Standing In The Shadow

Pentecost 11A   Matthew 15:10-28eclipestages

Around this time tomorrow, people in this area and in a wide strip across our nation will be gathering together to look up. We will have a chance to see a wonderful and probably once in a lifetime sight: a true total eclipse of the sun. The moon, following its ancient, primeval dance across the sky will slowly glide across the sun. And the sun, for his part, likely will not notice at all and will continue blazing on fiercely, doing his job as small part of the glimmering milky way, shimmering in the velvety blackness of space. From our perspective, the shadow of the moon will make her way across the land, revealing briefly the pearly sweeping corona flaring out around the spot where the sun used to be that we are normally too blinded by brightness to see.

For a moment, we will see the clockwork of the universe. God’s ancient plan of gears and laws set into motion eons ago, ever moving, ever changing, marking time for us and in this tiny little completely natural miracle, we can see the precision and majesty of creation.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine sent me an article she had read about the upcoming eclipse. The story in the article was meant to make the reader anxious and afraid. It said that the nation upon which a total eclipse fell was being sent a message from God. They insisted that the shadow of the moon was meant to make us afraid of God and make us repent. The person who sent me this article was mostly just curious about it, but since that time, I’ve had several conversations with people about this very thing. The people who have been preaching this fearful idea claim that God wishes to punish us for an assortment of reasons.

Now, if someone told me that God was warning us to repent and return to the practices of loving our neighbor, loving our enemy and loving as Jesus loved us, I might almost want to get behind that. That’s not what they were saying, but I might consider supporting the idea that God is telling us we should stop hating one another, stop killing one another, stop committing violent acts against women and children and the vulnerable, to cease hateful and cruel treatment of those who are different from us and to instead do as the prophet Isaiah teaches us: loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, share our bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into our house, remove the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.

But God does not need the moon to proclaim all of that to us. God came and walked among us to do that very thing. God has given us scripture to teach us these things. And God has given us our human community in which to practice these things and hold one another accountable to do so.

We do not need the shadow of the moon to see our own darkness.

Are there not enough warnings all around us in the clear light of the unshaded sun? Is not endless video footage of young men carrying torches and chanting Nazi refrains enough? Are not memorials and vigils for a young woman killed by a man so full of anger and self-righteous belief in the superiority of his whiteness he believed it was a good idea to plow his car into a crowd—is this not enough of a warning? Is not the memory of those who were murdered, simply because they were black and kind, inside their church by a young man who hoped for a race war—is this not enough of a warning?

Let us turn to Jesus’ life and teaching to find the light we and our broken world desperately need.

In our gospel text for today we see Jesus engaging with a woman who needs help for her daughter. This is an uncomfortable story to say the least because of Jesus’ words. Often, Jesus’ words are uncomfortable for us because they call us to do something we do not want to do. This text may also call us to do something we don’t want to do, but it does so in an unusual way.

The woman who comes to ask Jesus for help is not a Jew. That’s not too unusual when we see the whole of the gospel story, but at this point in Jesus’ ministry it might have been. The disciples are trying to shoo her away. There may have been several reasons for not wanting her around but one likely reason is because she is a Canaanite. Her people and the Hebrews had a long history of animosity and violence. It was complicated and, like any cultural or racial divide we might see even today, it was not a simple thing to untangle and fix.

The Canaanite woman begs Jesus for help to heal her daughter. What happens next is the uncomfortable part. Jesus will not heal her daughter. He tells her he’s there for the Jews and it isn’t good to throw the children’s food to the dogs. “Dogs” means her and her people. Ouch! We know we aren’t supposed to talk to people like that! People aren’t dogs! But that line is not the end of the story and it is not the lesson to be learned. That line is not where the gospel is found.

This woman is not deterred. Her people were not followers of Yahweh but she knows this man can do something to help her daughter and she’s not going to let it end here. She stands her ground with this rabbi and she speaks truth to the power standing before her. Even the dogs get scraps. Immediately, Jesus responds to her “Woman great is your faith! Let it be done.”

That’s the gospel. Divine power listens. God listens.

If we are to be like Jesus in this world, if we are to be proclaimers of the Gospel, then we must listen and we must be willing to change based on what we learn. If Jesus himself was willing to change his ministry when faced with something that challenged thousands of years of human ancestry, then we must be willing to listen to one another even when it challenges what we think we know about other people. Even if it challenges our entire world view. If Jesus can overturn countless generations of culturally and ethnically based hierarchy and prejudice and acknowledges the inclusion of those defined as enemies into the kingdom of God, then we can begin to do the same kind of listening, changing and including.

We do not need the shadow of the moon to see our own darkness. Jesus holds up a mirror and calls us to see it in ourselves, face it and change. The line between good and evil does not divide one group from another so that we can look at them and see how THEY are racist or sinful or how THEY are hurting others and WE are the good ones over here, outside of the shadow. We cannot cast out THOSE PEOPLE. The line between good and evil runs through the heart of every person.

As we stand together tomorrow in the shadow of the moon, as her shade slides across our faces, our homes, our nation, and we spend a brief time standing together in the dark, listening to the silent stars singing praises to God, may we accept the courage that God gives us to speak truth to power as the Canaanite woman did, even when that power is our own prejudice and distorted ideas. May we receive the grace of God to see the darkness, even in ourselves, we would rather pretend is not there, accept God’s gracious mercy and guidance to expand our minds and hearts, and step, all of us together, into the light.

 

Please note, this is nothing like a fair or full treatment of this Gospel text. It is complicated and I would actually prefer to teach it rather than preach on it because it truly requires dialog. My usage of it here does not constitute the fullness of its meaning in any way. For an interesting and thought provoking discussion of the day’s texts, here is something to read.

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