Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

The Second Sunday in Lent, 2012

The Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Anglican Church, Lebanon, New Hampshire

 

 

Let us pray: Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that the 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 many images that appear to me when I think back upon the events of the past week. There were the two interminable plane flights of fourteen and sixteen hours; flights in which I watched more movies back-to-back than I had ever watched before. I am not eager to revisit such plane flights too soon. And to think that I once regarded a five-hour plane flight as a LONG flight. Then there was the emergency trip to the dentist in Pretoria. There were very competent dentists. Though everyone in the dentist's office spoke perfect English, their preferred language was Africaans, the rhythms of which were strange to my ears. I found it fascinating to listen to the way the staff switched rapidly from English to Africaans and back again. But what was even more fascinating was this: the waiting room included a large number of Bibles. There were many editions of the New Testament sitting on a shelf that in most dentists' waiting rooms would be devoted to magazines. I counted no fewer that twelve different translations. Beside the English and Africaans editions, there were Bibles in ten different African dialects. Curiously, these volumes varied widely in number of pages; some had hundreds of pages, while others were very think and had less than a hundred pages each. Still, each of those books contained the word of God.

 

Very memorable images. But there are two pictures from my memory that I carry close to my heart. The first came late at night after a long day. Twenty of us had sat in a room discussing the business of the church. We dealt with organizational issues, we labored over a press release, we considered particular appointments and we voted on many items. All this was necessary; we needed to put things in order. And then, at ten o'clock that evening, we still hadn't completed our work. We were exhausted. But we looked at the next item; it had to do with the future; it had to do with evangelism. Suddenly, everyone in the room seemed to take on new life, new energy. The conversation shifted to the great joy of bringing people to Christ. The mood in that room became electric, as if a new element had come into our presence. And, of course, it had. We talked on into the night about the power of the Holy Spirit. After a full day of business, we recognized, once again, that our true vocation is to preach the word of God and to bring others to Christ.

 

The next image takes place in Soweto. We were taken to this enormous squatter camp to see the people and to get a clear understanding of what it is like to live there. I had no idea what I might expect. And I was apprehensive. I had heard of the violence that filled the days of many people who lived there. But walking the streets of this very poor makeshift city, we had little fear. The people were friendly. Children ran up to see these strange guys in collars. Prayer was very near. And we prayed often.

 

In today's gospel reading, we hear of a woman who prayed to God, the God who was very near. She calls out to Him: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. Have mercy on me, O Lord." Jesus responds that he has been sent to the lost children of the house of Israel and that it is not lawful to cast the children's bread to the dogs. But this woman, this Syrophoenician woman, a gentile, says something that must touch the soul of God. The dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the children's table. Those wasted portions that are forgotten and lost are treasured by this poor woman of Canaan. She knows the value of God's word. She knows the necessity of being with God. Her prayer was very near.

 

It must have been troubling to Jesus that the lost sheep of Israel had turned their backs on God. He walked among them, but they could not see Him for who He was. But here was woman who knew, a woman who saw clearly that she was in the presence of God.

 

There are people and places in our world where God is ignored and abandoned, places where He is considered irrelevant or unnecessary, perhaps even intrusive or perhaps dangerous. To be avoided.

 

But there are people and places where God is embraced, places where God is wanted. It could be in a conference room late at night in some foreign country, a place where God is welcomed in, a place where God is embraced and the true food of life is eaten. It could be in a squatter camp on the edge of poverty and despair, a place where prayer is very near and the presence of God is devoutly wished. It could also be here in this place, where we ask God for mercy and seek to nourish our souls with the true bread of life.

 

 

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.