Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before God.
Wherever we have come from, and wherever we are now, we join together as the people of God. Through the grace of God, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are born anew, into a living hope.
As we join together, we listen to the Word of God as we meditate on the scriptures, we pray for ourselves, each other and the whole world, and we praise God in song and prayer.
So let us us pray:
Almighty God, creator, redeemer and sustainer,
You have called us to be your people, and we worship and praise you, together with Christians throughout the world and across the ages.
You created the earth and everything in it; you formed all people in your image, and called them to walk with you.
But even when we turned away from you, you sent your son, into your creation, not to punish or destroy, but to reconcile all people with you through his life, death and resurrection.
Almighty God, creator, redeemer and sustainer,
You have called us to be your people, and we worship and praise you.
To the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And now we offer a prayer of confession:
We confess to you, Lord, that we have failed to live as you would have us live.
We have sought the approval and pleasures of the world,
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves,
And we have not loved you with our whole heart.
Whether we have intended to or not, we have hurt others, put ourselves first, and failed to reflect your grace in our lives.
Calling on your mercies revealed to all in Jesus Christ, we ask you to forgive us and to create in us clean hearts, so that we may live our lives in true peace with you and with one another.
Assurance of forgiveness
Sisters and brothers in Christ: God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that everyone who has faith in him may not die but have eternal life. It was not to judge the world that God sent his Son into the world, but that through him the world might be saved.…
hear then Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God.
Song: Tell out, my soul!
This is what the Lord says:
and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”
8 The Sovereign Lord declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”
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 demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
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 the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
Faith without borders
Matthew 15:21-28 (NRSV)
Who would have thought that Australian state borders would be of such great interest as they have been lately? I remember the first time I crossed a state border – I was seven years old, and we’d driven to Queensland. I was very excited at the possibility of travelling interstate – so you can imagine my disappointment that the border was simply a sign by the side of the road.
The most dramatic thing about crossing the border was that the colour of the road markings changed – back then NSW was still using yellow for unbroken lines, but Queensland used white.
I do remember travelling to Tasmania on the Spirit of Tasmania a bit more recently, where they had sniffer dogs going over the cars to detect fruit or vegetables.
On the whole though, Australian state borders are little more than lines on a map and signs by roadsides.
Since Covid, though, that’s all changed: We have hard borders and we have border controls. Declarations need to be made and papers need to be produced to cross some borders.
But in pre-Covid times, crossing borders was routine. We would do it without thinking twice. The laws might have been slightly different, but for most practical purposes it didn’t make much difference.
Today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel is about crossing a border, as indeed many people of Jesus’ time would have done as a matter of routine.
Jesus had left the Jewish dominated area and traveled up the coast to the region of Tyre and Sidon – which was a Canaanite area. It was a big commitment – it was more than 30 miles travel – maybe as much as 50 – on foot. Now there probably wasn’t a formal border nor a formal border crossing – or even a sign by the side of the road, but there was very much a border. Travel between the two areas would have been common, but the differences between areas were distinct.
And that sets the scene for a puzzling interaction, between the Canaanite woman, Jesus’ disciples and Jesus himself.
Verse 22 tells us that “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.””
So we have a non-Jewish woman, approaching a Jewish man – which certainly went beyond the social conventions of the time, calling him “Lord”, referring to him as “Son of David” and asking him for mercy – for miraculous intervention to heal her daughter’s torment.
That’s an awful lot to take in. Clearly, the linking of “Lord” “Son of David” and “Have mercy on me”, goes beyond, for instance, simply recognising Jesus as a person of importance.
The appropriate, polite, address for Jesus as we see elsewhere in the gospels is “Teacher” (Matt 8:19, Matt 12:38, Matt 19:16 etc), but she goes beyond that. What she says is way up there with Peter saying to Jesus “You are the Christ, the son of the living God”. (Matt 16:16)
Back in Israel people had been challenging him to prove he was the messiah with a sign. But here outside Israel, he meets a woman who is convinced he is the Messiah (though we don’t know how or why ) who calls on him to help her.
“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon” she says.
But then we read that 23 […] he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”
Huh? Jesus seems to be ignoring her pleas for help.
And of course, the disciples then urge Jesus to send her away. That’s a little more expected, because we tend to think of the disciples as being a bit slow on the uptake.
In saying “Send her away” they may have been saying “Cure her daughter and send her away”. That’s an interesting take, it’s certainly possible, and reasonably plausible.
And after he seems to have been admonished by the disciples for not sending her away, Jesus does respond:
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (15:24)
Again, Jesus hasn’t addressed her plea for mercy - but he hasn’t exactly turned her down either. And I think it’s important to note Jesus answer isn’t in response to the woman’s plea, but in response to the disciples – look at the text:
“Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (15:23-24)
Which actually fits in neatly with the suggestion that the disciples where asking Jesus to get rid of her by granting her request and sending her on her way.
But despite the lack of a direct response, the woman doesn’t give up: verse 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
And this time Jesus responds to her:
He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (15:26)
So, in effect, he was saying “I have been sent to Israel. It’s not fair to take what is rightfully Israel’s and give it to you”. Which is acknowledging her request, and acknowledging his power to fulfil that request, but saying that fulfilling her request ‘wouldn’t be fair’.
Now, the form of the word ‘dogs’ used here in the original Greek is a diminutive one. So while we use the same word for ‘scavenging animal prowling the streets’ and ‘family pet’, the Greek doesn’t, and the word that is translated as dog here is at the ‘family pet end of the scale’. So the implication should be more about taking food from a child’s plate and throwing it to the loyal Labrador lounging under the table, than throwing it to the mongrel lurking outside the window. I understand that that the word Jesus used could fairly be translated as ‘Puppies’.
So throwing food to the dogs may not be as bad as it first sounds, but clearly, we don’t take food from our children to give to our pets – they may be regarded as members of the family, but they’re not – hopefully – as important as children.
Surprisingly, the woman agrees with Jesus “Yes, Lord” – but then she points out that “…even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Which certainly puts the dogs being talked about in the context of pets - the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.
In most households in Australia, there’s plenty of food, and if the odd crumb or crust falls on the table is accidentally brushed off the table, what do we care? We’ve got plenty, we don’t bother about collecting up every little bit, and if it’s been on the floor, well we’re not going to eat it or let our children eat it, are we?
We don’t want it. Effectively we’ve rejected it for ourselves: So it can’t be unfair to let our dog or cat eat it, can it?
In our house, Dusty the cat quickly swoops on anything that reaches the floor.
So if there’s something we don’t want or we don’t want any more of, how can it be unfair to let someone else have it?
And this is how it is with the mercy of Jesus. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Jesus says – but who is he saying it to, really, do you think? The woman? Or the disciples?
And if the house of Israel lets the crumbs of Christ’s grace fall from its symbolic table, who is the house of Israel to complain when someone else scoops up those crumbs and claims them for themself?
Israel doesn’t miss out because of the Canaanite woman’s claim, but her claim is on the mercy of Jesus - that Israel either doesn’t claim or doesn’t want.
Israel doesn’t lose because of what the Canaanite woman gains.
The very next section of Matthew’s gospel (15:29-39) tells of Jesus return to Israel, and him miraculously feeding the crowd of four thousand plus women and children with seven loaves and a few small fish.
And those four thousand plus women and children didn’t lose Jesus’ mercy because he gave it to the Canaanite woman.
Jesus is sent first to the nation of Israel, but his grace is for all. There is no border where Jesus’ grace stops.
The Canaanite woman clearly ‘gets it’ - she understands how this works.
And so Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (15:28). Jesus acknowledges her belief, her trust in him, and her understanding of the nature of God’s grace.
So the woman knows. Jesus knows. So why the awkward and the uncomfortable interaction? Why didn’t the woman’s faith lead instantly to Jesus doing as the woman wished?
I think it’s because the lesson of this story isn’t for the ‘puppies under the table’ – the woman and her daughter – and nor is it for the master of the table – for Jesus . The lesson is for the children at the table – the nation of Israel - represented by the disciples.
The disciples, who were Jewish, had to come to terms with the fact that that the salvation that Jesus was bringing wasn’t exclusively for the nation of Israel.
And while salvation is available for all, and gentiles are indeed ‘allowed in’ to the kingdom of God, it is helpful to remember that salvation through Christ has come to us through the nation of Israel.
Going back to to the book of Genesis, God made promises to Abraham, that he would become a great nation and also that all nations would be blessed through him.
Paul confirms that in his letter to the Romans (1:16) “…I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he writes, “because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”
And we would do well to follow the example of the Canaanite woman.
The Canaanite woman reached out to Jesus not because he was a good teacher, not because he was a good example, but because he was the Son of David – the messiah – the one who she believed could – and would – save her.
Jesus had crossed a physical border to meet her, but she’d also crossed a cultural border to engage with him.
She’d turned away from her beliefs as a Canaanite, and turned to Jesus. She, quite literally, put her trust in Jesus. And her trust isn’t simply a vague ‘oh, Jesus will make things work out’… but a very powerful statement: She knows the promises of Jesus, and she faithfully claims those promises.
In the face of ancient traditions, rivalries and hatreds – rivalries and hatreds we can still understand – and still see today - she turned away from the accepted ways of the world and turned to Christ, putting her trust and her hope in him.
And just like the Canaanite woman, people today are called to put their trust not in their traditions, nor in their culture, but in Jesus.
So where do we stand today? Are we like the woman, bravely, faithfully claiming Jesus as our hope? Or are we a bit more like the disciples – knowing Jesus a bit, and sort-of-following him in terms of him being a good teacher and so on, but being a bit annoyed by people like the Canaanite woman? Outsiders, who might distract us from our ‘comfortable’ faith?
The woman was certainly no less a follower of Jesus than they were, but the disciples urged Jesus to send her on her way. She was different to them in many ways – she certainly would not have fitted in with them, at all.
The Uniting Church brings together a variety of traditions, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational and in the more than forty years since union, people of many other traditions have joined our denomination, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Baptist and others. And even people who have come from non-Christian backgrounds.
From all those things, though, what brings us together is faith in Christ – faith that has no borders - but we can so easily be distracted from that by all kinds of things.
Since Covid, we’ve all been forced across a border of doing church in different ways: Not physically gathering together, but doing things online or in writing.
We might miss our familiar ways of doing things, but if we hold that those things are needed to worship God through Christ, then we become like the Pharisees.
And if we start to find someone’s zealousness for Jesus a bit of an embarrassment, and start thinking it would be good if he or she was politely, but firmly, sent on their way, then we become a bit like the disciples – Jesus is the nice teacher, the nice example, but Jesus who (we think) doesn’t demand too much of us.
We need to remember that the offer of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus is for all. That people aren’t excluded from that offer because of their race, their socio-economic status, their nationality, their politics, their faith tradition or which side of a state border they’re on.
That’s not to say that anything goes, because salvation comes through Christ and only through Christ. Salvation is dependent on putting your faith and trust in Jesus.
The Canaanite woman, called on Jesus’ mercy, the mercy of Jesus as Messiah – the son of David. Jesus might have crossed a border to speak to her, but she crossed a cultural divide to turn from the faith of her ancestors to turn to Christ.
And we must step out into territory that is not “ours” just like Jesus did when he ventured from Israel into the Canaanite land. We traditionally focus on bringing people into church, but our emphasis should be on the church going out to people.
In a way, the Covid restrictions are making us go out – not into Canaanite country, but into the foreign land of the internet.
Jesus words in the book of Acts are clear: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
So let us live out our great faith: let us bravely step over borders as Jesus did – whether they be cultural or political or geographical or technological or traditional – and let each one of us have, and share, a faith that has no borders.
To the glory of God.
Song: O let the Son of God enfold you
Prayers of Intercession
Loving God, we celebrate the goodness of Your creation. You are at our Beginning and our Ending, the one who wakes us in the morning and settles us to sleep at night. When we live through the fog of uncertainty, bring a piercing light of a clarity. Even while socially distanced, reveal the ways that we do not sing and rejoice alone. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Loving Lord, we pray for our world, as we move through more days, more deaths and more recoveries from Covid-19. This week we pray particularly for those working with coronavirus in India, the UK, the United States, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa. We pray for Victoria where the second wave of infections has brought life to a standstill. No one person is experiencing this on their own. No one community makes decisions by themselves. Teach us how to live and move and experience our being as your people, whose responsibilities are bound with each and other, beings whose lives are wholly dependent upon you. Reveal your presence to those who are grieving or anxious and in social isolation. Guide each of us towards a fuller understanding of this disease and our interdependence on all of Creation.
We pray for our neighbourhoods around the world, where protests by community members over life, freedom and humanity concerns continue. This week we pray particularly for those in Belarus, Lebanon, Hong Kong, China, and USA. Show us how to speak words of solidarity that matter. Illuminate for us how to take actions that make a difference. Centre us in you. Grant us your vision and hope. Teach us how to walk with each other down the long road of justice.
Due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, for the safety of all our church members, in-person gathering at the Church for Sunday services are deferred indefinitely. While we cannot meet our beloved friends in-person, please keep us glued together in You.
We pray for our minister, Richie, while he brings us your word over the internet. Shower your blessings on Richie and his family.
We pray for all our church members who are in care or are undergoing treatment. At this time, we remember Audrey, Luke, May, Pat and Sheila. We pray for Pat’s son Ted, who is undergoing knee replacement surgery. Loving Lord touch them with your healing hands. We also pray for the people who care for them. Give them the strength while they provide care and comfort.
We sometimes do not have words to pray as we ought. Pray through us with your Spirit.
In all these things, we discover again our finitude. In all these moments, we place ourselves back into your arms of mercy and grace. Show us how to delight in what is good, to confront what is cruel, to heal what is damaging. Give to us a discerning strength to move into the next moment, the next day, the next act of compassion and courage.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
In all these things, abide with us, O Spirit and Word of Comfort and Truth.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Song: 115 Let us sing to the God of salvation
We read in 2 Corinthians 9:7 “Each should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
We thank you lord for this gifts of our work and our lives. Guide us, and people everywhere in the wise and faithful use of the gifts that we have, so that all people may hear the gospel of your son and experience the joy of your kingdom. And we pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Let us follow the Canaanite woman’s example of putting our faith and trust and our very future in Christ. Let us boldly step out, over boundaries as Jesus did, to share a faith without borders. And as we do that, let us be confident in the blessing of God almighty: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Looking Out: Traditions and Innovations in the Church
Next week(August 23)
Psalm 124 or Psalm 138
Exodus 1:8-2:10 or Isaiah 51:1-6
For worship: Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8
Theme: “Being the body of Christ”