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August 16, 2020
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
I recently read a story, told by a woman named Rose. She shared an experience she had when her mother was dying, in which she went to church one Sunday and hid in the back row because she couldn’t stop crying.
A woman who was homeless sat next to her and held her hand. When it came time for Communion, Rose didn’t want to go up – but the woman refused to go without her, saying, “I won’t go without you, because you’re my sister.”
Soon, everyone that Rose knew had gone forward – and she’d even sent her children up. Even though she didn’t want to, Rose said that she knew she had to go, that she had to come to Jesus, because she couldn’t hold the woman back from receiving him.
When we think about receiving Jesus’ presence in the sacrament, at least, when I think about it, I think of the calm and peaceful Jesus. The Jesus who centers me and keeps me grounded so that that’s what I take out into the world.
We don’t, that is – I don’t, think about rougher side of Jesus. The one who held accountable the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, and the moneychangers in the temple. We smirk and sometimes even laugh when we read those stories because we think they had it coming. So it’s okay that he was harsh with them.
But the event in today’s Gospel reading is a little different. Jesus was harsh and even uncompassionate toward the Canaanite woman. He’d just spent time explaining to the Pharisees and to the disciples that the heart is what matters when it comes to faith. And then a few days later he didn’t practice what he preached.
The woman hadn’t done anything wrong, or anything to upset him. She’d approached him in a humble posture, begging desperately for healing for her sick daughter. But all Jesus saw, if he even looked at her, was a woman of another race who belonged to a group of people of that region.
And he insulted her and dismissed her; he denied her status as a human being by calling her a dog because she wasn’t an Israelite. And, technically, the way he treated her was socially acceptable. But she didn’t back down. She refused to accept Jesus’ first response – she was done being excluded; and as she held her ground, she showed us what faith in action looks like.
By pushing back, by challenging Jesus and naming her situation, she voiced her trust in him and embodied the faith that comes from the heart. She confronted Jesus with his behavior and the way he thought of her people – and he grew because of that. And in that moment of his ministry, God’s realm, opened up to everyone.
There has been an excessive amount of fear and rage and sadness in the news over the last few months, and it hits close to home for a lot of people. A lot of it smacks us in the face, and shows us how precarious and how fragile people’s lives are.
But for some of us, we’re far enough removed from the reality of the current situation that it’s easy to close the door on it and distance ourselves from it each day. We have the privilege of being safe and not having to worry.
But when we ignore the reality of the racism, the misogyny, the vitriol, the pandemic, and the economic desperation, we stop seeing the individual faces of the people who are affected. We slip into the habit of calling them “those people.”
And it becomes easier to believe that their reality is just something that happens to them, over there, and that it has nothing to do with us. And when we think that way, we perpetuate the situation – whatever it is – and our siblings continue to suffer and to be excluded.
And as that continues, the gap between “us and them” continues to grow, and we forget that in God’s realm there is no “us” and “them” because God’s realm is for everyone.
God’s realm is a place where everyone is loved, and cared for, and valued. It’s a place where all may come and sit around the table to not eat crumbs, but to feast. It’s a place where life is celebrated, where everyone is enough and has enough. It’s a place where everyone is treasured, and is safe.
The Canaanite woman recognized that. And as people who follow Jesus, God calls us to open our hearts to it. To invite people to be a part of it and share in making God’s realm a reality here and now.
As I was writing this, I thought of all of you and I thought, “They know this.” Right? You all know that, yes – of course God’s realm is for everyone, and of course we’re called to invite people to be a part of it and make it a reality. Of course this is what we’re supposed to be doing.
But we know this as people who live in a world that seeks to divide, and oppress, and kill. And if we ignore that, or pretend it isn’t that way, or dismiss it altogether it will continue to be that – and our siblings throughout the world will continue to suffer and be excluded.
One of my mentors in seminary reminded me that “Faith is the lifetime journey of learning there is no place the love of Christ cannot or will not go.” The Canaanite woman showed us what that looks like. The homeless woman who sat and held Rose’s hand that Sunday showed us what that looks like.
Bringing God’s realm into being, making it a reality, takes having the persistence of the Canaanite woman. It takes opening our hearts to the reality of people who aren’t like us and recognizing their humanity. It means being willing to go where they are, and hear their disappointment and desperation, their frustration and despair.
To walk through it with them; to learn from it, and love them through it.
Sometimes it’s as simple as checking in on your friends or family members – especially if you haven’t talked with them in a while. Sometimes it means raising your awareness about what’s going on outside your corner of the world, and connecting with people who are affected by the issues you learn about.
And if you are the one who’s being excluded, making God’s realm a reality sometimes means demanding a place at the table.
As people who follow Jesus, we know God’s realm is for everyone. We know that it’s a place where everyone is loved, and valued, and cared for.
We know, too, that living in such a way as to make God’s realm visible here and now isn’t always easy. It will most likely take us places we never thought we’d go, and take actions that make us uncomfortable.
But when we live this way of life, God’s realm becomes a reality for us, too. And at God’s table there’s a place for everyone, and a feast of God’s love for all to enjoy. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 Rev. David L. Miller