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August 17, 2014. In this sermon, Pastor Penny compares the story of Jesus healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter with the situation in Ferguson, MO following the shooting there of Michael Brown, and suggests ways we might overcome the violence by individually reaching out and getting to know people.


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We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


The woman shouldn’t have come out of the shadows. She shouldn’t have tried to cross that invisible line of prejudice. She was a Canaanite woman. Canaanites had been cursed by the Jews from the time of Noah. She had the wrong culture, the wrong gods, and she was a woman. Women should not begin a conversation with a man they don’t know — certainly not with a Jew if she was a Canaanite. But you see, this woman had a daughter, a daughter she loved, who some time in her life had been imprisoned by a demon who made her violent toward herself and toward others so people feared her and hated this daughter, and who gave her horrible fits. And in the middle of one of these convulsions she often locked eyes with her mother, and her mother could see the fear in her daughter’s eyes and could see that question, “Mommy, why can’t you help me?”


And so when this Canaanite woman heard about this healer Jesus coming, she could not stop herself. She stepped out of the shadows and she began shouting again and again, “Have mercy on me Lord, son of David, because my daughter is being tormented.” And then Jesus did nothing. But his disciples said, send her away, she’s not one of us. She’s not our problem. Jesus didn’t do that, but he refused to help her. He said, it’s not in my job description. I’ve been sent here to help the the Israelites. Not people like you. But this woman had such a love for her daughter, such a desire to have a healing touch for her daughter, that she further humbled herself by getting down on her knees in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, help me.” And then Jesus so uncharacteristically insults her. He said, it is not fair. It is not just. It is not morally right for me to take the bread from the children of Israel and throw it to dogs. Now in Jesus’ day, to call someone a dog was a terrible insult. In Greek you can see he softens it a little — he calls her a puppy. But nevertheless, here’s this woman needing help at the feet of Jesus, and it seems that because of this separation between Jews and Canaanites she is not being helped. Did Jesus’ compassion end with that ethnic group? Now there have been many things written about why Jesus acted the way he did. Some say well, he was testing her faith or testing the disciples’ faith. Some say no, he really thought that God only wanted him to give help at this time apparently to the Jews. But whatever the reason, here is a woman who, because of this ethnic difference, is refused help.


I don’t think it’s too hard to compare the situation of the Canaanite woman with what has been going on in Ferguson. Because I believe that the shooting of Michael Brown, and the violence that followed, is a result of the fact that we are separated from each other. And some of us have separated ourselves from those who look different or have a different socioeconomic background. “White flight” has left areas of St. Louis City and County without a tax base, without good schools, without jobs. It’s not surprising that those areas have crime. And of course the media is very happy to show us that crime again and again. But I believe that what’s happening, the crime and the violence that we see, is because we don’t have a knowledge of people who look different or have a different background than we. We go on those stereotypes that we are given in the media — on both sides, I think, of the color line. And those stereotypes do nothing but incite fear. And fear incites violence.


We don’t know each other. There’s an area in Chicago that apparently has so much crime they call it Chiraq: “Chicago” and “Iraq.” So many murders. There was an editorial by some fifth graders from Chiraq in the Chicago Tribune a few weeks ago, and they were taking the media to task for swooping in every time there’s a murder, covering it, and swooping out and never getting to know the people. And so their essay is called “You Don’t Really Know Us,” and I’ll read a few excerpts. “We want you to know us. We know that man on the corner. He works at the store and gives us free Lemonheads. The people in the suits are not people going to funerals. They’re going to church. If you listen, you’ll hear the laughter and chattering coming from the group of girls on the corner who are best friends, and who really care about each other. Do you see the smile on the cashier’s face as kids walk in the store? Why? Because this neighborhood is filled with love. This isn’t Chiraq. This is home. This is us.”


If we don’t know each other, I think it spawns fear. And that spawns violence. By the grace of God, in the story that we heard about Jesus, this Canaanite woman is able to bridge the gap between the Canaanites and the Jews by her humility. She does it as she’s kneeling before Jesus. And she catches that insult he throws, but she uses it. She says yeah, I am a dog. I’m not powerful. I’m not that important. I make lots of mistakes. But even dogs get the crumbs that fall from the children’s table. By the grace of God, she had so much faith — even this non-believer — that she believed God’s compassion extended to her. By the grace of God she believed that Jesus not only had enough power to help her, but wanted to. And of course from that point on everything changes in the story. We see the Jesus we knew we would see. He is overwhelmed by her faith. And in the Greek (you can read it in the Greek, it’s even clearer) he says, “Oh woman, your faith is so strong, may it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.


I think the only way we are going to overcome the violence that we have seen in Ferguson, that can pop up anywhere and that does everywhere across the country, is if we get to know people who are different from us. I think our congregation is on the right track. The mission trip that the youth took was intended to help them see a way of life that they are not used to. The mission trip to the Native American reservation is intended to do the very same. But other things that have happened here: the working with the Epworth youth a week ago or so, going to Gateway 180 homeless shelter for VBS, helping with childcare at with Humanitree, clients who have been homeless. All these things that we do together are ways that we can bridge that gap, get to know people — really know them, not just what is said about them.


But I think when it finally comes down to it, the only way things are going to change is if we individually reach out. I mean, it might be as simple a thing as talking to someone at the store you don’t usually talk to, or befriending someone at school or at the office that you aren’t usually a friend with. One of you told about last week being on the Metrolink train that was stalled for an hour. And this was after the shooting of Michael Brown, and there were both African Americans and white people on that train and there was, as she said, a real obvious effort for people to be a little more polite to each other, a little kinder to each other.


I don’t really know what the answer to the violence is or how it’s going to be changed. But I know from today, and we know from Jesus’ life, he wouldn’t have walked by that woman. He was always going to help her some way or another, and he did. And I know why our hearts tell us to do the same, because we are like that Canaanite woman. Maybe more like her daughter. We daily turn to our Heavenly Father, sometimes with fear in our eyes, saying please help. Please help me through this. Please give me guidance. Please protect my family. Please help me with my finances, with my health. And Jesus, like the loving Canaanite mother, looks at us and has so much love for us, that he also humbled himself but to the point of death in order to heal us, and be able to tell us yes, God will always be with you.


I don’t think the killing of Michael Brown was an incident between one police officer and one young man. I think it is the result of years and years of injustice and hatred and misunderstanding. It’s part of a system. And we’re part of that. All of us. And now our great healer, our greatest friend, reaches to us and says, “I need your help.” Hold out a hand of healing. And I believe by the grace of God we are, and we will reach out that healing hand.




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2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Matthew 15:21-28, Mike Brown, Darren Wilson