The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 6, 2015

“Love Beyond Boundaries”
Mark 7:24-37

There is an outdoor celebrity whose motto is “Go Where You Don’t Belong.” His name is Remi Warren. Another is Donnie Vincent. The places they go to hunt are often harsh and unforgiving. It is not so much a cultural or ethnic boundary that send the message to Donnie or Remi, “Go Home,” it is the environment. Steep mountain faces, freezing cold, blazing heat. There are no housing developments there, and there is a reason for that.

There are other places where some of us go ‘where we don’t belong.’ A few years ago Kathy Petersen, Steve Young, Nancy Gelsinger and I took some youth down to Old First on Race street in Philadelphia for a mission weekend. Part of that was going into the community to serve. The morning of that service work, our coordinator told us the address of where we were going. I am not real familiar with Philadelphia, but I realized where we were going. Hmmm, I said to myself. We found our way on public transportation to the work site where we were picking up trash in the gutter and in vacant lots where homes had been torn down. Other homes were boarded up. None of them looked like houses around here. The kids did a great job. We met people who lived in the neighborhood and they were very thankful for the work we did. It was good to talk to the people who lived there, because in doing so it was fairly easy to recognize that we share basic human needs and desires.
That evening we ate dinner with some of the guests of Old First’s shelter program. I was sitting with a couple of our young ladies and one or two of the homeless men. One guy asked them, “what did you do today?” They shared that they were picking up every conceivable manner of trash along such and such a street. The man’s eyes got wide and he said, “you went up to Kensington?” “I guess,” the girls sheepishly replied. He then said something unexpected, “I don’t even go up there.”

It is quite natural, because of language barriers, fear of crime, or simply because of ethic differences, there are places where we feel as if ‘we don’t belong.’

Jesus is intentionally traveling in a place, a region, he doesn’t belong. Then, a woman who had everything going against her pushes her way into Jesus’ presence. She was a woman and a gentile from this ‘wrong side of the tracks’ area. She had no right, according to the social custom of the day, to engage Jesus in conversation. Jesus responds in a normal way; he answers as anyone of means, anyone with certain social privilege, anyone whose motivation is not questioned because of who they are would answer. Belonging to the right faith community, and being in the proper socio-economic position he tells her what might seem logical: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”IMGP3073

The story that follows, the healing of a deaf man, may seem, while miraculous, expected. It isn’t. Surprisingly, it is another story about Jesus going where he should not go. Not so long ago people with any kind of infirmity were not seen as being afflicted by some random microbe or gene mutation. Their condition was viewed as given by God as a consequence of their sin. The blind, the deaf, people with developmental disabilities, folks with mental illness, those with withered limbs were viewed as ‘less than’ and were not valued by society. People were afraid of these physical differences because they did not understand the biology and science of their condition like we do today. These conditions were attributed to demons, or divine punishment. This understanding is why someone once asked Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2)

In both these cases, the story doesn’t end with the outcome we should expect. Instead, Jesus recognizes the persons intrinsic value as a human being and trespasses several boundaries, in healing them. In these two stories we could add to the motto for Jesus, “Go where you don’t belong, and do what you shouldn’t do.”

A “‘worthless, gentile girl whose mind was devoured by a demon,’ and a ‘good for nothing deaf man who couldn’t even speak clearly’” (Mitzi Minor, The Spirituality of Mark, Louisville:Knox Press, 1996, p. 51) were indeed children of God to be embraced and valued. The woman’s response to Jesus serves as a stark reminder that status, social, religious, economic, is a product of our own imaginations, invisible to God. (Amy C. Howe, Feasting on the Word, Pastoral Perspective: Mark 7:24-37, Year B, v. 4, p. 48)

The point of this text challenges us because it is asking for something more than a casual recognition of the equality of all human beings. It is something more than the recognition that ‘all lives matter,’ police lives, black lives, brown lives, yellow lives, lives that are shrouded in illness of any kind, lives hobbled by some impairment; they do indeed matter to God, but the question for Jesus and for us is ‘so what will you do, in recognizing this fact?’

In an effort to energize UCC congregations to support mentally ill people in their midst, the 2015 General Synod overwhelmingly adopted a resolution Monday, June 29 to develop a network of churches that are welcoming, inclusive, supportive and engaged (WISE) for mental health. Some of the WISE 12 steps involve mitigating the shame and stigma that mental illness engenders. One committee member noted, “As church, we are considered armies of compassion.” With rapidly shrinking public services available, “churches are where those who suffer turn.”

Friends, “The Church of Christ, in Every Age” has met the Syrophoenician woman.  The question is, will we listen to her today?  Will we understand that “we have no mission but to serve in full obedience to our Lord, to care for all, without reserve, and spread [God’s] liberating word”?  Will we listen? Will we respond by offering God’s infinite compassion and mercy to all persons wherever they might be?  ‘whoever they might be?’ I pray so.