The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Watch the sermon here.

Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

 

Earlier in the week when I read today’s first reading from the Isaiah 35: 4-7a, I found myself recalling how many of us sometimes characterize the world views of others, or of ourselves, in terms of: “That person sees the world/or particular situations as either  – ‘the Glass is half-full,’ or ‘the Glass is half-empty.’  I would note I grew up in a home where my Father – a serious depressive saw: “The Glass is broken and is leaking rapidly.”

 

The words we heard from Isaiah this morning were the Prophet’s response to a time when the people of Israel were not just in a “The Glass is half-full mood, “but indeed, they were in a “The Glass is virtually empty mood ,“after years of painful and frustrating  journeying in the wilderness on the way to the as yet totally elusive Promised Land.”

 

The Prophets words in this passage are clearly intended to restore and strengthen the Israelites hope and expectation that they were indeed on the Way to the Promised Land and that what awaited them is described in these terms:

“Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with a vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

“Then the lame shall leap like a deer. And the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert;

“The burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” (Isaiah 35: 4-7a.)

The spirit of the Israelites was strengthened, and yet again they would journey forward on their way to the Promised Land, alas with yet many more difficult challenges along the way.

 

The Reading from Second Chapter of the Letter of James is eloquent and inspiring, yet fraught with James’ emphasis on the importance of both faith and works in the Christian life. This has represented a challenge to those, like many Calvinists, who believe in: “Salvation by Faith Alone.” At times in church history there were doubts whether the Letter of James even belonged in the Biblical Canon.

 

There is much we do not know about the Letter of James including: which of several early Christians named James wrote this letter; to which Church it was initially addressed, and when was it written.

The passage we read today from the Letter of James is largely concerned with acts and attitudes of favoritism for the rich and neglect towards the poor which were apparently present in the particular Church to which James wrote, but the issue is a recurring theme in many churches down through the centuries. In researching the lections for this sermon, I learned that the sin of showing favoritism in the Church has a name: “PROSOLEPIA.” We might pause for a moment to allow each of us to reflect on to what extent some of us may need to confess this sin or amend our ways.

 

The passage suggests that some members of that Church clearly and regularly showed a strong attraction to rich people, and a neglect or even aversion to welcoming the poor, including them in church life, or seeing that their needs for food and housing were positively addressed. I would note that the Order of Deacons in the Early Church originated in large measure to facilitate ministry and service to the poor.

 

Today’s reading from the Seventh Chapter of Mark’s Gospel is a striking and somewhat controversial account of two occasions when Jesus interacted with Gentiles and the healings which ensued. A very similar account is also found in Matthew’s Gospel.

 

Jesus and his disciples were journeying through the region of Tyre, probably somewhere in present day Lebanon. Jesus had only recently been scolded by some Pharisees for incomplete compliance with Jewish purity laws.

Jesus was approached by a Syrophoenician woman whose little daughter was very sick at home due to an unclean spirit.

 

The woman approached him and asked to have her child healed. Jesus resisted the interaction and then finely responded in a clearly rude way. He suggests that healing a non-Jewish child would be like feeding the dogs instead of the children. Countless sermons have asked why Jesus took this tone. Was he having a bad day? Did he really disdain non-Jewish children so much?

 

But the mother comes back at him with the comment: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” He then says: “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed and the demon was gone.

 

The Seventh Chapter of Mark’s Gospel ends with a story set in the region of the Decapolis A deaf man with a speech impediment is brought to Jesus, It is not clear, but the man probably was a Gentile. Jesus took the man aside privately and put his fingers in the man’s ears and he spat and touched the man’s tongue. Then looking up to heaven, Jesus said to him, Ephphatha, which means “Be opened.” The man then recovered his hearing and his speech – which was quite a miracle.

 

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