A Sermon in Response to
By The Rev Ian M Delinger
Rector of St Stephen’s Episcopal Church in San Luis Obispo, CA September 20, 2017
Based on Matthew 15:21-28 (at the end of the sermon)
As you know, I spoke at the Vigil for Charlottesville, VA “Outshine the Darkness.” It wasn’t my most eloquent moment, neither was it a comfortable environment for me. I have to give some serious consideration to what role best suits me to publicly stand out against actions, expressions and values that are contrary to our Christian beliefs. The people of San Luis Obispo are actively seeking participation from the faith communities, and we need to grab the microphone whenever it is handed to us, however uncomfortable.
As you know, I have an odd relationship with the lectionary, and firmly believe that the Holy Spirit works within it. I was sent a text message last Sunday morning during the 8am service asking if I would speak at the Vigil. After I accepted later Sunday afternoon, I began thinking about what I wanted to say. I felt that it needed to be an explicitly Christian message of inclusivity. I chose the story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman from another land who points out His racist views. On Monday, when I usually have my first peek at the next Sunday’s readings, I discovered that Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite Woman was the Gospel set for today. The Holy Spirit at work.
The Vigil was more of a demonstration, and it is an environment that makes me uncomfortable when in a leadership position. The speakers before me and after me got lots of loud applause and cheers; I got very little. But that wasn’t why I was there. I was there to share this intriguing interaction between Jesus and the Canaanite Woman which speaks directly into race relations in America today.
There is no question – and the academic commentaries confirm this – that within these short 8 verses, Jesus’ remarks are blatantly and hurtfully racist. Matthew was writing to a predominantly Jewish Christian audience, and he needed to make his points very clear in ways that his Jewish listeners would find unsettling. Therefore, Matthew starts this story emphasizing Jesus as the Messiah to the Jews, the racially- pure nation of Israel. The woman is not only inferior as a woman, she is a Canaanite, one of those from a despised and inferior race.
Matthew uses a Canaanite – probably the equivalent of a member of ISIS to us today – to illustrate the divine paradigm shift that is about to take place. Not only does Matthew use this despised foreigner, he uses a woman, the gender that is inferior to men in all of the cultures of the Ancient Near East. So, there are many significant markers in Matthew’s telling of this story. And this story is told again in the Gospel according to Mark.
This Gospel is vital in illustrating that Jesus the Messiah is for all people, not just the nation of Israel. At that time, the nation of Israel was preoccupied with racial purity, much like the Alt-Right and those who organized the march in Charlottesville, VA last weekend. Matthew sets up a similar situation, but concludes with a very different outcome. Matthew puts deeply offensive and racist words into Jesus’ mouth: no culture is worthy of being referred to as ‘dogs’. Nevertheless, she persisted. The Canaanite Woman tells Jesus that there is good in everyone. An inferior gender from an inferior race tells the man from the dominant culture that He is fundamentally wrong.
Matthew knows exactly what he is doing. He is challenging his Jewish audience to consider the breadth and scope of The Messiah’s reach. If God created all humankind as The Torah indicates, then all God’s people, all those created in the image of God, must have the opportunity to find salvation in Jesus, the Son of God, The Messiah.
The publicity leading up to the demonstration in Charlottesville, VA last week was difficult to look at. As the Silicon Valley is doing everything it can to block extremist and domestic terrorist websites, I went in search of reliable secondary sources. During my search I found an article in The Atlantic that cited a yet-to- be-published study by researchers from the University of Arkansas and Northwestern University who looked into what the Alt-Right believes. The only surprise was that those who self-identify as white supremacists are not motivated by their economic situation. What was disturbing, and I have preached about this before, is that they believe “people like Muslims, Mexicans, blacks, journalists, Democrats, and feminists” to be less-evolved, to be subhuman. No person is subhuman. We are all created in the Image and Likeness of God, and we are very good [ref Genesis 1:31].
The study revealed their beliefs like responses to questions like:
“What are your thoughts when people claim the alt-right is racist?”
“If it were not for Europeans, there would be nothing but the third world. Racist really needs defined. Is it racist to not want your community flooded with 3,000 low IQ blacks from the Congo? I would suggest almost everyone would not. It is not racist to want to live among your own … Through media [the Jews] lie about the Holohoax, and the slave trade. Jews were the slave traders, not Europeans … many people don’t even understand these simple things.”
Leading up to Charlottesville, in a pre-rally podcast on the organizer’s website that is now blocked, the organizer:
…encouraged his followers to bring firearms to the upcoming protest. [Additionally:] The Right Stuff is infamous for using racial slurs and making fun of genocide and the holocaust. They have even popularized their website with photos of ovens and sold oven mitts and, in light of holocaust gas chamber victims having their bodies cremated in concentration camps.
I heard a clip of an interview with one of the leaders. He said:
“…an Israeli citizen, someone who understands your identity, who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood, and the history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me, who has analogue feelings about whites.
1344 Nipomo Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 – 805-543-7212 – www.ststephensslo.org
A Sermon in Response to Charlottesville, VAA Sermon in Response to Charlottesville, VAA Sermon In Response To Charlottesville, VA 3 The Rev Ian M Delinger
“You could say that I am a white Zionist – in the sense that I care about my people, I want us to have a secure homeland for us and ourselves. Just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”
Had Matthew elaborated on Jesus’ comment to the Canaanite Woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”, it may have felt very much like the disgusting stuff I just read to you. But instead of being concerned with racial purity, Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah who came to share God the Creator’s love to all of us who are created in the Image of God, was rebuked by the Canaanite Woman, and He realized His mission and purpose in this world.
There is no room in Christianity for racist views. That was the point that Matthew was making to his Jewish readers. Was Jesus a racist? No, of course not. This story was written in order to emphasize that point. Jesus went from village to village including in His ministry those who had been marginalized by those who wanted to maintain racial purity. He included women, lepers, the blind, the mentally ill, Gentiles of as many races that were in the region. Jesus did not exclude anyone in His ministry.
Jesus’ mission was to point us to God the Creator, whom we had forgotten in our ostentatious lifestyles. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that all who believe in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life [ref John 3:16]. The Cross and Resurrection were for all, the Canaanite Woman, included, for Jesus proclaims, “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” As Christians, the earthly ministry of Jesus is our model, and Jesus’ ministry was to all people.
As Christians, we cannot remain silent in the face of prejudice, whether it is in the form of a rally 3,000mi away or a conversation with a friend. When the personhood of another is threatened, we Christians cannot be silent. Denigrating the personhood of others doesn’t always take the form of the extreme views expressed by the Alt-Right. Racism and xenophobia can be very subtle. We all need to explore our attitudes and ask ourselves why we are uncomfortable when certain groups are mentioned in the news or cross our paths on the street. We all carry prejudices.
For our Confirmation Class, I put our two teenagers and two adults in situations in which they were exposed to different types of people who were not like themselves. I did that because the Bishop will ask the Confirmands and every one of us five questions. Two of those questions are as follows:
- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every humanbeing?
Each one of us will need to examine ourselves so that we can proclaim with integrity and confidence the response of “I will, with God’s help.”
Wednesday’s vigil was uncomfortable for me, but not as uncomfortable as it was for anyone in Charlottesville. The Cross was also uncomfortable, and Jesus demands that we take up our Cross and follow Him [ref Matthew 16:24-26]. Being a Christian should move us out of our comfort zones, because proclaiming the Good News is a counter-movement to the injustice in this world, from its inception which was the Incarnation.
Speak up and speak out. Be the Light of Christ that shines through the darkness [ref John 1:5].
The success of the counter-protest in Boston yesterday was a testimony of what the average person can do to combat injustice. Thousands of mostly peaceful counter-protesters to the rally in Boston Common overwhelmed the rally in numbers such that the rally ended more than an hour early. As an entity, the counter-protesters were a modern ay Canaanite woman… they stopped a racist movement… the difference is, it is only for a moment.
It’s not all about protesting, and it’s not all about white supremacists, and this is not ‘white shaming’. Every day, ethnic minorities, people of minority religions, LGBT persons, and women are denigrated ever-so-subtly. And degree of denying one’s personhood does not align with the Good News in Christ Jesus, and we are called to strive for justice and peace among all people. NPR this morning broadcast a segment on how to address the everyday racist comments that happen in the office or around the dinner table. [www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/08/20/544483288/how-to-talk-race-with-your-family-ask-code-switch]. Each of us needs to be the Canaanite Woman in our spheres of influence, changing the hearts and minds of those who attempt to diminish the Image of God in others.
If we don’t speak out, they will win, and Christ will again be Crucified. Yesterday’s successful counter- protest in Boston reminds me of a poem we already heard this morning, one that is worth repeating so that we hear it. It to be taken out from here, so that they can hear it, too, and begin to have an identity that is defined by the Love of God through Jesus Christ:
Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.
– Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
***Photos by Brittany Anzel App