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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Faith We Hear And Do - September 06, 2015

I love the story of the Syrophoenician woman. There is a lot of hope for a weary world in this story. It's a story of Jesus' encounter with a gentile woman – not one of those known as “chosen” only because she was born in a different place and to different parents than those from tribe of the Israel. It becomes crystal clear that God favors the outsiders, the others in this story. And that's hopeful because we are all the descendents of gentiles. And our world is full of people who are or will at some time also be viewed as the suspicious other, the unwelcome outsider, the one who is not “chosen.”

The Syrophoenician woman had been hearing about Jesus – even way up in the northern reaches of Tyre where she and her people came from. She'd heard about the man from Capernaum who came into the worship place there. He had a demon and Jesus commanded it come out of the man. She had heard about how the sick flocked to him and he healed them all, even a leper and a man who was completely paralyzed.

When she heard these stories, she probably started to ask around about him or at least listen differently, and so she also heard about how Jesus was teaching the Jewish people, how he was interpreting the scriptures and laws of Moses in ways that the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem did not appreciate.

She probably couldn't help being intrigued by the stories because her own daughter had suffered so much and she's hadn't been able to find anything or anyone to end that suffering … to return her daughter to wholeness, to the way things should be for a mother and daughter. Maybe without even knowing that it was happening, she began to pray herself to this God of the Israelites … pray that this man named Jesus would come near her, as far-fetched as that may have seemed. If he did, she dared to imagine, she would go to him and tell him her story, tell him about how her little girl suffered so much and surely …. surely ….. this great man of the people of Moses, would help them … just like he had helped the outsiders in his own region. Because let's be truthful, Jewish or not … no one wants to be around lepers and people possessed by demons or people who are coughing and bleeding and crippled with disease.

And then it happened. Jesus did come to the region where the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter lived and as soon as she heard this … well, of course she was at the door of this house where Jesus was hiding out for awhile. He probably needed some time away from the crowds, from the physical demands of working all those miracles. Maybe she would have known that. Why else would he come all this way north, but for a chance to get away? But time was the point. Her time to get to Jesus was limited and she didn't even know how much time her daughter had left at all … convulsing, thrashing about all the time, unable to eat and sleep properly.

So she went to him. Sure in faith and desperate. She fell face down at his feet and told him about her daughter and begged him to cast the demon out of the child, just as he had already done so many times.

And then she heard it. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” he said to her.

Her forehead must still have been resting on his feet when she heard this. It couldn't have made any sense … this enormous disparity between the stories she had been hearing about Jesus and the words coming out of his mouth.

Where was the love of this God of the Israelites that this man had proclaimed was so wide and inclusive? 

What she was hearing now, what was happening now … this was not in sync with what she had heard. So she called him on it … maybe she didn't mean to be so blunt, so challenging, but it just came out in shock … and in the sureness of her faith.

“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

It’s in the next moment – when Jesus says “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter,” – I think it’s in that moment in Mark’s gospel, that the love Jesus has for the people he is walking among in his ministry is revealed to include this outsider woman from Tyre and from there it makes itself known to other countries and peoples and throughout ages to all of us gathered here today.  

God reveals to us through the teachings and examples of Jesus that God makes no differentiation between the rich and the poor, the insider and the outsider, the saint and the sinner – in fact, it seems God will work harder and more creatively to care for those outsiders. As James wrote in his letter, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?”

There is so much to learn in this story.

Equally as illuminating is how this story is paired with the story of Jesus curing another gentile, in another place far outside of his home territory – the deaf and mute man of Decapolis.

Unlike the Syrophoenician woman, this man hasn't heard anything about Jesus. He couldn't. But others had … and so they brought him to Jesus, asking him to lay a hand on the man and restore him to wholeness. When Jesus takes him aside his prayer is that the man “be open.” And he was. Now he could hear. Like his counterpart in Tyre, he too has become open to the stories of Jesus' great works and his teachings. And what's more, his tongue was released, so even though he may be asked to tell no one, to keep quiet, he could not. He would speak his faith, just as the Syrophoenician woman did.

Jesus comes to the ears and the tongues of creation in different ways. It can build slowly and over time until it can't be ignored and must be acted upon like it was for the Syrophoenician woman. It can come rather abruptly and miraculously in a single experience like it was for the man from Decapolis. But the result is the same. We hear the news – that it is time to repent and believe, for the Kingdom of God has come near – and we cannot stay quiet – no matter who asks us to keep this truth about Jesus on the down low.

And so now we've heard. We've heard these stories of the life and teaching of Jesus. We've heard and we've come to believe that Jesus is God come to live among us for the sake of our redemption. Many of us have heard or experienced ourselves the healing and freedom that comes in being followers of Jesus. We've heard and responded to the call to come to the supper table of the Lord, to eat and drink, to be fed and to remember.

But I wonder, how well do we speak our faith? How much do we exercise and strengthen the powerful words of the Syrophoenician woman and the man of Decapolis who surely live inside of us?  …..

You know, Luther did not like the letter from James. From what I understand it was because of the last few lines in our reading today. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

I can understand Luther's problem. These words can be interpreted to directly oppose his theology, our theology, that we are saved by the grace of God in Jesus' life, death and resurrection, not by our works. And these words are interpreted like that by some who say there are certain steps one needs to take to be saved.

But these words are here in our scriptures and we must deal with them. And so we go to them with our Lutheran perspective of God's grace coming down to us freely, abundantly and only because that is what God wants. So what do we do with them then?

Yes, we are saved by our faith, which is a gift from God. But we are also blessed to be a blessing to others … to share that gift of grace with all of creation. Otherwise it dies with us and, bluntly, we contribute to the growing numbers of people who have not heard yet that they too are redeemed in Jesus.

We have heard. We are all on our various journeys of belief. And so what is our faithful response?

...what does our sure and desperate faith do or say when we see the heart-wrenching photo of a Syrian toddler washed up on the shores of Turkey?

...what response does our faith open us to when we meet someone who hasn't been able to hear the Good News but so urgently needs a word of healing grace from God?

...what do we do when we learn there are people in our own backyard who do not know where the next meal comes from? do we listen and how do we speak from our faith in the conversation about the balance between being an increasingly popular tourist destination and being committed stewards of God's creation?

I'm sure we could come up with endless questions like this. The point is what is the faithful response of the Syrophoenician woman or man of Decapolis in each of us who has heard and become open to the Good News and, despite the voices that urge us to keep quiet, cannot help but speak and do in a sure and desperate faith that is alive and responsive to the world all around us?


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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