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Sermon August 16
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 | Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 | Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
The texts today, really, all have one big thing in common, and that is acceptance. It is a message to the world which really begins to the world in the writings of the prophet Isaiah, “God accepts all people who come to him.” What really makes this message of God from Isaiah special is that it comes when the people of Israel are in captivity in Babylonia. They have been conquered by the Babylonians we are told as punishment for their sins. Now that they have been dragged away in captivity, God tells them, “These people too, are mine. “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord… their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar.’” That kind of flies in the face of what some believe, but it is the curse of human beings that we tend to make God in our image. If we are exclusive and excluding from some groups, we believe that God is too. That is a big mistake. God accepts all who have faith in him. What does God desire? We can say faithfulness and obedience. But, here in Isaiah we have another desire of God: justice, do what is right. That really isn’t asking too much; treat others with justice, no matter whom they may be, and do what is right. That doesn’t seem to be asking too much, but from some people that may be a lot to ask. But, you act justly, do what is right. It makes God happy.
Then Paul speaks of acceptance. It seems early on, and I still hear this one, some Christians in Rome believed that God had rejected the Jews. Nowhere does it say that. Although, I still hear from people that read their Bible that they believe that when the Jews rejected Christ, then God rejected them. Check again, virtually all of Jesus’ early followers were Jews. The early Church was mainly Jews. Paul, and the other disciples, began reaching out to non-Jews. And, be glad that they did. Most of the people in this room do not have Jewish roots. So, we would be excluded. Notice that Paul answers the question, “Has God rejected his people?” (meaning: “the Jews”) with the words, “By no means!” That is the strongest way to say “no” in the Greek language. It means absolutely, positively, “NO!” Why? “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” It is that simple. God has not only not rejected the Jewish people, God has decided rather to include us Gentiles. Be glad of it! That is acceptance.
Then, there is the Gospel lesson, also on acceptance. It’s also a lesson in finger pointing. What brings up the whole discussion is that the Pharisees are upset with (and excluding) Jesus’ disciples because they are eating without washing their hands. Remember that thing that your mother always told you to do? And what the CDC and Health Department is saying that we are supposed to be doing all of the time to help stop the spread of the coronavirus! But, in this case, they are breaking one of the Jewish Laws, which means that they couldn’t possibly be good Jews, nor in God’s favor. Remember, the Jews at this point in history have 613 laws, and still do (Christians always get stuck on the 10 Commandments, but there are a lot more), one of them is you have to wash your hands before you eat. Those are still good words to live by. But, while the Pharisees are busy being petty, Jesus turns the tables on them – again, as usual.
“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” So it is not in eating that you sin, with the possible exception of gluttony (which is one of the Seven Deadly Sins). It is what comes out of your mouth that defiles you. This is probably why my grandmother always used to say, “Children should be seen and not heard.” So, there is a problem with what people say, like pointing out other people’s shortcomings, such as the Pharisees are doing about the disciples. It is often the mouth which utters the evil intentions that lies in a person’s heart. And Jesus lists some; murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness and slander. Interestingly here, Jesus does fall back on the 10 Commandments, at least the ones which pertain to our neighbor. These are what defile a person.
But, some of the things which come out of our mouth also do the opposite. The rest of the Gospel lesson is an object lesson on that which comes out of our mouth that does not defile us, namely a declaration of faith. Jesus and the disciples move to the region of Tyre and Sidon, not Jewish territory, Rather it is Phoenician and Canaanite territory; modern day Lebanon. There they encounter a Canaanite woman. The Canaanite woman is desperate. She is shouting for help from Christ for the sake of her daughter. She is making such a commotion that the disciples are trying to get rid of her. But, she will not give up, even when Jesus himself compares her with a dog (sounds kind of harsh). She won’t quit. From her mouth instead comes a declaration of faith and hope. Her reply even astounds Jesus! She is one of the two people in the Gospels that he turns to and says, “Great is your faith!” and grants her request. Hers is an example of what comes out of our mouths which does not defile. Also as pertaining to the parts of the 10 Commandments which regard our relationship with God. Her faith will not give up. She believes that God will help her, and in spite of outward appearances, her faith is well founded. Her story, too, is one of acceptance. She is accepted because of her faith, despite her being a Canaanite, and even living outside of Israel proper.
Acceptance: God accepts all people who call on him. We are not excluded, even because of sin. Rather, through faith in Christ, and the grace of his merit, we are forgiven and accepted in God’s sight. All people. “All who are baptized and believe shall be saved.” There is no greater good news, no greater Gospel.