Sunday, September 6, 2009

14 Pentecost Yr B Proper 18

Deacon Marty Garwood preaching

Do you ever feel that about the time you get something figured out, things change? That seems to happen to me often and it happened to me again with the homily for this morning. When the Rev. Kathy asked me if I would preach today, I looked over the readings for this morning and immediately got a glimmer of something. Over the next week or so I began to flesh out that idea. The homily was starting to take shape and it was going to be a very good homily. But then I sat down to spend some more time reflecting on the readings and much to my surprise and dismay, the readings appointed for this morning were completely different than I thought they were. I just was getting it all figured out and everything changed.

This particular gospel passage about the Syro-phoenician woman challenging Jesus has a special place in my memory. St. Andrew’s was in the interim time between Father Hibbert’s retirement and calling the Rev. Kathy to be our pastor. One August morning, we were scheduled to have a supply priest and we were also to have a baptism at the 8:00 service. By 7:45 that morning, the supply priest still had not made an appearance. I was newly ordained and not too confident. I made an emergency phone call to Virginia and she probably broke a few speed limits in getting here in a matter of minutes. Her advice to me was that when it came time for the Gospel I should read very slowly and pray very hard that the priest would walk in. If that didn’t work, Virginia said I had three options. I could skip the homily and have silent reflection, we could open it up for discussion, or I could preach off the top of my head with no preparation. Well believe me, I read very slowly and I prayed very hard. No priest! Well I did preach that morning. I don’t remember exactly what I said but I do know that some power other than my own gave me the courage and the words to talk about what the story of this determined mother may mean to us in today’s world. Another case of thinking I was prepared – that I had it figured out. At the last minute everything changed.

One thing that I have learned is that there is a real need for flexibility in our lives. Just as bridges and tall buildings are built intentionally with some sway factor which adds intrinsically to their strength – we too are stronger when we are able to sway with the unexpected. Life will throw us curves and just when we think we have it figured out, something may change. If we do not have that built in strength of flexibility – if we remain rigid and unbending – we run the risk of breaking. Our spiritual, physical or mental health may be adversely affected. And even our relationships with others may suffer.

Now that I’ve told you that we have to be flexible – to be able to give with the changes that life will inevitably bring us – I want to be clear that I don’t mean we are simply to give in and be swayed by every thing that comes along. There is certainly pressure from our culture to do just that. We as Christians are called to stand firm in our belief and faith in a God that loves us and transforms us.

We are called to act out that faith every day of our lives. Many times it happens in ways that are as natural to us as breathing. Or there may be times we feel that our faith has completely left us and we wonder how we will survive. But there are also times that we make a conscious decision to live into the faith that we profess.

A mother whose daughter is ill takes a determined stand. A woman who is a Gentile has such faith in the person of Jesus that she ignores cultural mores that would normally prevent a Jewish man from speaking to a woman in public. This believer was ready with a rebuttal when her request was refused. Her faith – her courage – her love for her child – allowed her to stand firm in the face of uncertainty. We don’t know if she really expected a response to her plea. Perhaps she was so desperate that she felt she just had to try no matter what the outcome. Perhaps she thought there was no hope and yet suddenly everything changed.

A deaf man with an impediment in his speech would most likely have endured a number of obstacles in his daily life. Yet this man had family members or friends who cared enough about him to bring him to where Jesus was. Then they made their way through the crowds to beg Jesus to lay his hand on the man. Their determination allowed for a life-altering encounter with Jesus. Deafness and a speech impediment in that day and age would be a far different matter than it is today. Perhaps the man had learned to live his life within that scope of limitations – he thought he had it all figured out and then everything changed.

We are called to have that same sense of determination and faith as we live our lives in the Kingdom of God. There will be times for each of us to be the mother who begs on behalf of the child. There will be times that we are called to be the ones pushing through the crowds on behalf of someone else. Jesus has sent us out into the world to do the work of God.

Sometimes that means we have to step out of our comfort zone – we have to speak out – we have to stand up. We can not – we should not – stand idly by when we are surrounded by the poor, the disenfranchised, the ones discriminated against, the ones who are ignored, the ones with no voice. We must serve as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in this world to spread the Good News.

Within the letter attributed to James we are reminded that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our faith in – and our love for – Jesus Christ will bear fruit. It isn’t that we have to do works of faith to believe. It is because we believe in a God that loves us that works of faith become a part of who we are. Within that scope we are to honor the poor. We are called to remembering that the poor shall be blessed by God. However, we must always be aware that poverty is not simply a condition of ones’ financial status. Poverty comes in many disguises. It does not necessarily express itself in outward and visible ways. Each and every one of us has the ability – the gift – of being able to relieve or help ease the burden of poverty from some one. The gift of listening, a simple smile, fresh vegetables left on the table in the hallway, school clothes for an unknown child, a telephone call, as well as a monetary gift are just a few of the many ways we each lift or ease the burden of others. We may never know how deeply we touch someone with a simple gift – a gift that we give because we have already been given the greatest gift of all. Perhaps just when someone thinks they have it all figured out – a simple gift changes everything.

There is yet another aspect to today’s Gospel story that I think we should consider. What if you and I are the ones who need to have our ears opened – opened to hear the Word of God in a new and fresh way? The voice of God comes to us in many ways. The healing grace of Jesus Christ changes our lives – change that comes with faith but that also comes unexpectedly.

We may hear something in an old familiar Scripture passage or favorite hymn – something that suddenly sounds so new that our ears and heart are opened to new understandings. Perhaps we are a participant in the adult discussion group on Sunday mornings, the Bible study or EFM class on Tuesdays, or just visiting at coffee hour and suddenly something we hear gives us pause – and we take the time to consider what we have heard in a new way.

This may come as a surprise to you but just because we all attend St. Andrew’s does not mean that we always agree on everything or even that we always like one another. There are times that it feels comfortable to assume that we all think alike – but that is a dangerous assumption to make. When we start to think in that manner – it means that we are not hearing some of the voices – that we are not listening to the message some one else can share.

We have the opportunity for that very thing here at St. Andrew’s. The Rev. Kathy has asked us to reflect upon the question of how homosexuality has affected us personally. There will be opportunities for sharing with one other our thoughts and responses to that question. The question is not judgmental – it does not ask for an answer of right or wrong. It simply asks how we each have been affected. That is only one of the many issues that affect each of us differently. It is only one of the many facets of life itself that we have the opportunity to hear about.

We can listen to one another with the gift of love. Admittedly, it isn’t always easy or comfortable to listen – to really hear – what others have to say. The temptation often is to immediately refute or agree – and yes to even walk away. When we can resist that temptation and sit in silence as others speak, we will be giving one another an enormous gift. We will be honoring the speaker in ways that do not happen often in this noisy world we live in.

We each have our own story – no two exactly alike. Each story is as valuable as the other. To take the time to listen to another’s story will open not only our ears but also our hearts. We will be living into the commandment to love one another as God loves us. We will love as we each want to be loved. We will be living into our Baptismal vow to treat each person with respect and dignity.

Who knows? Perhaps as we listen we may hear the voice of God speaking to us and everything will change.

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