Sermon – Sunday, August 17, 2014
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church – Hametown, PA
Matthew 15:[10 – 20] 21 – 28
The refrigerator door is wide open. There’s an abundance of food, but she can’t find anything to eat. At least there’s nothing there that she wants. Her mother asks her what she is looking for and she replies, “I don’t know, but there’s nothing here.” Does it sound familiar?
He comes home from school and he opens up the usual cabinets and drawers to find a snack, but he can’t find anything he wants. His mother asks him what he is looking for and he replies, “I don’t know, I just want something good. Don’t we have any food around here?” Meanwhile, the house is filled with all kinds of food.
Americans produce more food than they know what to do with and the statistics say we could literally feed the world. Yet, we waste an enormous amount of food in this country while other places in the world have barely enough to eat. Children are foraging for food and they can’t always find it while other people are gaining more and more weight because they are trying to feed a craving that is more emotional than physical. They’re foraging for food and they can’t find anything to satisfy them because they can’t really identify what it is they are really hungry for. Maybe it’s friendship, or compassion, or someone to talk with, or just someone to listen to them. People don’t understand and it’s easy to judge and call people names. Our society is so caught up in physical appearances that we call people names when they weigh too much and when they weigh too little. Magazines and television ads focus on how we are supposed to look, but it’s an illusion and not reality. It causes a lot of pain just like the hurtful words that people use to label one another.
“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can never hurt you.” So go the words to the phrase from the early 19th century to try and soften the blow when someone is ridiculed. It’s supposed to make you feel better. To think that if you aren’t physically hurt, that the words are just words. But words do hurt. And words, especially cruel ones, can cause a great deal of emotional damage. They can leave scars that last a lifetime. Jesus was right in saying that it’s what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person, not what they eat. Words that come from the heart, especially cruel ones, can cause damage.
Insults have been around for probably as long as people have been alive. It seems to be part of our human sinful nature to sling hurtful words sometimes without even knowing it. We speak them when we want to get back at someone for hurting us, or sometimes because they’re different and we feel we are better than they are. We use hurtful words to keep people out of certain groups and that includes churches as well.
It wasn’t any different when Jesus was alive. Different cultural, ethnic, and religious groups kept the outsiders away. The Israelites were God’s chosen people and Gentiles, or non-believers were considered pagans and called dogs. The Canaanite woman in today’s story was known by the Israelites as a dog. She was the enemy, an outsider, an outcast, who didn’t worship in the same way as the Israelites, didn’t look the same, act the same, or even talk the same. But she was a woman – an outcast just from her gender alone – who saw something that even the disciples at times didn’t see. She saw who Jesus really was and knew – with all her heart – that Jesus could help her. Sometimes the people we think don’t understand have a better insight into things than we do. Often someone on the outside can see things with a better perspective. This Canaanite woman was taking a great risk in asking for help, but sometimes the cause is great enough – great enough to beg, like a dog.
And so this outsider – this enemy – who was commonly referred to as a dog, came begging to Jesus for help. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” We don’t know what was wrong with her daughter, but it was enough to go into town and face the ridicule and the stares. She addressed Jesus as Son of David or Messiah. This is quite a shock –since one would not expect a pagan Canaanite woman to call Jesus this name – as great a shock as if someone in the Hell’s Angels motorcycle group professed this to us today! Surely this would grab our attention and Jesus’ attention. But He doesn’t say a word. He seems to not even acknowledge her. And she keeps on shouting. No matter where they went, there she was, shouting after them. Not giving up, and making a complete spectacle of herself! “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us,” the disciples urge. Would we, like the disciples, want to send her away too?
Even Jesus answers, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Does that mean that this woman’s pleas were falling on deaf ears? Did Jesus really not care about her at all?
I’ve heard too many people say the very same thing when they have reached out to God in prayer. “I don’t even think God is listening!” “Why is God ignoring me?” “God doesn’t care about me; I’m not good enough anyway.” Maybe you’ve heard people say these same words, or perhaps you’ve uttered them yourself. You’ve prayed and prayed, and shouted out to God for help and nothing happens. It seems as if God is not listening at all, just like in today’s story. Like the Canaanite woman you fall on your knees and cry out, “Lord, help me” and all you hear in response is either silence or what seems like ridicule. “It’s not fair to take the children’s food (the chosen people, the believers, the important people) and throw it to the dogs (the unworthy, the sinners, the outcasts). And you realize, I realize – like the Canaanite woman (who is not even given enough respect to tell us her name) that it’s the truth. You are sinner. I am a sinner. We are unworthy. We don’t always do the right thing. As St. Paul says in Romans 7, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Was Jesus being mean to this Canaanite woman, or was He simply telling her what she already knew about herself? She was a sinner. She was considered an outcast. And why on earth would Jesus help someone like her? We could all ask the same question. “Why would Jesus help someone like me? We really don’t deserve God’s grace. We too are just dogs begging for crumbs.”
There’s a lot of people begging for crumbs, foraging for food and they can’t find any. People like the late Robbin Williams who suffer from mental illness and they are begging for crumbs, some kind of nourishment to ease the pain and isolation. Often medication is needed and we need to listen to them and not make them feel like outcasts because they need to take life-saving medication. It’s no different than other types of medicine, but often these anti-depressant medications are attached with a stigma.
People who suffer from addictions of any kind are begging for crumbs. They don’t know how to stop and desperately need some kind of sustenance to be healed from these demons that possess them. It’s not alcohol or drugs or even food that they need, but something that will really fill them up like good programs and support systems that really listen and care.
And people who are living on the edge of poverty with nowhere to go but down are begging for crumbs. Sometimes they do need the help of social service organizations, but we judge them because we think they’re lazy. Not everyone is out to cheat the system. Sometimes people- like you and I – find themselves in dire circumstances with nowhere to turn.
There are thousands of people literally begging for crumbs – crumbs of compassion, and kindness, and love and justice and mercy. They’re begging for a relationship with something other than the demons that are trying to tear them down and destroy them. They need an advocate to help them when they can’t speak for themselves. They need an advocate who has the determination and faith of the Canaanite woman – someone who isn’t afraid to beg for the crumbs that will heal them because even the crumbs are enough.
Yes, the Canaanite woman was a sinner, but so are all of us. And the Good News is that God has enough for all of us. There is room in the Kingdom of God for all people. The crumbs from God’s table are enough to feed and heal all people. Jesus still heals people today, but He wants to heal them through us. We are called to be the answers to people’s prayers.
We do not have to be perfect; God is perfect. We don’t need a great deal of faith, a little is all that is needed to feed our souls. Even a little faith is great faith! Even a little prayer – Lord, help me – is a great prayer, a great example of faith! Even a little love, is great love. It’s enough to sustain a person because when you know that God indeed loves you, then you can persevere. You have hope. You know that God indeed does hear you, even when it seems like your prayers are falling on deaf ears. People need to hear and know that God loves them.
God has sent Jesus into the world to feed even the worst of us. We are fed by the love we show to one another. Love has the power to heal any demons that may torment us. Love fights for those who cannot fight for themselves. Even the smallest crumbs of love multiply like yeast and produce enough to feed the multitudes.
And gathered together for worship, we receive in Communion a small piece, a crumb, of the Living Bread of Life. We hold in our hands and take into our bodies the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus found in the bread and the wine. This small piece, this crumb is enough to heal us. It may not take away our physical diseases, but it will take away our sins. It will take away our guilt. This crumb is enough to forgive us, transform us, and fill us with grace and hope. This crumb is enough to empower us to live as Christ to others and to speak up for them, to be their voice when they can’t speak for themselves. We are to be their hope when they feel they have no more hope.
We are to be Christ to each other and to live lives of love and compassion so no one needs to forage for food. The Bread of Life is here and this small piece, this crumb is more than enough for everyone! Receive the Bread of Life and be that which you receive, the Bread of Life for others! Amen!