August 14, 2011 Aimee Bruno Gospel: Matthew 15:10-28 Psalm 67
1st Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 2nd Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
When my husband Nick was two, his sister, Carrie, was born. The story goes that no sooner was she home from the hospital than he bit her. When I went to visit my sister after her 2nd child was born, I saw that kind of sibling jealousy. Her older son, Logan, who was 3 seemed to spend his days trying to destroy the new baby. He’d swing large objects near the baby’s head and attempt handstands over the baby. At one point, Logan took a nap. Upon waking, he happily skipped out to the livingroom. Then seeing his baby brother sleeping in the corner, his smile quickly turned to a glower and you could see the resentment in his eyes.
This subject of sibling rivalry is addressed in the readings for today. Does God have enough love for all of us? Some of us have come to faith early in life. We might consider ourselves the older sibling. When we contemplate new people coming to faith that might have different tastes than us and also need attention, we might feel pushed out. Some of us have more recently come to faith. We might be considered the younger sibling. We might look up to those who have gone before, but we might have different needs and a different way of looking at the world than those with more faith experience.
The Old Testament reading from Isaiah is written for the Israelites. God loves them. God will bring them joy. God will deliver them. God will gather them. They are the older sibling. And there will be some unexpected people among them. Foreigners and anyone who loves God and joins themselves to God will receive the same treatment. They are the younger siblings. God reassures both of them, but especially the older sibling that there is enough love, joy, deliverance, and community for everyone, even the outcast. And God’s “house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” And God promises to gather others besides the ones already gathered.
The second reading is going out to Gentiles and Jewish people, both siblings at once. Some of the Jewish people who were Christians were worried there was no longer a place for them, now that the Gentiles are being converted. Paul reassures them. There is room for everyone. God has enough love, joy, deliverance, and community for all of you. You, the older sibling, aren’t being replaced. I love this new sibling of yours, but I still love you just as much. Yes, even when you mess up and are disobedient. Your younger sibling is just as disobedient as you are. You both are loved.
And in the Gospel, Jesus has some competing children vying for his attention. He’s with his disciples, teaching and healing Israelites, the older sibling. Then a Canaanite woman wants his attention, too. He seems to ignore her at first. I don’t want to make excuses for him because he does seem rather rude. Although by that day’s standards, she would have been considered the one being rude and he was doing what was in his rights to do—ignoring some strange woman yelling after him. Even today, you and I would probably do the same and walk a little faster to get out of there. But, we’re used to Jesus being compassionate and sensitive, and telling us to treat others as we’d like to be treated. This seems a little out of character for him.
The woman asks Jesus for help. First, he ignores her. She keeps asking. Then he tells her that he’s not there to help her and her daughter, the younger ones, he is there for the Israelites, the older ones. She kneels at his feet and begs. He insults her and tells her no again. Still she doesn’t give up. She says, even dogs, even nobodies have a place at the table. There is enough for everyone. She knows that. She has to believe in a God of abundance. She is preaching the message to him. You’d think it might be the opposite—that her sick child would have made her discouraged. Instead her situation made her more stubborn and more demanding and more faithful. Being stubborn and demanding, Jesus says, is a sign of faith, so do more of that!
I always believe that when we plead with God, God hears our prayers. God’s answer might be different from the one we wanted or expecting, but God always offers healing of some kind and hope. But sometimes we interpret the situation we’re in as God saying no and wouldn’t the more faithful thing be to heed God’s no and move on. We might say to ourselves, “God knows best. I shouldn’t bother God. A lot of people have it worse than me, I am not worthy of God’s attention and care.”
This Gospel says to keep fighting. Keep up the faith. Keep reminding God of the help you need. There is enough life to go around. It isn’t a matter of deserving it. We all fall short and are disobedient. It is a matter of Christ giving his life so that we would have life. Christ gave his life so that some of those crumbs of life could fall down to those who have fallen through the cracks so that we could all have life. Claim your crumbs, people of God!
Of course God works through other people, too. That’s why the Isaiah reading says, “Maintain justice, do what is right, for soon my salvation will come.” We get to do the right thing which is part of God’s plan for salvation for all people. When we do good to others, it is God doing good to others. God works through us to bring salvation to all people, the long-time faithful and the newly converted and those who don’t know yet about God’s family and the place there for them. We need to be sharing our crumbs and more than our crumbs, because in the end Jesus didn’t just give the leftovers. Jesus gave his whole life that the cosmos might have life, so that those without hope could have hope.
Since God works through other people, it isn’t just him we can be pleading with to help us. God comes to us through the people we meet and this Gospel gives us permission to pester them. Your pastor is here to help you—don’t worry about bothering me. If you even think there might be a way I could help you, come on by and ask. If I forget or something, ask me again, even four times, like this woman here. Don’t worry about exhausting me. I always learn something from every conversation, from every interaction. I always have more to learn and you help me do that when you ask for my help. There are other people, too, in this community and in our world who help you and I hope you ask for their help and accept it.
There is a generational way of dealing with authority. Many of you are used to doing just what your doctor says, not wanting to bother him or her with too many questions, not wanting to question authority. I’m asking you to make a cultural shift to see that, like your pastor, your doctor isn’t perfect either. Your doctor is often rushed and sometimes doesn’t give you the care you need. But either you or Medicare are paying for care, so ask the questions. Make a list of the things you’re concerned about. Bring someone with you, a friend or family member, who can help you interpret what you hear and ask the questions.
I think of Dina from our congregation. For months she hurt and had unexplained bone breaks. He doctor told her to lose weight. Her doctor told her to go home and do her exercises. I don’t want to make you distrustful of doctors, but it was her persistence that finally paid off. In her desperation she kept going back and asking for help, pleading for some kind of relief, until finally they diagnosed the cancer that was behind all of her problems. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will? So I want to encourage you to ask for your needs to be met. First you want to figure out what it is you want or need. Then don’t be afraid to ask, because your family wants to help you. Your church wants to help you. Your doctor wants to help you.
Here we are, the older sibling and we want to know if there is enough of God’s love to go around. We liked things the way they always used to be. We’re not sure God has enough attention for our needs and for the needs of a broken world. We’re not always sure we can sustain the pantry. We’re not sure we’d be willing to do church a different way. We like being the only child. But the new sibling is here, the outcast and stranger at our doorstep, and things are changing whether we’re ready for them to do so or not. The church as it has existed cannot go on the same way it always has. It has to make room for the new siblings that also need God’s love and probably even extra attention at first. God is reassuring us. God knows it is scary. And God wants us to know we are loved, no matter what. God has our best interest in mind. Even though these new siblings might be needy and immature and can’t do a thing for themselves, they will grow in the faith and it won’t be long until they strengthen us. For now they teach us compassion and love and sharing. Later they will teach us companionship and support and make us stronger in our faith.
Reach out to your brothers and sisters in the community to help them and to be helped by them, just as God reached out to you when you were a useless lump and saw the value in you and what you would become.