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Faith in Unexpected Places | A Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33

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The title of this sermon is Faith in Unexpected Places. That’s a good title, but I have an unpublished title. I’d like to call it 19 baskets and a dog dish.

First I need you to help me organize this mess. Let’s count out twelve baskets over here. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.  Good. Now, over here I want to put the remaining…let’s see…19 minus 12 equals…right, seven. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. There, that’s good.

Right here, in the middle, we’ll set the dog dish.

12 baskets on this side, 7 baskets on this side, and a dog dish in the middle. Nineteen baskets and a dog dish.

In our gospel reading this morning we encountered a very strange, and somewhat disturbing story. If you were paying attention to the reading, how did you feel when you heard it? We have to be honest. At first glance it sounds like Jesus is really being a racist jerk. This poor Canaanite woman comes up to him, begging him to heal her daughter and he doesn’t even respond to her at first. She persists and he calls her a dog.

Does that sound like the Jesus we talk about all the time around here?

As with all stories in the gospels, in order to really understand what’s going on we need to see this isolated story in the context of the stories that come before it and after it. Matthew, the writer of this gospel, didn’t just arbitrarily throw a bunch of stories together. He had a plan and actually teaches us as much about Jesus through his placement of stories as he does by simply recording Jesus’ words.

Let’s walk over here to this pile of 12 baskets.

[level-free]Do you remember last week, during the sermon about Jesus and Peter walking on the water, I made a quick reference to what happened just before that event? At the end of chapter 13 Jesus had been rejected by Israel. The people of his hometown, Nazareth, rejected him, and then King Herod rejected him by having John the Baptist’s head cut off.

Jesus wanted to get away for a little bit and regroup, but the crowd followed him. This crowd was a Jewish crowd. They followed Jesus along the shore and begged him to heal them. He worked late into the night and healed them, and then he performed an amazing miracle. He fed the 5,000 men, plus all the women and children.

At the end of that miracle Matthew does something strange. He tells us how many baskets of leftovers were collected. Weird, isn’t it. How is that relevant to the story? There are twelve baskets.

The very next story is the text we looked at last week. The disciples are in chaos out on the lake and Jesus comes through the chaos, walks on the water, and calms everything down.

Right after that he heals another crowd of Jews.

Now comes the beginning of chapter 15. The Jewish leaders come out to Jesus, and, even though he’s doing all these amazing miracles where he heals the sick and feeds the hungry, all they can focus on is that his followers are ceremonially unclean because they don’t wash their hands before they eat.

Really? Didn’t you just see them hand out miraculous food to over 5,000 people? All you care about is that their hands are dirty?

Jesus rips into them and says, “Look, it isn’t what goes into a person that makes that person unclean. That gets digested and discarded in the sewer. It’s what comes out of a person’s mouth through what they say and what they do that makes them clean or unclean.”

OK, now we come to the text for today.

Jesus was sent to earth to be the Messiah to the Jews. He has been rejected by the Jews. He has just ripped into the leaders for being hypocrites and missing the point about what is clean and unclean.

Then a Canaanite woman comes up to him.

A Canaanite. Let’s put this in perspective as to what this would be like if it happened today. Imagine an ultra conservative preacher who is all about American nationalism, and imagine if a muslim woman who’s brother was involved in the Taliban attack on the twin towers came up to him and asked for mercy and help for her sick daughter.

What if she came up to you? How would you feel. The 10-year anniversary of 9-11 is just a couple weeks away. We’ve lived the last decade fighting against this radical group of muslims. And now, they come to you for help. What do you do?

That is who the Canaanites were. They were the enemies of the Jews as far back as Moses.

Notice what Jesus does here. At first he responds as any respectable Jew would. He ignores her. She doesn’t even exist.

She persists.

Then he turns and addresses her. He actually broke the rules simply by doing this. He has a conversation with her. That in itself acknowledged that she was a valid being.

But then he does something really shocking for Jesus. He calls her a dog. He opens his mouth and verbally abuses her. At that point someone like her would usually have backed away and faded into the shadows.

She didn’t. She persisted. She knew that Jesus was more than that. She knew Jesus had the power to reach across all that and deliver her daughter from the demon.

In verse 27 she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Something happened between verse 27 and 28. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure what happened. Some would say that Jesus was just playing a game to demonstrate a point to his disciples. Others would say that Jesus, in his humanity, was actually changed in that moment. His horizon was broadened by this woman and he realized that his mission was not just for the Jews. His mission was for everyone. Whatever the deep theology really is there, it doesn’t really matter, because at this point, at least on the surface, everything changes in Jesus’ mission.

In verse 28 he reaches across the divide of hatred and fear and heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman.

Now let’s step back at this bigger picture. The very next story in Matthew’s gospel is another feeding. Jesus went back to the sea of Galilee, but this time he went to the east side of the sea, to the gentile side, and fed 4,000 men plus the women and children.

Another miraculous feeding. Here’s the really interesting part. After everyone is done eating they collect the scraps again. Again, Matthew records how many baskets were collected. How many? 7 baskets.

Over here. 12 baskets.

Over here. 7 baskets.

12 baskets represents the twelve tribes of Israel.

7 baskets. The number seven is the number of perfection or wholeness. The Gentiles were represented by the number 70.

Before the Canaanite woman, Jesus fed the Jews and the scraps were for the 12 tribes of Israel. After the Canaanite woman Jesus feeds the Gentiles and the scraps are enough for the world, even the dogs.

The question for us today is, “how wide is our scope of God’s mission in the world?” How many baskets would we gather?

To put it in even more direct and uncomfortable terms, who do we consider dogs around us and how do we treat them.

This weekend we are highlighting our Atlanta Missions Trip and I know that on that trip many of our students had a similar experience to what Jesus had with the Canaanite woman.

I thought that rather than telling you their stories, I would let you hear one directly.

I’d like to introduce you to Abby Jannett. Abby come on up here. Abby is going to be a senior at Andover High School in just a few weeks.

Hi Abby. Say hello to everyone. Are you nervous?

Abby, before you went on the trip, what were some of your thoughts and feelings about the trip?

I know you had a powerful experience on Thursday night. Can you tell us what happened?

What have you learned from that experience?

Let’s give Abby a big hand. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

Here’s the challenge for us today. Who do we still consider dogs? How can we allow the Spirit of God to get inside our perception and see that God’s Kingdom is for everyone. In the end, we are all dogs eating the scraps of God’s grace. We all need God’s forgiveness. God has given us that forgiveness in Jesus. And it is our job to share that grace with anyone and everyone, no matter who they are, what they look like, or where they come from.[/level-free]

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