Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Second Sunday in Lent, 2011
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

Let us pray: Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that words which we have heard this day with our outward ears, may, through thy grace, be so grafted inwardly in our hearts, that they may bring forth in us the fruits of good living, to the honour and praise of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

There are two images that have been very present with me this week: the first has to do with the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan; the second has to do with barriers and locked doors. These two are related in an interesting way; not only to each other, but also to the gospel message for today.

Japan, as we all know, has suffered a disaster of great proportions; thousands of people have died, thousands more are missing, thousands of people are still in danger. Our hearts go out to the people of Japan. At such times, all the cultural barriers fall away; we see only human need and we wish to help. That is the first image; rather, a series of images that include tidal waves, fires and smoke from nuclear reactors.

Here is the second image. Last Thursday, I drove out to Garrison, New York for our clericus meeting. All who were there shared worship, a meal of corned beef and cabbage (St. Patrick's Day, after all) presentations and workshops. At 11:30 that evening, just as I was preparing for bed, there was a knock on the door. I opened it immediately. Without knowing with certainty, I suspected that someone had a pastoral need and I responded right away. I was right; a priest needed to talk with me. After we finished our discussion, it was approaching midnight. Our talk had been a very good one; pastoral and helpful to each of us. But I began to wonder about my initial response. I heard a knock at my door at 11:30 p.m. Had I been at home, I would have heard the sound differently and responded much more slowly. I might have been alarmed. Certainly, I would have many questions. I would check to see who was at the door. Why might they want to come into the house? If I knew and trusted the person, I would open the door. If not...well, there would be other questions.

I opened the door to the person, not knowing who it might be. But I trusted the people who were in the safe environment of the clericus gathering. I continued to reflect on this as I drove home on Friday. I passed many environments: gated communities, rough neighborhoods, hospitals, institutions, clubhouses and many homes. To enter any one of those places, a person would require identification; a person would need to verify who he or she was. Verify is an interesting word; to verify is to give the truth of who we are.

In today's gospel, we learn all about verification, we learn about the truth of who we are. Others learn about the truth of who they are. The parable concerns a Canaanite woman who approaches Jesus and asks for healing for her daughter. She cried out to Him: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David..." She asks for mercy. But the disciples, wish to send her away. Perhaps they think she is causing a bit of a stir. Besides, she is a gentile woman. Then Jesus says this: "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The disciples would certainly agree with this statement. We might imagine them standing there, nodding their heads in agreement. "Yes," we can almost hear them say, "Jesus is one of us. This Canaanite woman is not one of us." They know they are an exclusive group. After all, they have God all to themselves. Perhaps they think Jesus will send her away. But she approaches him and worships him. Jesus looks at his disciples, perhaps seeing what they might do. But they say nothing. And Jesus says, very slowly so that none may misunderstand His words: "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs." He looks into the eyes of His disciples. He sees that they agree with these words. "Yes," we might hear them saying to themselves, "Jesus has come to us alone. We have the word directly from God; these gentiles, these dogs, should not have it." Jesus looks for signs of compassion, but sees only the hardness of their hearts.

Finally, the Canaanite woman says this: "Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Jesus looks at this woman who is worshipping him then looks at His disciples. Is the truth of what they are witnessing becoming clear to them? Perhaps Jesus looks to them one last time. But then He says: "...great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt." Verification was complete: the Canaanite woman was shown to be truly in the presence of God, to truly recognize Him and to understand her relationship with God. She was made welcome at the table of the Lord. And what about those disciples? Perhaps they recognized that they had in fact cast themselves in the role of the dogs they so despised. We know that they were forgiven. But they were taught a valuable lesson. The word of God is available to all. It is most precious to those who seek God in the fullness of their hearts. God can never be taken for granted. This is the lesson the disciples learned on that day long ago. We learn it again here today.

There are two images that have been with me this week. We add the third and most important image today. In the midst of great need, we must open the doors of our hearts to those who face great trouble and sorrow. Break down the barriers that separate us. Offer to each other the greatest gift that we could ever receive.

God breaks down the barriers to His heart. We should do the same.

Let us pray: Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.