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Speaking up and Shutting Up - Sermon for 15th Sunday after Pentecost

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The words we use can harm or heal. It is by his spirit that we know when it is time to speak up and when it is time to be silent. 

 Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The text is included for your convenience, but it is not entirely like the delivered version, which includes nuances that can't be read.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 6, 2015  - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  

"Speaking up and Shutting Up".  Text is from Mark 7:24-37

Greetings to you, my sister and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God. 

We find such extraordinary news here in the gospel of Mark as Jesus's ministry reaches a defining and crucial turning point. Although we learn in chapter 5 with the healing of the Geresene demoniac, a Gentile, that the kingdom of God is not just for the children of Israel, there is still some confusion about just who everyone is.  Even on the part of Jesus. 

Now we can blame it on Jesus's weariness. After all, he's been doing quite a bit with his ministry having kicked into high gear. IT seems like he's only begun to do the things that we know him for, the sayings, parables and healings, walking to and from town to town in the Decapolis, and people already are talking about him and finding out more about him. And so he just wants some time to himself, and so who can blame him if he wants to be left alone with nobody knowing how to find him. 

And here he is seeking solitude from the masses and this woman shows up and she's not even a child of Israel for heaven's sake. She's a Gentile. 

A Syrophoenecian.  

Who comes begging him to expel a demon from her daughter.  

So Jesus' response here is so uncharacteristic of him, and what we know about him, because the Gospel writers work so tirelessly, so hard to show us that Jesus, despite being incarnate in the flesh of humankind is somehow so perfect that he cannot be faulted. But here, Mark lets us in on a little window into a Lord and Savior who was, in fact, fully human. "Let the children eat first for it is not fair to throw their food to the dogs." 

In order to fully appreciate that statement, we have to know a little bit about the attitude of 1st century Jewish culture with regards to dogs. What we have come to know as man's best friends, were, to the Israelites, pests, scavengers living off of the refuse that the Israelites threw out and best to be run off when they approach people's houses. And we also know that it was the prevailing attitudes toward non-Israelites that they were, in fact, impure people...little more than dogs.  So Jesus isn't simply dismissing this woman, but, in fact, using a derogatory and prejudiced way of telling her off. Now, I blame it on his being tired, and thank goodness she comes right back. "Even the dogs get the children's crumbs." 

And he immediately appears to have a change of heart. For saying what she said, for not turning away when she is insulted, for knowing that she had to take a chance, her daughter is healed.

This woman, who, like so many other people in the Gospels that Jesus comes into contact with, has no name. But she is of vital importance because it is at this moment that the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ is opened to the world at large, not just the children of Israel. And her voice, speaking the truth to power that needed to be spoken is so vital today. Because in her case, nobody was going to speak up for her. We don't read about what the disciples following Jesus did, although if it was like similar scenes throughout the gospels, they probably discouraged her while she nevertheless made her way to the one who would save her. But if she had not spoken up for her daughter, who would have?

And this miracle is starkly contrasted with the next one, in which Jesus takes a man in private and then tells those following him not to utter a word of the healing to anyone. And again we find a not-very-perfect rendering in that we, the listener of Mark's gospel, know that nobody can resist telling such a story around. And surely Jesus, who must know all, knew that he couldn't keep such a thing quiet, and yet here he is speaking an impossible request, and one at odds with the first one, because it was in speaking that the woman earned the attention of Jesus, so why should these people be quiet?

I have almost more friends in my social networks than I can manage. I checked my Facebook account yesterday and there were nearly 2,000 people there. Now it may come as a surprise, but I'm pretty sure I've met well over half of those people in person at some point in my life, and it includes people I knew in every place I've ever lived, most of my schools throughout my life, people from any job I've had longer than a year and people from the different parts of my social life both here and on the east coast. And while there is a definitive progressive lean in my list I do know people from all throughout the political spectrum, and so I come up with opinions that are vastly different than my own. And in some cases someone posts something that's patently offensive. 

An image macro is something you find that proliferate on social networks, it's basically a photograph or sometimes a group of photographs, of anything from kittens to candidates, with some kind of words attached mean to be inspiring, provocative, or just plain funny, with varying results. They are also often referred to as memes, although that term is much broader in its application. 

And anyone can make them, and anyone does. One of my friends from my past, someone I knew around the end of the 90s posted one which contained a pair of hands clasped, one of darker skin, and one of lighter, that read: I'm not racist, I have a black friend.  

If it was anyone else, I would think it would be meant to be ironic or a joke, but knowing this person, it was earnest and sincere. They are, after all, a Southern white, not affluent queer person, and so caught up in their own world and the oppression that they themselves experience, that they fail to understand their own privilege in such a situation, and how this statement, rather than excuse them, indicts the harm they do within privilege blindness.  


But rather than saying something to him, I chose the cowardly option and remained quiet. Rather than engaging with him and having an opportunity to call out something that appears to me to be the epitome of white supremacy, I chose to disregard it for fear of putting them on the defense as all too happens with people of privilege when confronted with it and have our digital friendship severed, as has happened once before with this person. 

Because even though I know how to confront these discussions in a kind and compassionate way, I fear being drawn into a long and involved conversation in which my own feelings will be hurt. I fear more people jumping in. 

Because there have been times in my life when I should have shut up because I opened my mouth without thinking. Those times when it would have been prudent for me to bite my tongue rather than tell the world just how things are, rather than keep it to myself, and instead of being no witness, being a bad one. 

This woman, this Kim Davis, who is all over the news for standing on a moral ground and now being arrested for taking that stance, has, nonetheless, captured the hearts and minds of people who would themselves be in opposition to the same things she's in opposition to. And while I can have a big conversation about what she is doing is not actually a moral conviction because it is the job she was elected to do, and that acting as an agent of the state she is required not to take a stand. That finding her in contempt of court and jailing her is not some kind of persecution but the typical result of civil disobedience, not matter how justified people might think of that claim. 

And then I hear worse from this lawyer of hers  comparing what befell her, with her arrest and legal problems to the events the Jews experienced before World War II.  Needless to say, while Christians do, in fact, experience persecution in some parts of the world, comparing the response to civil disobedience by an outspoken member of the majority faith in the United States, who decided to take a huge stand to either the beheadings of Christians in Daesh held territories or the mass extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany is offensive and rash. But such hyperbole not only does a disservice to the memory of those who have experienced real persecution but also places the Christian faith as one that becomes more and more unpalatable to a growing number of Americans.

When the prudent course is to simply shut up Christians can find themselves putting their feet into their mouths, and sending people away from Christ. But we have, by his grace, and through our faith in him, the wisdom and guidance to help us do his will in the world. 

But we know, sisters and brothers, when to speak up and when to quiet down. Because when our ego is driving us, we often put ourselves in the way of his word and proclamation, we are often proclaiming ourselves rather than the good news of Christ, which is that he is God come to us in the form of a child, raised up for us that we might join him in the kingdom and through God's Holy Spirit, grant us the insight to know how to be the worthy recipients of his freely given grace. We know because of the faith we have in him when we are being driven to speak out for what's right, to call out the marginal and oppressed and when we are fighting that drive because of our own fear of inadequacy.  

But God calls us, through his grace to be his love in the world.  God calls us, through the gift of faith that we have been granted, to say to our friends, look, what you are saying and doing is racist and I know it does not seem that way to you, and acknowledging that does not mean you have to feel interminable guilt about it. And to say to power, look, I have value too, and to accommodate my disability, or poverty or sobriety only after everyone else is taken care of first is disrespectful and not Christlike. And to say that Christians are called first to love one another and driving people away from the church by your condemnations is the opposite of discipleship. 

We are given this gift of grace that Christ laid out for us in that miracle on the cross. We are given a promise to the reign of God in the world that lasts without end.  We are given the Holy Spirit who guides us and drives us into the world to do God's work.  With that, my sisters and brothers, we are set free. And that is good news. 


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on September 7, 2015 9:42 AM.

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