Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
James 2:1-8; 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

I want to encourage you to continue to offer prayers for our children.  Do not let this be the only time.  The children of this church, our country, and world need our prayers, love, and support.

Pray for their parents and home life; those grandparents and guardians who struggle every day to make ends meet and provide growth opportunities.   I want to commend the parents here; at least from what I know.  You are doing an amazing job with your children.  And I want to acknowledge the challenge of that in the day-to-day.  In an ever changing and fast-moving world, it’s not easy.

Our children face pressures every day; perhaps that is true of every generation, but it occurs to me that there is so much pressure to achieve, to fit in and belong, to be accepted; especially for any child that seems a little “different” as we all are different; who learn differently, who need a little extra; children challenged by life by virtue of their birth, or circumstances over which they have had little to no say or control.

There are all kinds of thoughts going on in their minds.  They are constantly on information overload, with images of beauty and success on television and social media; so sometimes we have to be a little more open and flexible, take a deep breath now and then and listen carefully.  But stay the course.  Do not give up on your children.  Do not give up on what is possible with God through faith.  And children, don’t give up on your parents because love has a way and love finds a way.

Some of you know that my nine-year-old granddaughter spent three weeks with me this summer, and let’s just say, I learned a lot; a whole lot!!

But seriously though, any opportunity to shape a mind and a life is a gift and privilege; and those opportunities abound for all of us.  Whether we have biological children or not, opportunities abound.  Our days are filled with teachable and learnable moments if only we are open to them; slow down and pay attention.

It occurs to me that a child should never think about committing suicide; never consider harming themselves or another to the extent of killing.  Never think about taking a gun and entering a school because they feel so sad or empty that they cannot get through the day regardless of what happens.  Or be afraid for their well-being.  They need our love and support.

In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus finds himself outside of Jerusalem in Gentile territory.  He is passing through on his way somewhere else, not wanting to be disturbed by the masses.  He has been busy teaching and healing, as always.  Jesus is human.  I think we sometimes focus so much on his divinity that we forget that Jesus was also a man, a person; God incarnate. God and man.

He takes refuge in someone’s home, which tells me that he does have “friends” or at least acquaintances already among the Gentiles, for someone opens their home to him and he is welcomed in.

A woman approaches with serious concern because her little girl is sick.  A mother with a sick child is something to be reckoned with, is that right?

Yes, she hears that Jesus is about and comes begging, falling at his feet asking Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter.   We are not given the name of that “spirit” nor do we have a sense of what it might look like in our time, but depending on the age of the child, it could have been any number of things.  Still, the mother is at her wit’s end.

Jesus’ response is so troubling, so out of character: “Let the children be fed first,” he says, “for it is not fair to take the children’s food (meaning the Jewish community) and throw it to the dogs.”[1]

Matthew’s version of this passage says that at first, Jesus did not even respond to her at all; did not say a single word.

In that day as in today, this woman and her circumstance represent so many of those who are most vulnerable.  She is an “outsider” by virtue of birth, religion, and location, and therefore, she does not fit into the mainstream.  Most likely she is a single parent, as her husband would have likely been the one having the conversation, which might have meant that she was also financially challenged, even poor.  She is desperate, and desperation is never pretty.

We ask ourselves, who are the vulnerable in our world today?  Children are vulnerable.  Seniors beyond a certain age are vulnerable; sick people without adequate health care; those on the low-end of the socio-economic spectrum.  The mentally ill, the homeless, and those who walk alone in life for whatever reason.

This woman lacks religious, political, and social clout, but she doesn’t let go.  She is unwilling to simply give up, and her begging becomes a prayer; a prayer of faith and knowing:  “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”[2]  I may be a dog, but I’m still worthy because even the crumbs from the Master’s table are good enough.

And herein lies the real miracle in this story.  Somehow despite all odds, she has a measure of faith in the healing power of God and in her own worthiness.  And it almost takes a miracle to trust that, don’t you think?  It takes a miracle to trust your “somebody-ness” in a day of job shaming and body shaming, skin shaming and character shaming.

She pushes back, and I’m glad she does, for she reminds us (and she also reminded Jesus, the Master Teacher) of a few things:  that in this life, sometimes we have to push past the name calling, push past other people’s opinions, attitudes, and harsh words.  We have to push past every attempt to demean and disparage; to isolate and segregate; and resist those negative images, thoughts, attitudes hurled at us and against us.  We have to stand firm on who we know we are.

Last Sunday we talked about “Principled Living” and knowing our true value as a human being deep down in a way that nobody and no circumstance and no situation can take away.  Others may be confused about it but we must never lose sight of our personhood.

The woman said, in essence, “I might be a dog Jesus, but I’m God’s dog and as such, I can take the crumbs from the table and be just fine because there is sufficient power, even in the crumbs.”

And Jesus is set free.  The teacher becomes the student, the learner.  He himself is blessed in that moment, can you feel it?  How do we know?

Well, the last half of the passage tells us that following that, Jesus came to another city near the Sea of Galilee, also in Gentile territory.  And some people brought him a deaf man who could neither hear nor speak.  And they begged Jesus.  The people asked on behalf of the man who was unable to lay hands on him, and Mark tells us that without hesitation, Jesus took the man aside and pronounced healing, and immediately the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released.

My brothers and sisters, faith is lived on the ground, in the real world where we live day to day and most often faith calls to us.  It requires persistence and perseverance; action, pressing and doing; stretching, and sheer determination.

Faith is not about naming and claiming; I wish it were.  There are times when we have to act in faith – doing our own part; meeting God in our place of need and desire.

And it requires a certain kind of resolve, trusting not in one’s self but in the God who says we are his and he is ours; and he will never leave us nor forsaken us.  That somehow, God will meet us in our circumstance and we will emerge better and be made whole one way or the other.

I love these passages.  I love the way others came and begged on behalf of another – the mother for her child and the friends for the man who is deaf.  I know that prayer changes things, and prayer changes circumstances, and prayer changes the pray-er.

And Jesus says, tell no one for he is not ready for his full identity to be revealed.  But get this: it seems that no one in this text seems to be listening to Jesus at all.  Tell no one, he says but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed the good news.

Can you imagine?  The tortured are healed; the deaf hear, the mute talk.  The broken are mended.  The outsider in on the inside.  The dead live!  We all have our story to tell.  May we tell it with great gusto, faith, and love!

[1] Mark 7:27
[2] Mark 7:28