Sunday, August 17, 2014

Acceptance: The Character of Christ.


Proper XV+A                 August 17, 2014  The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
St Thomas Parish                                                               Isle of Hope, Georgia
Genesis 45:1-15                                                                                                               Psalm 133 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                                                                                     Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

A poor widow with three young daughters lived near the Methodist church. The pastor went to visit and invited them to services.

"We would love to come," said the woman, "but we don't have any Sunday clothes."

The pastor went back to the church and talked to some of the women in the church who bought and delivered a really nice Sunday outfit for the woman and each of her three daughters.

The next Sunday, the whole congregation watched for the family, but they never showed. Disappointed, the pastor went to their house after the service and asked why they did not attend church.

"Well," the woman said, "we got all dressed up in our new clothes, and we looked so nice that we went to the Episcopal Church instead!"

Have you ever experienced being excluded?  Perhaps, it was when you were a child and your parents said you couldn't=t do something or go somewhere because, Ayou weren't old enough@.  Perhaps there was a group in school that was the Ain@ group and you wanted very much to be a part of them and their activities, but they shunned you.

The Scripture presents us, this morning with exclusion, especially the story of an excluded woman, prejudice, hurt at rejection.  The human race is divided: from others, from God and even from ourselves as psychology will attest.  Exclusion is a reality, a part of this sinful worldCdoes God have an answer for it?

I.                    The Gospel Says that Jesus and His Disciples withdrew to the District of Tyre and Sidon.
A.                 This was a withdrawal to the Gentile (non-Jewish) territory.
1.                  His mission and ministry were exhausting and he needed time to become refreshed, physically and spiritually.
a.                   It is clear that earlier in this chapter, Jesus was being attacked for not keeping strict adherence to the laws of purity, associating with those the religious authorities deemed unacceptable. 
B.                 He also is dealing with the issue of the outward keeping of rules and regulations versus, the inward attitudes associated with the "keeping of the laws." 
1.                  I once heard a story about a little boy in Church with his father.  He was a very hyperactive child and kept standing up in the pews, looking at the people behind him and not being still.  It was driving his father crazy.  He finally in desperation pulled his son down in the pew beside him and said "would you please sit down and be still!"  The little boy not to be outdone said "well I may be sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside."
2.                  This is an example of the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.  Jesus came to teach us that outward conformity is not as important as inward believing--conformity versus obedience. Or look at it this way: would you rather have someone "have to" give you a gift or "want to" give you a gift?
a.                   God is not different from us in this regard.
C.                 Churches have this problem constantly when we look down at others. In my fundamentalist youth we judged others by their not doing the things that we thought they should be doing and doing things we thought they should not.
1.                  This usually was to do with going to certain movies, dressing a certain way,
listen to certain music and the like. We judged ourselves morally superior if they did what we thought they shouldn't. 
II.                 Today, a Canaanite woman approached Jesus.

A.                 She was descended from the pagan nations from those non-Jews or Jewish enemies who had populated the region since the fall of the Jewish KingdomsCand the exile in Babylon.
1.                  This was old prejudiceCdeep prejudiceCnational prejudice against 'her kind'. .
B.                 This was also a religious prejudiceCA woman from a mongrel race, non-Jewish pagan race, rejected by God. The Jews especially rejected them for their sacrifices of their children to their god  Jesus had a myriad of reasons to reject her from His Jewish heritage and tradition.  This was an enemy. And yet she approaches Jesus.
1.                  She says,AHave mercy on me Lord!  O Son of DavidCmy daughter is severely possessed by a demon@. Jesus ignores her. She persists, again and againCshe can=t take a hint. The disciples say to Jesus Csend her away, she is crying after us!  She won=t leave us alone! 
a.                   They had been brought up in good Jewish tradition to avoid such people!
2.                  Jesus puts her off though she had called Him, ASon of David@, a Messianic title.  He then explains his current charge and mission: AI was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, saying, "I am called to minister to the Jews for now.
a.                   "What is important here is to note her persistence. But she falls before Him, ALord help me!@ she says. It isn=t fair to take the children=s bread and throw it to the dogs.A
C.                 Dogs@ or "goyim" was the term Jews used for non-Jews. It was as though Jesus was seeing just how far she would go.
1.                  She replies, Aeven the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master=s table@.Jesus responds in a way he only responded a few times in His ministry, AGreat is your faithCbe it done as you desire@.
2.                  Jesus in the midst of being rejected by His own people is believed in by a pagan woman. This gesture became fundamental to His mission after the  resurrection.
D.                 Jesus Christ came to Initiate the Breaking Down of Division, Prejudice and Pride, that sin has brought into the world. It is said that the ground is level at the foot of the crossCAll earthly distinctions are abolished because all are sinners alike saved by grace alike, all divisions are abolished.
1.                  It is on this basis that we are to love everyoneCno matter how unlovable. In Jesus  Christ we have God=s breaking into our word and the beginning of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of GodCthe reign of God, the Spirit Aon all peoples@ That we will see following the resurrection and Pentecost..
E.                  Who are the "dogs" in your life and mine?
1.                  These are the folks that we shirk from, the ones we'd just as soon not deal with.  We think "here we go again". We all have them, those people!
2.                  These are the people we prejudge or dismiss because they are different from us.  Did you get the memo?  Everyone, without exception, is different from us.
a.                   Jesus Christ loves each of us although He certainly is different from all of us!  Can we do less for anyone made in the image of God?
b.                  Before you say "physician heal thyself", I know it is a part of the human condition even if we have been redeemed into Christ's body.

III.               Paul tells the Church at Rome that God has used the rejection of Jesus by the Jews to bring mercy to the GentilesCyou and me! 
A.                 Paul hopes that the Jews response over God=s actions will bring them to the conclusion that Jesus is Messiah and they will be saved. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches.
B.                 You do not support the root, but the root supports you. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! Then the Gentiles joyfully received the gospel!

What does the example of JESUS   have to say to us? Today? In this church?  That it does not matter our history, background, family, nationality, intelligence or even faithfulness to God's Law. Jesus Christ is open and available to you, just as you areCHe will accept you, just as you are, not as you should be. Those who think that, they are where they should be spiritually, intellectually or morally, don=t need God. They have created their own god and it is them!. We also learn that God honors persistent faith-filled prayer. Some of us, when our prayers are not answered instantaneously, quit praying. YetCin the glorious mystery of the incarnation the Spirit, God became united indissolubly to human flesh creating a new creation of God=s adopted, children who are one with His Spirit.

Faith, not believing the impossible, but believing persistently, in the person and character of God,  is that faith that changes us to be like Him, bridges the gap between God and humanity and brings kingdom to personal lifestyle. 

The Canaanite woman is our ancestors in faith because we are GentilesCseparated from God, but God has included us ad opened salvation to all who will accept Him as LordC master, Savior, redeemer, mediator, brother and friend.  Does God have an answer to exclusion?  Yes! Come, He says and be received into the unconditional acceptance of God in Jesus, Our Lord.

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