Sunday, August 20, 2017
Season after Pentecost
Listen to today’s gospel reading and sermon here:
*Today’s sermon is adapted from a preaching commentary for this Sunday’s texts which I wrote, included for Sundays and Seasons Preaching Year A 2017, published by Augsburg Fortress.
21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:21-28
Do you have room for dessert? No matter how tempting the dessert tray – and let me tell you, the dessert table at the dinner in the Parish Hall last night was extremely tempting – perhaps you know the feeling of at one time or another eating more than seemed ideal, leaving you wondering if you might ever have room for anything more. It’s not a comfortable feeling, exactly, but most of us would take it over the prospect of extreme hunger, especially if that were hunger prolonged not just for a day for months or years of not having enough.
Today’s gospel reading is about things that are too full. In one of the more troubling texts of the gospels, it is as if Jesus says the meal is over and there is no more room at the table and not enough left to share. Maybe he’d share but they had eaten everything and all that was left were crumbs. A woman, an outsider, is hungry for healing for her daughter and begs to Jesus, but the one who has healed so many crowds of people, the one who had compassion on tired, hungry, hurting crowds, now insists there simply isn’t room at the table.
The characters in our other readings are wondering about this difficult question, too – what to do when those who are hungry approach those who are full. Joseph’s brothers, the ones who in last week’s reading wanted to kill their youngest brother but decided to sell him into slavery instead, they are now the ones hungry and begging. Begging to Joseph whose life has become so full with power and privilege that he will not welcome them back. They aren’t sure that he will have room in his full life for forgiveness, room for the brothers who wished him so much harm so many years ago.
And the church at Rome, too, is wondering whether there is room at God’s table, in God’s church, for the people who first heard God’s promises. They have been arguing about what it takes to get a seat at the table. The Jesus followers wonder if the non-Jesus-following Jewish people will get a spot as well. Are they afraid if we open up the doors there won’t be enough room for them?
We know what it is like to be so full in life that we cannot imagine squeezing in one more request for help, one more person in need. Already full of grief we cannot imagine room to bear another loss. Our hearts and minds are filled by the weight of violence and war. We live in a culture that often expresses that there is no room to accommodate those on the margins, whether for reasons of race, religion, socioeconomic status, immigration status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. With all that has been happening in the wake of the white supremacists’ rallies in Charlottesville and around the country, I am worried that we are so full of anger at those who march in the streets that we fail to see in ourselves and our everyday communities the much more subtle and insidious ways we claim the table is already too full to make room for those who do not already have privilege and power. Even in our faith communities we sometimes fail to make room for new ideas and new people out of fear that there will no longer be room for the things we love and hold dear or because our budgets and schedules are already overloaded.
For some our lives are filled with activity and obligations – work, play, volunteering, chores, and errands, leaving little room for quiet and sleep much less anything else. We pack our schedules until there is no room for anything more. This time of year many households are busy with going back to school and gearing up again after summer breaks, schedules filling up faster than we might like. For others our days are filled with depression and anxiety that simply won’t make room for anything else. Some have bank accounts so full that managing the money takes up all our time and energy, while others have drawers so full of bills that there doesn’t seem to be any room to breathe.
We know about being too full.
But the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus recognizes fullness, too. She sees the fullness of God’s table even if Jesus doesn’t yet in this moment. She sees a table so full that there is food falling unnoticed to the dogs. She sees a table that doesn’t have a finite limit. She sees a crumb from God’s feast as enough to fill even her deepest hunger.
And Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers opens their eyes to a way of living that makes room for more. Trembling before him, they feel his fullness open up to envelop them, as well. Those who have been forgiven and welcomed back after long and painful separation know the ways those words and that embrace open up new spaces inside for everyone.
And Paul insists to the church at Rome that God’s promise is big and God’s table indeed does have room for more, room for others to sit and be fed, room to welcome even the people who make us uncomfortable and who make us give up our sense of privilege and power.
I’ve heard it jokingly said that even after a large meal, there is always room for ice cream because it melts down around all the other food that’s already entered the stomach. Probably not true. But what an image for us of grace poured over our busy lives! When we think there is no more room at the table or no more room in our lives, when we think that the pain we carry leaves no room for hope or the mounting pressures will do us in, when we cannot imagine another extension of forgiveness or another undeserved grace a voice from the margins calls out to remind us that we aren’t ever too full for God’s grace, that a crumb from God’s table is enough to crack open our world and make it larger.
Whether we approach the Eucharistic table today crying out in faith that a crumb will be more than enough to meet the hunger we so desperately feel or whether we approach the table today feeling the fullness of our own life, not sure how to make room for God’s transformative work in our lives, a morsel of bread and a sip of wine are offered. As we take it into ourselves, God’s mercy melts over us again, filling in around all the other things crammed into our lives.
Some days a crumb from the table is all we can find room for, as if to eat any more would require not only a bigger mouth but also a bigger heart. But unlike ice cream, that morsel of bread and sip of wine, that melting grace, they begin to transform the things they envelop, not cramming our lives more full but instead making more room, for in God’s economy there is no finite limit to available grace and no crumb too small to transform the world.
-Pastor Steven Wilco