Monday, September 28, 2015

Whoever Is for Us

Mark 9:38-50
September 27, 2015

            A former parishioner and dear friend just recently retired after many years as a kindergarten teacher. One time she explained to me a lesson she taught her students at the beginning of every school year. Most of the children started kindergarten already understanding that a tattletale was not a cool or accepted thing to be. A tattletale was the persona non grata of the playground. But what should they do if something really bad was about to happen?
So my friend taught them that there were two different kinds of “telling.” The first kind was reporting. If Cindy Lou saw Billy Bob about to do something dangerous and harmful, such as jumping off the top of the swings or getting too close to a busy street, then it was important to tell an adult. That was being a reporter. Being a reporter was an important job. Being a reporter was a way to keep their friends safe. Cindy Lou reported what Billy Bob was doing so that he would not get hurt.
However a tattletale was altogether different. If Jimmy Jack’s friend, Buster, was playing with another friend rather than Jimmy Jack, and Jimmy Jack didn’t like this and told the teacher; that was tattling.  It all came down to motivation. Were you reporting to a teacher because you were afraid someone was about to get hurt? Or were you tattling on someone because you were mad or jealous? That was the difference between being a reporter and being a tattletale; motivation.
What do you think John’s motivation was when he told Jesus about this other person casting out demons in Jesus’ name? Was he reporting or was he tattling? My instinct tells me that it was the latter.
John and the other disciples saw an unnamed person exorcising demons in Jesus’ name. This other person was successful at casting out demons else I suspect the disciples would not have tried to stop him. We don’t know anything about this other person, this other disciple. One of the Biblical scholars I refer to commented on this and said, “We don’t know this disciple’s name, so let’s just call him Bob.” In fact, my original title to this sermon was “Bob, the Disciple,” but I chickened out about using it at the last minute.
Why would the disciples have been so upset about Bob casting out demons? I think the first answer is that he was doing something that they were unable to do. They had tried to cast out a demon already and failed. But Bob the disciple did what they could not do. That must have irked them, to say the least.
Another reason Bob bothered the disciples is that he was not one of them. They were the disciples. They were the ones Jesus called to follow. No one knew anything about Bob. How could he be a disciple if Jesus had not called him? How could he do the work of a disciple if he was not in the in-crowd? There is an aspect to this exchange between John and Jesus that I had not noticed before. When John complained to Jesus about Bob the disciple casting out demons, he didn’t say, “We tried to stop him because he was not following you.” John said, “We tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
Jesus did not question John about using us instead of you. In fact, Jesus responded in the plural. “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Whoever is not against us is for us.
John may have been presumptuous in asserting that he and the other disciples were to be followed same as Jesus. But Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem with John’s use of the collective as much as he did with them trying to stop Bob. Whoever Bob was and however he heard about Jesus, his work in Jesus’ name was legitimate. He was not against them, so he was for them. Even though he was not one of them, he was still for them. He was still for Jesus, and his deed of power in Jesus’ name was not to be dismissed.
This is yet one more misunderstanding of Jesus’ message, mission and purpose by the disciples. This follows immediately after our passage last week when the disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest, and who carried the most status as a disciple. Their argument was preceded by Jesus telling them for a second time that he would undergo great suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus even went so far as to embrace a little child so they would understand his words about the first being last, the last first, and the greatest of all being the servant of all. But the disciples don’t get it.
They don’t get it, and their lack of getting it comes out in jealousy and insecurity over Bob the disciple. Here was this unknown person doing what they were not yet able to do. So they tried to stop him. When they couldn’t, they tattled to Jesus about him. But Jesus knew that what was more important was that anyone who was not against them was for them. Bob the disciple was for them, and that was all that mattered.
I suspect that most of us would agree with the point Jesus made. It doesn’t matter how we go about the work Jesus calls us to do just as long as we are doing it. That is our priority. Do the work we are called to do. Whoever is for Jesus is for us and us for them.
But that message seems to get lost in translation when it comes to our denominations, our styles of worship, our liturgies or lack thereof. Our priorities seem to get turned upside down when we compare our music and the way we pray. Interpretation of scripture from one denomination to the next can be so radically different, we wonder who is right and who is wrong? We may mouth the words Jesus said, “whoever is not against us is for us,” but when it comes to our actions – and our other words – I think we really believe that whoever is unlike us is not only against us, but doing it all wrong.
Isn’t that really what John said to Jesus? We saw Bob the disciple casting out demons in your name but we tried to stop him. He was doing it wrong!
He was doing it wrong. I hate to admit that I feel like this, but I know I do. I know that I am guilty of this. I know that I get jealous over others who I think are doing ministry wrong, but seem to be far more effective than I am. I know I’ve spent many a Thursday afternoon after I’ve left the ecumenical Bible study I co-lead thinking, “They are doing it wrong!” How I would love to go tattling this to Jesus, “Jesus, those other so-called disciples are doing it wrong!” Yet, Jesus made it clear to the disciples and therefore makes it clear to me that whoever is not against him is for me, and for us.
In case you haven’t heard, Pope Francis has been visiting our country this week. He addressed a joint session of Congress. He ate with homeless brothers and sisters. He stopped a procession and called over a little girl who broke through the security barriers. I have heard over and over what a profound impact he has made on the people who have listened to him, spoken with him, experienced his compassion and kindness.
I have also heard people who have complained bitterly about his message. Pundits of all varieties have commented that he is not doing what a pope is supposed to do – getting people to heaven. Beyond that, he needs to keep the church in its place and get his nose out of policy. I greatly respect Pope Francis. I do not agree with everything the Catholic Church advocates for, but I am still greatly moved by his genuine kindness and grace. In my eyes he is mercy and gentleness personified.
But would I be this accepting of him if he were a representative of a different kind of Christianity? I’m not so sure. I think I would be more likely to roll my eyes and dismiss a religious leader more evangelical or conservative than I am.
In the movie, The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays that second kind of pastor: the kind of pastor that makes me uncomfortable. He preaches a lot of hellfire and brimstone. He focuses solely on saving souls for a life after this one, and doesn’t seem to care too much about people who are hungry and hurting now. He doesn’t dig deep into the scripture, offering a well-reasoned interpretation with a beginning, middle and end. He shouts. He cajoles. He exhorts. He paces. He calls the people to be saved, to repent, to give their lives to the Lord. He does everything I don’t do. But there is one moment in the movie when he is standing on a bridge over a river and sees a priest across the water blessing people. I don’t remember the apostle’s exact words, but looks at the priest and smiles, saying something to the effect of “We may be going at it in different ways, but we’re working for the same goal, the same reason, the same One.” This man, this minister – so different from anything that I am and from anything that I want to be – watches this priest and acknowledges that truth which tends to stick in my throat; whoever is for Jesus is for us.
Whoever is for Jesus is for us. They are not doing it wrong. They are doing it differently.  But we all do what we do, minister the way we minister, worship the way we worship, in the name of Jesus and for his sake. Isn’t that what is important? Isn’t that what ultimately matters? May we remember that about others, and may others remember that about us. Whoever is not against us is for us; even Bob the disciple.
Let all of God’s children say, “Allelua!” Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Serving Status

Mark 9:30-37
September 20, 2015

            When I was a kid, someone dug a large hole in our neighborhood. I don’t who dug the hole or why, and my memory is shaky about its exact location. While my memory is dim about the specifics of the hole, my recollection of the large mound of dirt and sod it left behind is vivid. That hill of dirt inspired the largest and longest impromptu game of “King of the Hill” I’ve ever played. Usually we girls stuck together and did our own thing, while the boys on the street did theirs. But there were times and there were games when those dividing walls were torn down. This was one of those times.
            If you aren’t familiar with “King of the Hill,” let me lay out the rules for you. There are no rules. The only object is to get to the top of the hill and claim it in your name. Sounds easy, but while you’re trying to get to the top, everyone else is too. And everyone else is trying to keep you from getting there, so you do your best to prevent their ascent as well. If you should happen to reach the top, be prepared for a short reign. Because someone else is going to reach the summit and try and push you back down. It takes a certain amount of viciousness to become king – or queen – of the hill and stay there. We weren’t afraid to play rough or get dirty, but we generally didn’t get too violent with one another.
            I no longer recall how the game finally ended that day – probably when parents started to call us in. I don’t think there was a final victor either. We just kept scrambling up that hill and sliding back down. We all wanted to rule the top of the hill, but when we were pushed down we just started back up again.
            That was a fun game and a fun day. I know that I’m remembering this through the rosy glow of time, but I don’t think any of us left the game mad or resentful. I guess it was a game of competition, but I don’t think I saw it that way then. It was just fun; physically and mentally. I know that “King of the Hill” continues to be played. But I don’t know any kids who play it. I do know a lot of adults who play, though. But they don’t call it a game; they call it life.
            We are not privy to the exact conversation the disciples were having on the way, but we can assume from the text that it was not just a verbal version of “King of the Hill.” Mark wrote that they disciples were having an argument about which one was the greatest. When they reached Capernaum, Jesus did not call them out for arguing. Instead he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” I’m pretty sure Jesus already knew exactly what their argument involved, but like a good teacher, he asked instead of accused.
            As I have stated before, the disciples in Mark come off badly. The other gospel writers cut them a little bit of slack, but not Mark. The disciples were clueless. But as clueless as they were, they knew enough at that moment to realize that their argument about who was the superior disciple would not make them look good. So they remained silent instead of answering Jesus’ question. Again, Jesus was under no illusions about their bickering, but instead of scolding them or lecturing them, he did what he did best. He illustrated what discipleship and servanthood was really about. Jesus told them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a child into his arms and told them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
            Sounds simple enough, but try to imagine the shock that this must have engendered in the disciples – and anyone else who might have been listening. The idea of this reversal – first is last and last is first – would have been hard to comprehend; but when Jesus took that child in his arms that would have been too much. This great teacher, God’s Messiah, took a child and said they must be like children? Let me make it clear, children were loved, dearly loved in that culture and context. It was not that children were not loved and cared for; it was that they had no status. Children, especially sons, were necessary to continue the family name and for the purposes of inheritance. We read over and over again that barrenness was considered a punishment by God. Children were a sign of God’s blessing. Children were loved, but a child had no status. Status, a person’s place in society, was important. It determined a variety of aspects of that person’s life and future. To have great status was to be great. I suspect that when the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest they were not just debating characteristics of discipleship. They were wrestling over status. Who among them had the greatest status?
            The irony of this is that our passage opens with Jesus telling the disciples, again, that “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”
            The disciples did not understand. We know Jesus was speaking openly about what would happen to him, but the disciples did not yet know the end of the story. Perhaps Jesus was speaking in code or hiding his real meaning in a strange, mixed-up parable? They did not understand and they were too afraid to ask him. What he said must have gone against the grain of everything they believed about the Messiah, the Son of Man, the Son of God. To be the Messiah would mean the ultimate status. How could that One be betrayed and killed and rise again?
            Even with these questions and misunderstandings ringing in their ears, they debated their own status. Which one would ultimately be king of the disciple hill? But Jesus did not respond by naming one of them as the greatest. Instead he took a child and told them that welcoming that child would be welcoming him. Huh? I imagine the disciples thought it was Jesus who was confused, not them. “You keep using the word, ‘greatest,’ Jesus, but I do not think you know what it means.”
            Well, all I can say is that it is a good thing we comprehend what those disciples did not. It is a good thing we don’t have silly, petty arguments over who is the greatest. It is a good thing that we have moved beyond such nonsense.
            Okay, well maybe there are confused people out there in society who still seek status, who still put status above all else. Maybe business and politics and sports and all those other aspects of life operate like an ongoing game of “King of the Hill,” but we in the church do not. And even when we are not in church, maybe we compete a little, but what’s wrong with some healthy competition? It is a motivator. It pushes people to strive for success and work harder. Life is about winning and losing. It is about succeeding and failing. Wouldn’t you want the doctor who is taking care of you or someone you love to have been at the top of her class in medical school? You don’t want the attorney whose only achievement was sliding by to represent you in court. Lack of competition only serves mediocrity. There is nothing wrong with seeking status.
            I don’t know if you were actually throwing those questions at me in your minds just now, but I imagined you were while I was writing this. Here’s the thing. I don’t have a problem with competition per se. It can be a great motivator. I’m a better kickboxer because my instructor reminds us that the person we are really competing with is ourselves. So I work hard every week to be better than I was the week before. Sure, it’s nice to have a little bit of status. It feels good to be acknowledged for our accomplishments. But are we striving to be better at what we do or are we merely seeking status for status’ sake? And if we are seeking status, when do move from that to serving status? When do we live more for status than for serving?
            The reality is that as the church, as followers of Jesus, we may think ourselves set apart from the baser aspects of culture. But we are in culture, and culture is in us. I hate reality shows where people are voted off. I hate seeing people lose in that way. But I cannot denounce that kind of show “out there” without acknowledging the fact that I also seek status and serve status. Do you ever look at some of the big churches in town and think, “Why isn’t that us?” I do. Yet I know that small does not mean dead, nor does large equate to thriving. But I still see full parking lots and wonder why.  Just recently pictures were revealed on social media of the houses that some of the top grossing evangelists live in. When I say, “houses,” I really mean compounds that would have put the Kennedy’s to shame. Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar – they make millions of dollars and it shows. They have huge homes. They travel in private jets. Their ministries are huge and just getting bigger. People by the thousands attend their services, and even more watch them on television. I’ll be honest, I find this repugnant and opposite of everything I believe Jesus taught about servanthood and discipleship. I’ll be honest, there is a part of me that whispers, “Couldn’t I have just a little bit of that?”
            Am I status seeking? Am I serving status? If my answer to both questions is, “yes,” then I’m as guilty as the disciples were over debating who was the greatest. I’m seeing my vocation, even my faith, more like king of the hill than following Jesus. I’ve gotten my priorities confused. I’ve forgotten that I am called, not to reach a certain height in my career or find success in what I own, but to follow and to serve. I have forgotten that status, whose got it and who doesn’t, is a human creation. I have forgotten that if I want to really serve God and follow in the name of his Son, then I am called to serve and love the weak and the poor. I am called to remember that no one has more value or worth because of their status. They, we, have value because God created us. We have worth because we are God’s children. Children are dependent on others. So are we. Would status really matter if we remembered that we all need each other? Would we be less likely to serve status rather than people if we acknowledged that no one gets through this life without help? No one. Pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps is a nice idea, but not everyone is given bootstraps in the first place; and even those who are still need help. We need each other. We need each other. When we remember that we need each other, our status is found in serving, and not the other way around.
            We are all God’s children. We are all loved. We all have worth, and we all say, “Alleluia!” Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Heart of the Matter

Mark 8:27-38
September 13, 2015

"I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine," "Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."
Those words were written by Kayla Mueller. She was the young American woman killed this year while being held hostage by ISIS. This excerpt was from a letter she wrote to her family in 2011 while she was serving with an aid organization in India. The Huffington Post quoted this in an article after it was confirmed that she had been killed by airstrikes on the compound where she was being held.
“I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine.” Those are profound words and they reflect a deep faith of a woman who I believe, and to quote her parents, lived more purposefully in her 26 years than I have in almost a half century. As I read them again, I wonder if they aren’t linked to the question Jesus asked of his disciples in the road to Caesarea Philippi.
“Who do people say I am?” Jesus asked while they were on the way to the villages of that region. The disciples immediately offered answers. “Some folks are claiming you are John the Baptist.” “Other people are saying you’re Elijah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus asked them even more pointedly, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter rushed in with his declaration, “You are the Messiah.”
We don’t know if Jesus cried, “You got it, Peter!” But we do know that as soon as Peter said this, Jesus ordered the disciples not to tell anyone what Peter had just revealed. Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah. This is the Messianic secret scholars have written about. While there are probably many reasons why Jesus didn’t want the larger population to know his identity as the One sent from God, I suspect that he knew full well how the title Messiah would be misinterpreted and misunderstood. Jesus understood that if people recognized him as the Messiah, they would expect a certain kind of action from him that was not going to happen. They would expect him to be someone that he was not. And when the people’s expectations met his reality, there would be confusion and anger. We know that this is exactly what will happen, but it was too soon for that. Jesus knew that. Jesus knew the time was not yet right, so he made them keep his truth a secret.
While the larger population could not yet understand Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, these were his disciples. These were his closest followers. These twelve were the ones he had called to follow and they had responded without hesitation. Now that Peter had declared his identity, they had to know the truth about what it really meant to be God’s Messiah.
So he began to tell them, to teach them, that as the Messiah he would suffer. “He would undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
However much Jesus wanted the disciples to keep his Messiah identity under wraps, he spoke to his disciples “quite openly” about his suffering and death. This was too much for Peter. Peter pulled Jesus aside and rebuked him. Rebuke is not a word to be taken lightly. Peter rebuked Jesus in the same way Jesus rebuked demons. Peter must have spoken to Jesus harshly, angrily. We don’t know what he said to his teacher, but we can imagine several possibilities. I think Peter told Jesus to knock it off, stop saying these crazy things. Not only was he scaring and confusing the disciples, they were in the heart of Roman territory. The villages of Caesarea Philippi were towns bearing the name of Caesar. What Jesus told them was scandalous, treasonous, terrifying, and dangerous; not only for him, but for his followers as well.
Even if what Jesus said wasn’t a potential threat to their well-being, it still made no sense. Jesus was teaching the disciples, proclaiming to them that as the Messiah he would suffer. God’s messenger would suffer. God’s Son would suffer. God would suffer. How could there be a suffering God? Wasn’t God supposed to end suffering? Wasn’t God supposed to be the balm, the antidote to suffering? Wasn’t God supposed to be above suffering, the torment and bane of human existence? But Jesus said that he would suffer, greatly. This couldn’t be right. This could not be the way God planned to save them, through a suffering Son.
But that was what Jesus told them. The crux of being the Messiah was suffering. The cross was at the heart of the matter.
Jesus did not let it end with his suffering. He told them that if they want to be his followers, they must deny themselves, pick up their own crosses and follow him. He would suffer for their sake and for the sake of the world; in turn they must be ready to suffer for him.
To deny themselves was not about giving up a beloved treat or pastime. I don’t believe it was about self-mortification or beating the flesh into submission either. Denying themselves was more about serving and following and following and serving even if it meant the sacrifice of their own lives. Perhaps they would lose out on some of the things of this world, but in following him they would gain so much more. This was not a big selling point for discipleship. It wasn’t for them. It isn’t for us. At the end of Mark – the actual end, not the shorter or longer version – Jesus dies without followers. Jesus dies without followers. They run away afraid. God suffering and dying on a cross was a cross they were afraid to bear.
Jesus called the disciples and all those who would listen to follow not only in his footsteps but in his suffering. Perhaps the next question he should have asked them after, “Who do you say that I am?” was “Where do you see God?”
Maybe that is what is at the heart of the matter. Following Jesus is a matter of faith. Following Jesus is also a matter of choice. It is choosing to live differently, intentionally and mindfully – mindful of the ways we treat others, mindful of how our living impacts other people and creation. But maybe following Jesus also means that we see God in ways we never expected to. Maybe it means that we recognize God in places where our instinct tells us God should not be. Kayla Mueller wrote that she saw God in the eyes of the suffering. Where do we see God? Wherever we see God, however we see God, what is at the heart of the matter is that God calls us to follow. God calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross. God calls us to be his hands, his feet, his voice, his heart. No matter how hard or challenging that is, no matter how we try and how we may fail, the good news is that our suffering God is a God of grace and mercy, love and compassion. Where do we see God? How will we meet him there?
Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Who Counts? Season of Peace Begins

Mark 7:24-37
September 6, 2015

WWJD. Do any of you remember the meaning of that combination of letters? WWJD – what would Jesus do? When I was serving as a solo pastor for the first time, this phrase went – to use contemporary parlance – viral. It was stamped onto multi-colored, rubber bracelets and these bracelets were everywhere. They were handed out to youth groups and Sunday school classes. I believe that youth were the initial target audiences for this campaign, but I saw plenty of older people wearing them as well.
The idea behind this was simple. When you were facend with a confusing situation, a challenging circumstance or an ethical or moral test, you were to stop and ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” I think the hope was that the person asking this question would think carefully before acting, and even more than that, allow faith to guide them rather than cultural pressure.
It was a great idea. I don’t dispute that one iota. I am sure there were a lot of people, young and old, who found this simple reminder a blessing in how they handled tough situations. But as with every kind of campaign, there were criticisms as well. One of the critiques was that every ethical situation we encounter today is not spelled out in scripture. So asking what Jesus would do was simply a guessing game rather than a way to put faith in action. Supporters of the campaign would agree with this, but their answer was that Jesus’ response to the circumstances he faced was grounded in God’s love, mercy, justice, etc. Even though someone might face a situation Jesus never encountered, he or she could still find guidance in Jesus’ person, in his being God’s Son. Other critics said that the real question to be asked was not, “what would Jesus do,” but “what would Jesus have you do.” WWJHYD. That many letters gets a little cumbersome though. WWJD was easier to remember and easier, perhaps, to put into action.
As far as I know though, a motto that was never suggested was, “WWJS – what would Jesus say.” When we come to the passage we have before us today, that is a good thing. Because what Jesus said was harsh, rude, and insulting.
When this woman of Syrophoenician origin, this Gentile, came to Jesus, knelt before him, and begged for him to heal her daughter, he didn’t remark on her faith or empathize with her need. Jesus said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
What would Jesus say?
These words are not easily sugarcoated or explained away. Centuries of theologians have tried. Some apologists claimed that Jesus said this with a wink and crossed fingers. He didn’t mean these words; he just wanted the woman to show her faith. Others have pontificated that Jesus said this so the disciples would have an example of how patriarchal and wrong their culture and society was. This was an example of what not to do. These explanations may sound good and plausible, but there is no indication in the text that either of these explanations are true.   
We read immediately that Jesus went into the house in Tyre looking to be alone. He did not want to be noticed. So how were the disciples supposed to understand his teachings if they did not witness this teachable moment?
Perhaps in John’s gospel, Jesus might have said this with a wink and a nod, as a test of the woman’s faithfulness. But this is Mark’s gospel. Mark’s gospel reveals the most human Jesus. Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. We love to celebrate Jesus’ humanity, until he actually sounds human. Truth be told, his humanity in this situation makes us uncomfortable, doesn’t it? It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like it. Where is the good shepherd? Where is the friend of little children? Where is the savior who seeks out the lost and the lonely?
This woman, who by accident of birth was a Gentile, came to Jesus with desperate need. And Jesus compared her to a dog. Referring to a person or a people as dogs was a scathing insult. To be a called a dog in this way was to be called ravenous and scavenging. This dog of the Gentiles wanted to scavenge from the children of Israel.
But the woman, who whether she was a Gentile or a Jew would have had a lowly place in society because she was a woman, turned Jesus’ words around and threw them back at him.
“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
These were bold and daring words. Perhaps her desperation to save her daughter gave her moxie she might not have had otherwise, but in this moment she was filled with it. She refused to slink away. She needed help. She knew Jesus could give that help. She would not let his words deter her purpose.
No longer was she a ravenous, scavenging hound. She was a loyal dog, a family pet. She was the puppy who lies underneath the table, ready to lap up what the children drop. Maybe she wasn’t one of the children, but she was still a member of the family. And all she wanted was a crumb.
            This very human Jesus realized and accepted the truth in her words. He didn’t bluster or try to shore up his dignity at being bested by this woman. He changed his mind. He relented and healed her daughter.
            What would Jesus say? What would Jesus do?
            In claiming the name Christian, we say to the world that we strive to be like Jesus. Here’s the problem, I think when it comes to this human Jesus and his initial response to this woman – this outsider and other – we are. We are like Jesus. I know that this is a highly condemning statement for me to make. Please know that I condemn myself first. I know that when people come to me seeking help, seeking a crumb, a morsel of kindness, I too often say I can’t. I can’t for no other reason than I have to do for my own first. My own are the ones who count. Yet who really counts? There are millions of people in the world today seeking just a crumb. Just a crumb. According to the research I did, there are approximately 19.5 million people in the world with refugee status. This is the highest number of refugees since World War II. This number has skyrocketed in just the last five years. 19.5 million. That number should send us to our knees. What are these people looking for but a crumb? They are not seeking to be refugees or choosing this as a way of life. They are fleeing homelands that are no longer home. They are trying to save their families, their children.
            I cannot imagine any of us not seeing or hearing about the little Syrian boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach this week. He and his family were trying to get to Greece from Turkey, trying to find shelter and asylum … somewhere. They just wanted a crumb.
            I think as Christians, we have to stop asking, “Who counts?” I know that our resources are limited. I know that we can only do so much for so many, and the needs of people all around us are overwhelming. But that Gentile woman would not let Jesus send her away. She persisted in her plea because she counted too. Her daughter counted. When we are faced with such great and desperate need, the answer to the question, “Who counts?” is all of us. Every person. Every child of God. Those of us who are lucky enough to have homes where we have some modicum of safety count. And those of us who are fleeing homes that are no longer safe count. We all count. So how will we answer that need? What can we do to help? How can we be the voice for those who are voiceless?
            There are millions of people looking for a crumb. Perhaps our congregation is like Queen Esther. When faced with the destruction of her people and having the ability to help, her cousin encouraged her by saying that maybe God had brought her into her role as queen for “such a time as this.” As we shed the demands of a building, we have the opportunity to reach out to others like never before. Maybe we were brought to this moment, to this place, for such a time as this? Maybe this is our moment to remind the world that all of God’s children count. I know that the need out there is bigger than us, but we can do what Jesus did. We can acknowledge where we go wrong, offer our help, contribute to the healing of our brothers and sisters around the world, and give all that we can. Even if all we can give seems nothing more than a crumb. Because we know the answer to the question, “Who counts?”
            Let all of God’s children say, “Amen.”