Tag: trust

Who Do You Trust?


The epistle reading for today is Colossians 1:15-23. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae contrasting the good news of Jesus with the claims of the first century Roman empire.

In their book Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, authors Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat contend that Colossians contrasts the violence, inhumanity, and corruption of the Roman empire with the new imagination of Christian community centered around Christ.

As a Roman outpost, Colossae participated in the emperor cult which asserted that the emperor was the son of god and the deity around which the universe revolved. The Roman empire was also the undisputed example of political organization and military might. From Rome’s dominance came what was ironically called the Pax Romana — the Roman peace. However, the Roman peace was secured with overwhelming violence against those nations and city-states Roman legions pacified by force.

Paul challenges the ideas of the emperor’s supremacy, the empire’s legitimacy, and the Pax Romana with the assertion that Christ is the image of God, the creator of all things, the sustainer of the universe, the first-born from the dead, the head of a new community called the church, and the true prince of peace.

The point of Paul’s letter to the Colossians was to contrast the misplaced confidence they formerly had in the Roman empire with the new hope they found in Christ. Prior to following Christ as Lord, the Colossians had placed their trust in the Empire for their security, happiness, and fulfillment.

Today millions have misplaced their trust, too. If Paul were writing the letter to the Colossians today, he might contrast the trust we place in power, money, and technology with the supremacy of Christ.

Power is still the currency of international relationships. Mao Zedong said, “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun.” That philosophy is shared by virtually all of the nation-states on the world stage today. While the United States is still the most powerful nation on earth, countries like North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and others project the power they have in order to influence international events. Just as the Roman empire used its military, economic, and political power to shape the course of history, nations continue to be seduced by the promise of power today.

The second member of our illegitimate trinity is money. China is relocating 325-million peasants — rural farmers — into newly-created cities. Why? Because China’s economy, according to the IMF and other economists, doesn’t have enough consumerism. The key to growth in the Chinese economy in the near future, economists say, is creating a new class of consumers who will buy TVs, refrigerators, cell phones, and cars. In a world where one billion people live on less than $1 a day, money is a seductive force, often coupled with power.

However, a new player has entered the arena as a close partner to power and money. Both power and the quest for money are being driven by technology. We now have the technology to instantly deliver books, newspapers, and magazines to personal computers, tablets, or mobile phones. In  2007 Steve Jobs of Apple introduced the iPhone and revolutionized the mobile phone industry. Today over 5 billion cell phones are in service, and 1 billion of those are smart phones.

The NSA surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden showed us that the US now possesses and uses advanced technology to track every telephone call, email, and cell phone location everywhere in the world; scan those communications for suspicious links to suspicious characters; track users by location; and, know who everyone everywhere in the world is talking to and what they are talking about.

Technology is our Pax Romana — both the new security savior and cyber weapon in our war to be safe from terrorism. Our trust in technology compels us to give out our credit card information, our personal history, our family and friend connections, the schools we attended, our workplace, our daily routines, even where we eat, shop, and travel. Why? Because we cannot live without the always-on, always-available world at our fingertips. We depend on technology for friendships, for commerce, for security, and even for our faith (yes, there are online churches and faith groups). Increasingly, we give away our own privacy in pursuit of friends, followers, page views, and search rankings.

But power has not brought peace, consumerism has not brought satisfaction, and technology has not brought with it the authentic life we yearn to live.

We have separated our faith from our function as human beings, believing that we, too, can place absolute trust in power, money, and technology. By doing so, we are letting those things shape us.

Paul reminds us that we ought to be shaped by the radical good news that this world system, whether the Roman empire of the first century or the internet of the 21st century, are not the legitimate gods of this world. They are the pretenders, the interlopers, and the pale substitutes for that which is real.

If you want to know God, Paul says, look at Jesus. If you want to know who the creator of the world is look at Jesus. If you want to know who keeps the world turning, look at Jesus. If you want to know who’s in charge of everything, even the things that are not acting according to God’s plan, look at Jesus.

If you want to know where real peace comes from look at Jesus.

Despite the fact that misplaced trust in power, money, and technology are found in every culture on every continent, Paul says the good news about Jesus is also ubiquitous.

The question then becomes: Who do you trust? After all, the Roman empire is no longer a world power, is it?

Podcast: A Mother’s Sacrifice

The Bible features several accounts of mothers, but my favorite Old Testament story about mothers is the story of Hannah and Samuel. Found in 1 Samuel 1, Hannah’s story recounts her willingness to give her son, Samuel, back to the Lord. Samuel, in turn, heard the voice of God calling him. As a result Samuel became the spiritual leader of Israel, speaking to the people on behalf of God. Samuel would be used of God to anoint Saul as king. Then, when Saul failed to serve God, Samuel anointed David as king of all Israel. My point is that the sacrifice of those who shape our lives, including mothers, demands that we respond in faithfulness to God. Here’s the link to the message I preached on Mothers’ Day 2012 at Chatham Baptist Church — http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/03_A_Mothers_Sacrifice.mp3

Sermon: Sacrifice Demands Responsibility

On Mothers’ Day, I delivered the chapel message at Hargrave Military Academy. The 800-seat chapel was filled with cadets and their families on a beautiful Sunday morning. 

Sacrifice Demands Responsibility
1 Samuel 1:27-28 NIV

27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Mothers In The Bible

The Bible, as I’m sure you know, contains the stories of several mothers. First, there is Eve, whose name literally means “mother of all living.” Then there was Sarah, wife of Abraham. Moms, how would you like to have God’s messenger tell you at the age of 90, that you were going to have a baby? That’s what happened to Sarah, and she became the mother of Isaac.

Isaac married a beautiful girl named Rebekah, who eventually gave birth to twin sons – Jacob and Esau. To make a long story short, Rebekah’s favorite was Jacob, and she helped her son trick his aging father out of the birthright that really belonged to his brother, Esau. After that, Esau was pretty unhappy, so Jacob left home for a long time. And people say the Bible isn’t realistic. Here we have one of the first completely dysfunctional families, with a lot of drama and intrigue. Think “Survivor” but with relatives. Anyway, things finally work out for all of them, Jacob included.

Then we have the mother of Moses, Jochebed. You remember the story of how the evil Pharaoh wanted to kill all the Hebrew boy babies. Moses’ mother put him in a waterproof basket, and set it in the Nile near where Pharaoh’s daughter would bathe. Pharaoh’s daughter appears, sees the baby in the basket and takes him as her own. Moses’s sister, Miriam, is hiding in the reeds there, and pops up just in time to offer to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. She, of course, finds Jochebed who gets to raise her own son, until he moves into Pharaoh’s palace. Mothers, even in the Bible, are always looking out for their children.

Of course, the most famous mother in the Bible is Mary, the mother of Jesus. We know that Mary loved her son, marveled at the work God had in store for Jesus, and suffered at his death. We know that Jesus loved his mother, Mary, because as he hangs on the cross dying, Jesus entrusts his mother into the care of his close disciple, John.

But for all the stories of mothers in the Bible, I think the one I like best is in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. You heard part of that story in the text today, but let me fill you in on the whole story.

The Story of Hannah and Elkanah

This story happened about 3,000 years ago. Elkanah was a kind man who was married to two women, which I would not recommend today, but 3,000 years ago things were different. Hannah and Penninah were his wives, and Penninah had given birth to children but Hannah had not. In those days, children were the equivalent of Social Security today, and parents needed children to help them, and to provide for them in their old age.

Because Penninah had children and Hannah did not, Penninah picked on Hannah mercilessly. Elkanah, caught in the middle, (which is why you shouldn’t have two wives), tried to make it up to Hannah by giving her his attention, and a double portion of meat to offer when the went up to Shiloh to make a sacrifice. As well-meaning as Elkanah was, I don’t think an extra chunk of meat made Hannah feel better.

As a matter of fact, one day when they were all at the tabernacle in Shiloh, Hannah was so distraught that she began to pray. As she prayed, she wept so hard that she could not speak. Moving her lips in silent agony, Eli, the old priest at Shiloh, thought she must be drunk.

Eli accused her of being drunk, but Hannah protested that she was only praying out of her grief because she did not have a child. Eli understood, and pronounced a blessing on her, saying, “Go in peace and may the God of Israel grand you what you have asked of him.”

Of course, what she had asked was for a son, and in her asking Hannah had promised that if God would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord’s service.

She prayed, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.”

Hannah Brings Samuel To The Tabernacle

Of course, God hears Hannah’s prayer, and Samuel is born. Perhaps three years pass until Hannah is ready to keep her promise to God. So, on the appointed day, she and Samuel, who is probably 3 or 4 at this time, appear at the Tabernacle in front of the old priest, Eli.

There Hannah gives Samuel into Eli’s care, with these words –

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”

So that’s the story of how Hannah prayed for a son, and then trusted him to God for the rest of his life.

A Story We Can Live

But this is more than a Bible story, even though it certainly is that. This story has the ring of authenticity. Here’s a woman, Hannah, who wanted more than anything to have a baby. Her prayer to God wasn’t a negotiating ploy, but a revelation of her own faith in God.

Hannah trusted God with her deepest desire, and with her future son. Hannah believed that if God allowed her to bear a child, that child would be so special that God would have great things planned for him.

Like Hannah, those of us gathered here today believe our children are special gifts from God. Our prayer may not have been the agonizing prayer of Hannah’s, but in some way each of us has prayed for our children.

If at your house, your children were happy accidents, as they were at ours, you may not have prayed for them to come. But as soon as you knew they were on the way, your heart was filled with concern, with love, with hope, and with a kind of desperate desire that God would bring them into this world safely. And, your on-going prayer, is that God keep them safe, guide them carefully, and help them reach their potential.

There is another way in which you moms and grandmothers, and others gathered here today are like Hannah, though. Like Hannah, you trusted your child to others at a young age.  Okay, maybe not three, but at 12 or 13, I’m sure you weren’t ready for your son to leave the safety and security of your home.

Yet, because you love your son, you have entrusted his safety, his education, and his future potential to Hargrave Military Academy. Like Hannah, last fall, or several falls ago, you delivered your son to this campus, to give him into the care of the faculty and staff here at this historic institution.

Why did you do that? Because you believed, like Hannah, that your son deserved the best. That your son would benefit from attending school here at Hargrave, an institution founded upon Christian values.

I can’t imagine the sacrifice that this must take on your part. For some of you, that sacrifice is financial. But for all of you, there is a bigger sacrifice that you as mothers and grandmothers have made.

Now, I don’t want to make any of you cry, but I do want to salute your sacrifice. When you sent your son to Hargrave, you realized that the back door would no longer bang loudly at 3:30 PM each day when school was over, because your son is here. You realized that you would miss out on that whirlwind of endless soccer practices, football games, drama club presentations, and all of the other afterschool activities kids are involved in.

When you sent your son to Hargrave, I’m sure you realized that when he got hurt, you would no longer be there to put a band-aid on his scraped knee like you did when he was six. (By the way, don’t do that now because he’ll be really embarrassed!)

You and your family have missed seeing him compete at swim meets, or on the baseball field, or in the science fair because you made the sacrifice to send your son here instead of keeping him at home.

You made these sacrifices because just like Hannah, you believe that your son is special, that God gave him to you and your family. Because you believe in your son, and his future, like Hannah, you have entrusted him to others to shape his life, strengthen his character, and send him home as a responsible, mature young man.

So, on this Mothers’ Day, I commend your sacrifice, your love, and your dreams for your son.

Sacrifice Demands Responsibility

But, before I finish here today, I have a word for your sons, for these cadets whom you have entrusted to this institution.

The sacrifices that your mother, and your family have made need to be acknowledged and repaid.

Let me tell you what happened to Samuel after his mother left his at the Tabernacle in Eli’s care.  As a young boy, Samuel was sleeping one night, when he heard a voice calling him. “Samuel, Samuel” the voice said.

Thinking it was old Eli calling, because young Samuel was now old enough to be Eli’s helper, Samuel went to the old priest’s room. “Did you call me?” Samuel asked Eli.

Eli replied, “No, I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”

This happened again. A voice calls “Samuel, Samuel” but when Samuel went to Eli’s room, Eli said, “I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”

Well, the third time this happened, Eli figured out what was going on. “God is speaking to you. The next time you hear the voice call your name, say ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears you.”

Samuel did just that, and God called Samuel to be one of the great Old Testament leaders. Samuel would become the spokesman for God, God’s representative to the nation of Israel. When Israel clamored for a king, Samuel would anoint Saul, and when Saul failed, Samuel would anoint King David to be King over Israel. Samuel took his mother’s sacrifice seriously, and lived up to the opportunity given him as Eli’s helper, and then as the spiritual leader of Israel.

Let me tell you a story about a young man who responded to his mother’s sacrifice. Peng Si is from Guangzhou, China. About four years’ ago, his family scraped together enough money for him to attend college in the United States. Peng Si enrolled in the University of Northern Colorado, and graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

During the three years it took Peng Si to complete his degree, he was very careful with his expenses. His family had already sacrificed over $75,000 to give him an education in the United States, so Peng Si did not even travel home to see his mother and father during his entire three years of study. He did not want to spend a penny more of his parents’ money, than he had to.

After graduation, Peng Si planned to start a master’s program. But word came from China that his mother was gravely ill with hepatitis. Her only hope was a partial-liver transplant. Peng Si’s twin sister volunteered to donate a part of her liver, but doctors said she was too thin to survive the surgery.

Against his mother’s wishes, Peng Si volunteered to donate 60% of his liver to his ailing mother. The surgery took place on July 22 last year. Both mother and son came through the surgery well.

The Chinese press picked up this story of mother and son. He was called a “shining example for all his peers all over China to follow” by the doctor who performed the surgery.

But the reason Peng Si gave for his act of love was interesting. He said, “Everyone at my US university was very proactive about getting involved in charity and social justice causes,” he said. “It really focused my outlook on what I need to do to help other people, not just to take care of myself.”

I hope you never are faced with a situation like Peng Si and his mother were, but you can still honor the sacrifice your mother and family have made by sending you to Hargrave.

You can listen for the voice of God in your life, maybe not like Samuel did, but God’s voice just the same. That inner voice that tells you to rise above the crowd, to distinguish yourself in your studies, your sports activities, and your relationships.

Several weeks ago, the news media carried the story of 11 Secret Servicemen. These men thought that because they had a privileged position — guarding the President of the United States — that they were exempt from the rules of decency and self-respect. That’s a mistake that is often made by those who enjoy special privileges.

What these 11 men failed to understand is that their special privilege demanded a higher level of accountability and conduct than would be demanded of most people. They made the mistake of thinking their privilege was a license to do as they pleased, when really their privilege was the opportunity to excel. Instead they embarrassed themselves, humiliated their families, and brought shame and ridicule on the United States.

Character counts. The decisions we make matter. You can’t just take care of yourself. Sacrifice demands responsibility. Honor your mothers today by exceeding expectations, overcoming obstacles, and demonstrating character. That is your mom’s hope for you. Give her the gift of your best on this Mothers’ Day.

Sermon: Rethinking Our Ideas About God

Just when we think we’ve got this business of faith and doctrine all figured out, Jesus comes along to challenge our ideas about God.  Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow about a woman who wasn’t supposed to get in on the Kingdom of God, but who claims her place through faith.  There’s a lesson here for all of us as we rethink our ideas about God.

Rethinking Our Ideas About God

Matthew 15:21-28 NIV84

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

28 Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Today’s lectionary gospel reading actually has two passages that at first glance might seem unrelated.  In the first passage, Matthew 15:10-20, the Pharisees ask Jesus why he lets his disciples break the law and practice of ceremonial hand washing before eating.  Of course, it is a good thing to wash your hands before you eat, and some folks go a bit further by applying that sticky anti-bacterial stuff to their hands.  You can’t be too careful today!

But, while hygiene may have been a problem in Jesus’ day – and I’m sure it was – that’s not what this passage is about.  The Pharisees, as they often did, were trying to bring any kind of accusation against Jesus to discredit him.  They tried trick questions, they dared him to heal someone on the Sabbath, they even were lying in wait for Jesus and his disciples as they walked through a grain field on the Sabbath and caught the disciples helping themselves to a little homemade granola – a few heads of grain rubbed in their palms – as a tasty snack.

After a long rebuttal to the Pharisees, whom Jesus calls blind guides, he then calls the crowd together and says, “Look, it’s not what goes into a person that defiles him.”  Being “defiled” in Jewish life was a bad thing – it meant ceremonial uncleanness, and prohibition from participating in Temple worship until the proper offerings were made for restoration.  So, being defiled was not a good thing to be, and you certainly didn’t want to be defiled by an activity as common as eating.

But Jesus tells the crowd that he has gathered that day that what goes into a person is not what defiles him, including food eaten with unwashed hands.  Of course, mothers down through the centuries would disagree with Jesus here, but Jesus is now speaking spiritually, not as a health expert.

“Rather,” Jesus says, “it’s what comes out of your mouth that defiles.”  In other words, what you say confirms what is in your heart.  To illustrate Jesus quotes from Isaiah by saying,

8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.”’  — Isaiah 29:13

Jesus wraps up the conversation by explaining to his own disciples what he means:

17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”  – Matt 15:17-20 NIV84

So, that was the first part of the Gospel reading for today, but the scene shifts quickly to another area, as Jesus and the disciples make their way into the region of Tyre and Sidon.  Jesus has been in the region of Galilee, but now makes his way northwest to the coast, where the cities of Tyre and Sidon are found.

In that region, a Syro-Phoenician woman according to Mark, or a Canaanite woman according to Matthew, cries out to Jesus for help.

“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”

Jesus appears to ignore the woman, who apparently keeps on crying out to Jesus to help her daughter.

The disciples become disturbed by this woman’s pleas, and approach Jesus with their plan.  Here it is –

“Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, we saw the disciples with this same plan when it came to feeding the 5,000.  Apparently, this is the only plan they have – get rid of people, send them away.

After all, people are a nuisance, they’re messing up the schedule, they’re sick, they’re demanding, they get hungry, they complain, and when Jesus does something for them, they seldom remember to thank him.

But this woman is even worse than the Judeans or the Galileans they are used to dealing with.  She’s not even a Jew.  She’s a woman from that region, of Syro-Phoenician descent, a stranger, a gentile, and she’s bothering Jesus and making a fuss on top of all of that.  What else is there to do other than send her away?

But when the disciples make that suggestion, Jesus doesn’t answer them directly, but turns to the woman (I’m imagining this is the scene now), and says –

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

I’m sure the disciples think, “Well, that will shut her up.”  But of course, it doesn’t.  Now a quick aside for a moment.  I read several commentaries on this passage and almost all of them said that this passage makes Jesus look bad because he seems to give her the brush-off.

But, what I think is happening is that Jesus is saying the words the disciples expect and have suggested, but Jesus knows that what he is really doing is engaging the woman, not brushing her off.

And, that’s exactly what happens because this woman, whom Matthew describes as a Canaanite woman, comes closer to Jesus, and kneels before him, and then continues her request by saying –

“Lord, help me!”

Now the situation has gotten worse, I’m sure the disciples are thinking.  Now the woman is even closer to Jesus than before, and now she is just begging for Jesus to help her.

Okay, hit the pause button right there.

Matthew describes this woman as a “Canaanite woman.”  So, we’ve got to be sure we get what’s going on here.  One source said that this term is used for merchants, because Tyre and Sidon are coastal cities, and engaged in trade and commerce as seaports.  But I don’t think that’s why Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman.

I think Matthew is trying to convey that this woman is not a Jew, and therefore not entitled to an encounter with the Messiah.  After all, Matthew’s primary theme is that Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and that God has anointed Jesus as the Messiah of that Kingdom, which is exactly what “messiah” means – the anointed one.

So, this is a woman who has no claim to citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  If anything, she is to be excluded because her ancestors were the hated descendants of the son of Noah, Ham, and his son, Canaan, whom Noah curses with a curse in the book of Genesis.

But it is the Canaanites, and several other pagan tribes that the nation of Israel is to displace as God gives them the land of promise, the land flowing with milk and honey, the land of Canaan.

Okay, beginning to get the picture?  Back to our story.

After this woman begs Jesus for help, Jesus’ reply to her is also puzzling to us:

Jesus says to her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

The “children” in this case is the nation of Israel, and the “dogs” in this case are everybody else.  Ta ethne’ or the nations, as they are often called in the New Testament.  The Gentiles, everybody not a Jew, that is.

What is the world is Jesus doing here?  This doesn’t sound like the Jesus we know.  What happened to the Jesus who healed everybody?  What happened to the Jesus who fed everybody?  What happened to the Jesus who looked on the crowds and had compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd?

Well, that Jesus is still there.

Okay, a quick illustration to help us get what I think is going on here.  In the world of email and texting (for those of you who do not know what “texting” is, it’s using your cell phone to send short written messages to other people), in that world, it’s often difficult to tell if a person is joking or mad or happy or serious.

To solve the problem of giving emotion to words in the text, so that the receiver knows “Hey, I’m just kidding” – someone, probably several someones, starting making little symbols with the punctuation marks available on a keyboard.

The most frequently used is probably the happy face, which looks like this:  🙂

The second most frequent one used is probably the sad face, which looks like this:  😦

There are endless variations – the mad face, the amazed face, and so on.  You get the idea.  These little symbols made from punctuation marks, etc, are called “emoticons” because they help the person you are texting know what emotion you are trying to convey.

My point in relating all of that is that Matthew didn’t use any emoticons to help us know what Jesus was trying to do.  But there are no instances of Jesus turning anyone away except the religious leaders of his day.  There are no instances of Jesus refusing to heal or cast out demons.

So, this passage leaves us with a dilemma:  We either think Jesus was a) joking around; b) being incredibly rude and insensitive; or c) drawing the woman’s faith out for the disciples and all around to see.

Which is exactly what I think Jesus was doing.  He was giving this foreign woman an opportunity to express her faith, but he wanted others to see her faith, too.  I’ll tell you why in a moment.

So, Jesus has just said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

 One thing you did not call someone in that part of the world, was a dog.  Still today, that term is an insult.  Similar phrases are just as insulting today in the Western world.  I’ll not give you an illustration of that.

But rather than turn away in an indignant huff, the woman meets Jesus eye, and says clearly, “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

 Bingo!  She said exactly what was in her heart – even I, a Syro-Phoenician woman, even I am privileged to benefit from the blessing of God through the nation of Israel.  Even a person like me, and my daughter, who are not first in line to receive God’s blessing, even we can stand in the overflow and receive the love of God in all its glorious expression.

Because you see, this is what Jesus had been talking about earlier, in the first passage.  Here is a woman who is not religiously “clean” according to the Law.  She eats with unwashed hands, at least ceremonially according to Jewish law.

But there is something in her heart, and it comes out of her mouth.  Her faith in Jesus, whom she calls “Lord,” is expressed in her confidence that she has a right to ask and receive.

Which brings me to the sermon title today – “Rethinking Our Ideas About God.”  This woman makes us rethink our ideas about God.  She certainly made the disciples rethink their ideas about God because Jesus says to her –

“Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” 

Matthew tells us that from that hour (meaning instantly) her daughter was delivered from the power of the demon which plagued her.  “She was healed” is what Matthew actually says, which is another way of saying, “She was saved.”  Health, wholeness, soundness of mind and body, were ways in which the idea of salvation was described in Jewish life.

So, what ideas of God do we have to rethink today?  Perhaps the same ones that the disciples had to rethink as they watched this dramatic dialogue between Jesus and a Canaanite woman.

We need to rethink the idea that God belongs to us.  That we are more special to God than other people, nationalities, races, or cultures.

We need to rethink the idea that we know exactly whom God loves and whom God doesn’t love.  Because most of the time you and I would not go home with the tax collector Zacchaeus, or eat with sinners, or be caught in the company of coarse fishermen and their families.  Most of us would rather have been with the regally-robed Pharisees, eating the finest food, Kosher of course, and hobnobbing with the best of Jerusalem’s  citizenry.

We need to rethink the idea that we have it right, this business of faith in God, because that sounds an awful lot like the Pharisee who prayed, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men.”

We need the humble persistence of this Canaanite woman, who just knew that Jesus could help her daughter, and that he would.  And I think she knew that she and Jesus were engaged in a public conversation, a dramatic bit of street theater, to show everyone around that it wasn’t just the Jews, or just the disciples, or just the people in Galilee or Judea whom God loved.  God also loved a Syro-Phoenician woman whose descendants were despised for their lack of understanding of God’s plan.

After all, it’s what comes out of our heart that counts.