The Rev Linda S. Harrison
Proper 18-Ordinary 23; Sept 9, 2018
Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37
God executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, and sets the prisoners free. God opens the eyes of those who cannot see, lifts up those who are bowed down, and loves the righteous. God watches over the strangers and upholds the orphan and the widow.
And how does God do all that?
Unlike my daughter who used to ask for the “magic mommy wand”, there is no heavenly “magic mommy wand” that when waved will rain down banquet tables filled with sumptuous luncheons and dinners for those living in poverty in our major cities or in the rural areas of the nation. No magic mommy wand for children living in rat-infested condemned buildings, or for children going to school hungry right here in Montgomery County. No magic mommy wand for the families fleeing war, women fleeing domestic abuse, or children separated from their parents.
That isn’t to say that I discount the miraculous – I have encountered my share. But I agree with Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor that “we tend to get mesmerized by [miracles], focusing on God’s responsibility and forgetting our own”. We want our own experience of a miracle – for ourselves or for someone we love who is suffering. We want it all to be okay, magically and with little fuss and effort and now. Miracles let off us the hook; we just wait for God. The tendency then is to blame lack of faith when the miracle does not come.
And, as Taylor notes, miracles are hard to come by. That’s a lot of faith that is lacking.
Indeed, how does God execute justice for the oppressed, give food to the hungry, watch over the strangers, and uphold the orphan and the widow?
“God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6.8)
God requires our just and righteous actions in this world. Or as 16th century Carmelite nun and mystic Teresa of Ávila wrote:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which Christ blesses all the world.
… Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
God works through us. We are the miracle.
The miracle is seeing the image of God in the eyes of another. The miracle is overcoming our prejudices, whether classism, ableism, sexism, racism, heterosexism. The miracle is recognizing God looking out of the eyes of the ‘other’ at you.
In Mark’s story, Jesus is confronted with his own class, gender, and ethnic biases by a Syrophoenician woman. This is a landed, wealthy woman of an ethnicity that has been historical quite at odds with Israel, and currently, in the time of this story, a group of people who oppress the Jewish peasantry, getting rich off their backs. A woman Jesus would rather have ignored based on his own prejudices insists that Jesus see her, hear her, and at least give her some of the crumbs from God’s table, because, by God, that is how expansive God’s love is. God loves even the Gentile … Gentiles!
The epistle of James takes the community to task for showing favoritism to the wealthy. The author is quite blunt in this letter: showing partiality by heaping adulation and preference upon those in fine clothes while humiliating the ragged and unkempt is at odds with true faith in Christ; ignoring the physical needs of another with pious yet empty platitudes shows a faith that is just as empty and dead as the words are. James tells us that our faith will be of no benefit to anyone unless we act on that faith on behalf of the one in need.
The author of the letter reminds readers and hearers alike that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to do so means we show no partiality, no favoritism. In short, we check our biases at the faith door, or at least we work for the household of God acknowledging them and despite them.
That is the real miracle – working for the dominion of God in acknowledgement of, and in spite of, our prejudices.
I heard a story this week of a minister called to an inner-city church who was told that the members of that church desperately wanted to grow. This minister went door-to-door every week for many years, personally inviting a few families at a time to join the community “this Sunday”. Many families responded positively and came to worship, appreciative of the invitation. But the new families did not look like the existing members and the existing members systematically pushed them out with subtle, and perhaps not so subtle, signals that they were not welcome. The existing members could not, would not, did not, check their biases and welcome families who were different, families who are still God’s children created in God’s image, who are hungry for God’s community and God’s word.
There was no miracle in that community.
The very next verse in James beyond our pericope appointed for today is, “Show me your faith apart from your works and I, by my works, will show you my faith” (v 18).
Faith and deeds are inseparable; they are conjoined. Indeed, works of justice and righteousness are signs of a living faith. Enacting and living one’s faith in the world means putting oneself out there, being a little uncomfortable. Sometimes being a lot comfortable; following Christ isn’t easy. It means relying on God to work the miracle in us, to help us navigate our biases and prejudices.
So, yes, God executes justice and gives food to the hungry and upholds the downtrodden. God indeed watches over the stranger and the orphan. God does so because God calls us to be faithful and just and merciful, showing no partiality, but loving our neighbor as ourselves. God created the miracle, and we are that miracle. The miracle is our willingness to confront our prejudices for the sake of God’s dominion. The miracle is our ability to examine our motives and our fears. The miracle is seeing God looking at us through the eyes of all whom we meet.
We pray for the miracle; we pray for the hungry, the abused, the oppressed, the afflicted. We pray for ourselves; we pray God’s help and strength and guidance and wisdom. We come here to this table to be spiritually nourished, so we can go out into the world as the Body of Christ. In the sustenance of this meal, the strength of worship, the support of prayer, we live our faith in God through Christ, working for the miracle, being the miracle, because Christ has no body now on earth but ours.
The miracle is that we are the Body of Christ. Blessed b