United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

Matthew 15:10-28

Rev. Mike Capron
August 20, 2017

  1. On Monday, I was trying to plan for this morning’s worship service… when I noticed a link from one of my Facebook friends (Ralph)… it said that this was the time for all preachers to take a stand regarding the events in Charlottesville last weekend.
  2. Will, sometimes I’m a little too introspective for my own good, so I had to think about it a bit. What could I say that would encourage people to consider God’s justice without building fanning the flashfires of hysteria? <p>
  3. I decided to start with the basics and work my way out.
  4. We read the Ten Commandments this morning. I’m against all the things God is against in the Ten Commandments.
  5. In Matthew 15, Jesus lists a lot of things that defile a person: “evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander”
  6. I’m against those things too.
  7. And just to be clear, I consider that evil intentions to include planning or encouraging those things as well. So conspiracy to commit murder is just as bad as murder.
  8. I’m against all those things.
  9. Oh, and I’m for love. I think people should love each other. We read that too.
  10. Is that enough? Should I sit down now?
  11. No, it isn’t enough.
  12. Reaffirming the basics is fine, but I’ve left everything in the abstract. I haven’t personalized it for myself, or for us as a community.
  13. The fact that I am even able to speak about these events in such a dispassionate manner reveals something about me.
  14. The fact that I don’t feel personally threatened also reveals something about me.
  15. If I am going to be honest both with you and with myself, I need to state an important fact before I go any further.
  16. I’m a straight white male.
  18. (I know that isn’t a revelation. But it is important to this discussion.)
  19. Everyone has had moments in their lives in which they have been insiders and moments when they have been outsiders. That includes me.
  20. But because I am a straight white male, the occasions when I have been an outsider, are rare, brief and minor.
  21. To my knowledge, I’ve never taken advantage of this status, but I’ve probably gained a lot of privileges that I’m only barely aware of.
  22. In addition to being a straight white male, I grew up in an intact two-parent family who valued education and had the means to help it happen.
  23. Yes, I’ve worked hard to attain the moderately high status and low pay of being a pastor, but I need to acknowledge that factors were at work beyond any virtue I bring to it.
  24. No, I’m not suggesting that straight white males need to automatically feel guilty. Our guilty feelings don’t do anyone any good.
  25. But we—and everyone else in this country—need to locate ourselves in the cultural milieu, and notice the ways we’ve benefited or been hurt by circumstances of birth beyond our control.
  26. And the fact that I didn’t feel directly threatened or even that upset about the events of Charlottesville is a good clue that I’m operating from a standpoint of security and privilege.
  27. Fortunately I have all my Facebook friends and our president to help me start feeling more and more upset as the week went on.
  29. I read the Wikipedia page on hate groups, which of course makes me an expert.
  30. Their basic definition of a hate group is a social group that advocates and practices hatred, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, nation, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any other designated sector of society.
  31. Then down in the section, “Psychology of hate groups”, it said that there were two primary motivators in such groups.
  32. One motivator was "in-group love," a desire to positively contribute to the group to which one belongs.
  33. The other was "out-group hate," a desire to injure foreign groups that represent something different or threatening.
  34. One of these is generally considered to be stronger than the other.
  35. <ask for a show of hands>  <In-Group Love.>
  36. Please try to remember that. When these groups speak about fear of replacement or being left our or left behind, it may be misguided, but it is probably not a smoke screen. There is probably genuine in-group love at work. <p>
  37. Now we are going to take a look at Matthew 15, because it contains two stories about in-group and out-group status.
  38. In the first one, Jesus is confronting people who have higher status and more privilege than he does.
  39. He is a rural peasant with no formal education. They are Pharisees and scribes from the big fancy temple in Jerusalem.
  40. In verses 1-9 which we didn’t read, they dissed Jesus and his disciples for not following ritual handwashing procedures.
  41. In response, Jesus calls them to account for using some loophole in the law to avoid supporting their parents in old age.
  42. They see their in-group status as Jews as being centered on their customs and rituals—and they don’t like out-group people, especially a Jewish out-group who ignores these important traditions.
  43. Jesus refuses to accept their premise and states his belief that it isn’t what you eat, or how you eat, or whether your hands or washed, that defiles a person.
  44. It is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person. For what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart and this is what defiles. For example, “evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness and slander”
  46. Now Jesus probably drew a bigger crowd than the Pharisees did. And it is possible he could have riled up his crowd against them. They could have started throwing rocks, picked up some sticks and it could have turned very ugly.
  47. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He says about his enemies, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
  48. In other words, what they are saying doesn’t really make any sense. It won’t get any traction. It will lead to their own downfall.
  50. Now, on to the second story in our passage, Jesus’ encounter with a Canaanite woman.
  51. Here Jesus is the person of privilege. He is a man, in a culture where women have little power. He is a religious teacher.
  52. Less importantly, he is also Jewish. But he is in a multicultural area near the coast. This Canaanite woman may have deeper roots there than Jesus does.
  53. There is a long history here--a lot of abuse going back and forth. Grudges that go back centuries.
  54. She does this weird thing: she comes out and starts shouting at Jesus, yelling “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
  55. That would be a nice thing to say in one’s inside voice. But she didn’t do that. She kept yelling, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
  56. And he kept not answering her. <p>
  57. But she is driving the disciples crazy, so they come to Jesus and ask him to send her away.
  58. So he looks at her and says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, implying that she and her daughter weren’t his sheep; not of his in-group. She was out-group, out of scope as we used to say in the corporate world.
  59. But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
  60. Then Jesus gives this harsh answer, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
  61. And then twitter ignited a media firestorm, “Jesus calls woman and her daughter dogs.” It went viral. <p>
  62. Okay, not really; they didn’t have twitter back then. But seriously, don’t his words seem harsh?!
  63. What was Jesus thinking?!
  64. I honestly don’t have a good answer for you.
  65. Jesus might have been tired and cranky… said the wrong thing in a moment of impatience, not realizing it was going to be on the record.
  66. Or maybe this was some kind of test for the woman, to see how persistent she was.
  67. Or perhaps it was a test of the disciples, seeing if they would get out of their own heads long enough to notice this woman and her needs.
  68. Or maybe he really meant it. Jesus didn’t have a lot of interaction with non-Jews. Maybe he really was putting her off because that wasn’t his purpose, at least not then.
  69. But she really gets him with her come back, “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. <p>
  70. Some people think she changed Jesus’ mind in that instant.
  71. Maybe so. That is why pray all our intercessory prayers, isn’t it? To get God to change God’s mind about some situation we are concerned about… right?
  72. And so a demon was cast out of a young person.
  73. Let’s all pray really hard for that. Rev. Brian McLaren wrote about Charlottesville about how young most of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis were.
  74. He said, “Every white American family needs to realize that radicalization isn’t simply something that happens in the Middle East – it is happening today, in Ohio and Kentucky and Florida and Virginia.”
  75. We have to pray and work against that.
  77. But the second thing that happened with Jesus & the woman was that the in-group, out-group lines got blurred.
  78. This woman, who was clearly out-group, becomes in-group.
  79. Whatever those dog-comments were about, at the end of the story Jesus praises this woman, who comes from a very different background from himself.
  80. In a preview of later Pauline writings, she and her daughter are saved by faith, not by birth as a Jews.
  81. They are pulled from being out-group to being in-group.
  83. Friends, the Bible has a lot of things to say about the future of this world.
  84. A lot of dark and evil things will happen. Christians should never be surprised by that.
  85. But at the end, there will be no more evil.
  86. We must never forget that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Sinners just like the ones in the streets of Charlottesville last weekend.
  87. The goal of God’s plan is one of healing, not of one of purging.
  88. There are some passages that talk about that, about the punishments of hell. But that is God’s department. Jesus said: “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”
  89. It would be the worst of sins to pre-empt the Lord’s privilege and act ourselves for hatred and vengeance.
  90. Because Redemption is the real goal.
  91. God wants to see all out-groups merge into God’s in-group.
  92. We are all having a make-over for our hearts. For it is the heart that shows our intentions for good and for ill.
  93. So let us be people who work for good, who share God’s love.
  94. Quick to forgive, eager to bless, ready to tell the good news that all people are made in the image of God, loved by Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  95. All people.
  96. Amen.