Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's not for you

That was one of the recurring phrases from my sermon this morning. It was about the Canaanite woman, and how Jesus' words to her amounted to, "It's not for you." What is it like to hear that? Yet she persists in begging even for table scraps from God's table. I wonder why she did not give up as Jesus ignored and insulted her.

Even so, I confess to being haunted by the words of Isaiah this morning, words about "the outcasts of Israel." In the gospel, it's clear the Israel is the chosen people, the ones that deserve the bread, not crumbs. They are the insiders -- just like we consider ourselves to be, most of the time. And, in more ways than one. Those of use who are Christian -- well, we are insiders because we are Christian. (There's a T-shirt that says: "Jesus loves you, but I'm his favorite." And sometimes I think that back in the recesses of our brains, we think this.) And we're insiders because we are citizens of the most powerful nation on earth.

In Isaiah, God's chosen people are called outcasts. They are both God's chosen people, and they are outcasts. They are children who get bread, and they are outcasts begging for crumbs. I wonder what it would mean for us if we thought of ourselves this way. Not as insiders, with all the answers for everyone else, but as outcasts.

A while back, there was an evangelism initiative in my denomination. There was a lot of focus on "Welcoming the Stranger" and the ministry of hospitality. What would it mean for us to be more welcoming communities of faith, more friendly, with bigger hearts and more open arms? Don't get me wrong, I think this is a good idea, but I wonder...

I wonder what it would look like if the church, instead of welcoming the stranger, started being the stranger. I wonder if it's even possible for us, except in the most unusual situations, to experience what it means to be the outcast: not just the chosen people, but the outcast, begging for crumbs, desperate for healing.

Really, that's what we are. God's children, but wandering strangers, searching for a home, and welcomed in the end by the same one who once said, "it's not for you."

"The body of Christ, given for you."


Lindy said...

Once again you cause me to say "hum... I never thought of that before."

I love this woman for lots of reasons but mainly because she's the only one who ever beat Jesus at the game of witty repartee. And she’s quick too, playing off his dog comment; she puts herself in the master’s house. Very clever, and brave. I think Jesus must have laughed to himself. At last, he found someone who could verbally spar with him and it turns out to be a Caannite dog. You just never know…

Thanks for posing your question Diane. If the current insiders became outsiders -- if that could happen -- then who would be the new insiders?

thailandchani said...

I think we need to get beyond the whole concept of insiders and outsiders. We are all one human community - and if we don't start behaving that way, I don't have much hope for the future. ;)

So.. yes... any church should welcome anyone.


FranIAm said...

Yes - only when we as church become the outsider do we fully meet the mission... this proves almost impossible to do most of the time.

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

several reflections:
Missionaries go to a new country as outsiders....but don't they come thinking that they have something better than the insiders of that country?

During my trip to Uganda last fall, I was an "outsider" obviously, but we were never treated as outsiders. I'm sure that if I actually lived there, there would be moments of being so different and out-of-it, but we were treated as honored guests.

In contract, while in college, I took a course called The Writer and his Country. We read southern writers and traveled to New Orleans, with several stops on the way. At one place, a small black university, we were to meet a writer/teacher, possibly Alice Walker, and we, white Northerners from a Lutheran college, were sequestered and not allowed to mix or meet anybody else. That was really strange.

The insider/outsider metaphor can be plenty powerful. We often think of evangelism as getting people to come INTO our churches, but in reality, we can't be successful unless we go OUTSIDE the church building first, so some work and teaching and loving.

Border Explorer said...

//I wonder if it's even possible for us, except in the most unusual situations, to experience what it means to be the outcast...//
I like hanging out at the edges of society because it helps me get a clue about the outcast concept. But I always know I'm just visiting. So--yes--good question.

Diane said...

Lindy -- you are so right. YOu know, I think of Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" -- and that actually she is a good example of that audacity. maybe more than Obama's book...

Thailandchani-- the whole concept of insiders and outsiders IS troubling, but I think it's part of our humanness to keep putting those walls up. Thanks for the challenge.

Fran -- you got it. to me, that's where mission is.

PS -- lots of good thoughts about the promise and pitfalls of being a "missionary." And your experience at the southern school -- I wonder what THAT was about.

Border Explorer -- of course, you ARE on the border. that's what I like about you.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I can't add much to what the others have said, but I wanted to let you know I appreciated your thoughts here.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I like to think that the Canaanite woman won the argument with Jesus and actually got him to change his mind. Perhaps, she was even God's instrument for Jesus to realize that his ministry was wider than he previously knew, not simply to the Jewish people.

Then, too, Jesus may have used the encounter to teach his disciples (who seemed so often not to "get" his teachings) a lesson about faith.