God’s love

The Rev. Canon Jonathan F. Harris. This sermon is based on Matthew 15:10-28.

Our Commonwealth of Virginia is much in the news right now, and not for the reason we would want.  A week ago yesterday right over Afton Mountain in Charlottesville advocates of white supremacy clashed violently with counter protestors.  One of the advocates of white supremacy killed a counter-protestor and seriously injured 19 others when he drove his car into the crowd.

White supremacy – the belief that white people are innately superior to people of other ethnic groups – is inconsistent with Christianity.  When we are baptized we put our “whole trust” into the grace and love of Jesus.  We promise to follow and to obey Jesus as our Lord.  We promise to respect the dignity of every human being.  This is what we promise.  This is who we are.  Therefore we stand against white supremacy.  We stand for the way of Jesus.  But it isn’t enough for us only to condemn.  Jesus calls us also to act.  So that we not only say we believe in Jesus, but that we also follow him.  To follow him is to be bold about what the love of God in Christ Jesus means for our world. 

We learn about the way of Jesus this morning when he is involved in a discussion with some other religious leaders about ritual practices governing how one should eat.  Jesus says “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”  It is not what goes in that defiles, but what comes out – from the heart, to the world.  The driver of the car at the protest was a young man.  20 years old.  His father died before he was born.  His mother had to call the police a number of times because he threatened her.  He diligently studied Nazi history.  Somewhere along the line he learned to hate.  In these last days many have been drawn to a passage penned by Nelson Mandela, leader of the South African anti-apartheid movement, which describes his mission to create racial reconciliation:

“I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur. Not only because of the great heroes I have already cited, but because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country. I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite (Long Walk to Freedom).

Jesus calls us to put our whole trust in him, and embody his love for our world, for our broken world.  Jesus through us, makes God’s love present in our time – when we follow Jesus.

The Gospel of John says Jesus “was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.”  Ever since the beginning there has been a tension between Jesus and the world.  God through Jesus bringing love to God’s world, and we not being able to receive it.  We losing ourselves in our own waywardness.  We believing God’s love can’t come to pass.  Therefore as followers of Christ we have our work cut out for us, to make God’s love real.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew tells us about a Canaanite woman who knows how to get the job done.  Who has grit for God.  Her daughter is sick, really sick, and she seeks out Jesus and shouts at him “have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”  Jesus is actually caught off guard by the woman – he and his disciples try to get her to go away – Jesus says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” – that is, not to you, a Canaanite.  Still the woman keeps after him – “Lord, help me.”  Again Jesus doesn’t think God has sent him to this woman.  But the woman doesn’t give up.  And finally Jesus realizes – “Woman, great is your faith!”  And her daughter is healed.  The woman is convicted of the rule of God’s redemptive activity in Jesus.  New Testament scholar Jae Won Lee describes the Canaanite woman this way: “Again and again she violates boundaries, boundaries set up because of ethnicity, heritage, religion, gender, and demon possession. She must even contend with Jesus’ reluctance to violate the ethnic boundary; but contend she does.”  This woman knows how to make God’s love present – even in a place where others do not think it belongs.  She has grit for God.  She is bold. 

God wants us to belong to God as God has created us to be.  God loves our world.  God adopts us as God’s own children.  We are graced.  We are loved.  So I tell you – have grit for God.  Be bold for the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  So that our world can know and see and learn what love is.

Amen.