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Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 124; James 2:1-10, 14-17; Mark 7:24-37
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
September 9, 2018 –Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
‘May you live in interesting times.’ That is a mixed blessing. Interesting times are novel times. In the spectrum from chaos to order, the world is tilting toward chaos in those eras …away from order.
The Messiah lives in interesting of times. He is bold and articulate… metaphorical and mysterious. He is yin and yang…obvious and obscure…proclaiming and secretive.
He is relevant to his time and place, and yet, we find his truth in the call of Moses…a privileged sinner…and in the service of Lincoln…a pauper who accepts the role of besieged prophet…to become timeless. And he speaks today…to us.
Lincoln understood this dichotomy… this duality…in a very practical way. He had hundreds of federal appointments to make. His brand new party wanted their people in there to endure beyond their days and their times…perhaps beyond their generations.
The supplicants lined the stairway in the White House. Some went away happy, but most did not. Lincoln summed it up this way: for every federal appointment that he made, their were 99 malcontents and one ingrate.
That’s the way we are. So complicated and yet so predictable. So visionary and so bitter. So grateful…and so graceless… because of what it says about us.
Today, we find Jesus under virtual siege…so famous for the magnificent consequences of his faithfulness that he is besieged by people who have nowhere else to turn to…so they turn to the man from Galilee…the hill country…an outlander who has accomplished outlandish things.
He cures the daughter of a non-Jew after he rebuffs her: He came for Israel. The woman pushes back that even the dogs should be permitted to eat the crumbs the children let fall under the table.
She sees our Lord and savior dearly and speaks to him clearly. She is one of the dogs eating crumbs under the table. He may very well see himself, by this time, as one of the crumbs the children of Israel have permitted to fall under the table…for those dogs…and us.
She loves her daughter…her neighbor…as herself. She has already humbled herself in taking on this task of seeking healing for another. Now she calls herself one of the dogs under the table…and in her humility she says more to him than even I can know these thousands of years later.
She has entered into the secret of who he is. They have something in common. He receives her trust and does not abuse it. He honors it and tells her that it is she…her faith… not he…his power…that has produced the day that they both now celebrate.
It is the humble who serve the humble and those who receive humbly are as blessed as those who serve humbly. We can’t keep the precious gift of God’s love unless we give it away…and the more she gives away, the more she has…to give.
What we read today from Mark echoes what we read in John about Jesus revealing his secret to the woman at the well. She is a non-Jew, too, and he is as able to tell her as much about herself as this Syrophoenician woman is able to tell him about himself…and us …today.
Again, it is the humble part of us that connects with people who are like us…and with people who are unlike us. When the disciples come back to the well after their search for something to eat…they are shocked that he is speaking to a woman, much less a Samaritan woman…who came to the well at mid-day to draw water when no one else was there…except a Jewish rabbi. Blessed are those who bless us. Blessed are we when we bless others
Jesus also cures a man who is deaf and speechless this morning. The man is brought to him to be cured, but it will also be a further sign of Jesus’ powers…the powers of God revealed through Jesus…
The man will be cured and he will receive that sign…if he can see it… just as we can receive the same sign …if we will see it. But it is a mysterious thing.
It does not come in a box. You can’t find it online. It is something that you already have, but you still have to become aware of it and welcome it. It needs to awaken in us…we must awaken to it…if we are to receive it at all… if we are going to bend graciously toward the one who created heaven…and earth …and us.
Jesus tells the people who witness this event not to tell anyone…but the more he tries to silence them, the more they share the news. But what news do they have to share?
They have seen the Messiah? What is their proof? A sign? It is no secret that that the man has come to be healed. It is no secret that he has been healed. But how has it been done?
What loosened his tongue so that he could tell us the secrets that have been lurking in his heart and mind so long? How has he been drawn from the outland of his society to the center of its attention?
Why did the others bring him to the great rabbi from Galilee? Did they love him or ridicule him? Were they doing him a favor or trying to find some amusement on a slow and uneventful day?
Whatever the reason, whatever the circumstances, here we are…trying to see into the mystery of one man’s illness and another man’s healing powers.
The more we try to understand what baffles us, the more we are drawn into another mystery. The answer begets another question.
Jesus healed the man. How? Others had to bring him to the Promised One. Why?
We think that we live our lives according to some great plan, but we cannot become the masters of our own fate until we yield to the greater truths of life.
Creation. Good and evil. Bondage and freedom. Despair and hope. Suffering and healing.
Shakespeare sums our inability to understand it all fully in a few lines in Macbeth.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/To the last syllable of recorded time;/And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!/Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.
The meaning of life is a continuing mystery to those who live it. it is not given to us to understand, evidently but to live. Will our hopes or our fears be expressed in our actions? Will we steer our ship with hope, leaving fear astern…Thomas Jefferson’s phrase…or will we steer it with fear, leaving hope astern.
Macbeth chooses fear…ambition… as his lodestar. He grasps what he can now, lest he miss the great prize of power.
Jesus chooses hope…devotion to something greater than any mortal …as his true north…in a world that is devoted to certainty…which is to say ‘fear.’
Both Macbeth and Jesus are being drawn to their deaths, but one of them is leaving one story behind and the other is leaving another. Who do we revere the most today? Which one do we resemble most today?
The more we try to silence our fears, the more they swallow us whole. The more we try to live out our hopes, the more the world is opened to us.
A great pastor in the Billing area, Jim Fitzhugh, started the Walk to Emmaus down there. We were waiting together to give our talks one Saturday morning and fell to talking about nothing…which is when you say the important things.
In the middle of it, Jim said, “The older I get, the more I am fascinated by mystery. It is not something to get over. It is not something to solve. It is something to celebrate. That is the greatness of life: mystery.”
We do not serve others simply because they need to be served. The people who brought the man who could not speak to Jesus did not do it so they could speak. They did it so they could understand the mystery of illness…and the mystery of healing.
I don’t think they were playing ‘Stump the Messiah.’ I think they were hoping that someone in their midst could live a fuller life…so they could, too.
It is our secrets that are important to us, and there is a reason Jesus wanted to keep his powers a secret. He did not have them to make himself a great fortune or a great man of his age. They were opened to him so that he could make the love of God available to all.
We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—"Here's my life, Lord. I'm giving it all."
But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25¢ here and 50¢ there. . . .
Giving our life to Christ isn't glorious. It's done in all those little acts of love, 25¢ at a time…one little mysterious act of love at a time.
It is free to us and it is free to all to whom we give it. The more we deny it…try to silence it…the more it calls us further into the mystery… into the light.