Sermon Archives

Sunday, August 20, 2017
The 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15, Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
How We See One Another Matters

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Friends, our world is in turmoil. 

Over the last fortnight, a terrorist sped his way through a crowded mall killing 14 and injuring over 100 women and men in Barcelona, Spain.  In Finland, a terrorist wielding a knife killed two and injured another 6 in a marketplace attack.  And here at home, a white supremacist barreled into a crowd that had gathered in Charlottesville Virginia to stand up against hatred, killing Heather Heyer and wounding 19 others. 

But such turmoil is not new. 

Less than two hundred years ago, our nation was among the leading perpetrators of slavery in the world, a trade that would lead us to war with ourselves.

Five hundred years ago, religious leaders across Europe were burnt at the stake or sent to the gallows for their practices of worship and prayer.

Seven hundred years ago, Christian leaders were expelling Jews and Muslims for their lands and forcing conversions through torture. 

Behind each of these human atrocities lies a common, shameful, world view – that “I,” whoever “I” am, is superior to “you,” whoever “you” are; that “we,” whoever we are – Christian, White, Protestant or Catholic, are superior to “you” whoever you are – non-Christian, non-white, non-Protestant or non-Catholic.  At the very best, this is a worldview in which you are of no concern to me.  At its worst, this is a worldview that pits you against me, a worldview in which you and whatever makes you different or unique is ultimately a threat to me and mine.  It is a worldview that presumes indifference at best and invariably leads to conflict.

Now, this is not a new phenomenon; in fact, to a significant extent, it is on display in today’s Gospel lesson.  In this brief exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, Jesus displays an ancient tension between Jews and all non-Jews.  What begins with simple disregard – Jesus initially ignores her plea for mercy – culminates in outright insult.  Using what many scholars understand to be a common Jewish insult for Gentiles, Jesus says “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

This is a common, we might even say, “human” world view.  I care for my own – and you are not part of my tribe.  Jew against Gentile, white against non-white, rich against poor, Christian against non-Christian, us-against-them, me-against-you.

Another critical aspect of this worldview is the scarcity that underpins it – there is not enough to be shared.  There is not enough food, or wealth, or power, or healing for me to share with you.  I must hoard it for myself, I must stockpile all that I can for those most like me, my family, my people, my tribe.

Yet, with the help of this strong and daring woman, Jesus begins to see and live a new way.  “I am not a threat to you,” she invites Jesus to see.  “You have enough” she seems to say to Jesus.  And with this exchange, Jesus begins to change.  No longer is the gentile a threat.  No longer must he hoard his life’s gift. 

So fundamental is this new worldview for Jesus that he begins to see the “other” no longer as a threat to himself, but as an opportunity for his kindness and mercy.  A man born blind is no longer a sin to be forgiven, but an opportunity for mercy to shared; a disciple on the brink of abandonment becomes an opportunity self-giving; an arresting soldier an opportunity for healing; and a jeering crowd a final opportunity for forgiveness and mercy. 

With this woman’s challenge Jesus begins to see in the “other” whoever he or she is, the very face of his most dearly beloved friends and family.

Join me in a quiet reflection.

Draw to your mind’s eye the face of someone you might ignore – a stranger you regularly see, a co-worker whom you do not know.

  • How do you feel toward them?  How did you greet her when you saw her last?
  • Now, replace his or her face with the face of a young child.  What would change?  Would you greet her differently?

Draw now to your mind’s eye the face of someone you don’t like – someone who annoys you or with whom you have a running argument.

  • How do you feel toward them?  How did you greet her when you saw her last?
  • Now, replace his or her face with the face of a dear friend.  What would change?  Would you be more kind or more gentle?

Now, draw to your mind’s eye the face of someone who has hurt you – perhaps a childhood bully or someone who has threatened you.

  • How do you feel toward them?  How did you greet her when you saw her last?
  • Now, replace his or her face with the face of dearest love – a daughter or son or life-long partner.  What would change now?  Would you forgive more?  Would you give more?

How we see the world matters.  Even more, how we see one another. 

Jesus invites us to follow him, and see the world and one another in a new way.

“Be not afraid,” he says. 

“Love one another as I have loved you.” 

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It begins with how we see the other.