When You're Out, You're In

Sermon delivered August 17, 2008 at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, SC

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Readings:
Isaiah 56:1-8
Matthew 15:21-28

Got my faith baby in the Lord,
Got my faith baby In the Lord, Lord, Lord
And I know He'll make everything alright
No matter where a child roam
That child's gonna have a home
If he's got his faith alright

I don't believe in no car
I don't believe in General Motors
I don't believe in the President
Or the League of Women Voters
I don't believe in these things
All these things might fail
I don't believe it's gonna snow
It might sleet rain or hail

But I believe in the Father
I believe in the Son
I believe there's a Spirit
For everyone (Repeat)

That's not all - That's not all - I'm gonna tell y'all
Let's do the faith call
I said F----F, I said A----A, I said I----I, I said T----T,
I said H----H.
What's that spell---Faith,
What's that spell---Faith
Oh Faith

"Faith" by the Violent Femmes

In high school, I was chosen last for a baseball game in P.E. - once. Back then, I was scrawny. I didn't look like I could hold a bat up, much less hit a ball or run the bases. I was judged on my physical appearance, treated like an outcast.

  Hear this sermon at the Garden of Grace UCC Web site.

That all changed during my first game. During my first at bat, I swung at the first couple of pitches and missed. Those who had said, "Fine, we'll take Candace" as I stood alone after everyone else had been picked, were feeling pretty justified at that moment. I was able to run the count full - for non-baseball fans, that means I had two strikes and three balls. The next pitch could seal my fate forever as the player you dreaded having on your team. The next pitch, however, was beautiful. I swung, and every head turned toward the outfield. We were playing on one end of the football field, and the centerfielder - who had been playing me somewhere right behind second base - started to run and run - then he began to walk. The ball was at the other end of the field and he knew I'd already be home before he could get to it.

But, just in case that moment had been a fluke - beginner's luck, if you will - the team reserved judgment until they saw me in the outfield. I remember one guy - one of those cocky, jocky types - pointed his bat down the third base line toward the outfield where I stood and said, "It's coming to you, Chellew!"

"Bring it on!" I yelled back.

He did as promised, sending a screaming fly ball right to me - well, a little to the right of me. I had to hoof it to catch up with the ball. At the right moment, I reached out my glove and heard the satisfying thump of leather on leather and felt the weight of the ball in my glove.

The cocky jocky type stopped dead in his tracks between home plate and first. He was trotting, convinced he had put the ball past me. All he could say was, "Oh my God. She caught that thing!"

What my classmates didn't know was I played baseball all the time. You see, I had a boyfriend at this point in time - but I was also beginning to realize that it wasn't a boyfriend that I really wanted. I hadn't yet come to grips with what all that meant, so I told my boyfriend that as a good Christian girl, no one would be hitting a home run in my ball park before wedding vows were said at home plate. Those purity vows can come in handy for gay kids! So, instead of engaging in the form of recreation that many girlfriends and boyfriends were doing - we played baseball - a lot. We got very, very good at baseball.

So, needless to say, after that game, I was always picked first. I had proven myself to them. They saw what I could do. They had faith in me and in my ability to help them win games in the future. I was a valuable part of any team.

The Canaanite woman who approaches Jesus in our passage is like those teammates of mine. She's seen what this Jesus guy can do. She knows he has the power to heal her daughter. She hears he's in town, so she seeks him out, throwing herself at his feet, begging for his help.

What does she get in return? Insulted. Jesus calls her a dog - a common insult that Jews used to describe Gentiles like this woman. However, Jesus uses this word a bit differently. The word he uses doesn't describe the dirty, outcast dogs that roamed the streets tipping over garbage cans and being a nuisance. The word he uses was commonly used to describe dogs kept as pets.

Because of Jesus' choice of words some commentaries on this passage believe Jesus said this in jest, merely testing the woman - but others see this as a true internal struggle within Jesus that is reflected even within the church today. As this Gentile approaches him, Jesus is confronted with the decision to include or exclude. Should he extend his ministry to Gentiles, or stick with his original plan to bring salvation only to the Jews? We still see this struggle reflected in the church - should we open our doors to gays and lesbians, or remain a church that ministers only to heterosexuals - and closeted gays and lesbians? Should we open our doors to black people and other minorities, or remain the white church we've been all along? Should we open our doors to those who don't believe exactly like we do and learn to live in love and unity despite our doctrinal differences or do we remain doctrinally pure, closing our doors on those heretics who seek fellowship with us?

The turmoil we feel - whether to be inclusive or exclusive - is the turmoil Jesus felt at this moment. Maybe the words of the prophet Isaiah went through his mind - "my house shall be a house of prayer for all people" - even those dry eunuchs - perhaps even this Canaanite dog. Even so, he did his best to turn this woman away. If we had sought the help of someone of a different faith tradition and they called us a dog, what would we do? Would we walk away, mumbling curses under our breath, or would we, like this hated Canaanite woman, persist? Would we wrestle with someone who rebukes us until they bless us? Jesus was so impressed with this woman's faith that his decision turned out to be easy - he blessed her - he opened his ministry to even those Gentile dogs. His actions tell us, when we're out, we're in. There are no more barriers - faith is all that is required.

Think for a moment. Who is your Canaanite? Who would you love to see groveling at your feet, hoping for your blessing so you can call them a dog, or some other name? Think of all those people you want to see on the outside. Perhaps they've hurt you. Perhaps they've excluded you somehow. Perhaps they've spread nasty rumors about you or slighted you in some way. Perhaps they are world leaders you consider evil or beyond redemption. Perhaps they've started senseless wars.

Who challenges your sense of inclusion? Who would you prevent from coming in our front door? Who would you refuse to bless? Who do you want to exclude?

We all have someone in mind perhaps several someones. Revenge runs deep in our human veins. But, as the Lord told Isaiah whoever you consider out is already in the outcasts have already been gathered into God's house of prayer for all people. Even the foreigner even that dry eunuch even those Canaanites you'd like to keep out they're already here already covered by God's grace, forgiven and blessed given an everlasting name in God's realm.

"Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed."

Jesus calls us to be like the Canaanite woman to exhibit all the traits she did as she knelt before Jesus. First, she showed love. She loved her child so much that she was willing to seek out a stranger and not just any stranger a sworn enemy of her people and ask for help. For her trouble she gets what seemed like abuse from him, but in the end he blesses her and heals her daughter. This social outcast embodies the same kind of love God has for us - God will go to any length to heal us, to make us realize that we are loved and protected. We are to emulate that love, not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us. We are called to go to any length, for anyone, whether we love them or hate them and show them God's unconditional love whether they return it to us or not. Whoever we want to be out is already in as far as God is concerned, so we may as well get with the program and welcome them in, too.

This Canaanite woman also had faith and that faith only increased when she met Jesus. When she first approaches him she calls him "Son of David" this is a title denoting earthly power. She knew Jesus had some sort of power. She had obviously heard of his healing ways. You can bet she had put her faith in those earthly doctors and healers and they had all failed to heal her daughter. Her faith in Jesus, however, is rewarded and though she approached him with earthly praise, she left calling him Lord, recognizing his divinity realizing she had just had an encounter with the holy.

Finally, this Canaanite woman was persistent. She would not go away until she got the healing she sought for her daughter. I recently discovered that some of you are unaware that I have a new book coming out in September. It's called Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. I think this Canaanite woman is a perfect example of someone with a bulletproof faith. She was rebuked by Jesus himself. The embodiment of God on earth called her a dog. Even if he winked when he said it, she got dissed but good by Jesus. But, she didn't give up. She had a witty retort ready. "Y'know, Jesus, even those pet dogs sometimes get some choice scraps." Jesus must have been impressed not just by her quick wit, but definitely by her persistent, tenacious, bulletproof faith.

How often do we feel dissed by God? How often do we feel God is not just ignoring us, but actively rebuking us calling us dogs or worse? As gay and lesbian Christians, we probably feel this pretty often. In fact, we've been told by other Christians that we're so disgusting that God regards us even lower than the dogs. And those who support gay and lesbian Christians they may even be lower. When we feel rebuked by God, what do we do? Do we give up figuring our critics are right and God has forsaken us? Or, are we like this Canaanite woman with a bulletproof faith, ready to rebuke God back ready to wrestle with the divine until we are blessed? Like this Canaanite woman, we are called to persist in our faith because Jesus truly is our only hope - that true connection to God.

Commentator William Barclay writes: "This woman brought to Christ a gallant and audacious love, a faith which grew until it worshipped at the feet of the divine [and] an indomitable persistence springing from an unconquerable hope. [] That is the faith which cannot help finding an answer to its prayers."

That is the faith we are called to embody gallant and audacious, worshipping at the feet of the divine in stubborn and unconquerable hope. Whenever you feel out know that you're already in. You're included in God's realm even if someone calls you a dog or even if some cocky jocky types disses your ballplaying abilities. Because God always honors our love, our faith, and our persistence, by blessing us beyond our wildest dreams. So, we can sing with confidence:

Got my faith baby in the Lord,
Got my faith baby In the Lord, Lord, Lord
And I know He'll make everything alright
No matter where a child roam
That child's gonna have a home
If he's got his faith alright

I don't believe in no car
I don't believe in General Motors
I don't believe in the President
Or the League of Women Voters
I don't believe in these things
All these things might fail
I don't believe it's gonna snow
It might sleet rain or hail

But I believe in the Father
I believe in the Son
I believe there's a Spirit
For everyone (Repeat)

That's not all - That's not all - I'm gonna tell y'all
Let's do the faith call
I said F----F, I said A----A, I said I----I, I said T----T,
I said H----H.
What's that spell---Faith,
What's that spell---Faith
Oh Faith

 

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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