Genesis 45:1-15 and Matthew 15:10-28
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 17, 2014
First Christian Church
You could answer that in two ways. The first way is probably literal. How are you doing healthwise? Are you eating right? Are you getting enough sleep?
As a society, we are obsessed with health, even when we don’t act like we care. We are told we are to heavy need to go to the gym. We are told we eat poorly and try the latest fad to get to health. We’ve quit smoking. We are doing everything we can to keep our hearts healthy. I try to go to the gym twice a week, and try to walk as much as a I can daily. I’ve also gained all the weight I lost a year ago, but I still do what I can to keep my heart healthy.
But heart can also talk about our whole being, not just the muscle in the center of our chest. And looking at the news from the past week, humanity’s heart is not doing so well. Events like the shooting of Michael Brown, an African American man from Ferguson, a Saint Louis suburb by the local police have shocked us. Islamic extremist have taken one of the world’s great faiths and turned into a murderous ideology that kills anyone from a different faith or who don’t follow Islam in the same way they do. And then there was the tragic death of actor Robin Williams. A funny man that we learned took his own life after battling depression for years.
In Matthew’s gospel we see Jesus first talking the crowd. He calls out the Pharisees for their concern of rules like ritual handwashing, but very little concern about what really defiles a person. There was no concern for the inner life of a person.
The news from this week reminds us that our hearts are not in a good place. To borrow the title of a book from the late Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, things fall apart. Things fall apart when a group of people charged with protecting the public dress like soldiers ready to take on the people they are called to protect. Things fall apart when our hearts become dark with depression, when things seem so bad that it appears the only way to alleviate the pain is to choose to shuffle off this mortal coil. Things fall apart when people who have lived in a city or town for a milennaim are forced to fell because they happen to be of the wrong faith.
Things fall apart. That phrase actually has an earlier meaning, it was used by the poet William Butler Yeats in his poem, “The Second Coming.” Reflecting the horror of post-World War One Europe the poem talks about things breaking down. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
In our passages today, things are falling apart all over the place. Joseph one of the sons of Jacob faces his brothers, the one that first wanted to kill him and then decided to send him into slavery. A Gentile woman comes to Jesus in Matthew begging for him to heal her daughter. Jesus answers with an epipthet: calling her a dog. And contrary to what some might say, this was not a term of endearment. Things are falling apart, the center isn’t holding, anarchy reigns.
But something happens. Just when it seems that chaos will rule, someone chooses to being an agent of healing. Jospeh decides not to seek vengence against his brothers and forgives them. He even welcomes them all to his new home in Egypt. The Cannanite woman responds to Jesus’ reply that even the dogs get the crumbs. Jesus is awed and her daughter is healed.
The world that we live in is filled with broken people. People whose lives have fallen apart. The world is not right.
This is a challenge for us a followers of Jesus especially this congregation. Like a lot of mainline churches, we want to do what we can to get people back into the doors of our churches. But what Joseph and the Gentile woman teach us is that we are called to be agents of healing, going out from the doors of this church and working to help heal the world, to restore relationships to set things to rights.
There was an interesting image from this week’s news. Most of us have seen the images coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, especially the images of policemen dressed in paramilitary gear with gas masked and high powered guns standing down mostly peaceful protestor. A number of people who saw the images and also served time in Iraq said that the local police seemed more armoured than those fighting insurgents in places like Fallujah, Iraq. After some shamful displays of power, the governor of Missouri removed the county police from the situtation and placed the town under the control of the Missouri Highway Patrol. The temporary head of the care of Ferguson was placed in the hands on Captain Ron Johnson, an African American Highway Patrolman who was raised in Ferguson. One of the first things he did was walk with the protestors. There is an image of him walking along with a marcher, a sign that he was there to protect them not see them as the enemy. Captain Johnson became in that moment an agent of healing. What the community of Ferguson needed at that time was someone who would seek healing and not cause more wounds to fester.
Things are falling apart. The center can’t hold. What will you do? What will this church do in response. May we have to courage of Joseph and the Gentile woman and Captain Jackson. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Things Fall Apart was also the title of the 1999 album by the HipHop group, The Roots. This album cover was one of several for the record. This particular one is a photo of black teenagers being chased by policemen during the Civil Rights era in New York. The more things change…