Sunday, September 27, 2015
If it delays from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
20Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was coming. He replied, “God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. 21Nor will it say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.”
22Then Jesus said to the disciples, “The time will come when you long to see one of the days of the Human One, and you won’t see it. 23People will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Don’t leave or go chasing after them. 24The Human One will appear on his day in the same way a flash of lightning lights up the sky from one end to the other.”
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
Habakkuk 2:2-4, 18-20
2Then the LORD answered me and said,
Write a vision,
and make it plain upon a tablet,
So that a runner can read it.
3There’s still a vision
for the appointed time;
it testifies to the end;
it does not deceive.
If it delays, wait for it;
for it is surely coming;
it will not be late.
4Some people’s desires
are truly audacious;
They don’t do the right thing.
But the righteous person
will live honestly.
18Of what value is an idol,
when its potter carves it,
or a cast image that has been shaped?
It is a teacher of lies,
for the potter trusts the pottery, though it is incapable of speaking.
19Doom to the one who says to the tree,
or “Get up” to the silent stone.
Does it teach?
Look, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
but there is no breath within it.
20But the LORD is in his holy temple.
Let all the earth be silent before him.
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
I've got some questions.
Don't worry, I'm not trying to give y'all a pop quiz on one of the least read prophets in the Bible. I've got some things I'd like to bring before the LORD. I've got some questions.
After all, our world is fractured. Families are too often divided, and too many churches are splitting. As election cycles spin up, politicians focus on wedge issues. Across the globe, nations either attack or ignore one another. We're so trapped by our emotional pain that every relationship is bleeding, and it feels like we cannot move forward or back. From top to bottom it seems that we'd rather be right than live in Christ's righteousness. I've got some questions for the Holy One who has the power to set our world right again.
Maybe you've got a few questions too. Habbakuk certainly did.
"Then the LORD answered me and said, Write a vision."
There's a difference between where the people are, and where God is taking them. There's a distance between Egypt and the promised land. There's a delay between the cross and the empty tomb. The prophet's task is to stand in the gap between where the people are and where God is taking them. The prophet must see farther, imagine more, so that the people do not get stuck. "Write a vision, and make it plain upon a tablet, So that a runner can read it."
In the face of blinding emotional pain, God reminds Habbakuk that the people are not abandoned. "There’s still a vision for the appointed time. A dream that testifies to the end, it does not deceive." There is a vision for a time when church buildings are inviting and gracious, rather than austere and intractable. There is a vision for a time when we will no longer have to choose between funding a prison, and funding a school. There is a vision for a time when our rockets are used to explore the cosmos rather than to rain down destruction as punishment for violence already done. There is a vision for a time when families are shaped by their love, rather than their grudges.
There is a dream that one day children will not be judged by the color of their skin but for the content of their character. Beyond that dream is a vision of when they will not be judged by the content of their character but by the Grace of God and the Love of Christ Jesus. Because as worthwhile as the dreams of great people are, the vision God has for us is immeasurably more wonderful. "It testifies to the end, it does not deceive."
But as beautiful as the vision is, our questions remain. The vision is written on the tablet, even a runner can read it. But is the vision, is God's providence for us, stuck on that tablet? What do we do in lives that seem so different from the transformed relationships that God has shown us?
"If it delays..."
Parents still struggle with marriage and custody issues because some marriages can no longer work, but they never stop loving their children. We still spend more money on prisons than schools because a criminal is more dangerous to society than an uneducated person. Nations still bomb each other because some people cannot understand any language other than violence.
Children are still judged by their skin because we have a history of keeping ourselves separate from those who are different than we are. Those bad habits, though weaker than they once were, persist.
We do not live according to the vision that God has set for us. We have not learned our role in the kingdom of God. There is still a vision for the appointed time, but we cannot embody that vision on our own.
If it delays...
Wait for it.
God’s not done working on us yet. We don’t have the answers to the complex questions with which we are faced, but we cannot allow our fear of being wrong to either prevent our action or to stop us from listening to those God has placed in our lives. God’s not done working on us yet.
We are not mired in this moment, there is a plan for us, an intention. God is not satisfied with the state of the world either, and is intervening in it constantly.
The greatest intervention is the person and work of Jesus the Christ. God saw that we could not, can not, live up to the vision of the image of God in which we are all created. God saw the brokenness of humanity and chose to accomplish his ends for us by becoming flesh himself, experiencing the shame and death of the cross, all for the sake of a world that had not yet come of age. God’s kingdom is already among us! But we can not yet live fully in that new reality. The time is at hand, but the vision is unfulfilled.
If the fulfillment of the vision does not fit our schedule, if the completion of who we are as a people of God works at a slower pace than we hoped for, if our progress in answering God’s call in our lives is set-back, if it delays...
Wait for it.
For it is surely coming.
It will not be late.
That’s easy to hear when we’re comfortable with the order of the world: when our the leaders for whom we voted are in office, when our wealth increases consistently. The vision is surely coming. It will not be late. It’s easy to hear when our churches are growing, when our children are healthy, when smiles come easily to our faces.
If it delays, that’s ok, because my life is basically good. I’m living in comfort and have built a good life for myself. I can wait for the vision.
But many of the people of God live on the other side of that coin. They live constantly worried that they will not be able to feed their families, or that they will not be able to maintain a roof over their heads. When your best day involves being ignored instead of attacked, it’s tough to hear that the vision is surely coming, and will not be late.
You’re telling me I have to wait for the arc of history to bend back around to justice? What do you mean it will not be too late? It certainly looks like it’s too late for so many refugees who have died fleeing for their lives. It certainly looks like it’s too late for the martyrs who seek human rights for all people. How many more people have to suffer under the injustices of fear and oppression before God will do something and bring about that vision! What’s the suffering level got to be before God decides it’s “the appointed time.”
When it feels like you’re winning, it’s easy to run out the clock. When you’re on the losing end of things, being asked to wait, for the help from the Lord is surely coming, is offensive. How many civil rights leaders were told “Wait, your rights will be granted to you, just don’t go too far too fast, let us adjust to this new way of life slowly.” How many church leaders have shied away from changes they know are necessary because they don’t want to change too much, too fast. They know the direction, but feel the inertia of the system drags on them. The vision is there, but just out of reach.
If it delays, wait for it.
For it is surely coming.
Because God’s promise is for all people, even for those who resist being a part of it. The Human One will appear on his day in the same way a flash of lightning lights up the sky from one end to the other. After all the waiting, we will be made one in an instant, and the vision that testifies to the end will be realized.
If it delays, wait for it. For it is surely coming. It will not be late. But some people’s desires are truly audacious, they don’t do the right thing.
We’re guilty of that too. Each of us. In our impatience for the appointed time, or in our complacency with the way things are, we take vision of hope and turn it into a trinket, so that it can fit us, rather than be challenged by it.
Like the master potter in Habakkuk, who begins to love the product of his gifts more than the God who is their source. We grow distracted and lose sight of the vision. “Of what value is an idol,when its potter carves it, or a cast image that has been shaped? It is a teacher of lies, for the potter trusts the pottery, though it is incapable of speaking.” We “create” the God we want, rather than being shaped by the God who formed us.
But God does not leave us there, for the human one has already come to break us out of our molds, and to fill us with breath once again.
The kingdom of God is already among us in a thousand easy-to-overlook ways. In love for one another, in sharing of ourselves with the least among us, in holy moments that reveal God’s creation to us, God’s creation is already among us. But these require faith.
Paul writes that once we knew Christ according to the flesh, we no longer know him in that way. So our faith is made more difficult, based on spiritual experiences and trust in God’s vision for his people, rather than a physical encounter.
It is difficulty to be faithful to the vision God has for us. It is easy to get sidetracked by the trappings made with our own hands, overlaid with gold and silver, but with no breath within. We get caught up in our impatience when compared to God’s timeless vision, and would rather build a kingdom for ourselves than wait for the fulfillment of the one God has established forever.
God’s kingdom is already among us, the LORD is in his holy temple. But we don’t fit in that kingdom yet. But God’s vision for us testifies to the end.
There is great hope in the idea that God’s vision for us has not yet been fully realized, because it means that God is still working on us to make us more faithful, to make our actions more meaningful. We are validated if we are not satisfied with the way things are, or with the way we ourselves are. If we are happy with how we are, it means that God’s vision for us is better than we can imagine.
The LORD is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him, as he appears on his day in the same way a flash of lightning lights up the sky from one end to the other.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 20-25
4Hear O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
20When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the LORD our God has commanded you?” 21then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out with a mighty hand. 22The LORD displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household. 23He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24Then the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case. 25If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
Mark 9: 30-37
30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37”Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
A number of year ago, I had the opportunity to worship at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. ITC is a consortium of six Historically Black Seminaries from various different theological backgrounds. Together, those six schools build a boundary-crossing theological education. The students and faculty at ITC have shaped theological discussion across the country for fifty years or more.
In the mid-week chapel service I attended, the preacher lifted up an ancient proverb from the West African country of Ghana. “Si wo were fina wosankofa a yenkyi.”
“It is not wrong to go back for that which you may have forgot.”
“Si wo were fina wosankofa a yenkyi.” “Si wo were fina wosankofa a yenkyi.” “It is not wrong to go back for that which you may have forgot.”
Jesus and the disciples are headed back through familiar territory. They’re returning from a mountaintop transfiguration, they have passed through the healing prayer “I believe, help my unbelief.” “They went on from there and passed through Galilee”
This passage does not contain new healings, new deeds of power, or new sermons to vast new crowds. “Si wo were fina wosankofa a yenkyi.” It is not wrong to go back for that which you may have forgot. This passage is a review of mysteries already revealed. This is a text where Jesus is teaching the intimate circle of disciples who have followed him thus far. We can see ourselves in the reflection of Christ’s early disciples, following our Lord through the familiar territory of the churches and communities in which we were raised. In worship, we come back to familiar places to be reminded that Jesus is Lord.
“Si wo were fina wosankofa a yenkyi.” “It is not wrong to go back for that which you may have forgot.” We have come back to this familiar territory, and Jesus reminds us why we are here, “…Saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’”
The disciples are reminded of the promised hope of the cross and the empty tomb. This is the second time Jesus has predicted his death and resurrection. “But [the disciples] did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” Verse 32 tells us that they did not understand, and their actions in verses 33 and 34 show that they do not understand. “Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked home, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way that had argued with one another who was the greatest.” The disciples have lost sight of the gospel, so they revert back to arguing over their own greatness.
Hey disciples, there’s something you may have forgot. You may want to go back and review. The gospel is not about advancing our own greatness, it’s about declaring the greatness of God. Christianity is not a political platform, or a specific checklist of morality. God does not grant high scores based on performance. The only one who has won is Christ. Every aspect of the Christian life should proclaim the gospel, because the gospel story is the bedrock of our identity. We live our lives differently, based on love of God and neighbor, and on the teachings which Christ has commanded us. But those actions are not to make us more holy, they are an embodiment of our Christian identity. Christians living serves as a reminder of the power of the gospel to transform our hearts. We live lives of love and service because God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.
Sometimes we forget that too, and end up comparing ourselves to others. Other Christians, other congregations, other denominations, other religions. When we do that, and I’m guilty of it too, we have forgotten that the gospel is not about our greatness, but God’s.
So Jesus brings us back, and gives us once again that which we may have forgot. “[Jesus] sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’” Becoming a servant is not just an alternate road to advancement. It’s a penance for wanting greatness for yourself. You’ve got to get that “which of us is the greatest” nonsense out of your head and be claimed by the cross, wrapped in the sure hope that resurrection is waiting on the other side. We cannot be afraid to ask, because there are only two kinds of people: those who need to hear the Gospel for the first time, and those who need to be reminded of the gospel. “Si wo were fina wosankofa a yenkyi.” “It is not wrong to go back for that which you may have forgot.”
Reading this passage at lunch bunch, the silence of the disciples caught my eye. They did not understand, and they were afraid to ask. The disciples may have been afraid of being rebuked as Peter had when Jesus first predicted his dying and rising. “Get behind me Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Perhaps they were afraid that he would chastise them as he had the crowds when he healed the boy with the unclean spirit, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I put up with you?”
The disciples were silent before Christ because they were ashamed. They were afraid to ask because they did not wish to look stupid.
But what if they had not been afraid to ask? I wonder how this story would have been different if the disciples had not been afraid to engage with their Lord and ask to be reminded. I wonder how Jesus would have replied if they had reached out in faith. What if they had asked, “Lord, why must it be this way? What is the meaning of your suffering and death?”
It is not wrong, after all, to go back for that which you may have forgot. The disciples have forgotten that “The LORD displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household.” They did not realize that in handing over the Son of Man, in allowing him to be killed, and in raising him from the dead, God was bringing us out of bondage once again. Only this time, it wasn’t merely political or economic bondage.
“Si wo were fina wosankofa a yenkyi.” We must go back, time and time again, to remember that once we were slaves to sin and death, but the LORD brought us out with a mighty hand. We must never be afraid to ask what God is doing, because it is not wrong to go back and get that which you may have forgot. The LORD displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders, breaking the power of sin and death through Christ’s death and resurrection.
When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of our Christian living? Why do we got to worship every week? Why do we not argue over our own greatness?” Then you will remember that Christian living grows from the Christian narrative of grace and hope. The source of Christian hope is Christian memory, for we remember the stories. We remember that the Son of Man was betrayed into human hands, that they we killed him, and three days after being killed, he rose again. That hope means we do not need to argue over who is greatest. Grace is not a competition, it’s a free gift. We know who is greatest, the LORD our God, the LORD alone. And even if we forget, “Si wo were fina wosankofa a yenkyi.”
Then you shall say to your children, in parallel with our spiritual ancestors, that once we were slaves to sin and death, but God brought us out with a mighty hand. He brought Christ out from there in order to bring us in, to give us eternal life that he promised on oath to our ancestors. “Si wo were fina wosankofa a yenkyi.” It is not wrong to go back for that which you may have forgot, because regardless of our forgetting, we are welcomed into Christ’s household as children. And Jesus “took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” The good news of God, that the kingdom of God is at hand, is shown in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
Though we are prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love, we are not afraid to ask, because “Si wo were fina wosankofa a yenkyi.” It is not wrong to go back for that which you may have forgot. We are not afraid to ask what God is doing. We are not afraid to ask after our sovereign Lord. We are not afraid to live our lives in faith. We are not afraid to ask, because even if we forget, even if we wander off, we have seen the steadfast love God has shown us, is showing us still, and will show us from now to the end of the age.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Teaching the Light from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, i will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words j in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
1For the leader. A psalm of David.
2The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky proclaims his handiwork.
3Day to day makes utterance, night to night speaks out.
4There is no utterance, there are no words, whose sound goes unheard.
5Their voice carries throughout the earth, the words to the end of the world.
He placed in them a tent for the sun,
6who is like a groom coming forth from the chamber,
like a hero, eager to run his course.
7His rising-place is at one end of heaven,
and his circuit reaches the other; nothing escapes his heat.
8The teaching of the LORD is perfect, renewing life;
the decrees of the LORD are enduring, making the simple wise;
9The precepts of the LORD are just, rejoicing the heart;
the instruction of the LORD is lucid, making the eyes light up.
10The fear of the LORD is pure, abiding forever;
the judgments of the LORD are true, righteous altogether,
11more desirable than gold, than much fine gold,
sweeter than honey, than drippings of the comb.
12Your servant pays them heed; in obeying them there is much reward.
13Who can be aware of errors? Clear me of unperceived guilt,
14and from willful sins keep your servant, let them not dominate me;
then shall I be blameless and clear of grave offense.
15May the words of my mouth and the prayer of my heart be acceptable to You,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
David was a shepherd boy. David was a warrior. David was a king. David was a husband, and a father, and a complex, flawed individual.
But above all his accomplishments, struggles, failures, and the weight of the dynasty that follows him, one attribute stands out.
David was a poet.
Dozens of the psalms are attributed to him, cutting across the book and intersecting with his life, and with our own, time and time again. There’s no telling how many other poems he wrote during his life, for surely Psalms does not include everything the Poet-King ever composed.
The Psalms were the hymnbook of ancient Israel, and gave the people the language to express their relationship with God using a variety of forms, images, and approaches. There’s a psalm for almost every occasion.
Psalms are, at their heart, poetry for God.
And y’all called an English Major to be your preacher. While not every English Major-type-person is a lover of poetry, this one is.
History tells us events and gives us perspective and wisdom. Science tells us data and gives us facts and knowledge. Poetry tells us truth, and gives us to ourselves.
Psalm are, at their heart, poetry for God. They tell truth about God and give us ourselves as people of God.
Psalm 19 points us toward our God who speaks into being that which does not exist. This psalm lifts up the creator by pointing to the heavens and declaring that the fact that they exist is an act of praise to the one who called them into existence. "The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky proclaims His handiwork.” Their movements and vibrations throughout the universe testify to the greatness of the creator. The heavens exist to praise God.
And moving through the heavens, hanging in the sky is one specific part, connected to the rest of creation by the will of God. In the midst of the praise and prayer of the heavens, “God placed in them a tent for the sun.”
David, that poet-king, knows that we cannot imagine the mind-boggling bigness of space. so he gives us a smaller slice of the truth. One smaller, more accessible portion of the heavens. The sun moves through the heavens joyfully, “like a groom coming forth from the chamber.” The sun hangs in the sky, eager to proclaim God’s handiwork, “ like a hero, eager to run his course.”
There's a strong break in this poetic passage. We move from “His rising-place is at one end of heaven, and his circuit reaches the other; nothing escapes his heat,” to “The Teaching of the LORD is perfect, renewing life.” Right between verses 7 and 8, we switch from a psalm of creation to a psalm of God's law. The shift is so jarring that some commentators suggest that this psalm was once at least two different poems that were joined together.
Either way, the Holy Spirit has preserved Psalm 19 as a single unit. The two sections of the psalm run parallel to one another, rather than against each other. The first section builds upon the praise of creation. God has formed everything that is, from the building blocks of substance up to systems of inestimable complexity. In the second section, the poet enters with his own words of praise.
“The teaching of the LORD is perfect, renewing life; the decrees of the LORD are enduring, making the simple wise; The precepts of the LORD are just, rejoicing the heart; the instruction of the LORD is lucid, making the eyes light up. The fear of the LORD is pure, abiding forever; the judgments of the LORD are true, righteous altogether, more desirable than gold, than much fine gold sweeter than honey, than drippings of the comb.”
God is not distant, winding up creation and then watching it tick away, God is still intervening. The words of creation are not the only words God has spoken. God has given us the gift of the perfect teaching of the LORD, renewing life. God has given us the gift of enduring decrees, making the simple wise. God has given us just precepts, rejoicing the heart. God gives us lucid instructions of the LORD, making the eyes light up.
Just as the heavens are defined by God’s creating word, so too the people of God are defined by God’s teaching. But we are limited people, and in spite of the gifts God has given us, they are too much for us to hold. So the Psalmist, again, gives us a smaller, more accessible part. One servant. One person who represents the community, and both confesses his sin and asks for God’s forgiveness and protection, so that “the words of my mouth and the prayer of my heart be acceptable to You, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” In the same way, the heavens which declare the glory of God affirm that “there is no utterance, there are no words, whose sound goes unheard.”
Poetry tells us truth and gives us ourselves. This Psalm, this poetry for God, reminds us that we particular servants are connected to one another, just as the sun is placed in a tent in the heavens. We servants of God are connected to one another by the continuing word of God, which God has spoken from the beginning and is still speaking as God guides both creation and his church.
But we know the word most clearly as a person. Jesus Christ, whom Peter called Messiah. Jesus Christ is the Word of God at creation, he is the Word to who came to the prophets and to whom the law testifies.
Moreover, Jesus Christ is the person and the God who connects to one another. He is the Messiah who teaches us how to live as human beings, he is the one who clears us of unperceived guilt and keeps us from willful sins. He is the righteous one who makes us blameless and clear of grave offense. He is the suffering servant who would even let his friends stand int he way of the redemptive, hopeful story God has for us.
Through his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus connects us to one another, and to God. He remains our rock and our redeemer. The church, servants of Christ first and foremost, preaches his true salvation in every age and land.
Sunday, September 6, 2015
But She Answered Him from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
4Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
"Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God,
He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you."
5Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
And the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert.
7the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
24From 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.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
We're dealing with a prophet. A prophet speaks on God's behalf.
In Western Culture, we've inherited the tradition of oracles and soothsayers from ancient Greece, and often we use the word prophet to refer to someone who tells the future. They make forecasts and their skill as a "prophet" is shown through how accurate they are. But the prophetic tradition of ancient Israel isn't about telling the future. We're not dealing with a fortune teller in these passages.
We're dealing with a prophet. A prophet speaks on God's behalf.
A prophet looks out at the world, full of empires and nations and powerful armies, and has the boldness to speak to the people. A prophet speaks on God's behalf and reminds us that authority doesn't come from the tip of a spear or the barrel of a firearm or from titles and accolades. A prophet speaks on God's behalf and reminds people that the LORD is God, and he rules the world with truth and grace.
We're dealing with a prophet.
The prophet Isaiah wrote during the time before the Babylonian exile. Kings came and went as empires fought over who would control what we now call the middle east. Syrians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Israelites, and Judahites all fought to control that relatively small corner of the world.
As armies marched across the countryside, and kings and generals sent men to kill each other, setting themselves up with absolute control, the prophet Isaiah spoke up. This prophet tells the poor and the oppressed that these kings and generals and rulers do not have absolute authority, the LORD does. "Say to those of a fearful heart, here is your God."
We're dealing with a prophet who will not let any empire stand between God and the people of God. Bod is absolutely free to move wherever he will, toppling empires through foreign armies and establishing justice for the fearful. Isaiah, the prophet, speaks on God’s behalf, telling a different story than the one the people are accustomed to hearing.
Isaiah tells them that they have hope in the LORD. "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God, He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” To the people of the southern kingdom of Judah, this hope is beyond belief. All they have heard are stories of war, all they have seen are unjust rulers and worldly powers. Yet we’re dealing with a prophet who speaks on God’s behalf. This prophet looks at the royal powers traipsing across the landscape and reminds them who the true king is: the LORD of Hosts. The empires who rage tell each other that “My god can beat up your god,” and the people are caught in the middle. So Isaiah reminds them that the LORD GOD is here, with vengeance and terrible recompense for all who have dealt unjustly with his beloved people.
We’re dealing with a prophet. who else would declare this unbelievable hope in the face of such violence. Yet Isaiah tells them a story of what is to come, “then the eyes of the blind will be opened, And the ears of the deaf unstopped; Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” Isaiah tells a story like that of the land flowing with milk and honey, a story of the desert blooming, of wasteland turned into life. “For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.”
We’re dealing with a prophet. A prophet speaks on God’s behalf. The prophet Isaiah gives the people hope that in the midst of death and suffering, there can be healing and life from the absolute sovereignty of God.
Jesus has come to the region of Tyre. He's on the outskirts of Jewish culture, taking a break from the constant stream of healings and teachings that follow him everywhere he goes in Galilee. There's no indication that the disciples have come with him, there's no image of a crowd following him, as is mentioned in so many other places in Mark. He's in a house, outside his element, trying to take a break from his mission to proclaim the good news of God to the Children of Israel. Perhaps Mark is showing us that Jesus was weary, perhaps he was frustrated at the scribes and Pharisees and his own disciples, all of whom either didn’t understand his message or resisted it when they did understand it.
“But a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.” We don’t know her name, we don’t know how long she had sought a solution for her daughter’s suffering. We don’t know her station in life or what happened after she left Christ’s presence. But we know, in this story, that we’re dealing with a prophet.
Jesus’s conversation with this woman has troubled students of scripture probably since it was written down. “She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He 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.’" Jesus dismisses her, and her daughter’s suffering, for reasons at which we can only guess. It’s troubling. An outsider calls to Jesus with a legitimate request, and he pushes her away with hurtful language.
But she answered him.
But she answered him. She called back to him with the kind of anguish that only the parent of a suffering child can speak. She cried out to Jesus to help her little daughter, and her answer seems to change Jesus’s mind.
We're dealing with a prophet.
The Word of the LORD came to an unnamed Syrophoenician mother, and she went to find the Word made Flesh, knowing that he could heal her little one. He initially refused, but she answered him.
When she calls back to Jesus, she is doing so in the same what that a prophet answers God. Not only do prophet’s speak on God’s behalf to the people, they also speak on behalf of the people, crying out in anguish. "It is the courage of the woman to confront Jesus that changes him, just as it is the courage of Israel to demand justice from God that moves God to respond, keeping with the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Bible.” This woman is a prophet, through whom God is speaking.This woman’s prophetic call shows Jesus that his mission is to more than the Jews, Christ is the savior of all the world, he is the embodiment of the Word of God that frees people from their slavery to sin and death, and gives us all everlasting hope.
She answered him. “Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go - the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” For her answer, she is freed, and so is her daughter, from the suffering that had held them in bondage. That’s the power of Christ, and the woman’s prophetic utterance opened up that hope to the whole world.
We’re dealing with a prophet. A prophet speaks on God’s behalf. In these days of polarized pundits, the Church is uniquely placed to live into the prophetic hope we have inherited from this Christian narrative, and reach out to all peoples in love, in compassion. “The woman’s boldness inspires us to be bold in our prayers…Even through our basic principle is ‘your will be done,’ we must not prematurely abandon our prayers for healing, thinking they are futile.”
The God of hope can speak through anyone, even an unnamed Syrophoenician mother. The Lord of hosts calls us all to himself, promising us a future filled with joy. The Church of Jesus Christ, which I’m grateful to say includes all of us, lives because we have seen deserts bloom in the past. We have seen that the tomb is empty. We have inherited these narratives and this prophetic tradition that keeps us holding on to hope, even when we face rejection, even when we face death. Our story is told by prophets, and we know that God is at its center. We have seen the resurrection, and know that we can live into hope.