St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

Home Who We Are UAM What Is On Sermons Contact Us

Sermon

August 16th Pentecost 11, 2020                      John Marsh


Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:10-28


Within the first verse of the Isaiah passage, there is a play on meaning, multiple meanings stirring within a word, a certain theopoetic playfulness, perhaps a proto expression of deconstructive mischievousness pulsing promise…


Verse one reads,


Thus says the LORD: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.


The word translated here as ‘justice’ is usually translated as ‘righteousness’ yet its connotation echoes the English word justice hence the translation. In Hebrew, the word is tsedeq/tsedaqah appearing twice in the verse, reflecting nuances within the word, nuance not expressed in English. The first sense of the word refers to proper human behaviour, ‘do what is right’, the second captured within ‘my deliverance’.


This nuance is reflective of the contextual confusion and struggle within the post exilic Jewish community. Third Isaiah, the book is roughly divided into three parts spanning generations¹, in combining both meanings astir within tsedeq, states that god acts for good even when we do not and, our expectations of divine action should spur our actions toward establishing a more just social order. Put simply, ‘my salvation’ should encourage people to do what is right…


Verses 3- 8 take a stand, expressing hermeneutic decisions within the complexities of Judean culture at the time…


With exiles returning, the return spanning generations, the boundaries of the community needed to be renegotiated, especially after the rebuilding of the temple. There were those who wished the boundary to be narrowly defined along ethnic lines, others arguing for a more expansive, inclusive view.


The postexilic Jewish community was small and vulnerable, survival perhaps resting on who is in and out.


And yet, in the face of what seems to be a straightforward binary choice,  a question arises, does exclusion truly protect, do walls protect or entrap those within, demonizing those without, perhaps diminishing those within?  I cannot help but wonder if or how, these questions of inclusion/exclusion continue to raise questions haunting us for we too are small and vulnerable? Remember, I’m just asking…


The Third Isaiah text takes an expansive view of the makeup of god’s people as classes of people previously excluded are included, foreigners and eunuchs, those, if I may bring other language, different, those other…


This is a direct response to earlier understandings (see Deuteronomy 22::1-6 and Nehemiah 12:1-3) where those different, those other, are excluded…


To my mind, this represents hermeneutic trajectories within sacred traditions to be ever more inclusive, currents within traditions with ebbs and flows, reflective of communal rhythms of discernment and decision making…


To my mind the belief, the assumption, that traditions are attending to final pronouncements, once and for all statements, is the end of faith, faith requiring hermeneutic work, interpretive decisions. There is no way of sidestepping hearing, discerning, perhaps arguing, and responding, and then, hearing again, confessing confusion, mistake and sin, probably arguing once again, responding again and again, ever be lured by justice calling, a radical hospitality haunting us ‘to do what is right’…


It is within this context of this hermeneutic conundrum, questions of inclusion, that Jesus declares himself on a related issue…


Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles."                                         Matthew 15:10-11


But, in a move reflecting the complexity of the situation, the shadowlands of unacknowledged, perhaps unconscious assumptions, Jesus steps in it:


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." Matthew 15:22-26


Throw it to the dogs – really?


However, before rushing to judgement, perhaps we should pause… (Perhaps in the face of judgement we should always pause before speaking. Final point – make a note to self.)


These questions of inclusion, of belonging, are questions forever haunting us, troubling us, even when we believe we have already responded…


After all, in the American church, perhaps all or most churches, the most segregated hour of the week, to echo Martin Luther King Jr., remains Sunday mornings…


Complicating the situation with Jesus, historically, theologically, we have had trouble with Jesus, with affirmations of divinity yet maintaining his humanity, resulting in a two-dimensional, hagiographical presentation of Jesus, in which the complexities of life are flattened, minimized and divine unknowability is clouded by terms all too human, certain, and absolute.²


Truth to tell, there is no human life, no form of human existence which is not contextual. We are all shaped by location, culture, language, and personal experience. There is no form of faith dispensing with interpretive decision…


It is no different for Jesus as he was shaped - blinded or illuminated - by his times.


Consequently, that Jesus gave voice to a contextual mindset regarding others (e.g. Canaanites) comes as no surprise to me at all³. We all work with unquestioned assumptions, blind spots.


If Jesus was human, he was fully human…


What surprises me, as it is uncommon to the point of being rare, is that he heard one cast as other, different, an outsider…


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.     Matthew 15:27-28


Perhaps, if Jesus is our deliverance, our salvation, we may so respond, taking the risk of doing what is right…


To hear an inconvenient truth and accept it – and let’s try to not idealize this hearing nor minimize the inherent unpredictability of acceptance - to truly hear the other, to accept the other as a person, a neighbour, to accept an ‘enemy’, not as one demonized,  but as human, opens possibilities, possibilities for healing, for an alternative life, possibilities for work, the work of new political, economic, social, religious agendas, luring us into the unknowability of tomorrow, in response to calls but distantly heard.


Is it possible, if we set aside human fantasies, our Omni-hopes of superpower and perfection, that perhaps we will see, sense, within a dynamic of openness, possibilities, life expressions within that which we have named as god, possibilities pointing to a wholeness, a holiness, possibilities surprising, undermining the constructed polemics of purity codes demanding separations…


If Jesus could so hear the voice of a Canaanite woman within the complexity of his cultural situation, within the dynamics of his psyche, will we, do we, hear the voices of those who haunt us in their difference? If Jesus is our salvation, our deliverance, we will do what is right…


Is it possible we may act, not only from our comfortable, enculturated selves, but from deeply hearing that which disturbs our culture, disturbs ourselves, that which perhaps may open the dawn of new beginnings?


Is it possible that in beginnings, god creates? (See Genesis 1:1)

Perhaps…




 ¹ First Isaiah, chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55, Third Isaiah, chapters 56-66.

 ² By speaking of divine unknowability being clouded by all too human terms, I am being a bit playful, perhaps obscurely so. Scripturally, the cloud is an common metaphor for god, speaking of god’s glory, god’s hidden presence. It speaks of a mystery, a knowing unknowing, an intimate relational knowing wrapped, enfolded within an unknowing. Here, I use ‘clouded’ not as in mystery but in the sense of relationally obscured, curtained, distanced.

 ³Giving voice to cultural mindsets in no way minimizes inherent problems with Jesus’ statement nor removes personal responsibility in saying it.