Sermon for 14th August 2011

Revd Jan Kearton

Sunday sermon for 14th August 2011

A sermon given by Revd Jan Kearton

Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table 

Have you ever felt wretched from being refused the love, attention and respect that you thought you deserved? It’s a sad and difficult situation to find ourselves in, one that can make us feel unlovable or unwanted, disregarded, alone and worthless. Shame, hopelessness and a sense of being trapped can follow. I remember feeling like this as a teenager, and I know that some of the people I see pastorally have got stuck in these ways of thinking about themselves. 

People react differently to these feelings, but it’s not unusual for some people to fight to keep some sense of self-worth, however inappropriately. Lonely and rejected people can find a sense of belonging and a shared set of values in gangs. It comes at a very high price though - harsh and cruel values and relationships built on power and fear. And it can be difficult and dangerous to leave. 

Jesus has just been having a frustrating exchange with his disciples and the Pharisees about the meaning of the Law of Moses and the importance of our intentions when we speak and act. He’s told them that the things that we say and do show the state of our heart - our deeply-held beliefs about ourselves and each other which reveal the state of our relationship with God. He’s struggled to get the crowd to understand, the Pharisees have refused to listen and their anger has made the disciples afraid. Jesus leaves the district, perhaps, a frustrated and cross at how difficult it can be to develop people’s understanding, even that of your best friends. 

He then meets a Canaanite woman. She’s been rejected by the Jewish people, treated as a worthless enemy and called names. She shouts at him, shrieks even, and the disciples want to send her away, want to protect Jesus from this unwelcome intrusion. Jesus’ response to the woman is very challenging - first he ignores her and then he insults her. But this is a woman who, despite everything, hasn’t lost her sense of self-worth or given up on the importance of loving relationships. She echoes his challenge with one of her own, asks for a little generosity and expects it to be enough. 

Jesus is amazed at the faith she shows. What she declares with her mouth shows the sate of her heart before God - she trusts that God can and will heal her daughter and she’s not afraid to say so. Her faith is not like the faith of the Pharisees. They build their hopes on being able to evidence their strict adherence to both Mosaic Law and their own revisions of it. The Canaanite woman builds her faith of deep trust in God’s capability to heal and his willingness to do so - she expects that God can and will heal and she willingly risks Jesus’ scorn and insults for the sake of her daughter’s quality of life. Her choices reveal that her heart is fixed on love, life, hope and trust. Jesus commends her as having true faith and grants her not just the crumbs of the bread from the master’s table but its abundance as well. He heals her daughter.    

Jesus and the Caananite woman

This week, I’ve been thinking about the choices and actions of those involved in the riots and what they might reveal about the hearts of those who are involved. An Olympic hopeful who felt she’d had the best night ever, a teacher who didn’t see why it was wrong, a young man who couldn’t wait to get involved, a mother who felt her son was justified because he had so little. I’ve been thinking too about those who’ve lost homes and businesses and the likely impact of that on their sense of security and trust and hope. 

In the House of Lords this week the Archbishop of Canterbury said: 

            In the wake of the financial crisis a few years ago, we began to hear more discussion than we'd heard for a very long time about the need for a recovery of the virtues. The need for a recovery of the sense of how character was to be built in our society, because character involves an awareness not only of the connection between cause and effect in my own acts, but a sense, a deepened sense of empathy with others, a deepened sense of our involvement together in a social project in which we all have to participate.

Jesus’ decision and choice was to heal the woman’s daughter, to restore her to health and full relationship, to fill her life with possibility and hope. The decisions and choices we make for ourselves continue to shape our lives a long time after we’ve made them, and the lives of others. Some of those who rioted and looted will lose the positions of trust they once held, some will lose their freedom, some will lose the respect of those who love them.  

A sense of separation and rejection can powerfully shape a person’s life. Poor and damaging choices can’t be completely excused by powerful feelings, but neither can the causes of such feelings be ignored and disregarded. Jesus asks us to love God first and then our neighbour as ourselves. He showed us the truth of his love in his choices and actions towards the Canaanite woman and her daughter. He asks us to make it possible for others to choose life and hope by helping everyone to have a strong, grounded sense of their own worth, by giving everyone encouragement and help develop sound character and a sense of their relationship with and dependence upon others.  

May God give each of us a chance to choose to help someone to know their own worth and to make positive choices that benefit them and others. AMEN. 

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