Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost – August 16, 2020

Duane Larson, Senior Pastor 

Based on Genesis 45:1-15; Romans 11: 1-2a; 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28. 

Note: This sermon was delivered mostly extemporaneously. This text may not cohere exactly with what can be viewed and heard at the Christ the King Lutheran Church Facebook page or You Tube page for August 16, 2020. 

Greetings my dear sisters and brothers, near and far. It is good to be back. I’ve been away, of course, for the last few weeks on not so much a vacation, but a change of venue. There I was able to do some of my usual summer things, like major yardwork; patch up the 23 woodpecker holes in the cedar siding on the house; do just enough plumbing so that I had to call a real plumber; contract poison ivy. Again. You know, the usual summer stuff.

Thankfully, there was rest, and many good hours of reading and refreshing mind and soul. Lots of good reading not so much for escape—I would have liked that—but still illumining and strengthening for mind and spirit. The book reports, so to speak, will show themselves in weeks and months ahead. But lest you think it was all so “dry,” I’ll let you in on a very personal angle. I also rediscovered Rocky and Bullwinkle on YouTube and you might get some theology thrown your way from those famous way-ahead-of-their-time humorists.

A substantial amount of church work was involved too, as you who are closer to home know. To be honest, the church part required quite some attention and generated anxiety. And not just a little. Of course. What we’ve experienced in our local ministry and life together is not some blithe matter simply to gloss over. It evokes questions of how better to manage our ministry and life together, about how best to communicate with each other without opening others or ourselves to unnecessary harm. And it is all amped up, seemingly to the max, by our national and global challenges. They sum into an anxiety that oppresses our individual lives and our common life at a degree we have not known in generations.

As if anxiety is not oppressing enough on the personal and world order! Questions of fairness, accountability and betrayal loom large. When another trusted authority betrays us–be that person one higher in a chain of command, or a colleague working with us ostensibly in a moral context, or a family member or lover—a human being can be so angered or finally even broken by that that forgiveness of others and self seems impossible; the disorientation can be so great that individuals or even a large society will maladapt and live painfully without self-awareness. I could well be talking about individual and corporate moral and spiritual Injury. You know that I speak and write about this often.

But I am also talking about something that is SO common to our experience that we just might have in our current privacy felt a too familiar of long repressed pain when we heard about Joseph meeting up with the family members who had so betrayed him. Tragically, this is not a new story. It is a very old one, one we now are remembering again as if for the first time. It is brought to us again as in our story in our first reading from Genesis, the climactic denouement of the Joseph saga. It is the saga of a dysfunctional family that is reconciled by God’s hidden involvement in their lives.

Summary of the story. It is something that Netflix should commission for a modern day adaptation. And we cannot be coldly analytic about it. Anguish drips all around. Joseph’s tears stream down his face and soak the necks of his brothers (Genesis 45:14-15). You’ve been there, no? The scary encounter with another with whom you want to reconcile, yet feel so safer from when far apart, but then knowing too that separation from the other means separation from yourself. All the questions about the meaning and the “how to” of forgiveness are here, and all the answers too as to how only honest encounter with the “other” person and situation is essential for any healing. We know that wounds and diseases do not admit of the quick fix grown from denial and wish projection. We know that the only way to get through hell is to keep going, honestly; that the dis-ease must be rightly named to be rightly healed. Joseph—and his whole family!—sure had a lot to name. No wonder the volume of tears.

What tears have we cried during this isolation? How will they impel us to doing the good thing like Jospeh, having seen that God is thick with us especially in this midst of our contemporary family and national and global dysfunctions.

Just as the Joseph saga encourages us that God’s providence prevails no matter the accidental and intentional complications of human behavior, so also Paul makes it clear. Will God reject God’s people? Not at all! God’s people were a remnant when that question was first asked (as far back as in the prophet Samuel’s day). But Paul uses himself and the young church as example, as the very alive and active Body of Christ. Further, God’s gifts are irrevocable. And they go to all people. God’s grace and justice covers all the ground into which sin would draw divisions and plant walls. They will be blown down by the Holy Spirit. That will be the time, the time finally!, when no one will think more highly of himself than he ought to, but must use his gifts humbly in a body with many members (12:3-8), when no one will pass judgment on another or cause another to stumble because of one’s arrogant spins on so-called bold faith, but live to please his neighbor rather than oneself (14:1-15:7); when the two-thirds plus of white American Christianity think racism okay share the same space on the track that is indeed our common holy marathon to and through the gates of heaven. God’s steadfast love and active rule of genuineness goodness will reach with healing and reconciliation, and so reconcile us all whether on the Rice track, at the polling booth, in our pandemic loneliness, and in our illusory self-righteousness. It will all, all, be fed by worship together however we are, and it will all, all, mean that the dysfunctional family of Christianities will be storied back together when we see ourselves as beloved dogs (and cats?) fed by God at even the other “alien” person’s table.

So about that story of Jesus with the Canaanite woman. Our situation has many predicates, like then. To say it is complicated is an understatement. Our current cultural assumptions can lead us to be too cruel about what we read even in Jesus. The whole cats vs. dogs debate has unwelcome resonance here! Explain.

Each of us has our unique sets of luggage; parties of us share like-minded biases, usually on the premise of betrayal and complaint; all of us bear jet streams of regret; we together and part have our fears of others rooted in the false fear of scarcity; and none of us would not wish for better and closer relationships with family members close to us and friends more distant. So here we are with Joseph meeting up with his betraying brothers. And here we are with Jesus being compelled by an unwelcome woman from a scat-hole country to care for her. And here we are with Paul—don’t ya know!—insisting on the steadfastness of God’s faith because we know what God has done for us, even if we’d rather not admit it aloud!

We know, though we do not like to admit it, that we have our own shortcomings. God’s grace does not erase them or ignore them and pastors are not chaplains of cheap grace simply to say its all okay. God’s grace means that we work through them. And we need each other’s help. That is why God has placed us as “church.” With Ron Rolheiser we declare that “Church is the place to help others carry their pathologies and to have them help me carry mine.” So, our grievous faults, we recognize then, also, that our faith for the public must be, must be pf two parts, as we learned from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a time of necessary Christian witness; that “We can be Christians today in only two ways, through prayer and in doing justice among human beings. All Christian thinking, talking, and organizing must be born anew, out of that prayer and action.”

Today, again, for all people, Christ crosses the boundaries that God’s grace be seen indeed for all. We are blessedly caught up into God’s program. May we blessedly be true to it,k in all its expanse. Amen

Duane Larson       Christ the King Lutheran Church       Houston, TX       August 16, 2020