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Pentecost 11A Sermon
Matthew 15: 10-28
August 20, 2017


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Our dog, Foxy, is a real daddy’s girl. I’m not sure how it all happened, but she prefers me to other members of the family. There is no doubt in their minds how it all happened, though. You see, every morning for breakfast, I make my usual egg-scramble: I wilt some fresh spinach in a pan, then mix up some ham and cheese with one whole egg and one egg white.

While I am cooking all of that in the pan, I reserve the other egg yolk. Meanwhile, Foxy watches patiently from the floor. When my eggs are done and out of the pan, I put the other yolk in and cook it up. After flipping it once, I use the spatula to chop it up into smaller pieces. By this time, Foxy is on her feet right alongside me, letting out a little bit of an impatient yelp. Finally when I pick up the pan and walk it over to her dish, she is prancing up and down with joy, anticipating the treat that she is just about to get. I barely get it poured into her dish before she dives in and devours it in about 10 seconds, happy as a clam! That’s how you build a relationship with a dog!

Many times, dogs – and other pets – become real members of our families. I refer to Lucy and myself as “mommy and daddy” to Foxy; we spend time with her, play with her, walk her, and scratch her. We correct her when she gets out of line, bathe her when she gets sprayed by a skunk, and we take her to the doctor regularly to keep her healthy. We build relationships so strong that often when our pets die, we grieve over them just as much as another human member of our family. I have even heard a special prayer that references our canine friends: “O God, help me to be the kind of person that my dog thinks I am!”

We are told that in many ancient cultures, pets were treated like members of the family, much like today. Dogs and cats especially have long been welcomed into homes as beloved companions. Still we don’t think of dogs as, “First Class Citizens,” on the same level as human beings; and when we refer to people as, “dogs” it is definitely not meant to be a compliment … which is what makes the interaction which Jesus has with this Canaanite woman so puzzling to us!

Because of her nationality – being a Gentile – she would not have been considered a “First class citizen” to the Judeans (or Jews), of which Jesus was part. Even though we have passages like the one from our first lesson in Isaiah, which encourage the newly released and returned Judean exiles to welcome foreigners and make God’s house a house of prayer for all people, the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day still did their best to guard the temple and the people from those who would defile them. If this woman was living in Judah instead of Tyre and Sidon, she would have been called a dog regularly.

But it still surprises us to hear Jesus use this language, because he is so loving and compassionate. She is hurting because her daughter is possessed by a demon, and if there is anything that Jesus is known for it is his compassion. So it surprises us when he tells her that he has only come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and that even after she kneels in an act of worship, he likens her to a dog: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The painting on our bulletin cover vividly depicts the woman begging from Jesus, much like we see Foxy begging us when we sit down to eat our dinner together.

This interaction is so out of character for Jesus that I have come to the conclusion that he is only speaking this way to test both the woman and the disciples. They must have been taken aback, hearing him speak this rudely for the first time since they started following him; she must have been surprised, knowing what she has heard about him. But she is persistent, and to his troubling comment likening her to a dog, she reminds him that dogs are beloved members of the household. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables.” Then Jesus said something that must have surprised the disciples even more than when he referred to this woman as a dog … he says, “Woman, great is your faith!” These men, who Jesus continually has termed, “ye of little faith” hear Jesus commend the great faith of someone that many people consider the same social status as the family dog, as a second or third class citizen … as someone that God certainly doesn’t love as much as he loves them and other good Jews. Her faith is great, and witnessing this great faith, Jesus heals her daughter immediately.
This is one of those weeks that anything you hear or read is filtered through the events that have happened in Charlottesville, Virginia and other areas of our world. It is one thing when people of different points of view demonstrate to prove their points – pro-life/pro-choice … Black Lives matter/Police Lives Matter … LGBT Rights/Traditional Marriage Rights to name a few. But when groups form themselves around the ideology that some people of our world are “dogs” or second class citizens because of the color of their skin or their religion or some other characteristic that is only a result of being born that way … then they can never be given the benefit of a platform or voice among us because we know that this is NOT God’s intention for any of us. We may prayerfully debate and argue God’s intention in many different ways, but it is always God’s intention to save, heal, be with and love all people as his own creatures. Period. End of story. Not as pets from his household, but as sons and daughters of this wonderful creation that he still interacts in.

This is true with any group that is hell-bent on destroying others based on how they were born. We witnessed terrible terror attacks in Barcelona this past week from ISIS, and we wonder how people can come to the point of this much hatred. In the second act of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific, a young navy nurse, explaining her race prejudice, says, “I can’t help it. This is emotional. It’s born in me.” The man who she was losing because of these feelings replies, “I don’t believe that these things can be born in you.” And a third character, a navy Lieutenant, states, “It’s not born in you; it happens after your born…” and he sings a short song, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” “You’ve got to be taught to be afraid; of people who’s eyes are oddly made, and people who’s skin is a different shade, you’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late; before you are six or seven or eight to hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.”
Hatred of this kind is not born in us. It is taught to people from a young age, whether it was the people of Judah toward Canaanites, white supremacists towards other races or ISIS members toward non-Muslims. It is taught, and our response is to declare that teaching ungodly.

God has promised to make his house a house of prayer for all people. Jesus shows that no one is viewed as a dog in God’s sight. And Paul reminds us that even though the gift of salvation is opened up to the whole world, the Jews are not rejected by God. Love and acceptance are God’s promises, and we trust that God is accomplishing this, even when we see events like happened this week. Our part in this is to teach love and acceptance, to our children especially, but also to one another. And the best way to teach these things is to demonstrate them for all to see. Not hating the people who hate, but sharing the welcome that is for everyone in Jesus Christ. That may sound easy, but it is anything but. May God intercede in our world to teach and encourage love and not hate as we do the same in our own homes and neighborhoods. Amen.