Sermon 6th September 2015

Trinity 14 2012 Pr 18  Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9,22-23 James 2:1-10,14-17 
Mark 7:24-end

This week the news has been full of reports and pictures of people either fleeing places of conflict and their possible or likely danger and people simply looking for a place to get a better job and better prospects. The pictures have been dominated by the one of the small drowned child being taken from the sea by a policeman.  It casts better light on the police and better understanding of some aspects of their job and brings the whole affair into sharp focus. Suddenly we feel the politics and conflict. The problems associated are so much part of our ‘civilisation’.  If we were still hunter gatherers without property it would all be so much easier, though we would still fight over it but it would be for resources for simple survival.

The book of Proverbs blasts home a strong message, “The rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.” It reminds me of a rather crude Buckinghamshire saying about the equality of people but I won’t repeat it here.

One of the interesting ways to read the bible is to substitute another name or term for the one given in a passage. For instance the opening lines of the portion of James’ epistle we have just heard could read, …”if a person with gold and rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a refugee or migrant also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say ‘Have a seat here, please.’ While to the other one who is a refugee or migrant you say, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts.” With that thought in mind reading on to James’ comment about riches in faith and the dishonouring of the poor take on new life.

And then to Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman and this cryptic business with dogs. It seems here that Jesus’ understanding of himself is as one called to the Jews and not to Gentiles.  It’s hard to see which way it is.  In Matthew’s version of the incident it is clearer to see that the early church believed that Gentiles would only be admitted when the end came, the last moment of the world when all would be swept up to God in a sort of reversal of creation. The language, using the word dog, is insulting. The woman rises to the challenge and is not going to be put off. Even the dogs get the scraps.  There is in her some undertanding that this Jesus, even as a Jew, is doing something which includes her, even if she has to wait till the end of time for it. The Messiah’s mission is then not confined to the Jews if we use one of my favourite phrases, ‘in the context of eternity.’  As a Gentile the Jews would have had nothing to do with this woman. Elsewhere in the gospels we see Jesus challenging that. Jesus effects the miracle of healing at a distance and that is something to take notice of as a sign of his universal mission.

Then a deaf man who had difficulty speaking. Jesus has a look first. What’s wrong with his ears? What’s wrong with his tongue? Perhaps it was just as it appears. Perhaps those round the man began to take more trouble in talking to him and listening to him.  Perhaps they began to have more patience. Perhaps they saw for the first time a man before them and not a large boy, someone who had something to offer not just someone who would take their time and energy. Perhaps he had long stopped listening as there was no point in speaking or listening to people who take no notice, make no room in their lives.

Last week in the News a German woman was asked why she wanted to help the refugees. She answered that when she was a child she was a refugee and tears came to her eyes. This week as a community we have been trying to get alongside tearing bereavement.  Only trying, as it is one of the most specific of human experiences.  It is common to all yet particular to all. Thank God we do not have to look into our own lives to understand the one fleeing from someone else’s violent argument.


© Frank Wright 2015

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