Mark 7: 24-37
This week, our cousin Stephanie died.
Many of you have lost very dear friends, very dear family, too—people who like the Syrophoenician woman in Mark’s gospel today, met unkind and exclusive words with gospel truth, shared a spirit that said, “Ephphatha!” Be open to all that God has done, is doing, will do.
When called a dog, this stranger woman pushed back…for love of her daughter, she pushed back.
The power of her faith is stunning… that even a crumb of Jesus’ healing power would be far more than enough to cast a demon from her daughter and save her life.
When someone dies, we often only tell the good stories about them, painting half truths about their life. The thing is, you'd have to dig for a long time to come up with a story about Steph that wasn't surrounded in goodness, mercy and love. What could we say? That she was just too kind? Too much of a servant [& justice-seeker]? Too quick to show up for others? Preached too big of Gospel? Goodness and mercy and love surrounded Stephanie, as surely as goodness and mercy and love have led her home to Jesus. In the wake of this death are her three small ones and husband, large extended family, ginormous circle of friends and colleagues, a congregation for whom Good Friday has arrived out of turn. We trust that Jesus works near the wounded, near the wound, binding up the brokenhearted. Grief is a consequence of love--and my how she loved; how she was loved…. This life is not a dress rehearsal. Today, beloved. Today is not a dress rehearsal, it's the real thing.
but I have to tell you that I am far more afraid of us dreaming too small and asking for too little from one another and missing this vital moment.
who lifts up those who | are bowed down… who cares | for the stranger; who sustains children who have lost their mother, the ones who have lost their life partner… (Psalm 146)
For those of us who are used to having a place at the table, maybe we need to be reminded that none of us has any right or privilege whatsoever to claim with God. We all come as beggars to the table, and it is solely by God’s grace that we are fed. God’s welcome table is immeasurably larger than we can imagine.
And for those of us who identify more easily with the Syrophoenician woman begging for crumbs, it must be said that Jesus does not leave any of us in a state of beggarliness. Christ seats us at the table and claims us as God's beloved children -- children from every language and nation. Even crumbs from the table would be enough for our healing and salvation—because in just a crumb Christ is fully present. But Jesus has given more than enough. He sets an abundant, life-giving feast for all.
Even if you won’t give me bread, won’t you give me the crumbs?
And in this amazing response, you can almost see Jesus’ eyes widen, his breath taken away.
This stranger’s trust in Jesus was far more than his disciples’ trust, even though they had seen Jesus multiply loaves for more than 5000 hungry souls. The usual suspects didn’t understand about the bread… But that gutsy stranger did. With just a word, her daughter was healed.
And then Mark tells a story of a man who couldn’t hear or speak. His friends ask Jesus just to touch him… but Jesus does way more than they asked for, sticking his fingers into the man’s ears, putting spit on his tongue. The man ends up able to hear and speak… and in fact, when Jesus tells people not to mention it, they can’t stop talking…
They are intriguing, weird, amazing stories—healing because of challenging push-back from a stranger, healing that’s kind of over-the-top, invasive…
But what about for us?
What about for us who are having trouble hearing right now… and no devices or prayers have made that better? What about for those of us who can’t speak… ?
What about us? The ones whose sons and daughters have not been healed of their demons—whatever that means to us…
Saint Teresa of Avila is remembered for this sentiment… – If this is how you treat your friends, God, no wonder you have so few!
What about us? Even though over 176,590 people followed her story and prayed fervently around the clock these past two weeks… faithful Stephanie died.
Of course, I’m biased, but here’s what Jodi Houge, one of our pastor colleagues, wrote:
Those of us who knew her will miss Stephanie so much… So many circles and tables, her congregations, her mother’s heart, and most of all her own home has an empty space without her, and in this grief, we are connected to every one of you who has lost a dear one… we’re connected to a whole world that grieves because like Jesus’ disciples, so few of us understand about the loaves. We are clueless, really, most of the time, to God’s abundance.
Here at Christ, we are about to embark on a Capital Campaign together and as we have had initial conversations around little tables about our capacity as a congregation—and if and whether we can do the things we think God is calling us to do—specifically, right now, that is to renovate our kitchens and pay our first Deacon and seed a hunger ministry that could transform us and bring new life for years to come.
This is a big dream for a congregation that has historically thought of itself as “struggling”…
One of our team leaders wrote this to me:
Our congregation clearly faces significant challenges and we ought to be wise about how we move forward… The one decision we can’t afford to make is to be safe. First of all, if we think we are safe or can be safe we are operating under an illusion, and secondly, a desire to be safe is a decision to underperform, to be irrelevant and cease to exist. Therefore, as we celebrate 150 years, let’s celebrate with a full recognition of all it entails.
We can’t help it… our inclination is to restrict God’s intent to restore life to all.
We resist and oppose just how far God is willing to go so that all experience resurrected life. We always tend to make God less than God is...
But death, birth, baptism, diagnosis, tragedy, celebration can also potentially connect us to the God who experiences all of these milestones personally…
Another Teresa said, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”
She also said, “In this life we can do no great things. We can only do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa
Spiritual nourishment for faithful people is essential, and our congregation’s mission cannot end there. Like Jesus himself, his disciples are continually called to a larger vision of mission -- one that aims to embrace the outsider, the stranger…
I’m going to end with a few words from preacher Karoline Lewis:
It is a rare moment when we glimpse how much beyond our comprehension God really is and how much beyond our imagination God’s love extends. And in that same moment, we perceive how easy it is to give in to this world’s estimations of God, this world’s [tendency] to limit what God can do. How quickly we retreat from zealous proclamation and settle for lukewarm confession. How often we shrink in fear from the bold belief, “Here is your God” (Isaiah 34:4).
In our worship and service together, in the risk-taking actions of throwing a really big party for our 150th Anniversary (to bring all kinds of people from our past, present, and future to the table) and kicking off a Capital Campaign, God challenges us to consider how we will live out our faith together, in ways that will better reflect God’s kindness, mercy and justice.
We don’t have forever… we just have this time, this place… this season to recognize God’s abundance and give from it with great love.
 Karoline Lewis, workingpreacher.org
 Elisabeth Johnson, workingpreacher.org
 A note from Pike Hunter, “To add my own two-cents, I think the crumbs are Jesus (the Summer of John 6), that is why she is satisfied with them. This narrative is tucked right between the feeding of the 5000 and the 4000. All this bread is pointing to Jesus. Remember the disciples were hard-hearted after the feeding of the 5000 because they did not understand about the loaves. This woman, unclean outcast, not a disciple, understands about the loaves. Jesus is her bread of life. She'll take the crumbs because a crumb of Jesus is all of Him. And there will be even more baskets full of bread after the 4000. More Jesus! But this time all the bread is for the gentile, outcasts from the region of Tyre.” - Pike Hunter, in a comment attached to the commentary at workingpreacher.org on Mark 9 by Elisabeth Johnson, September 9, 2018.