McFarland

11th Sunday of Pentecost August 16, 2020

Readings

First Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Psalm 67
Second Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28

Prayer of the Day:
God of all peoples, your arms reach out to embrace all those who call upon you. Teach us as disciples of your Son to love the world with compassion and constancy, that your name may be known throughout the earth, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

Lord of All Nations, Grant Me Grace (ELW #716)

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (ELW #858)

Healer of Our Every Ill (ELW #612)

We’ve Come This Far by Faith (ELW #633)

House of Prayer (Eddie James)

Reflection on Matthew 15:21-28

by Pastor Tim Dean

Expansive Inclusiveness

I hope you have been enjoying the beautiful summer days this week. Getting outside and breathing fresh air can renew one’s heart and mind.

My daughter and I were out on a walk on Tuesday, and I noticed the deep blue sky. It was the day after stormy weather, so maybe that’s why the clear sky jumped out at me.

The deep blue sky was expansive. It seemed to go on forever, as it stretched from horizon to horizon, with no clouds. It was stunning!

God’s love is expansive, like a deep blue summer sky.

The prophet Isaiah, in our first reading, casts a vision of God’s expansive, and expanding, love.

Chapter 56 is part of what is sometimes called 3rd Isaiah. It is from a time after exile in Babylon. God had freed the Israelites from about 60 years of captivity, and brought the remnant back home to Jerusalem.

Now the task for the community was rebuilding Jerusalem, which had been decimated by the Babylonians. The temple needed to be rebuilt, and the worshipping community restored.

But in this rebuilding process, conflict arose. Who would be included? What would be the boundaries for participation in this rebuilt community and temple?

Some voices argued for a narrow definition of God’s community. They pointed to laws in Leviticus (21:18-21) that prevented eunuchs from participating in community worship. They pointed to verses in Deuteronomy (23:1-3) which denied access to foreigners, non-Israelites.

At this moment of rebuilding, maybe there were some good reasons for the narrow focus. The community in Jerusalem was small and vulnerable, and needed time to solidify. Strict boundaries might protect the faith community.

However, Isaiah proclaims a different approach.

The prophet shares God’s promise that the covenant is expansive and inclusive—not exclusive. Those who were foreigners, outsiders, those considered blemished and kept at a distance, Isaiah now says that God brings them to God’s holy mountain and gives them joy (56:7). God has brought enslaved Israelites home, and now God brings the outcast into the same house of prayer (56:8).

One scholar points out that Isaiah’s vision for marginalized groups is not a “token nod to diversity. Their envisioned participation in the worshipping community is full and robust.” (J. Blake Couey, workingpreacher.org, 8-16-20)

Expansive is the word. A house of prayer for all people. Just as God has freed Israel and gathered them back to Jerusalem, God gathers those who have been marginalized because of their background or body shape or their wounds—God brings them into the house of prayer to fully participate and live as God’s beloved children.

Isaiah’s vision has a strong connection to our Gospel reading. Matthew’s community—about 600 years later—was also going through tremendous conflict and change. The question was, “Is God leading our community to welcome Gentiles?”

Jesus responds harshly to a woman from Canaan, the region north of historic Israel. When she pleads with him to heal her daughter, he ignores her, and speaks harshly to her—even using an insult.

To Israelites, she is a foreigner. And Jesus says that he has come only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24).

But the woman courageously persists. She reaches beyond the rigid lines separating Israelite/Gentile and man/woman, and begs Jesus for help.

And Jesus changes his mind. Pause with that: he changes his mind. Jesus’ mission is expanded, as he declares that she has “great faith” (15:28).

Could it be that this Canaanite woman’s bold faith has helped Matthew’s community of Jesus’ followers expand their mission in a new way?

Isaiah’s vision of a house for all people, and Jesus’ encounter with the daring faith of a Gentile woman, remind us that our God is an inclusive God. God’s love expands, not contracts. God’s love reaches those marginalized because of gender, orientation, nationality or skin color, and makes all of us full children of God.

We need this good news, dear friends.

Many have compared this time of Covid and physical separation as a time of exile like the Israelites taken in chains to Babylon. We need this word of inclusivity to remind us that there are no boundaries to God’s love. Especially when it’s not safe to be physically close, we need this reminder that God’s love expands toward us as we experience grief, loneliness and uncertainty.

Moreover, we need this vision of God’s inclusivity as we look ahead to the future for our worship and faith community, to a time when we can safely rebuild our communal ties and mission.

How can our faith community become more diverse and welcoming? How can we better encourage and model full participation in worship and our ministries? How can we grow in God’s vision for us to be a community of prayer for all people?

I am greatly encouraged by the conversations Pastor Kelli and I have had the last couple weeks on racism and white privilege.

Sorry, no, we haven’t solved racism in 2 Zoom talks!

But I am encouraged by the openness for many to talk honestly and thoughtfully about the challenging issues involving systemic racism. I am heartened by the vulnerability and desire to seek meaningful change. Many in our community want to continue to learn about how structural racism affects all of us, and the inequalities we see between white communities and communities of color.

We are planning more opportunities in the fall for learning about racism, reflection and engagement in deeper conversations about our mission as MLC.

For me, the guiding principle is God’s expansive, inclusive love. No matter our backgrounds, our nationalities, our ethnic roots, our political persuasions—we are all children of God.

Theologian and pastor Luke Powery says it eloquently, “Natives and foreigners are brothers and sisters, children of the same God who gathers us all to be at home in the house of God.” (Luke Powery, Christian Century, 8-18-17)

Isaiah’s vision of all really does mean all—full participants, completely valued and loved, created equally, diverse gifts shared for the purpose of God’s continuing outreach.

God’s love is expansive and endless—like the blue sky of a summer day.

May we see this vision, be empowered by it, and strive to live according to it!  Amen.

Let Us Pray

God of inclusive, expansive love, thank you for welcoming us in your house of prayer for all people. Help us to find new ways to welcome those different from us, as you have welcomed us. Expand our ministries to share your healing grace with all your children who are marginalized and oppressed by inequality and injustice. Fill those who are ill and lonely with strength and hope. Thank you for the expansive promise of your love in Christ, our rock and salvation. Amen.