Sermon for 6th September 2009. The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels by the Sea, Longboat Key, FL
James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37
James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37
Here is a story about a healing service in a “holy roller” Church.
"Anyone with needs to be prayed over, come forward, to the front at the altar," the Preacher says. Bubba gets in line, and when it's his turn, the preacher asks: "Bubba, what do you want me to pray about for you." Bubba replies: "Preacher, I need you to pray for my hearing." The preacher puts one finger in Bubba's ear, and he places the other hand on top of Bubba's head and prays and prays and prays.
After a few minutes, the Preacher removes his hands, stands back and asks,"Bubba, how is your hearing now?" Bubba says, "I don't know, Reverend, it ain't 'til next Wednesday!"
It is the call of a Rector to be both a coach and a cheerleader. If he or she only coaches, the congregation will grow weary and frustrated. If she or he only cheerleads, the congregation will become flabby and self-satisfied.
What I refer to as coaching might also be called teaching, or educating. The best teachers are those who not only impart information, but also “draw out” from the student that we she or he already knows, or can infer. (“Educate” and “educe” come from the same linguistic root).
I have had the good fortune to visit both Tyre and Sidon. In Sidon I walked around the old Souk or market, a place bustling with people, market stalls and caged chickens and rabbits, ready to be taken home and slaughtered for dinner.
I also went out to the old Crusader Fort where I chatted with two young Muslim men: they were playing hooky from school. I tried to draw out from them what they knew about the USA. They drew out from me what I knew about Lebanon.
In Sidon I saw the ruins of the old Roman City, and tried to imagine Jesus walking those ancient streets.
Tyre and Sidon were “foreign territories” for me, as they were for Jesus. He was in a Gentile region. Somehow a Gentile woman had heard of him, and she begged him to heal her daughter. At first blush his response seems curt, blunt and rude. “Let the children be fed first”, he says, “for it is not fair to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs”. It’s clear who the children are - they are Jesus’ fellow Israelites. And the dogs are the Gentiles.
Jesus met his match in this woman in this quick witted woman. “Sir”, she answered, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”.
I suggest that Jesus was not in fact being so harsh to the woman. I believe that he is drawing out from her something she already knew. He baits her with words about dogs, so that she can rise to that bait, and give him an answer which surely made him smile.
If the food represents the grace and mercy of God, then this woman already knew that grace and mercy is extended to all people, including Gentile women. And the deeper miracle for the deaf man in the other story from Mark was that he was able to hear about that marvelous grace and mercy.
Jesus’ encounter with the woman is a good model for what we call evangelism.
When we speak about our faith to others it should not be to prove that we know everything and they know nothing.
Nor should it be to prove that they are wrong and we are right.
Rather, evangelism is to draw out from the other person what they already know to be true.
Having coached them in that manner, we then become joyful cheerleaders as we affirm that faith they already have.
St. James coaches us all this morning. He asks us to examine the ways in which we as a Christian congregation make distinctions about people, distinctions which are based on our own inherent prejudices - yes indeed you and I tend to want to hang around with people who are just like us.
Many years ago a married couple with two young children came to St. Stephen’s Parish in Pittsfield where I was Rector. They arrived a little late, and entering via the parish hall they came in to the Sanctuary at the front by the Altar. They were splendidly and elegantly dressed, and they paused for a moment, surveying the congregation, as it were.
After service a cheer-leading parishioner approached me and said “Did you see that wonderful couple and their lovely children. We’ll have to make sure that they join us”. That was the moment for me to engage in a little gentle coaching”. “Jim”, I said, “would you have made the same comment had they been shabbily dressed?”
My mind was on the passage from James we read this morning. My parishioner was sufficiently savvy and self-secure to respond positively to my coaching. My words were intended to loose his ears to what the scriptures teach.
In evangelism, Scripture calls us to have a different prejudice - one which is rooted in the grace and mercy of God for all people, rich or poor.
I need coaching, and I need to be a cheerleader. But for this to happen I need to be healed of religious deafness, so that I can have compassionate hearing.
This most often happens as I work with the poor at Resurrection House. They are not my kind of people. But they teach me.
Last week at our prayer service a woman spoke. She was probably in her sixties. Her face was worn and sad. Her expression was earnest.
She talked about flip-flops.She told us that many years ago she had a house in which to live, but she had very little money. Her only foot-wear was a pair of flip-flops. Lord, how she hated those inadequate flip-flops.
She went on to tell us of her amazement that in these days “everyone” wears flip-flops. Why, she wondered, would folks choose to wear the foot-wear which to her was a sign and reminder of poverty?
She added that “everyone looks at your shoes to judge who you are”. Then she told us that although she is now homeless she always tries to wear good shoes. I "heard her".
The Prayer service always takes place on Wednesday mornings.
Like “Bubba” in my opening story, my "hearing" is also on next Wednesday.