Worship & Sermon for 11 Pentecost,Year A, 2020

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Muncie, Indiana




I don’t want to preach today,
instead I just want to share some thoughts.
Jesus gave us a true gem this morning,
or I should say, Matthew’s memory of Jesus
gave us something special.
So by way of my grandfather
I want to talk about this story of Jesus.

By all accounts my granddad was a peach.
I never knew him,
he died before I was born.
As a dentist in his small,
average American town for those days,
he cared for some people that pushed him
beyond his comfort zone.
I know that
because of stories handed down in the family.
But I also know,
because my dad told me in a quiet moment,
that my grandfather belonged
to the Klu Klux Klan,
known as the Indiana Klan in those parts.

Now the way my dad explained this to me,
was that back in the day – my grandfather’s day –
the Klan was like a political party
and it had a social dimension
because “almost everyone” belonged it.
I checked that out, and indeed,
Indiana has the dubious distinction
of being the state with the highest ever
Klan registration.
From 1920 to 1925,
30% of “native born white men in Indiana,”
as it was recorded,
belonged to the Indiana chapter of the Klan,
and the Governor and over half the legislature claimed membership.
”Everyone was in it,”
I think was the phrase my dad used to explain it.

My dad had a childhood memory
of being with his father
in a downtown building
when a Klan meeting let out
and being scared by the procession
of men in robes
coming down the dark stairway.

The mind has lots of tricks.
Because my granddad was a good guy
I embraced my dad’s explanation
for quite some time.
Then, one day, the dissonance
embedded in that explanation
agitated me enough, so that
I started thinking about it more.
The heart of the Klu Klux Klan
is racism and bigotry –
against African Americans,
Jewish Americans, Roman Catholics,
and nearly any immigrant
from anywhere other than northern Europe.

It did not matter if “everyone was doing it”
there is no way around the darkness
at the heart of that beast.
You do not become part of evil
without first having that evil within,
or getting poisoned by more of it
while being part of it.

My grandfather may have been a wonderful guy
to his family
and some members of his community,
but there is no easy explanation or excuse
that will dissolve the ugliness of his association
with the Indiana Klan.
”Everyone was doing it” is a rationalization
meant to put its dissonance
with everything else we know
to sleep.

My point here,
is not so much about my granddad
but the importance of listening to dissonance –
of allowing ourselves to feel the rub
and agitation
between what we think
and have been taught
and what we experience
and what we practice.

Let me repeat that
because it is counter-intuitive:
It is GOOD
when we allow ourselves to feel
the dissonance
between what we have been taught
and our actual experience,
or between what we believe and espouse
and what we actually practice.

When there is a crinkle and a rub
that makes us uncomfortable,
it is better to pick at it
than to leave it alone.

So again, my granddad
may have been a peach of a guy
to his family and some people in the community,
but his participation in the Indiana Klan
tells us something else as well.
Allowing myself to be uncomfortable
about my own father’s rationalization
about his father – because it didn’t really jive
with my knowledge and experience of people –
caused me to acknowledge
my granddad’s participation in evil.

We all have filters, right?
I mean we all have lenses
we’ve crafted or been given,
that explain the world and the people around us.
There are macro filters
like science, religion, politics, and economics,
and there are micro filters
like family culture, neighborhood consensus,
professional culture,
and personal prejudices and superstitions.

When we feel a dissonance
or agitation about something
we can’t quite put our finger on,
it is probably because
we are calling into question
the trustworthiness of a lens or filter
we’ve been seeing the world through.

In such moments, our instinct
is to turn away from the dissonance.
Our knee-jerk reaction is to deny
or rationalize
the discomfort and move on
without thinking too much about it.
But having the courage and curiosity
to wonder about that dissonance
and explore the agitation
is the gem this story about Jesus holds up to us.

But we have to pay the price of entry
in order to see this gem up close.

In order to even see the gem embedded
in this story from Matthew,
we may have to question
one or more of our filters
about Jesus.

There is an orthodox Christian lens
that looks at Jesus
only through God-and-Perfection
colored glasses.
Anytime there is a story
in which Jesus says or does
what seems distinctly ungod-like
or less than perfect,
a corrective lens is asserted
that finds an explanation or rationalization
that likely strains credulity
but leaves in tact the orthodox lens.
If we will get curious
and muster some courage,
the insight in this story
is actually low hanging fruit.
This story of Jesus
gives us a glimpse
of a human being struggling
with his own bigotry
along with the lens of his cultural and theological assumptions.
If Jesus is perfect
we do not get to see this moment of enlightenment
brought on by Jesus listening to the dissonance
within himself.

The dissonance
is between what he says he believes
about the universality of God’s love
and the bigotry held within
the spiritual practice of his own religion.
I would go so far as to say,
this moment of dissonance
and Jesus’ willingness to listen to it,
may be the turning point
in the life and ministry of the messiah.
Here is the story behind the story
that tells the story.
It begins with Jesus ignoring the woman.

But that is not all.
His bigotry toward her is pretty obvious.
He as much as calls her a dog –
in fact, he does call her a dog.

A mother, desperate to save her child,
accosts Jesus.
Now consider what we know
about the plight of peasants in those days.

There was no social safety net.
No medicine, and without any money,
there was not even access to spiritual healers.

It was a social caste system
that left poor women utterly powerless.
It was a society that placed children
on the absolute bottom rung of the ladder
where their value was measured
by their potential for labor.

If you were a female child,
your value was in eventual marriageability.

As a matter of fact,
a poor female child possessed by a demon –
or with mental illness if you prefer –
was truly a life without value or worth.
She would have been completely vulnerable

to all forms of human cruelty.

The mother, as most mothers do,
loved her child beyond value.
She would have been beside herself;
woeful in her fear
about what would happen
to the daughter she loved.

I am guessing that most mothers,
and fathers too,
would chase down any and all options.

So, despite the social and ethnic wedge
that stood between them,
the mother goes after Jesus.
She is poor, so she had already learned
not to be too polite –
that would get her nowhere in the first century.
Instead she charges into the crowd of men
and shouts.

That’s important: she shouts.
She yells at Jesus to stop and “have mercy.”

My image of this moment
is of of Jesus as a deer in the headlights.
He is accosted by a strange woman
demanding mercy.
We should remember too,
that “mercy” was a special feature of
Jesus’ stump speech.
So, just to fix the scene in our imagination,
this an aggressive outcast woman
publicly begging Jesus for mercy.
The first thing Jesus does is ignore her.
How human: Ignore it and hope it goes away.
I’m good at that, how about you?

But his disciples did not allow
an avoidance strategy.
They begged Jesus, and I quote, ‘get rid of her.’

”That’s harsh” Jesus might have said to himself.
But still, he concurred.
“Look lady, I’m not here to help Canaanites.”
He probably motioned her to leave, as in “shoo.”
“If you want to know the truth lady,
I was sent to help the lost sheep
among my fellow Galileans and Judeans.
I got nothing for you.”

Now to put a really fine point on this moment,
we need to recall what Jesus said
just prior to this event.
In Matthew’s version of the story,
Jesus has just said:
“…What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart,
and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions…”

Granddad, is that you?
Something dark slipped out
from the heart of Jesus.
In fact, Jesus’ treatment of this women
contradicts everything he just preached.

Remember what I said about dissonance?
One source of it is the rub between
what we say we believe or value
and how we actually behave.
When there is dissonance, pick at it.

Hypocrisy is pretty human.
I hope I am not speaking out of school
when I suggest that you may have had some experience
with hypocrisy yourself.
I know I have.

All of us violate our own values
and veer off the walk of our talk.
But the question for Jesus – and for us –
is what to do about it?

“Go away lady, you are not my concern”
sounds so awful to us but we can rationalize it
like my dad did for my granddad.
Jesus feels completely justified
in ignoring this woman
and for asserting an immediate distance
between them.

You see, Judeans and Galileans
saw Canaanites as morally unclean,
socially despicable,
and ritually filthy.
Keeping a distance
from such low-life
was integral to the practice of good faith.

For Jesus, social distance
from a Canaanite
was practicing good hygiene and “good faith.”
Plus, she is an unattended woman
and so Jesus had plenty of reasons
not too get close.
Social and religious policy
dictated that men
not enter into conversation
or deal with in any way, an unrelated woman –
especially one that was not with a man.
Again, that was a matter of good hygiene
and good faith too,
because a woman might be
on her menstrual cycle.
If a man touched a woman when she was menstruating,
he would make himself unclean.
Making himself unclean
would separate him
from the company of other men,
and any religious activity.

So you could not associate with women
you did not know.
And then, on top of all that,
there was the reputational issue.

Jesus just wanted her to go away.
Clearly Jesus does not want to help her.
He may even be disgusted by her.
His compassion was not aroused,
nor his mercy.
He was likely repulsed
and closed off
by the cultural and religious
lens he wore.

On top of all that,
everything in the culture
justified and reinforced his rejection of her.
”Everyone does it.”

But Jesus seems to have listened
to the dissonance
and recognized what we so clearly see
from our historical distance:
his first response,
while very much part of the normalcy
of his moment in time,
is the wrong response
when seen through the lens of God’s love.

Friends, we need to pick at the dissonance
when it arises within us
amidst the current political moment
and in the rising up of people of color
insisting that the impact of 400 years of slavery
now be addressed and reconciled and healed.

We need to pick at the dissonance within us
whenever we feel defensive about our privilege,
victimized in our whiteness,
hostile or afraid or mistrustful of any class
or category of human being –
as if Canaanites are somehow different
from Galileans.

We need to listen to the dissonance
between the universal love of God
and the normal and routine prejudices
bigotries, and fears
held within the lenses we’ve been given
or crafted for ourselves.

So if what I am saying is disconcerting
or agitating in any way, good.
Pick at it,
explore it,
follow what you know
about the universal love of God
and our call to be agents of that love.