Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost - August 20, 2017

Pentecost 11 Year A Proper 15
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
Pastor Elizabeth Ekdale

Nevertheless, she persisted
I want to thank and give credit to our Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, for the title of today’s sermon.  He spoke these words earlier this year to describe another Senator during nomination proceedings for the Attorney General. Senator Elizabeth Warren was persistent and persuasive with her colleagues in arguing against the nomination.   She was in the middle of quoting Coretta Scott King when the Majority Leader attempted to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren by invoking an archaic procedural motion.  While he may have silenced her during that particular moment in the proceedings, she succeeded in speaking her mind and leading by her convictions well beyond that particular moment on the senate floor.

When asked to justify his actions, Senator McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation.  Nevertheless, she persisted.” 

Nevertheless, she persisted.   These very words seem so fitting about our unnamed woman and heroine in our gospel story - a powerful woman of faith in spite of the labels placed on her and the efforts of Jesus and the disciples to silence her.

And this is why the story is both disturbing in its portrayal of Jesus and inspiring for us today.  For this is what faith looks like in action:  resistance, persistence, and vigilance.  What is so disturbing is Jesus seems to draw the lines about who can receive God’s grace and healing and who cannot.   This image of Jesus doesn’t fit the inclusive and welcoming picture of Jesus we have from other gospel readings.  It is a puzzling and upsetting image of Jesus who he himself will be transformed by the faith of this woman.

Jesus draws the line about who deserves to receive God’s blessing and she won’t stay on her side of the line.  She won’t take no for an answer. Jesus dismisses her but she won’t be dismissed.  Jesus is silent during her plea for mercy and healing.  But she raises her voice, pleading even louder.  When the disciples encourage him to order her away and she refuses.  Jesus then insults her with a harsh and rude label - describing her and her people as dogs. 

There is all kinds of speculation about why Jesus is acting this way.  Some say the author of the story is making a sharp point about the church expanding and welcoming gentiles into the community.  Others say Jesus isn’t really being rude to her, he’s just testing her by constructing barriers to see if she’ll overcome them.  And still others say Jesus is overly exhausted and discouraged by those who have doubted his authority and take offense at his teaching.  He’s in a grumpy mood. 

Whatever the reason, I believe this woman – whose faith embodied- persistence, resistance, and vigilance – enables Jesus to come to a new understanding of who he is and what he has been called to do.  Something in Jesus which had prevented him from sharing God’s gracious healing word of life to this woman and those like her, is changed forever.  Through this woman’s faith, Jesus learns that God’s purpose for him is so much bigger than he imagined – God’s love so much deeper than he first thought, God’s welcome so much wider than imagined.  He learned from this woman – a foreigner – about the breadth and depth of God’s goodness and mercy. 

But the lesson for us today doesn’t end just there.  Persistence, vigilance, resistance are all vital and critical aspects of our faith – especially in light of the racism, hatred, and bigotry displayed in Charlottesville.  This woman is a model of faith – for what she did – persistence, resistance, vigilance – not taking no for answer, not settling for the status quo, refusing to be silenced, speaking truth to power, speaking her mind, advocating for the vulnerable – her daughter – offers us a testimony that rings down through the ages.    She claimed her identity as a child of God for herself and her daughter reminding us that God’s love knows no boundaries or limitations.  Her testimony empowers us today when boundaries and limits, labels and limitations are being placed on people of color in the most ugly and violent ways; hatred fixated toward our Jewish brothers and sisters, and ugly speech couched in the language of faith. 

Her response back to Jesus, when she is called a dog is nothing less than brilliant:  Yes Lord . . . yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”  O woman, great is your faith.” 

We are called to proclaim the living daring grace of God through our words and actions. 

The SF Interfaith Council put out a statement signed by dozens of Interfaith Religious leaders including your pastors declaring: 

As people of faith, we stand united to denounce those who use words such as "prayer," "unity" and "peace" to mask any agenda of hate, intolerance, and bigotry.  In the days ahead, we will use the voices of faith communities - through prayer, the pulpit, and our communications networks - to educate and inform, and to fight racism, hatred, and bigotry wherever it may occur, particularly in our City of St. Francis. We will not step aside but will stand strong for our values of inclusivity, respect for all persons, and justice.

Silence is not an option and our Canaanite woman of faith models the power of speech. 

Elie Wiesel a holocaust survivor challenges us – people of all faiths – to act:
"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

Lady Gaga – whom I’ve come to admire for her advocacy and work for victims of sexual abuse – spoke out during her concert a week ago at ATT Park“I usually use this part of the show to shout out to the LGBTQ community - but tonight I cannot do just that. Tonight we must say hello and a great welcome to every single person of every single type and color and background and religion that is here.

“Don’t worry, I’m not confused,” she continued. “I know I’m a white woman standing up here tonight saying that to you, but I promise you that I will speak love into this world every day and I will remind myself every single day to speak love to every color, to every background, to every religion no matter what. And I dare you to do the same.”

Our own Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton – spoke on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America“We recognize that the kind of violence we witnessed in Charlottesville last weekend is very real and affects all of us,” said ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton. “We need to stand up firmly against racism and anti-Semitism, show up for and advocate with others. Jesus, who makes visible those who are invisible, is already there. We need to show up, and we need to listen in each of our communities.”

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we may be discouraged or weary or simply grief-stricken – but this is our call in this time and place as Christians- to love our neighbors, to protect our neighbors from harm, and to stand with our neighbors against hatred, violence and tyranny.  We must speak out – our faith compels us to act -  and we have a role model of faith in today’s gospel – thank God, she persisted and showed Jesus that she and her daughter – and all the foreigners and all the despised – are worthy and deserving to be called beloved children of God. 

In spite of Jesus, she persisted – and her story and courage are gifts for us to receive and use in our own lives of faith.  Amen.