Loving Without Liking: Thoughts on the Hard Rules of Discipleship

Luke 6: 27-38

27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

Back in the 1970s, one of the greatest baseball teams of all time was the Cincinnati Reds.

The Big Red Machine.

They had a lineup that included Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Jose Concepcion, George Foster, Ken Griffey, and Cesar Gerónimo.

Many of them now in the Hall of Fame.

They won six National League Western Division titles, four National League Pennants and two World Series.

They were the Pirates nemesis during that decade, beating them in the NL Championship Series three times.

The Reds’ manager was Sparky Anderson.

And believe it or not, he had a dress code for the Reds.

When acting on team business off the field, team members were required to wear slacks, dress shirts and blazers.

On the field, their hair could not go over the top of their ears, side burns had to stop at the earlobe, and they were not permitted to have any facial hair.

The players were not particularly fond of these rules, particularly because the 70s were an era of … well … hair.

And lots of it.

But the Reds followed the rules.

Because it they didn’t, they didn’t get in the game.

You want to be a Red?

This is how you act.

There is a team in Pittsburgh right now that might think about using that kind of discipline.

This all came to mind when I read this week’s text.

Let me set the stage.

You might recall that last week Jesus was preaching to his disciples and followers.

The “blessed” folks were there with him and so were close to Jesus and the Kingdom.

The “woeful” were not.

This week Jesus is still preaching.

Who is he preaching to?

Those who are listening to him.

Us.

We are still there listening.

We want to be disciples of Jesus.

To be on the Jesus Team.

Then Jesus tells us the team rules.

If you want to live in the Kingdom, here is what you need to do.

Love your enemies.

Do good to those who hate you.

Pray for those who abuse you.

If someone tries to humiliate you, walk away.

If someone sues you and takes your property, let them have it.

Give to anyone who asks and expect nothing in return.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Don’t judge.

Don’t condemn.

Forgive.

Wow!

These are some hard rules.

Really hard.

As my mother might have said:

“It would be easier for a watermelon to get through a keyhole, than for someone to follow these rules.”

Can any of us play for that team?

Do any of us want to play for that team?

These rules go against human nature.

We live in a world where retaliation and condemnation have become almost an art form.

Just look at social media.

It seems to be a game of who can come up with the snarkiest retort to someone else’s snarky comment.

We equate “I hate your opinion” with “I hate you”!

Jesus turns all this on its head.

I can imagine Jesus’ audience.

Us.

Like my Mom, we are troubled.

“What?”

“If we follow your rules, Jesus, won’t we become meek doormats who allow others to abuse us at will?”

That would be a misreading of this text.

How do we read it?

Jesus really has only one rule.

Love your enemies.

So now we have to break that down a bit.

The Greek word for love here is agape.

Agape is what you do, not how you feel.

Love that is pure verb.

But even if we are called to love our enemies, we are not called to like them.

Liking someone is a way of feeling about them.

Agape is doing good, despite a complete lack of good feeling.

How do we love these folks?

Jesus says, “treat others the way you want them to treat you.”

Not the way they treat you.

We call this the “Golden Rule”.

Next, we need to know who our enemies are.

The Greek work for enemy is echthrus.

It means basically hostile opposition.

Your enemies are not those who simply disagree with you, they are the ones who try to hurt you.

It’s easy to treat the folks who simply disagree with you well.

But how do you treat those who seek to harm you well?

Jesus provides a brief list.

These are cultural illustrations of what loving enemies might look like to his listeners.

And he adds an important one.

Don’t judge or condemn them.

Forgive them.

The implication and reality is that if you judge, you get judged back.

If you condemn, you get condemned back.

If you refuse to forgive, your get no forgiveness.

This is not about God.

This is the retaliation we see every day in the world.

The Greek word for judge is krino.

The meaning in this context is punishment or vengeance.

It includes condemnation.

The Greek word for forgiven is apolyo.

It means to “let it go”.

So, when we put all these things together, we Jesus tells us this:

If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, you must treat those who with hostility oppose you, not with retaliation, but as you want them to treat you, letting go of your bad feelings for them.

This has little to do with conceding, but it certainly does have something to do with justice.

It’s called peacemaking.

What peacemaking looks like changes with each and every situation.

Turning the other cheek and then praying and doing good for someone who physically or verbally attack you does not mean that you must allow them to continue.

Complying with those who make unwanted demands does not mean you don’t seek justice.

The metric is how would you want to be treated?

Treat these enemies with respect and justice, which might mean you have to cooperated or separate.

And here is the hard part.

Jesus puts the onus on us, his disciples.

We are required to do these things, even when we are not treated the same way.

How do we do that?

Here is one way.

Boundaries is a series of books written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

The primary point I got from these books is this:

No one can control what other people will do or think.

The only person I can control is me.

So, when someone is acting in a way that harms me in some way, I must decide what I will do to avoid the harm.

I need to set boundaries.

Boundaries are rules for the relationship.

Boundaries are lines I draw.

No one is allowed inside my boundaries.

If someone crosses the line, I will do act in a way that causes that person to be outside the boundary.

My action will not be retaliation, nor will it be judgmental.

It will simply remove a threat from inside my boundary.

The act might be leaving that person’s presence, asking a person to leave your presence, ending a conversation, changing a subject, or any other action that stops the harm, even up defending yourself or to calling the police.

These actions allow you to maintain the boundary of safety you have set for yourself.

From there, you can treat the person the way you want to be treated without judgment and, from a safe distance, forgive.

This reminds me of the third real Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi.

Luke’s nemesis and most evil enemy is Darth Vader.

Vader spends a good deal of energy beating up on Luke and trying to get him to join Vader on the dark side.

Funny thing, though.

Vader is Luke’s father.

Talk about an abusive relationship.

How does Luke deal with this?

He keeps saying (over and over and over) that there is good in Vader.

Vader just needs to give in to the good.

But until then, Luke spends time fighting, running from, or confronting Vader.

Always keeping a distance, refusing to let Vader harm him (though Luke does lose his hand).

Luke does not retaliate.

Luke does not judge.

Luke forgives.

But throughout, Luke stands up for justice and for his family and friends.

I think that is the way Jesus wants his disciples to act.

It certainly is the way Jesus lived.

We don’t have to learn how to build and fight with light sabers.

But we do need to look for the good in others.

And we need to do them good.

But if that is not quite the effect you want, Paul offers this, in Romans 12: 18-21

citing Proverbs 25: 21-22:

18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So, there is that.

Regardless of Paul’s alternative point of view, treating someone the way you want to be treated is the kind of love that makes peace.

This is living the Jesus way.

So, from that standpoint, what Jesus requires of his team seeks peace in the world and so preserves the world.

Because if we follow the eye for eye and tooth for tooth method of relating to each other, the reciprocal loss of body parts will end up with no bodies, and nobody.

But there is more than that.

We are called to treat each other the way God treats us.

Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

And when we do, we become children of God.

Kingdom dwellers.

Disciples of Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong, this is hard stuff.

The Reds just had to shave and buy some nice clothes.

Luke … well … was fiction, and he had the force with him.

We live in a world full of conflict and violence.

A world where retaliation is not only condoned but expected.

Where peacemaking is considered a weakness.

And yet somehow, we are to love our enemies.

How do we even start?

Jesus gives us a way.

Pray for them.

Pray for the people you count as your enemies.

And pray that you can treat them the way you want to be treated.

If we do that, maybe, just maybe, we can live the Jesus way.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (February 24, 2019)

In 1967 Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” for the London Colet Court school choir. The musical piece was based on the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. It is remarkably accurate in the telling of the story. It was later turned into a Tony nominated Broadway musical that ran from January, 1982 through September, 1983. It has been in production regularly worldwide ever since. If one was unfamiliar with Genesis, the almost farcical production takes a sudden dark turn when Joseph’s brothers, jealous of their father’s clear preference for Joseph over the rest of them decide to sell Joseph into slavery and tell their father Jacob that Joseph was killed by wild animals. (Spoiler alert!) Joseph ultimately becomes Pharaoh’s prime minister. Because of a famine, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy food. There they encounter their long-lost brother Joseph. The Brothers, remembering what they did, are understandably terrified! Which brings the second jaw dropper. What does Joseph do? This from Genesis 45:

3Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.5And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve [your] life…

Joseph forgives his brothers. What??? How could he forgive his brothers for such an evil deed? Because God orchestrated it, or at least Joseph interprets it all that way. Could any of us do that? Is that what we are called to do? Love those who despise us? Forgive those who ruin us? Come and hear about it on Sunday February 24 at 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church when Pastor Jeff preaches “Loving Without Liking” based on Luke 6: 27-38. We will look forward to seeing you. Then stay for the chili dogs after worship.

Blessings and Woes: Thoughts on who is blessed and who should be alarmed!

Luke 6: 17-25

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Kate Bowler is an assistant professor of the history of North American Christianity at the Duke University Divinity School.

She did her Ph. D. dissertation on the history of what is commonly called the “prosperity gospel”.

For those of you who do not know that term, Bowler defines it this way in her New York Times op-ed piece, Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me.

Put simply, the prosperity gospel is the belief that God grants health and wealth [within the course of their human life] to those with the right kind of faith. 

Bowler points out that when Prosperity Gospel people do prosper, they call themselves “blessed”.

They are blessed because they have the right kind of faith and so will receive from God whatever they ask for.

It’s kind of like that Janis Joplin’s song Mercedes Benz:

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?
I’m counting on you, lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?

If Janis’ prayer would have resulted ins a mysterious envelope with enough cash for an evening out, it was because she had enough faith to be blessed.

If not … well … woe to Janet.

She is rejected by God.

After Bowler got her Ph. D., she got the job of her dreams (assistant professor at Duke) and then she and her husband had a long-awaited child.

The Prosperity Gospel folks would have counted her among the “blessed”.

Bowler would have agreed.

Two years later Bowler found out she had stage 4 colon cancer.

Incurable.

Her prosperity gospel acquaintances responded to her illness with something like this:

You need to get your faith right so you will be blessed.

Then you can ask God for a miracle and get healed!

Here is the problem, though.

In an interview with Terry Gross on the NPR show “Fresh Air”, Bowler put it this way:

[I]t was hard for me as the recipient of all of these spiritual diagnoses to not feel a little bit blamed.

If Bowlers prayers for healing were not answered, she would have lost the test of faith.

Bowler prayed,

But she still has cancer.

Does that mean she is not blessed?

Woe to her … because she is rejected by God.

Now don’t get me wrong.

This “Prosperity Gospel” thinking is really not a new concept.

The traditional view for many in Jesus’ day was that you could identify the folks who were blessed by God by their wealth, privileged status, and health.

Those who whose lives were filled with struggle and misfortune were obviously rejected by God.

But Jesus flips it.

Who are the blessed in Luke?

The poor.

The hungry.

The ones who weep.

The ones who are hated.

Unlike Matthew’s Beatitudes, Luke’s Beatitudes are not spiritual.

They are material.

And that makes them harder to understand.

Particularly when we see new Bible translations that substitute the word “happy” for “blessed”.

But I don’t buy that meaning here.

It just does not fit the context.

When I had almost no money, I was not happy about it.

When I was hungry, I was … well … hangry, not happy.

When I was weeping, it was not a happy moment.

When people reviled me, it did not make me happy.

Can I still be blessed despite my misfortune?

Let’s look at the word.

The word “blessed” comes from the Greek word “makarios”.

Like many words, it has several different meanings depending on the context.

One of them is “happy”.

But in Luke, a better understanding of the meaning of makarios is a person’s status before God.

It is not an emotion.

It is God’s favor.

It is God’s presence.

It is the Kingdom of God.

In other words, I can be blessed, yet not be happy with my earthly circumstances.

I might be poor.

I might be hungry.

I might be sad.

I might be hated.

But God is present with me and invites me into God’s kingdom.

Not because I deserve it.

But because God favors those oppressed by the troubles of the world.

But then there are those “woes”!

Woe to the rich.

Woe to the full.

Woe to the laughing.

Woe to those held in high regard.

What does “woe” mean?

The Greek word for “woe” is “ouai”.

It is an expression of alarm.

Oh, no!

Something bad is going to happen!

And my prosperity can’t stop it!

So, the poor, hungry, sad and reviled are blessed.

The rich, full, happy and beloved are not.

This is the exact opposite of what Jesus disciples believed.

It’s frankly pretty much the opposite of what most people believe today.

This is certainly not consistent the “prosperity gospel” that would equate poverty, hunger, sadness and revulsion as rejection by God, while equating wealth, fullness, happiness and respect as proof of God’s blessing.

So, what is Jesus trying to say, here?

And more importantly, where do we fit?

Are we blessed, or are we alarmed?

To try and understand, we need to imagine the scene of our text.

Let’s put ourselves there with Jesus.

Jesus comes to a large crowd of disciples, Jews, and gentiles who want to hear what Jesus has to say and be healed of whatever ails them.

We are with them.

We are a desperate group.

We are crowding around Jesus.

We are pushing forward so they can touch him.

Jesus wades among us and heals us, all the time preaching that the Kingdom of God (which is Jesus) has come near.

While Jesus is doing all this, he turns to us.

Blessed are the poor, hungry, sad and hated, he says.

Who is he talking about?

I have this mental image of Jesus sweeping his arm in a sort of panoramic gesture at the people who are surrounding us.

The ones who came to hear what Jesus had to say and to ask him for help.

This includes us.

Why are we coming to Jesus?

Because we are the poor, hungry, sad and hated who have no place else to turn.

Jesus is our last hope.

And what has Jesus been doing for us?

Teaching.

Healing.

Blessing.

Inviting us into the Kingdom of God.

Then Jesus goes on.

Woe to the rich, the full, the happy, the beloved, he says.

Who is Jesus talking about here?

I have this mental image of him looking around and sort of shrugging his shoulders.

They are not here!

Those folks are satisfied with their “prosperity”.

They see no need for Jesus.

They are so preoccupied with their stuff that they don’t respond to Jesus invitation into the Kingdom.

They are like the rich man who is told to rid himself of his possessions so he can follow Jesus but walks away sad because he had so many possessions.

And so, as things stand at that moment, they are helpless to fend off the coming storms of life.

Bowler, from her interview on “Fresh Air” describes what that might feel like:

I couldn’t find anything on Earth as depressing as [a prosperity gospel funeral] because … people, [were], scraping and clawing for the meaning of someone’s death as they’re trying to grieve. And it was almost impossible for them to say that it wasn’t somehow the person’s spiritual failings that had led to this untimely death.

Woe to them, Jesus says, because that is all they have to look forward to.

So, back to the question at hand.

Which group do we belong in?

Well, it’s complicated.

Like the weather, it changes.

Are we poor?

Have we been poor?

Are we hungry?

Have we been hungry?

Are we weeping?

Have we been weeping?

Are we hated?

Have we been hated?

When we experienced these things, did we acknowledge our dependence on God?

Then we are blessed because we seek relief in the Kingdom.

Or did we curse God for our circumstances and become angry at and envious of those who have it better?

Then we should be alarmed because we seek relief in our stuff, which withers away.

Then there is this.

Are we rich?

Have we been rich?

Are we full?

Have we been full?

Are we happy?

Have we been happy?

Are we well respected?

Have we been well respected?

When we experienced these things, did we hold on tight to what “we” acquired through on our own?

Woe to us because these things do not last.

Or did we go to God with gratitude?

Did we acknowledge that all we have is a gift from God to be shared with those who are poor, hungry, sad and hated?

If so, we are blessed, because we are living in the Kingdom.

It all comes down to our relationship with God, and with each other.

I think that looks like this.

I want to read you something from Bowler’s book “Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved”.

She has just had surgery to remove a large abdominal mass and has been told she might have only months to live.

I read [something] in the newspaper the other day that summarized the findings of the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, and, yes, there is such a thing. Thousands of people were interviewed about brushes with death in every kind of situation – being in a car accident, giving birth, attempting suicide, et cetera – and many described the same odd thing: love. I’m sure I would have ignored the article if it had not reminded me of something that happened to me, something that I felt uncomfortable telling anyone. It seemed too odd and too simplistic to say what I knew to be true – that when I was sure I was going to die, I didn’t feel angry, I felt loved. … I couldn’t say for certain that I would survive the year. But I felt like I had uncovered something secret about faith. … At a time I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worked bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus.

Then this from her interview with Terry Gross:

But one of the only certainties I actually truly latched onto was the sense that in the worst moments that there can be an unbidden God and that I don’t have to earn it. And I don’t even have to like worry that I won’t have it – but that maybe the hope is that when we come to the end of ourselves, that we’re not alone.

That is life in the Kingdom.

Giving and receiving the love of God.

That is what Jesus was saying to his disciples.

To us.

Give and receive the love of God.

When we do that we are blessed.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (February 17, 2019)

“Mercedes Benz” is an acappella song written by singer Janis Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Nuiworth, on August 8, 1970. It was recorded on October 1, 1970. The song is a parody of consumerism that asks God to provide a car, TV and a night on the town to prove God’s love for the singer. Ready? Everybody sing:

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?
Dialing for dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?
I’m counting on you, lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?

Is that the way we look at God? Is God the divine wish granter? Does God have to prove God’s love by giving us material stuff? And if we have a bunch of material stuff, do we attribute it to God’s generosity? What if we don’t? Is there any theological meaning to this song? Were Janis, Michael and Bob Biblically insightful? This week Pastor Jeff will explore these things in his message “Blessings and Woes” based on Luke 6: 17-26. It might not be what you think. We look forward to seeing you at 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church.

No Miracle for You! Thoughts on who qualifies for the Kingdom.

Mark 7: 24-30

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 28But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

To get started this morning, I want you all to picture yourselves as Roman Christians in the middle of the first century.

Paul and Peter have come to Rome and told you about Jesus.

You have become disciples.

You get together at a fellow Christian’s house every Sunday to worship.

This Sunday you are excited because you are going to hear someone read a new Gospel written by someone named Mark, a companion of Peter.

When everyone arrives, they all sit down and the reader begins.

It’s all good.

The preaching.

The healing.

The standing up to authority.

The coming Kingdom of God.

You turn to each other.

“That’s our Jesus!”

“That’s why we follow him.”

Then the reader gets to our text today.

Jesus is in Tyre.

Gentile territory.

So, Jesus’ audience is gentile.

And so are you!

You hear that Jesus has been hounded by large crowds who seek his attention, demanding that he heal their sick.

Here, Jesus enters a house for some solitude.

But it does not work.

A crowd has gathered.

No rest for the weary.

Jesus is approached by a woman who begs for his help.

She is a single mom.

She is a pagan.

She is of the wrong race (in fact she is mixed race).

She has a little daughter who is possessed.

She is an outcast by anyone’s standards.

She is, in the eyes of most people, a non-person.

She is nothing.

Yet she comes to Jesus.

She has heard great things about Jesus.

She believes he can help.

As you listen, you know what is coming.

Jesus will heal her daughter.

Because that is what Jesus always does.

You can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

Always a happy ending.

Then there is pause as the reader looks at the text.

He scowls.

He scratches his head.

His lips twitch back and forth.

Then he reads:

27He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 

Wait …

You turn to the person next to you.

“What did he say?”

“We know that to Jesus the “children” are the Jews.”

“The dogs are … well … everyone else.”

“This woman and her daughter are dogs?”

“Because they are not a Jews?”

“And because of that, no miracle for them?”

“But we are not now, nor have we ever been, Jews.”

“Is Jesus talking about us?”

“Are we dogs?”

“Are there no miracles for us?”

“Are we not welcome in the Kingdom?”

Preachers hate this passage.

Every time I read this passage, I cringe.

Did you?

Jesus is so un-Jesus-like.

I mean Jesus is supposed to love everyone, care for everyone, be compassionate to everyone, and invite everyone into the Kingdom, right?

But here, Jesus is uncaring, dismissive and downright insulting.

If this offends you … good.

It should.

It is offensive.

So, what is going on here?

Why would Jesus say such a thing?

Many try to put different spins on this text to explain it.

Some have said that Jesus is being sarcastic.

His tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

“Just kidding!”

Others say that Jesus is just being his human self.

He snaps at this woman for invading his momentary solitude.

“Can’t I have a minute to myself?”

Some say this is a kind of test of the woman’s faith.

Does she have faith despite her foreignness?

“What makes you think I will do something for someone like you?”

The difficulty here is that Mark gives us no image to go along with Jesus statement.

But as I was thinking about it this week, I remembered that in Mark’s Gospel Jesus used moments like this as a teaching opportunity.

Maybe that is what is going on here.

Maybe Jesus saw this marginalized woman as an opportunity to make an important point.

What point might that be?

First, Jesus might be holding up a mirror in front of all those who heard his remark and basically said, “This is what you sound like!”

Jesus might be saying that he is just acting like them.

Ostracizing this bi-racial, pagan, single mom with a sick kid.

“This is what you say about her”, Jesus might be saying.

“This is the way you treat her.”

“You classify her and her daughter as sub-human.”

“Unworthy of my attention.”

“Unworthy of hope.”

“And if it offends you … good!”

“It is offensive.”

“How would you like it if I treated everyone this way?”

Which brings us to the second lesson.

Despite Jesus rude comment, the woman stays.

She uses Jesus words to argue that she should get help anyway.

“That might be so”, she says, “but I have heard that you folks give your leftovers to the dogs.”

“That is all I want.”

“I’m not asking for much.”

“A bit of compassion.”

“A bit of hope.”

“A little bit of healing for my daughter.”

“I have heard that can do that.”

“And I believe it.”

“Or did I hear wrong?”

This is when the listeners say, “Oooooooh! This is getting interesting!”

Then I remembered something else about Mark’s healing stories.

Jesus only heals someone who believes he can.

It is the faith that heals.

Jesus understands this woman’s response to his surly comment as faith that Jesus will be … well … Jesus-like.

Like the Jesus she heard about.

Like the Jesus who has demonstrated enough power, authority and goodness to heal her daughter.

Jesus responds.

“Well said, your child is healed.”

So, the story does end well.

Smiles return to the Roman Christian listeners.

The Kingdom is for them, too.

They get miracles, too.

Good news indeed.

So, what does that mean for us in 2019?

Who are the folks we think of as non-persons these days?

Do we ever say to people asking for a bit of hope, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs …’?

Sometimes.

But that is not what Jesus teaches us today.

Jesus says, do something, do what you can, even if it is just a little bit.

Here is an example of what that might look like today.

It’s a PCUSA program called “Freedom Rising”.

I need to give you some background.

Rev. Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell was a PCUSA pastor and a friend of mine.

Eugene was African American.

He was from Homewood, born and raised.

Homewood was, at the time, basically a black ghetto in the City of Pittsburgh with the city’s highest crime rate.

Eugene planted a church there called House of Manna.

Eugene’s primary focus was reaching out to African American men who were, as Eugene put it, and endangered species.

Unemployed.

Poorly educated.

Racially profiled.

Hopeless.

Considered by many to be non-persons.

Like anyone without hope, they often lived, and died, on the edge.

Eugene wanted to speak up for, and to, these men.

To give them help.

To give them hope.

That was Eugene’s mission.

Then Eugene found out he had cancer.

It first took his leg.

It would later take his life.

But in the interim, Eugene decided to do something for the African American men he was called to minister to.

He organized a group from Pittsburgh Presbytery who petitioned the 2016 PCUSA General Assembly to create and fund programs in several presbyteries specific to African American men.

The overture encouraged each participating Presbytery to offer support, development and healing in their respective cities in a manner that would be shaped to specific local needs.

GA passed the overture unanimously and named it “Freedom Rising” in honor of Eugene.

Funding for these programs comes through the PCUSA Peace and Global Witness Special Offering that we collect on World Communion Sunday, the first Sunday in October each year.

The work has begun but has a long way to go, but it is beginning to offer hope to young African American boys.

What does this have to do with our scripture reading?

Eugene Blackwell understood that like the Syrophoenician woman in Jesus day, African American men today are considered by many to be “non-persons”.

He, and subsequently the PCUSA, decided it was time to give at least some of our mission dollars to the cause of giving African American men hope.

Why?

Because Eugene, and the 700 or so commissioners to the 2016 GA, thought the PCUSA response to the plight of African American men had been historically un-Jesus-like.

He thought that was offensive.

And Eugene concluded that unless he did something to change the PCUSA response, he was being just as offensive.

So, he did what he could.

To the day he died.

So, what does it mean to us here at JMPC?

A couple of things.

First, we should make sure we direct some of our Peace and Global Witness Offering toward Freedom Rising.

Give a little bit of what we have to give hope to those who have been considered non-persons for too long.

Second, we need to pay attention to other “non-persons”.

Who is coming to us, looking for hope, yet being brushed off because we think they are somehow unworthy?

Would you call them dogs?

Non-persons?

Something cringe worthy?

Maybe we all have one time or another.

If so, do what Jesus did.

Do something that demonstrates the error of you ways.

Even if it is just a small thing.

Jesus lesson to us might be that there is no person who is excluded from the Kingdom.

So, when someone comes to us and asks to be treated like a Kingdom dweller, we do what you can to do that.

We should give them a little compassion.

A little love.

A little healing.

A little hope.

They have probably heard that Jesus calls us to do that, and they believe we will.

Here at JMPC, we must do our best to confirm what they believe.

To give hope to those who come here.

Why?

Because we don’t want to be un-Jesus-like.

We want to live the Jesus way.

What really brings this home to me, is this Communion Table.

Here is where we come for compassion, love, healing and hope.

We can come here and say, “Jesus, I believe you have the power to heal, to save, and I know just a little bit of that will be enough for me.”

And Jesus says, “For saying that, you are saved.”

“This miracle is for you.”

“All of you.”