Sermon for Sunday, July 28, 2013

Matthew 15:21-28

The State/The Fate Of The Church: New & Emerging Voices 2

Today’s sermon is part of a series

in conjunction with the work of the New Visioning Team.

Jessica Bessner and Pastor Allen

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Twitter: @FranklinCircle; Facebook Franklin Circle Christian Church

To listen to the audio of this sermon, click here: 

To watch the video go to:

Jessica Bessner

Jessica Bessner

[NOTE: Jessica did not provide a written text.  You can either listen to her on the Podcast or watch her on the Videocast.]

Pastor Allen’s Responses/Questions to Jessica Bessner

>     Expanding Our Faith Borders

I really appreciate your approach to different world religions and faith traditions, Jessie.  This is something I’ve admired about you particularly in the last few years as you have been introduced to more and more people, thoughts, and possibilities at Hiram College.  I love that you have chosen the story of Jesus, the Canaanite woman, and the disciples as your text today.  Here is a classic outsider in the biblical text – a foreigner – who not only gets the blessing that she is pleading for (the healing of her daughter), but who challenges the disciples and Jesus in the meantime.

I am reminded of so many places in scripture where God’s will is done and God’s love is shown that are beyond the “borders” and “boundaries” of our own making.  From Isaiah 56 we hear the passionate affirmation of the foreigner “who join themselves to God… who love God’s name and wish to serve God” that “these I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.”  From Luke 10 we are given the ultimate example of loving our neighbor from the tender care the Samaritan gave the man beaten and robbed by the side of the road.  In Acts 8 the doubly marginalized Ethiopian Eunuch responds to Philips preaching that he requests to be baptized.  Throughout the Bible God has not respect for human distinctions and limitations.

You really call the church in the future to understand God not in narrow nationalistic terms, which has been a temptation for the church throughout history, but in global terms.  One of the dangers of having national flags in churches is that it gives the implication that “our God” is a God of “this nation.”  It is a slippery slope at best.  I was thrilled at the General Assembly a little over a week ago to learn that this upcoming year we will focus on our ministry with the Disciples church in the Congo as one powerful means of reminding ourselves that “We are not the only Christians, just Christians only.”

>       Respecting Other Faith Traditions

Of course, being a bit of a rabble-rouser myself, I also like the fact that you lift up how this story challenges many of our understandings about Jesus.  It is hard not to see Jesus’ own worldview expanded in this confrontation.  His confident affirmation, backed up by the chorus of disciples over his shoulder, is that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  The Canaanite woman, not ready to be given “no” for an answer, doesn’t just challenge Jesus, but uses his own parable-charged rhetorical device to do so.  “yet even the gods eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!”  Touché, Canaanite Woman!

More so, my breath was taken away to hear you say that you believe without this exchange Jesus’ ministry beyond the Jewish community, to the gentiles and beyond, would have taken longer to develop.  You even imply that Jesus did not require this woman, who was from a polytheistic ethnicity, to agree to all the doctrines and beliefs about Jesus.  Yes, she proclaims “Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David,” but this is not the singular and clear cut confession that Peter will one day proclaim, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God!”  This is challenging, Jessie, to put it mildly.

In the future the church would do well to worry less about getting people to “sign on the dotted line” of our faith, so to speak and do more to see and celebrate the places where the work and witness of Jesus is being expressed.  Does the mindfulness of the Buddhist tradition echo the words of Jesus “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or… what you will wear…?”  Does the fact that Mohammed said “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself” sounds a lot like Jesus’ words “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you” need to threaten our faith or simply enrich it?  Does the fact that not every truth of the Hebrew Scriptures is affirmed in the New Testament and vice versa mean that one is right and one is wrong?  No, rather than spend a lot of time pitting faith traditions against each other, I hear you say, Jessie, let us grow deeply in our own faith traditions, celebrating and learning from the wisdom in others, and let the light that shines of the life and love of Jesus flowing through us be the most convincing testimony to our faith!

> Feeling Welcome

Finally, Jessie, what you and this scripture have me thinking about is how the average person out there in the community feels about whether or not they are welcome at church.  How much nerve or courage – or using a word from my southern upbringing – gumption did it take for the Canaanite woman to step up to the table where Jesus and his disciples were eating!  How much gumption does it take for a person out in our neighborhood, especially the growing majority who did not grow up in any faith tradition, to come to a “religious event” at our church, or any church?

This past week I attended the Ohio City Stages event sponsored by the Transformer Station at the intersection of W. 29th St. and Church Avenue.  Throughout July (and there is one more event this Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.) musicians from around the world have performed and fun and interesting movies are shown after dark – all for free! (1)  Last week it was a French Moroccan band and a Buster Keaten movie!  The crowd was amazing, and there were many young adults from our neighborhood and around the city and region.  From the moment I arrived I was overwhelmed with the thought “Why aren’t all these people filling up our pews on Sunday, or volunteering for our outreach ministries, or… or…?”

I wonder, and I’m not the only nor the first person to wonder this, whether or not most young adult don’t come to church is because we have a history and a perception of being judgmental.  So much of Christian history has been consumed by church leaders telling people what they are doing wrong and enforcing those rules.  I would bet that there are folks who attend the yoga classes downstairs that Joan McGuire leads that assume the Christian community that meets upstairs would summarily condemn yoga as a non-Christian practice.  I wonder if there are folks in our community who choose not to volunteer for the Disciples Closet or the Third Sunday Meal Program because they assume either they have to Christian to do so or that we enforce a religious requirement for our guests, like to sit through a worship service.

This church would do well to help get out the word that the Jesus we follow might be wonderfully motivating and delightfully persuasive, but that no one is compelled to do or say or believe anything to be a part of our community.  One of the best ways to do that is to live our non-judgmental, profoundly embracing Christian faith out in the community where we live, work, play, eat, and go to school.