Jesus Was No Substitute. God Loves Us ALL.
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
August 20, 2017
Scriptures: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 and Matthew 15:21-28
††††††††† This story of Jesus with the Canaanite woman always seemed harsh to me. We hear words coming out of Jesusí mouth that donít seem very loving at all, but in the end, he does help her child and he credits her faith as what moved him. This impression has been helpful to some people over the years and caused spiritual harm to others. If a parent prays fervently and their child gets better, then God must love them, but if a parent prays for their sick child and the child still succumbs, does that mean that their faith wasnít strong enough? Does that mean that God did not care about their child, or simply wasnít listening because they werenít, somehow, good enough, holy enough, or of the right nationality?
††††††††† As you can see, the interpretation of scripture can get very tricky. It can have far ranging impact on billions of people. It impacts our understanding of who God is, how God works, and who Jesus came to save. It affects our relationships with other people and how we are with our neighbors across the country and across the globe.
††††††††† Each of us needs to learn to be a theologian, to think theologically, that we might grow a mature faith that is able to handle the inconsistencies of life, the fact that evil and injustice still exist, and know how we are to live in this troubled world. My seminary ethics professor, Dr. Steve Long, once said, ďThe ability to be a theologian is the ability to speak and see the world differently Ė to say how God intends us to live.Ē
††††††††† We cannot just let the varieties of churches dictate to us what to believe and how to live. There have been so many church splits over so many differences of interpretation and understandings of how God works and who is welcome at the table and how we should live, that we donít do our soul any favors by just going along with the crowd because we like their coffee or because they were friendly. It is good to think about the nature of God and the nature of salvation. We need a clear understanding to help us weather the crisis times of life and be able to say what we believe, or donít believe, when push comes to shove. Our faith needs to inform who we are and how we choose to live. Itís not some add-on, done one day a week in order to make us look respectable.
††††††††† There are many schools of thought, for instance, as to how our sins are atoned, or how we came to be saved by Jesusí work on the cross. Methodists follow John Wesleyís theology Ė a theology of grace, rather than a theology of punishment. We donít believe that Jesus was sent to earth by God as a plan B because humans had become so sinful and couldnít abide by the Law of Moses. We donít believe Jesus came just to die for our sins, as if sent by a vengeful, angry God.
We donít believe Jesus came to change Godís mind about us, but that he was changing our minds about God. Jesus revealed to us the true, loving nature of God. Because Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, we now had someone we could relate to. Jesus helps us see beyond the Law and into the heart of God.
Jesus didnít heal the Canaanite womanís child just because of her faith. He healed the child because he wanted to, out of love and grace, not out of obligation or duty. In the seemingly harsh words we can see Matthewís interpretation of this event Ė an interpretation influenced by his own biases and limited understanding.
Jesus had gone out of the Jewish territory intentionally. Some believe it was just to get a break from the crowds of Jewish people, so he could prepare his disciples for what was coming in Jerusalem. All we know is that this Jewish teacher, this Son of God, went where other Jews didnít go because of ancient hatreds and animosities, and he healed the child of a person they wouldnít have even spoken to. He didnít let nationalistic or religious boundaries stop him. Jesus offered help to a worried parent, and noted that this Gentile had faith in the Lord. She and the Centurion Ė both Gentiles, signal to the world that Jesus came, not just for some, but for all. Jesus came, not just to the House of David, but to all humanity, offering grace and peace to a hurting, violent world.
This is still true today. Jesus offers salvation, not because we deserve it, but because God has never stopped loving Godís creation and calling it good. God continuously sheds grace on all people, inviting them to respond in faith. Our attraction to God in Christ Jesus is a gift, freely given to us by God. To accept Jesus as Godís Son is to say yes to Godís love. To love Jesus is to love God, and into this mix comes the power of the Holy Spirit Ė that other part of the Trinity Ė helping us to see God at work in our lives, helping us heal from the brokenness of sinís effect on us and to grow stronger in faith so that we live life differently.
Will we be perfect at this? Probably not, but with Godís help we can move in the direction God hopes we will and find our lives to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit Ė that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Armed with these attributes we need not be afraid to encounter the one who is different than ourselves, or to take a stand against evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves, as we have vowed. As we take that stand, though, we are reminded not to become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other. We are to restore one another with a spirit of gentleness as we carry each otherís burdens. (Galatians 5:26-6:2)
History is real and has lasting effects that must be acknowledged. Living in the present as if we can disregard history is a mistake. We will be doomed to making the same mistakes over and over again. Learning from history and living into the future with that knowledge in mind will guide us to a healthier place; a place of grace and peace.
As God offers saving grace to all, we are invited to live with open hearts and open minds, listening to the Spirit and following Jesusí way of being in the world Ė connecting with the stranger, bringing healing and hope. God help us. Amen.