Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This week it has felt as though grace and peace are in rather short supply; so let us dwell in those words for a moment. Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Against a background of a world that seems sometimes to be spinning out of rational control, our readings from the Bible today (they can be found at the end of this blog) have sounded as though they come from a different universe. But, of course, they are also written against various backgrounds of conflict, hatred, intolerance, and not in some perfect world where peace and grace rule. But let us acknowledge that this week has been shockingly difficult and painful at times.
Many of us, probably, have been to Barcelona; my husband and I walked down the Ramblas earlier this year, and stopped to admire the Miro-inspired decoration on the road where the lethal white van came to a halt on Thursday. Las Ramblas – a promenade of happy chaos, of tourists from around the world mingling with local Catalans, of markets and vivid colour. It hurts like crazy to hear of violence, hatred and death scarring this place.
Turku – probably one of the most unlikely places for violence and murder, an ancient city in Finland dominated by a magnificent cathedral; a market place filled with local produce. The Archbishop of the Lutheran Church in Finland, Kari Makkinen, said in response that the cathedral clock has continued to strike, even through the chaos. It hurts like crazy to see pictures of injured and dying people, police and ambulances crowding this safe, kind town.
Charlottesville – and the horrific sights and sounds of swastika flags and shouts of anti-Semitic slogans, “blood and soil”, “Jews will not replace us”; and the equally horrific fact that the President of the United States has refused to condemn these new Nazis unequivocally. It hurts like crazy to see the land of the free and the home of the brave defaced like this.
So how do we reconcile this with the readings we heard today? The readings were the opposite of the hate which has fuelled this violence across the world. “Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed,” says Isaiah. And what is that deliverance? “these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; …for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” A deliverance of joy, of inclusiveness, of outcasts gathered in, the marginalised no longer cast out.
“O let the nations rejoice and be glad, for you will judge the peoples righteously and govern the nations upon earth.” says the psalmist. Again, a message of justice, and of people and nations welcoming righteousness, righteous judgement.
And the Gospel story, of a Gentile woman, a foreigner, approaching Jesus, desperate for healing for her sick child. If Jesus had acted according to the religious law of the time, he would indeed have sent her away, unspoken to, unhealed, unheard. But what exactly happens here is strangely unclear: does Jesus change his mind, convinced by the woman’s unexpected faith? Or (given that in the original Greek text punctuation is missing – there are no full-stops, or question marks) should we translate Jesus’ words as a sort of musing – was I sent only to the lost sheep of Israel? – Is it not fair to take the children’s food and so on. But either way, this meeting between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is important, because it shows that Jesus message was heard by more than just the local Jews. She addresses him, after all, in a way that shows faith from the very beginning of their conversation. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David” – she knows who Jesus is, and she knows that from him come mercy, salvation and deliverance. And great was her faith; and wonderful the healing of her child.
This is the Gospel: salvation from God, and deliverance from evil.
A Gospel open to all, all people and all nations, a Gospel of justice and joy, of inclusiveness and healing.
This is the Gospel we are all called to proclaim and to live out.
This is the Gospel, the good news and best of all messages, which gives us patience and courage never to lose hope.
This is the Gospel which gives us courage to speak the truth, and to name evil for what it is.
And that is even more important in these days which feel like a gathering storm and growing darkness; we must light candles, not Nazi torches, we must speak words of grace and peace, not of hatred and intolerance. Christians, especially church leaders and all of us – it is time to stand up and speak, stand up and be counted; as Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people,
so that you may tirelessly work
for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those
who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation,
or the loss of all that they cherish,
so that you may reach out your hand
to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe
that you really CAN make a difference in this world,
so that you are able, with God’s grace,
to do what others claim cannot be done.
And the blessing of God, who creates, redeems and sanctifies us,
be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and for evermore.
Sr. Ruth Marlene Fox, OSB – 1985
READINGS for the 10th Sunday after Trinity, 20 August 2017
Lord of heaven and earth, as Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer, give us patience and courage never to lose hope, but always to bring our prayers before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN
Isaiah 56.1, 6-8
Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
Romans 11.1-2a, 29-32
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 29for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
Matthew 15. 21-28
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
1 God be gracious to us and bless us • and make his face to shine upon us,
2That your way may be known upon earth, • your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; • let all the peoples praise you.
4 O let the nations rejoice and be glad, • for you will judge the peoples righteously
and govern the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; • let all the peoples praise you.
6 Then shall the earth bring forth her increase, • and God, our own God, will bless us.
7 God will bless us, • and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.