Weekly Lessons and Sermon
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
“But who do you say that I am? You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
This is not just about who Jesus is.
This is also about who WE REALLY are.
Who we are as the united Church.
We hear today, about who Peter really is:
Peter: Who’s doubted, who’s misunderstood Jesus countless times.
But today: if even for a brief moment: Peter gets it.
Jesus tells Simon Peter who he is,
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
So often we think of Jesus as the one who is both human and divine.
We think of ourselves as merely humans.
But we are more than mere humans and so was Peter.
We’re certainly not God.
But we are the Church—which is no normal human thing.
I want to tell you about a young man who taught me about who WE are in the body of Christ—in the church.
I met Tommy in the hospital in the wee hours of a Sunday morning over a decade ago. I was a hospital chaplain in a level 1 trauma center hospital in Hartford CT.
I met Tommy on a day when he wasn’t himself.
After a terrible accident, this young man was on his deathbed from the moment he came through the doors.
I never heard his voice.
I never saw him breathe on his own.
There was nothing the doctors could do.
But Tommy: a high school student:
was kept alive for a few hours while his parents rushed to the hospital from a nearby small town.
The scene was brutal.
The kind of thing that nobody should ever have to witness.
The kind of thing that shouldn’t happen to anyone.
His mother holding his hand,
His father’s hand resting on his chest as it lifted and dropped for the last few times.
In these moments, there was nothing that my human sensibilities could actually do.
Nothing that I could ever say.
But God did a lot of work on that early morning.
Just as God always does.
It was no mere human thing.
On that night, I felt profoundly human—emotions of pain and grief running through me as I watched these loving parents say goodbye to their young son.
But that hospital room was not just human stuff.
God was in that room.
Not in a “God in the clouds” sort of way.
God was in each of us—and God—is ALWAYS in each of us.
Because of who we really are.
We are not merely human:
We are the church: holding the keys of the kingdom of heaven just like Peter.
Being “Church” is no normal human thing.
When Paul talks about “Church” he says:
“For as in one body we have many members”
“Individually we are members of another.”
In that hospital room, as Tommy lay dying, we were members of another:
with the holy spirit—moving, breathing, and beating within us.
The Living God—putting deep and intense love within us.
Unfortunately, it’s not an easy kind of love.
Because this kind of love—God’s love—is REAL.
REAL. PAINFUL. BRUTAL.
And we can’t pretend that it’s not.
God sent his only Son to literally Die—real death.
It’s brutal, Death:
The most painful thing that can happen to a human, because of awfully Divine love.
Completely, incomprehensible love.
On that early morning: I was overwhelmed by the REAL Divine love in Tommy’s parents.
Their human grief was profoundly Divine.
Human pain--from real love.
And we love: Because God first loved us.
Because God has made us into lovers.
It’s no normal human attribute--
This divine love placed deep within us—forming us into who we really are.
But do not misunderstand.
This does not, in any way discount the awful grief and pain that humans feel.
This does NOT take away from the intensity that Tommy’s parents (and unfortunately many others) will feel for their entire lives.
This does not make anything good or better.
There is Nothing that could ever make this pain good.
There is Nothing that ever makes it okay.
But our pain is not merely a human thing.
Because our Love is not merely a human thing.
The real brutality—the most painful part— of that morning was the desperate love of Tommy’s mother.
His mother, in the most intense grief I have ever experienced also loved him fiercely--
(I witnessed this, well before I was a mother myself)
Tommy waited to take his last breath:
AFTER his parents had arrived, and we said the Lord’s prayer together.
And his mother: through shouts of anguish:
Also told her Son how happy she was that he could join the heavenly host.
But don’t mistake me.
In this profuse love, Tommy’s mother felt unbearable pain.
Pain that I will always remember and pain that will never ever leave her.
And that’s how God is.
That’s how God made us to be.
To love profusely.
It is not who we are “called to be”
But who we really are at our deepest being.
So who do you say that I am?
Who do we say that WE are?
But to be a Christian means that we are more than mere humans.
We hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
To be “Church” means we must be lovers.
And it hurts. It’s painful. It’s brutal.
We can’t run from it.
We can’t hide from it.
Because it is deeply a part of who we are.
Because God Loved us first.
And Loved profusely.
We’ve all done it.
We’ve all had people that we just don’t get along with.
People that it’s difficult for us to like.
For whatever reason.
It’s a harsh truth of human history--
Of feuds between families:
Like the Hatfields and McCoys,
Like Romeo and Juliet’s Montague’s and Capulets.
And in this Gospel story: The Israelites and the Canaanites.
This feud is big—and the prejudices and dislike runs deep--
As deep and old as the first six books of the Bible.
The pagan Canaanites--
who lived in the Promised Land were nearly killed off by the Israelites.
Yet some Canaanites survived—like this woman that Jesus meets.
But it is not initially a happy meeting.
When the woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter--
Jesus IGNORES her.
The disciples’ prejudices against the Canaanites come out when they urge Jesus to
“Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”
JESUS—appears to agree when he says to the woman:
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Everyone knew what Jesus meant:
“It isn’t fair to take the blessing meant for the Israelites and give it to Gentiles.
ESPECIALLY TO CANAANITES”
But this woman doesn’t give up.
She screams: “Lord, help me!”
JESUS—likens the woman to a dog.
A worthless, dirty, despicable DOG, saying:
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
The years of prejudice and dislike are clear
As the Israelites are likened to children,
And the Canaanites dogs.
It’s hard for us to hear.
It’s hard for us to believe.
That Jesus would be so dismissive:
First ignoring a woman in need,
And then calling her a dog.
But once again: This is not the end of the story.
Just when it seems that Jesus is only going to “take care of his own—the
All of the expectations are overturned.
Rather than walking away, Jesus waits:
He waits for her to show her faith to the disciples.
He waits for her to acknowledge her worth--
Her worth through Christ himself.
Jesus waits for her to expose his true identity--
An identity that’s beyond all prejudice--
That’s based in love instead of hate--
Jesus’ identity that in turn exposes her identity--
Not as a dirty Canaanite--
But as one worthy of Jesus’ healing touch.
And she does.
Because this woman knows--
That Jesus has enough--
Enough to give even to her.
She says to him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their
Meaning: “Lord, I know your blessings are for the entire world.
I know your blessing is so great that I’ll gladly take the leftovers and still be
I know that it is you.
And this is what Jesus has been waiting for.
For her to know--
And to show the disciples--
That God is bigger than anything we can imagine.
That with God there is enough for everyone--
EVEN Enough for the Canaanites.
And to believe and show that who God is--
Changes who WE are--
No longer a dirty, worthless dog of a Canaanite--
But one who is loved, and valued.
One who is worth transforming--
One who is worth the healing touch of God.
Jesus—for a brief moment plays along with the status quo--
Plays into the disciples’ prejudices and pre-conceived notions against the
To expose them--
Expose both the disciples’ prejudices, and also their lack of faith.
In fact: We saw it last week.
(I wasn’t here) but you read the famous story of Jesus walking on Water.
Peter’s fear and lack of faith causes him to sink.
And Jesus proves the disciples wrong.
And today the Canaanite woman proves them wrong.
In a shocking turn of events:
The most unlikely person ever--
Who is of a race despised by the Israelites:
Is the one that Jesus proclaims “GREAT is your FAITH!”
This woman is the ONLY person in the entire Gospel of Matthew that Jesus said
had “great faith.”
The one considered to be a DOG had the greatest faith--
Had the greatest hope--
That Jesus really IS who he says he Is.
Not a magician,
But truly the Son of God--
God’s Chosen One--
Who has enough blessings for everyone:
Every nation. Every Race.
Every perfection, and every sin.
Here: Jesus proved what he said in Matthew 7:
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be
opened for you.
And the disciples saw this kind of faith lived out--
From one nobody would ever expect.
Because of Jesus--
And his promises to all:
This woman is no longer a worthless dog.
Because of Jesus--
She is no longer a dirty Canaanite.
Because of Jesus--
She—like us—takes part in his identity--
As one who is worth it.
Worth it all.
Worth God’s blessing.
Loved and valued through Christ.
This is who she is.
This is who we are.
One of my favorite lines in the Eucharistic prayer says:
“In Him [as in Jesus] you have delivered us from evil, and made us WORTHY to
stand before you.”
(Listen for it in the prayer today.)
Christ has made us worthy.
Has made even this Canaanite WORTHY.
A free gift--
Given to everyone--
Given to YOU--
Worth and Value.
At no price.
At no cost.
To stand before God.
And be transformed into a people who are forever loved and valued.
Happy Birthday to Edwin, Lee and Jason Marks!
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Today is kind of a funny day in the church calendar.
Normally, we should be observing the 9 th Sunday after Pentecost today.
But today is also the Feast of the Transfiguration:
Which always falls on August 6 th .
August 6 th , just happens to be on a Sunday this year:
And this Feast outranks Pentecost 9.
There are only a few feast days that are so important that they take precedence
over a Sunday:
And all of them are feasts related to Jesus himself.
Today, we commemorate how Jesus was transfigured before his closest disciples:
Peter, John, and James--
How his glory was revealed in dazzling white light,
And how God’s voice proclaimed:
“This is my Son, my chosen: listen to him!”
We know this story.
We read it every single year:
Only we don’t usually read it in August:
On the actual feast day of the Transfiguration.
Every year, we celebrate the transfiguration on the last Sunday after Epiphany:
Which is the Sunday before Lent begins.
We aren’t used to celebrating the transfiguration in August:
Even though that’s it’s date for observance!
And we also aren’t used to the word “transfigure”
Outside of this story that we read once a year.
It’s not a word that we generally use in conversation nowadays.
We might use the words “transform,” “alter,” or even “change” instead.
And we really should ask ourselves:
Who is it that’s really being changed in this story?
Jesus certainly appears to be changed.
Luke tells us outright: “The appearance of his face changed,
And his clothes became dazzling white.”
But the truth is:
Jesus really only looks different to his disciples.
It’s Peter, John, and James who are really transfigured.
Their eyes are now open to see Jesus as he really is:
Clothed in light and revealed as the Son of God.
And the disciples’ lives are changed too:
After this experience of God’s presence.
Before, they thought they were following a remarkable teacher.
After, they know that their lives are being woven into God’s plan for the
transfiguration of the entire world.
And that leads us to ask an important question:
“What experiences frame the way that we see and understand the world?”
Much of the way we experience the world is fixed by circumstances beyond our
Who our parents are,
Where we are from,
The language we speak.
But sometimes we have moments,
That allow us to see the world in a new light.
These are the moments when it seems we can see beyond ourselves,
Beyond our limitations,
And into the heart of reality.
When you have this kind of experience:
You can be fairly certain it’s because you have been in the presence of God.
The transfiguration is this kind of experience:
The experience of God’s presence:
That changes us,
Changes the way that we see Jesus and the world.
Jesus took his disciples up on the mountain, hoping to find God there.
They were on a quest:
Actively seeking God’s presence.
Jesus leads his disciples up there because he knows God can be found there.
Like Moses in the reading from Exodus--
God is found on the mountaintop:
Where your vision is clear, and all the noise of everyday life subsides.
But even though it is easier to find God on the mountaintop:
That’s not the only place God can be found.
All of us came to church this morning:
Hoping to find something of God here:
In one way or another.
And God feels especially close in the beauty of the natural world:
Stars shining in the sky,
Waves falling on the ocean shore.
Throughout the ages, people have known this.
Often, when people feel lost or lonely, wondering what’s next,
They find a church to pray in:
A mountain to climb,
A forest to walk in,
A river to sit near.
People remember those places where they have felt God’s presence before:
And they go and seek God there again.
And there’s always that temptation:
To stay put on the mountain:
To use that sacred space as a place to hide from the problems of the world.
Peter gives into this temptation,
When he asks Jesus if they can build dwellings on top of the mountain and just
bask in God’s glorious presence forever:
Content, but removed from all the trouble brewing down on the ground below.
And the answer is no.
God needs us to go down from the mountain:
To leave changed.
To go out into the world:
Taking some of God’s transformative love with us to share.
And if we’re honest:
We know that it isn’t only in those beautiful and set-apart places that we can find
The whole world is filled with the glory of God:
If we only have eyes to see.
Just like our reading last week:
The kingdom of God can appear to us in millions of different ways:
In a mustard seed:
In a pearl.
In some wheat.
In tiny little things.
Because there is no place on earth that God’s love does not go.
If we open our hearts to God’s spirit and go looking for God:
We will begin to see God’s presence all around us.
Our transfiguration comes as our eyes are opened and our hearts are changed.
When we see others as who they really are:
Made in God’s image:
Just as we are.
Open your eyes and see the world as it is--
Beloved by God.
Let your own heart be transfigured by God’s love.
Take that love down from this mountain,
And use it to bring more love into the world.
Many blanket blessings lately...
Making Holy Water with St. John's kids!
Fruit of the Spirit meets 8/13 after the service, discussing the chapters on Peace
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