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Faith United Methodist Church

August 20, 2017

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – Holy Humor

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Matthew 15:1-2, 10-11, 21-28, Psalm 133

Prayer for Illumination:

Lord of love, come to us this day with clarity.  May the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form bring to us a message of wholeness and the light of truth.  Strengthen us, enliven us, empower us, for the living of your Word.  Amen.

Sermon:  Um….. Jesus

Once upon a time, a woman called the local pastor and asked him if he would officiate at a funeral for her dog.  The pastor was a bit put off by the request.  With a somewhat disgusted tone in his voice he suggested that there was no way he could do such a thing but that she might try one of the other churches in the area.  She agreed to do that but not before she asked the pastor for some advice. “Pastor, do you think $500 is an appropriate honorarium for a funeral of this kind? And would I make the check out to the minister or to the church?”   The pastor quickly cleared his throat and said, “Wait a minute, why didn’t you tell me your dog was United Methodist?”

This is as far as I got in my Holy Humor sermon before Charlottesville happened.  I thought the lectionary delivered up quite a juicy gospel lesson for our Humor Sunday.  Jesus calling a woman a dog!  This is a one of a kind scripture in that way!  I was looking forward to celebrating the spunk of the woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer and poking a little fun at Jesus who seemed to be, as many of us are, quite stuck in his ways.   I mean, it was a bit ironic that Jesus had just been telling the Pharisees that it isn’t what you put into your body that defiles you, but what comes out.  And then Jesus came out with a doozy of a line, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

But then Charlottesville happened and this scripture didn’t seem quite so funny.  Discrimination is no laughing matter.  When I saw the news footage of white nationalists, members of the KKK and white supremacists wielding torches, displaying Nazi symbols and chanting their hateful rhetoric I was horrified.  I hope you were, too.  No, I don’t deny the right to free speech or the right to assemble.  What horrifies me is that people ~ people not that different than you and me ~ would have so much hate in their hearts that they would speak and act in such a repulsive and violent manner.   Hate directed toward immigrants, Jews, African Americans, gays, lesbians and transgendered people, Muslims – basically anyone who doesn’t conform to a white, heterosexual standard. 

And, in my opinion, the violence was compounded by leaders in our nation who refused to immediately condemn such behavior. What those at the highest level of our government don’t seem to understand is that actions taken to stand up against hate do not equal the actions of those who perpetrate hate in the first place.

So today’s Gospel lesson is tricky.  First we hear Jesus telling the Pharisees that it isn’t what goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of the mouth – our speech, how we treat other people.  But then we hear Jesus speak words that cause us to cringe.  Before Jesus stood a woman – a Canaanite – with a sick daughter.  As a desperate mother she asked Jesus for help.  And Jesus replied, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  Dogs in Jesus day were not the furry, chubby household pets of our day.   Dogs in Jesus day were dirty, mangy, scrawny scavengers, not worth the time of day.   And Jesus wasn’t even being very original in his insult.  Dog was a favorite insult Israelites used against Canaanites.  Jesus was essentially saying, “You’re not good enough to get any help from me.  You’re not included in my job description.”

The Canaanite woman was an outsider.  She was “the other.”  But she didn’t give up.  As Daivd Lose suggest, “She won’t let Jesus go until she wrests a blessing from him on behalf of her daughter.  Moms with sick kids are like that….”  As I said earlier, she had spunk.   It was as if she heard what Jesus had just been teaching the Pharisees and was ready to call Jesus on it.  “Um…. Jesus….. even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

As one commentator described Jesus’ behavior in this scripture, “Jesus is caught with his compassion down and forced to confront his own prejudice…”  In the wake of the events in Charlottesville we might want to ask ourselves how compassionate we are – as individuals, as a church, as a country.  We may look at the events in Charlottesville and think that we don’t have to be concerned because it doesn’t have anything to do with us.  But is that true?  When others are pushed aside because of ethnicity, heritage, religion, sexual orientation or gender, doesn’t that make all of us less?

So my Holy Humor Sunday sermon has not been very funny.  But there is something to celebrate here.  The Canaanite woman, indeed, got the last laugh.  After her witty comeback, Jesus was shocked out of his preconceived notions and looked at her again.  And this time he didn’t see a Canaanite, a filthy dog.  He saw a woman, a mother, and he said to her, “Women, great is your faith.”  And he healed her daughter.   Jesus changed his mind, changed his heart.  Maybe we can change, too.  Let it be so, Lord.  Amen.