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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: Chosen People
Date/time/service: Sunday 16th August 2020 Trinity 10 10am Zoom Eucharist
Passage of scripture: Matthew 15.21-28
I wonder how today’s gospel makes you feel? In the light of the present debate about race and racism it is disturbing to be reminded of a story where Jesus actively ignores a woman from a race that is not his own and then refers to her as a dog! You can guarantee that today’s ‘Woke’ fundamentalists would ‘cancel’ and ‘no platform’ Jesus, and demand that his Twitter account be suspended. I would not be surprised if they wouldn’t also demand that the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury make a heartfelt apology on behalf of Jesus for his appalling disrespect, rudeness and lack of political correctness over 2,000 years ago.
So why did Jesus initially respond in this dismissive way to this poor woman?
In order to make any sense of this we have to look back at Genesis 12.1-3
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
This marks the beginning of the concept of the descendants of Abraham being God’s Chosen People. This was refined more when, in the next chapter of Genesis, we are told that Abraham’s nephew, Lot, took his side of the family in a different direction becoming a separate nation. Of course Abraham’s offspring end up, after a few generations, being slaves in Egypt until the time that Moses leads them from slavery towards the Promised Land where they would be free. It could be said that the Old Testament is the story of God’s Chosen People as they succeed and fail, as they are obedient and disobedient, as they sometimes listen to God and sometimes ignore God.
We know the stories of God’s Chosen People well, but what we usually fail to acknowledge is that if a specific nation, or group of tribes, are God’s Chosen People, then all the other nations, all the other tribes, are not God’s Chosen People …….. in the context of Old Testament times that is just tough. In the context of today it looks a little like racism. The ‘Woke’ fundamentalists would call this ‘Chosen People supremacy’ or ‘Chosen People privilege’.
When Jesus says in the gospel today ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ He is referring to this history. From a Christian point of view, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is a point in history which changes everything, not least, what it means to be one of God’s Chosen People. The whole reason why this story is told by Matthew is not that it reinforces the old ways and old thinking about God’s Chosen People, but that it introduces the new ways, the new thinking about God’s Chosen People … The point of the story is that Jesus does respond to the woman and, despite the fact that she is not one of God’s Chosen People, he heals her daughter. The significance of this should not be underestimated. In fact, it could be said that this story is one of the seeds sown by Jesus that takes root and begins to grow noticeably when Paul says, in Galatians 3
‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’
This equality of all people under God is fundamental to Christianity and has become embedded in our understanding of the value and dignity of every human being and the establishment of the idea of human rights. Many would argue that humanity would always have evolved the idea of human rights but I think that there is a strong argument for saying that because Jesus broke the conventions of his day, spoke with foreigners, healed their children and made a hero of a Samaritan in one of his most famous stories – that the equality of all people today framed in law in many countries around the world, has it’s foundations in Christianity and, in particular, in events like the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter recorded in today’s gospel reading.
Of course, our idea of what it means to be one of God’s Chosen people has also evolved. As we heard earlier, God chose an individual, Abram as his chosen person and then all his descendants as the Chosen People. In John 15 Jesus says to his disciples ‘You did not choose me but I chose you.’ God still chooses individuals, but now there are no limits …. your family, nationality, tribe, ethnic background, gender, colour, sexual orientation ….. are all irrelevant. God is not in the business of creating an exclusive elite. God is in the business of creating an inclusive community of disciples who love their neighbours (and their enemies) and who love God. We know this to be true because of what Jesus did and what Jesus taught and in the way Paul understood and examined all that Jesus said and did in his writings. It is certainly true that the Church does not have a brilliant record of living up to this teaching over history and it is right that the Church is being questioned robustly about actually how inclusive it is even today …..
The important thing is that we are not trying to do anything new, all we are trying to do is to live the life Jesus called us to live and to develop the relationships with each other that Jesus calls us to develop.
As part of my reading for this sermon I discovered that in the summer of 2018 Our Lady’s Church in Acomb, here in York, made history by becoming the first Roman Catholic parish in Britain to sign up to an organisation called ‘Inclusive Church’. We know Fr Tony, the parish priest, here at the Minster, in fact he came to Canon Chris’ final Evening Service. On their website they include the Inclusive Church statement of belief,
“We believe in inclusive Church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”
Despite its uncomfortable beginning, there is a direct link between today’s gospel and this impressive statement of belief – thanks be to God.
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