It’s Not Your Fault—Sermon for August 17, 2014
On the front page of the Wall Street Journal (Thursday) there’s a story about military aid coming to the Jurdish fighters in Iraq. A nearby story is about the conflict between Irasel and Hamas in Gaza. Page 3 has the story about the immigrant children coming to the US from Central America and there is story about Ferguson Missouri and its challenges with racial issues.
All the stories deal with conflict—two or sometimes more groups, neighbors in many cases, a shared history in others, and yet they want to kill each other. Again and again they choose violence to solve their problems. With regard to the immigrant children—so many have fled for their lives, or in the case of a high school brother and sister they came on their own after their mother and a younger sister were killed by a gang.
I know it’s not the happiest way to begin a sermon. It allows me though to get rather quickly to the issues clamoring for attention in the Old Testament story and in the Gospel.
And this is a good chance to tell you about one of the tracks coming up in our Fall program which I will help lead. Please note I said I’m going to help lead it. I’m looking for some help from some of you. It’s called “God in the News.” We’re going to have a discussion time about what’s been happening in our world and where we think God is in these various stories.
Maybe this sermon is an example. I’ll let you be the judge. Today I’ll focus on the Joseph story and the gospel. and I’ll conclude with one news story that’s gotten attention from all over the world—the story of the death of Robin Williams. A scene from one of his movies connects to these Bible stories.
First is the Joseph story. I must admit that I’m disappointed to discover that in this year’s cycle of readings there is just one story from the entire 14 chapters of Genesis devoted to Joseph. Over 1/4 of Genesis is about him, and we get one story. Thus I wrote a Spark Notes version of those 14 chapters for the bulletin. But maybe this one story gets to the heart of the matter anyway.
We heard of the brothers coming before Joseph in tehir search to purchase grain. They’d brought back the younger brother, Benjamin, but Joseph didn’t revealed himself. They only knew him as Pharoah’s right hand, and they had to be scared about what would happen next. If they even suspected for a second that it was Joseph I assure you they would have been afraid for their very lives. Joseph had every reason to hate his brothers for what they did to him. Many who have carried a grudge against someone for more that the 22 years can testify that it’s easier to carry the grudge than to let it go.
Then Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. He said, Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves…for God sent me before you to preserve life.” The whole fourteen chapters of the Joseph story is actually lacking references to God, but Joseph invoked some profound theology with his statement seeing that all that God was about was this moment and the future of his people.
And at the end Joseph, Benjamin and all the brothers are weeping. Weeping not just out of relief, but because of the mercy they’ve received.
The gospel story has some particular challenges. Jesus seems to have left his hearing aids at home. This Canaanite woman was shouting after him and it says he didn’t answer her at all. The disciples intervened and wanted Jesus to send her away. Be mindful, please, that these are the same disciples of little faith. Jesus responded with a curious statement. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Had we read the previous 15 or so verses we would have heard of the way Jesus trashed parts of the Pharisees approach to righteous living.
This woman was determined to be heard. The disciples couldn’t stop her.
She came and knelt before him. i.e she worshipped him, and we know it’s worship, because she used the disciples name for Jesus. She called him Lord, Kurios. And she used the Jewish messianic terms to address him as well, calling him Son of David.
That Jesus responded at all is remarkable. Men in that world were never to speak to a woman in public, even it was a sister or aunt. We know from other stories that Jesus broke that norm, and to what cost we don’t know.
And then he responded rather obliquely with a curious kind of riddle. It gets all too easily lost in translation. The ancient world was grounded in stories and rhetoric that included the clever use of riddles. Jesus essentially offered one when he almost teased this woman when he declared, “It’ is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
In asking her this riddle he was actually raising her status in a world that would always try to diminish her importance. She someow matered just because he talk with her. Jesus was playing a word game with her as if, as if she was equal to any of the men.
Implied in that statement about who throws food to dogs is what the Jews called the people of Tyre and Sidon, and what they in turn thought of the Jews. Oh, as you might suspect it’s the ancient version of Israel and the Palestinians. It’s the animosity between the Kurds, the Shites, and the Sunnis in Iraq. It’s a city in Missouri in racial turmoil.
And that world where Jesus was? Well to call someone a dog was highly derogatory. And would be to this very day in that part of the world.
Remember they had dogs in their world, but never, never as pets. To be sure the disciples must have thrown parts of the fish they caught and filleted to the nearby dogs, but they were never their pets.
And her response? You have to wonder if Jesus was expecting it. I’ll bet for sure the disciples who were watching never thought she’d get the last word or get to Jesus. But she did. “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
And in that world the only ones who weren’t like dogs, were the Romans and the few elite who cooperated with them. It was a world of gender and ethnic oppression. In Roman eyes the Jews, the Gauls, the Greeks and you name it, were all considered barbarians. They were all dogs in Roman eyes. They might have said of all the nations they conquered, “Let them have the crumbs that fall from our table,” That’s all.
That’s not what this woman meant. She was speaking of a crumb of mercy and forgiveness. It was a crumb a dog would eat, maybe your pet does it: the crumb is devoured with gratitude. g. Something to continue life.
And she found it at that moment. Not a crumb of food, but of worth. Worth. Value. And life for her daughter. There are so many people like her in this world, some/many in every church I’ve served. Many of my ordained brothers and sisters as well. So many, Wondering “Am I OK? Will I ever be accepted for who I am?”
It’s the question lurking in the shadows of the movie Good Will Hunting for which Robin Williams won his academy award.
Now Robin Williams was an Episcopalian. He said that belonging to this church was “Catholic-lite: the same religion, half the guilt.”
The Sharp Notes version of the movie Good Will Hunting is that Will Hunting, played by Matt Damon, is a 20-year-old South Boston laborer, an unrecognized math genius: as a way to avoid going to prison for an assault he agrees to see a therapist, Dr. Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams.
Toward the end of the movie Dr. Maguire confronts Will about the reality of the child abuse he experienced. (Dr. Maguire had a similar story.) Slowly the camera lets us see Dr. Mcguire come closer and closer to Will repeating “It’s not your fault.” Will nods his head, Yes. Says “Yes,” but to end the conversation.
Dr. McGuire keeps repeating, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” The viewer can feel the tension rising. Will says more than once in some very strong words, “Don’t mess with me.” But the doctor says again, “It’s not your fault.” And then finally with tears flowing like a waterfall he throws his arms around his therapist, and they embrace each falling on the other’s neck, both of them wordlessly crying.
Oh. “Then Joseph fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck.”
One of those God moments of forgiveness and mercy. The crumbs are enough. It was enough to say over and over, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
We have a prayer in the prayer book by the way about the crumbs under the table, this table. And if you read the prayer right, it’s not that any of us are crumbs, but that we worship a God of mercy.
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful
Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold
and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather
up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord
whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore,
gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ,
and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him,
and he in us. Amen.
Whose property is always to have mercy. God, Jesus, the Holy spirit, saying over and over, “It’s not your fault.” We can pray can’t we that Robin Williams finds himself at the same table as that Cannanite woman who verbally sparred with Jesus? And across the table are the sons of Jacob who allowed their brother to die, even though that’s not what happened. And we can pray that along with all of them, we hear, or maybe even better yet, hear it now, but hear oursevles saying “Yes.” to the words “It’s not my fault.” Which is what leads us to find our place at the table of the Lord. Amen