Join us this Sunday as we focus on Matthew 15: 10-11, 21-28. Rev. Scott will be speaking on the topic: “Surprised by Compassion.” Scripture will be read by Betty Nobel and musical leadership is supplied by Dan Hearty, and The Lyric Singers. We hope you will join in and worship via the website, YouTube Channel, or the 'Zoom Worship Gathering.'
“Surprised by Compassion”
Matthew 15: 10-11,21-28 ~ August 8, 2021 ~ Northwood United Church ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Surprise…this sermon is going to all about surprises. Let’s see how many you can spot…OK? The most obvious surprise that you have likely spotted is one that commenced almost 1 ½ years ago. Covid changed the way we have ‘been the church’ in surprising new ways. Online worship, connecting electronically through zoom, chatting on the telephone and receiving sermon mailings have been the ‘new way’ we have needed to adapt and be the church. Surprise Northwood!...we needed to adapt the way we offered our varied ministries more over this period than at any other time in its history. This surprise has been a deep challenge for many of us who increasingly have felt distant and separated from their church and many other groups that are important to them. This has been a surprising and a challenging time.
But we still remember the church…don’t we? I do! Sunday gatherings were a time where the Spirit showed up in surprising ways! You would sit right there…it was a gathering of ‘family’ and families who want to be together! Sunday worship was always something which surprisingly touched one’s heart and would function to carry us through the week. What surprised you at Northwood? A favourite hymn…our angelic choir touching your soul…a time of silence when you felt the Spirit move…words from our children during the Children’s time…words from scripture that you carried into your week. And each week ~ in and out we were each surprised by the Spirit touching our lives. Of course, church is more than just a Sunday morning! And through the year, many varied events would delight and surprise: the Fall Fair, the Advent Dinner, Christmas Eve, Sunrise Easter…study groups…fellowship time…outreach ministries…where did the Spirit show up and surprise? 1 ½ years later, what do you miss most? Who do you miss?
Right now, our Board is beginning conversations on what returning to a ‘new normal’ might look like in the future. We will meet next week, and I will be able to report back next Sunday with further information on a guiding plan as we consider what the next chapter might look like. Now, what might…or might not surprise you is that there are a wide range of hopes, opinions and desires on how these next steps should look. There will be opinions that our Board have waited too long and there will be others who feel that this discussion is premature as we read of the possibility of a 4th wave fueled by the Delta Variant. You might be surprised to hear that some hold fear, concern for personal safety out for consideration. Or you might be surprised to hear that many are craving this opportunity to be with church family…to see one another’s face…to see their church…and hear their songs and their faith story in their spiritual home. It may, or may not, be surprising…but there is a wide range of fears, opinions and concerns in many as we cautiously discern what our next faithful steps will be.
The biblical story before us, at least on the surface, will not seem surprising. It highlights the polarity that exists between two groups claiming superiority over the other. Canaanite and Hebrew…the differences had come to matter so much over the years. Their ancestry, the land they occupied, their dietary practices held…all became increasingly important over the years. They hated one another; called one another names. Yet, there was a surprise to be found. It was found in the Canaanite woman’s actions. She braved the differences and came to Jesus who was known afar as a great healer. Not just a healer for his own people. But rather a healer teaching that God’s healing presence transcends any human boundaries that had ever been constructed or considered. The Canaanite woman brings her ill daughter to this foreign healer asking for grace, mercy and healing.
It will not be surprising that Jesus’ disciples act less like welcoming greeters and more like ‘nightclub bouncers’ as they try to keep the foreigners away from Jesus. Yet weren’t you surprised at Jesus’ actions which occur next? Somehow, the woman and her daughter break past Jesus’ disciples and proceed to appeal to him directly: “please…Jesus… please heal my daughter.” The surprise occurs when we meet a curious side of Jesus who proceeds to insult the Canaanites…calling them “dogs”? (the derogatory term used by Hebrew people for Canaanites). And weren’t you surprised again when you see Jesus deny the mother’s request for healing…saying he has come (only) for the Children of Israel. I think we all are surprised because this is not the divine / angelic / grace-filled side of Jesus we expect. I think we are both surprised, and (if we are honest) somewhat comforted, because we see a human side of Jesus that might be a little more like the parts of us (parts that we don’t like all that much). When you hear Jesus utter these rude comments…when we hear Jesus exclude the Canaanite woman, we are truly surprised because this reveals the human side of Jesus. And it serves to connect us even more fully with him.
One theologian refers this moment as “when Jesus gets caught with his compassionate pants down”. This had been the moment when we met the human Jesus who plays favourites, who was rude to ‘the outsider’. We meet the human Jesus. And in our humanity, we are more fully able to connect with him than ever before. The surprise to us comes when Jesus’ mind is changed. To the woman who he just called “a dog”; to the family who he had denied healing based on their cultural differences, we see Jesus’ shift. The woman begs for Jesus’ mercy and healing and she receives it! Jesus changes his direction and heals the little girl.
And…you see, I have a theory that Jesus planned this surprise. He intended to surprise us here…to draw us in and transform us with a compassionate surprise. One moment, we feel comforted that Jesus is human like us; at that moment we let our guard down feeling that our way is the right way. And the big surprise occurs when we see Jesus confronted change his way and offer compassionate healing, compassionate understanding, compassionate mercy. The opening few verses in this reading are what tip us off to Jesus’ teaching wisdom that will surprisingly ensue: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but rather what comes out”. We read that before Matthew introduces the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, he highlights Jesus’ teaching on dietary laws that were separating the two communities. “It is not what goes in that will defile…”. That is the Jesus we know and expect. Yet as the story ensues…after we are hooked and drawn in and surprised by this Jesus who will seemingly exclude and call names. Only when we are comfortable, Jesus pulls out our comforts and shows us the way of surprising compassionate grace. He understands the other and calls us to do so as well.
As I said, this sermon is all about surprises. The surprises brought on by a pandemic; the surprise of the Spirit showing up in our faith; the surprising call to compassion towards ‘the other’ in Jesus, and in us. This next chapter of discerning a ‘new normal’ will call us, more than ever before, to understand things from the perspective of ‘the other’. If we are ever to successfully reunite in community, I would suggest that we must find a deep understanding of ‘the other’ as we consider the next steps ahead. Considering the fears of the other; considering the hopes of the other; considering the needs of the other.
May we surprise others with our compassion, and may the compassion of others surprise us.