Sermon Preparation -
August 15, 1999

Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left and went to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon. Suddenly a Canaanite woman from there came out shouting, "Lord and Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is full of demons." Jesus did not say a word. But the woman kept following along and shouting, so his disciples came up and asked him to send her away.

Jesus said, "I was sent only to the people of Israel! They are like a flock of lost sheep."

The woman came closer. Then she knelt down and begged, "Please help me, Lord!"

Jesus replied, "It isn't right to take food away from children and feed it to the dogs."

"Lord, that's true," the woman said, "but even dogs get the crumbs that fall from their owners table."

Jesus answered, "Dear woman, you really do have a lot of faith, and you will be given what you want." At that moment her daughter was healed.


Chapter 15 begins with conversations with religious legalists and a crowd of people. The topic is rules -- rules about washing before eating and rules about what to eat. Jesus expands the letter or limitation of the law to look at the spirit or extension of the law to living situations. It is always instructive to see what it is that triggers your appeal to authority. This appeal to be legal is usually the first appeal or the last. It either keeps us from too much conflict in our thinking (cognitive dissonance) or it gives the excuse to turn the other into an enemy because they are not doing things correctly and the only way to deal with that is by separation and exclusion.

2. From expanding law to life Jesus is next faced with this episode with a Canaanite woman. Jesus seemed able to avoid the situation until it got on his disciples' nerves. When asked about this Jesus begins with a legalism that excuses him from a requested healing. "I was sent only to the people of Israel! Not the Canaanites!" How easy the Rule comes tripping to our tongue. Sometimes it comes especially close on the heels of our own having benefited from it being lifted from our life. There are lots of rules in the Bible and in Congregations. Those who follow the one who saves through grace, not law, fall as easily into the trap of setting up rules to ease our own way of doing things. This may be the outcome of the temptation in the wilderness right after the baptism where Jesus and we hear we are beloved children of God. In Luke's version of that we hear that the temptations left, "for a while." And so we are tempted to limit our mission in the world to those like ourselves.

3. The hope we have for ourselves is that Jesus seems to have gone through this same process and come out when he recognized faith that went beyond the rules. Staying alert to the presence of faithfulness, no matter where it shows up, is a key spiritual discipline. It is a discipline that will continue to expand the circle of those to whom God send us and others. Would you dare find yourself limiting where faith will be made evident? If so, people will continue to be put in the place of the pejorative language of dogs. If you are willing to be open to faith showing up in the strangest of places, the community of faith will continue to grow and flourish.
     A good morning question is: "Am I ready to catch faith at work in the lives of those I will meet this week?" A good evening question is: "In looking back at the day, did I miss an opportunity to affirm the faith of another?" May you, evening and morning, find faith surrounding you.

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