of it, he says, “. . . that (God) might have mercy on all.”
In our gospel lesson, Jesus finds himself on the receiving end of instruction about the wideness of God’s mercy. After Jesus makes remarks about being sent only to the children of Israel, dismissively topping it off with a proverb about how it’s not right to give the children’s food to the dogs, the foreign woman turns the insult around and gently reminds him that even the dogs get to eat the crumbs from the children’s table. All three texts are a proclamation of the radical inclusiveness of the kingdom of heaven. Inclusivity is not a minor theme in the scriptures; it is at the heart of the story of God’s love for all God’s people.
German theologian Jurgen Moltmann once wrote, “The nearer we come to Christ, the nearer we come together.” In a world anxiously searching for peace, in a world where people desperately need to learn how to trust and help each other; God is still calling the church to be an example of what God wants the world to be – a community where all people are our kind of people.
Amen and amen.