Emergent Resilience

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 15/Year A ▪ August 16, 2020
Gospel: Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28

Sunday, August 16th 10:30 a.m. Mass

Celebrant and Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes, Gospel: Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28. Sermon: "Emergent Resilence" Crucifer/Candles: Mrs. Herfa Taylor-Roach Gospel Book/Bells: Dr. Jeanette Rollins Readers: Dr. Jeanette Rollins (First Lesson), Ms. Keitra Waterman (Epistle) Intercessor: Mrs. Herfa Taylor-Roach Altar Guild/Flowers: Ms. Christine O’Donnell Visibility: Dr. Gerene Thompson (video) Music: Ms. Gina Spano (Keyboard); Choir: Ms. Katherine Knippel Greeters/Ushers: Ms. Karen Bauer, Ms. Christine O’Donnell Counters: Ms. Christine O’Donnell, Ms. Karen Bauer

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, August 16, 2020

Emergent Resilience

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I’m rubber and you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Most of us can recall catchy comebacks reserved for the schoolyard bullies.  I suppose that they were intended to help our younger selves feel empowered to stand up to cruelty and mistreatment, engaging conflict and not avoiding it. These catchy sayings, no doubt still circulate amongst our young people. The fact is that people are not made of rubber and they are not made of glue; and the things that people say tend to bounce between people and stick with them, shaping their self-image and world view throughout their lives. And, while sticks and stones wielded to cause harm can break human bones, words wielded by the human tongue or typed into texts and emails, to cause harm, can, and do, hurt.

In today’s gospel we find Jesus addressing a Jewish crowd after some Pharisees from Jerusalem admonished him about his disciples failing to keep the tradition of the elders by purifying their hands before eating. After having called the Pharisees hypocrites for valuing their traditions more than the word of God, Jesus contradicted the Pharisees and said, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (vv.10-11).  To defile means to make dirty, to taint or pollute.

When the disciples approached Jesus they were concerned about the offended Pharisees, but Jesus was not. Peter asked for an explanation of the parable. According to Jesus, eating with unwashed hands did not make a person unclean. For anything that is unclean that enters the mouth is expelled from the body into the sewer.

But the words spoken, intentionally to hurt others, have the power to break down a human being’s dignity, and arise from the evil that lives in the human heart. These words are instruments of evil, double-edged swords that cause spiritual violence for the one who speaks them and for the one upon whom they are inflicted.

Shortly after Jesus’ teaching with the disciples took place there arose an opportunity to practice the new self-awareness teaching in the gentile district of Tyre and Sidon. This teachable moment came when a gentile woman—the two characteristics that marginalized her and rendered her virtually invisible and insignificant to the Jewish male disciples and to the Jewish male Jesus—shouted after Jesus for his mercy and healing for her demon-possessed daughter.  A conflict emerged in which the woman was ignored, dismissed and was on track to be erased.

Jesus ignored the woman, and passively participated in the conflict by speaking volumes without saying a word.  His disciples ignored the woman also, and spoke only to Jesus telling him to dismiss the shouting woman. But the conflict continued because avoiding an existing conflict, contrary to the popular assumption of so many, does not make it disappear; it keeps it alive.  When Jesus did speak, he dismissed the woman stating that he was sent to that region with the specific purpose of shepherding God’s lost sheep of the house of Israel, of which she certainly was not. Ouch. But the woman was not deterred by Jesus’ statement of purpose. Instead, she knelt before him as a sign of worship and said, “Lord, help me” (v. 25).

Now, this is a challenging passage to read because we are used to a compassionate Jesus who loved and served all people. Yet, in response to this woman’s desperate cry for the healing of her child, Jesus, offered a stinging, cold insult, “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” dogs referring to the gentiles (v. 26).  Ouch, again. Jesus’ words were meant end the conflict by finally erasing the distracting woman from his path on his mission.

But she refused to accept someone else’s perception of her identity.  Her response to Jesus reflected not only persistence, but her resilience in the face of familiar opposition—opposition that had toughened her skin so that she could withstand this struggle for Jesus’ understanding.

Meeting Jesus where he was in the conflict and acknowledging his position, the woman said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (v. 27).

And, Jesus, having listened to this desperate mother, and recognizing the conviction of her faith that led her to him in the first place, instantly healed her daughter from a distance. Through mutual listening and understanding, the conflict ended.

While the Canaanite woman’s persistence is often the focus of sermons, I offer to you this woman’s resilience. That despite her marginalized identity; despite her desperation as a mother; despite her being blown off by Jewish men functioning in the world with the mindset of superiority, the woman’s resilience, a product of her great faith in the face of repeated opposition, uniquely empowered her to stay in the conflict with Jesus, with the hopeful expectation of a resolution.

This extraordinary encounter with the Canaanite woman, in which Jesus’ listening led to his understanding that she risked coming to him for a reason, was a point of clarity for Jesus about his earthly mission, widening his worldview to include gentiles. In that moment, the woman was not her gender, nor was she a gentile; she was a person of great faith, worthy of receiving the spiritual healing for her daughter that only Jesus could give.

From the birth of this nation, unjust structures, that function in ways that ignore, dismiss and erase the real needs of people, have been erected and fiercely upheld within American society to the present day. These societal structures, made with human hands, can be challenged by those who, like the faithful Canaanite woman, know in the depths of their souls, that the unjust, can be made new—not by those same human hands that built them, but by the divine, merciful, compassionate hands of God expressed through Jesus and embodied in His Church.  As the Church we must be mindful of the temptation to lash out with evil intentions that pour forth from our mouths to defile others, and ourselves, in the midst of conflict.

Leaning into our Baptismal Covenant we can persevere in resisting evil; seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbors as ourselves; and strive for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being. With God’s help, conflicts can be healed, and broken relationships restored through empathic listening and understanding.  May God grant His children, made in His image, the courage to persist through conflicts and to embrace its gift of resilience. And, may we, as people of great faith, who live in the hope of the risen Christ, believe that the things that defile can truly be transformed from death-dealing spiritual swords into plowshares which nurture all people to the full stature of Christ. May it be so.