From Isaiah to the Psalms, to Paulâs letter to the Romans, and in Matthewâs Gospel we hear the offering of mercy to Godâs children.
John Wesley, always an Anglican, whose evangelical preaching led to the founding of the Methodist Church, emphasized that Christians should show their actions in word and deed. He was emphatic that believers needed to experience the mercy of Godâthe forgiveness of their sins, the healing of their bodies, and of their minds and spiritsâas they were building their faithfulness. Wesley believed that Christians are on a journey of growing in Godâs grace. Our lessons echo for us that same journey of faith building: our faith in God and the love for Christ Jesus.
The Isaiah lesson is the beginning of what is known as the âthird Isaiah.â In it the Lord challenges his listeners to âmaintain justice, to do what is right.â The Lord went on to say, âsoon my salvation will come, I will bring (some) to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer.â We are called to be vessels of Godâs justice. We are called to feel the struggles that cause conflict; to sense the need of reconciliation between those who have wronged each other. As people of faith we need the vision to understand the Lord when we hear him in the depths of our soul saying, âdo what is right.â
The Psalmist says, âMay God be merciful to us and bless usâ: A beautiful Psalm from the heart of David. It is a song of praise, an expression of great joy, a prayer of thanksgiving. The worst sinner and the best saint can merit Godâs merciful blessing. The church universal begs for a blessing from God. Bless us, we pray in our quest for acceptance. When we bless God our words do little, but when God blesses us he enriches our lives, he fills our hearts with compassion for others; he opens us to see the goodness to which we had been blinded. The Psalmist, in closing, asks that âGod give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.â
In the Scripture from Romans just preceding todayâs reading, Paul is frustrated because the Jews have failed to recognize the Messiah. In our lesson he changes course. âNow I am speaking to you Gentiles,â says Paul. He is even bold enough to give himself a title, âapostle to the Gentiles.â Paul is not bashful about his zeal for Jesus! He chides the Gentiles about being presumptuous because they have accepted Christ and the Israelites have not. As a Jew, but one who sees Jesus as his Messiah, Paul says, I glory in my ministry âin order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them.â Israelâs rejection of the Gospel, as Paul declares it, has led to the reconciliation of the Gentiles and beyond them to the whole world, as they knew it. Paul sees the acceptance of Jesus through baptism as the reality of finding new life after death: they die with Christ but rise again with him.
Paul finds that the disobedience to God the Gentiles earlier declared, and the disbelief of the Jews, are changed through the mercy and calling of God. God through Godâs grace, touches the hearts of those who rebel and battle against God. God can do the same for us when we lose sight of Godâs call. Jacob Krieger wrote a wonderful contemporary song that has as its first line, âI heard the Lord call my name, listen close youâll hear the same.â Indeed we will! God is always there; but do we have listening ears?
The poor Canaanite woman! Sheâs an outcast, not only from the Jews, but even from the Gentiles. At first, even Jesus resists her boldness. This little quirk of Scripture shows even the humanness of Jesus. Was he tired from moving from city to city and did not want to be bothered? Did he have more important things on his mind like knowing the agony of death he would soon face? Who knows, but him.
All the Canaanite woman was asking was to receive âthe gifts of God for the people of God.â She persisted and at last Jesus praises her for her great faith and heals her daughter. The dialogue between the woman and Jesus reflects our own self-inflicted spiritual dialogue when we jump ahead of what Godâs Holy Spirit often says to us. We need to have ears that hear, not ears that itch! Jesus said to her âI was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.â But ignoring his remarks she says, âLord help me?â After Jesus comments about throwing food to the dogs, the determined woman challenges him once again. Then Jesus answers her, âWoman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.â Scripture says, âand her daughter was healed immediately.â
Why is it that the poor and the outcast are so often the ones who recognize Jesus? The vast majority of our ancestorsâslaves or freeâthat landed on the shores of an uncertain land, were either poor or outcasts, yet they brought with them a personal faith. They sensed the grace of God that guided them across stormy seas and gave them stamina to withstand the brutality of chains and unruly ship captains. It has been said that, âIf they had less to lose in the eyes of others, then Jesusâ message of acceptance was a welcome mat for hope in the future.â The Canaanite women would not accept the idea that Jesus was only sent for certain people. Her faith melted that barrier. It calls all of us to receive what Jesus has to offer. Our collect for today says, âGive us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life.â His redeeming work is poured out for the likes of us: warts and all.
The Sunday before this homily was written, the Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church in St. Louis, began closing more than 20 parishes because of the lack of priests and the changes in demographics of where parishioners lived. In St. Boniface parish the priest placed a small clay pot with one white flower in it on the altar rail. As he concluded reminiscing on the life of the 140-year-old congregation, he picked up the potted flower, followed a crucifer down the center aisle to the church doors, and made the sign of the cross, before he slammed the pot to the floor as an overflow crowd looked in astonishment. The priest then scooped up the sod, placed it in another pot with the little white flower, handed it to a small girl and said, âFollow her and the flower she carries. They reflect the life of this parish. It is still alive! God is a healer and He will heal your hurt that you feel today, the anger that you carry and the uncertainty that has anchored your faith through generations in this place.â The standing room only communicants for the last time met at the Lordâs table, broke bread, and fed each in his name. To the people of this parish their pain was every bit as much as the Canaanite womanâs pain. Yet, they will be healed as God calls them to new ministries.
Many of our Episcopal congregations are struggling for a variety of reasons. Change is difficult. Theology, social issues, economics, and demographics haunt our parishes. We must not lose sight of what Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy regarding the need to be in the presence of Christ Jesus, âproclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourageâ¦do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.â (2 Timothy 4:1-2, 8) We need to steady the course, to look outside the front doors of our parishes and see the people who do not have a church homeâor may never have been introduced to Jesusâand invite them in. Be a good neighbor: share the faith. We are the seeds of that faith. God will provide the richness of Godâs Holy Spirit to guide us if we but show our actions in word and deed.
When we are in need of Godâs grace, cry out to God! Listen close. God will call your name. Be ready to respond. Be prepared for a miracle. Remember to meet Jesus at the altar and to feel the presence of being in a house of prayer for all peoplesâ¦the Jew, the Gentile, the Canaanite woman, and you and me. Take âthe gifts of God for the people of God.â Touch lives with the mercy given by God.
His mercy is great! May the Lord bless you with his grace this day and forever! Amen