Nov 14th, 2021, Love Generously, with Rev. Morgan Schmidt.
A Part of the Series:
Nov 14th, Love Generously with Rev. Morgan Schmidt.
Hi friends. We continue our sermon series this morning on uncommon generosity by talking about generous love. The story I’ve chosen for us to kind of explore together is is not one of those greatest hits, not one of those warm, fuzzy ones, and one that, frankly is a little bit complicated and might even make us a little bit uncomfortable. But I think generous love, real true love of ourselves, of our neighbors, of our world is probably bound to make us a little uncomfortable sometimes. So I want to read the story, delve into it a little bit and then explore what it means for us.
This comes from the book of Matthew.
Jesus left that place. He’s in Galilee and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon, which is to them like a foreign land. At that point he goes out of his way to leave kind of what is known and going to be unknown. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David. My daughter is cruelly afflicted by a dark spirit.
But Jesus didn’t answer her at all, and his disciples came and urged him saying, Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us. Jesus answered. I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. But the woman came closer and knelt before him, saying, Lord, help me have mercy.
Jesus answered again, it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. She said, yes, Lord. Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.
Hearing this, Jesus answered, Her woman, great, is your faith let it be done for you as you wish. And her daughter was healed instantly.
Now there’s a few different approaches for this story, and a lot of times I think folks get a little intimidated by the notion that this could reveal a very human aspect to Jesus that might make us uncomfortable. It could show us that Jesus is still learning is still growing and still developing as a person, and even more so that Jesus is open to learning in that day and age from a woman. But because that can make us kind of antsy depending on your theology, whether you were raised in a world where Jesus perfection, it was kind of unquestionable, that humanity thing is really hard to hold intention and keep in balance.
And so sometimes people will say about this story when they’re teaching on it. Jesus was testing the woman.
He was using this rabbinic tool of turning somebody away three times to see if they would come back and come back and come back to really prove that they wanted to be a part of this faith community, to really prove that their faith was strong enough that they could weather three rejections and still come back. And maybe that’s true. Jesus was, after all, a Rabbi in the first century, and we know this was sort of sometimes a tactic that rabbis would use to really ascertain the commitment of new disciples.
The other possibility is that Jesus was rude. That what Jesus says in the story is unkind in some way that Jesus, for a moment in a very human moment, says some pretty insensitive things to this woman.
And I want to explore that possibility because these words are harsh. He compares her to a dog. He says that basically the good news of God, the love of God is limited to just God’s people. And this is antithetical to the story of God in Scripture from the very beginning, where God over and over says, sure, you’re recording your experience of God, but you’re only experiencing me so that you can bless the whole world over and over and over. God is calling God’s people to love the world.
And so for Jesus to sort of seem to forget this in this moment brings us to a really unique moment in Scripture. But we have to remember that Jesus is a product of his culture, even though so much of what Jesus is about is countercultural counterintuitive. So much of what Jesus does over and over and over is turn things upside down and challenge people’s preconceptions. And it’s this moment where I think we had a glimpse of Jesus momentarily getting a little off track with his mission. I know this might make us uncomfortable, but bear with me because this woman is doubly marginalized.
She has many different factors going against her when it comes to approaching a man who has a Rabbi who is from Israel. She’s a Gentile. She’s a woman. She doesn’t practice their religion, she doesn’t probably look like them. And of course, she’s a woman.
So it’s ironic that Jesus, who is normally the one throwing things off balance this time he’s the one that sort of knocked off balance by this encounter with this woman who largely goes unnamed. There’s some traditional thoughts that maybe her name was Justa, but we don’t have that in Scripture. What ends up happening is that this encounter seems to enlarge Jesus vision and releasing Him even greater compassion. Just for a moment, we can imagine that Jesus has been in these exhausting debates with religious scholars in his own country, his own people, people of his faith, from his walk of life.
He has just been over and over and over having these debates about the Kingdom of God and how God is meant for everyone, how the law is not made to put all these constraints on people so that they don’t live life to the fullest.
But that the law and God’s rules or the way God dreams of people living is actually meant to free people to be even more who they’re meant to be. And it seems like for a moment maybe he is exhausted. Maybe he’s so tired. Maybe he’s lost that wider picture of serving the whole world, because sometimes let’s face it, right. Serving the whole world, loving the whole world can be really overwhelming to us.
And so he kind of had this tunnel vision for a moment, focusing on just the Jewish people saying, basically pushing this woman aside, saying that the good news and the love of God is somehow not for her. And I love that her response is basically to sass him a little bit. It might not come across as snarky to us here and now, but she corrects Jesus. She’s coming to this person who she truly believes can heal her daughter. And when he pushes back, she pushes right back even harder.
It’s as if she is saying, Me and my people are not outside the purview of the Kingdom of God. We are not outside of God’s love. Don’t you remember who you are? You are a healer. You are the son of David.
You are here for all of us.
Yes, you have concern for Israel. You have maybe this ethnocentric view this ethnocentric reaction just in this moment. But she calls him back to remind him of the dream that God has for humanity. We have this moment, and it’s not the only one in Scripture where we see God Jesus changing his mind, and in this instance, changing his mind when his racial bias is confronted by the humanity and absolutely the hutzpah of another person of this woman. And it’s tricky, but it feels a lot like life and humanity to me.
Someone said to me the other day, after I had experienced some unkindness from another person, and I truthfully took the time to respond really carefully because I don’t know if you’re anything like me. Sometimes the first couple of drafts of a response or an email or comments are not the ones that reflect our best selves. And that’s why I said to her, she said to me, Can you really be that nice? Is this whole love your neighbor thing really that real to you? That that was just your gut response was this caring, kind of balanced reaction.
And I said, no, that was like the fourth or fifth draft. It took me a minute. It took me a minute to respond and not react to take all of my bias that I know that I have within me, some of it. I see some of it. I’m still learning and to respond not to that bias, not to that assumption about the way I see the world or the way I see another person, but to actually respond to the person themselves, to try to see their humanity, to try to factor in their dignity in the way that I respond.
And this is the hard part of love. Right there’s the story of these friends who decided they were going to start a chocolate heart business for Valentine’s Day one year. And if you’re picturing chocolate hearts in that traditional this way, I don’t know TV is hard.
They weren’t talking about those kinds of hearts.
They actually produced anatomically correct hearts like the organ. And this is hilarious to me in the Valentine’s Day context and also happened to be a complete business failure. But I think it speaks to our presumptions about what love is supposed to look like. A lot of times, the love that we think about the love that we’re given, the love that we’re called to embody in the world has this rainbows and puppies and lightness and delight to it. And sometimes love is that, right?
There’s no denying that sometimes love feels like heaven on Earth. We speak about it alongside affection and sentimentality and warm feelings. And it’s very sweet. We say people have a big heart, and sometimes the reality is we’re expecting that quintessential chocolate heart, and we get this chocolate organ that isn’t maybe as cute to us. And the reality of love is that really sometimes it is so hard.
Sometimes it is so hard, and it calls us to a very vulnerable place. It calls us to a place where we might be asked to change, like really, truly loving another person means that we are open to encountering them as they are, encountering them with openness, with curiosity, with really true love, looking for their dignity, their humanity. And that is what love looks like. And it’s not always pretty.
Sorry, buddy came over to say Hi.
It’s not always pretty. It’s not always glamorous. It’s not always tied up in ribbon and pretty tinfoil like the hearts that we prefer. But love is costly.
Generous love is a force to be reckoned with. Generous love is this fierce willingness to rewrite our own story because we’ve encountered the story of another. And this is what Jesus does. What if, in this story, this persistent mother whose daughter is tormented by darkness and not Jesus, is the protagonist? Can we imagine a story where love is so fierce that even God, even this person who embodies God’s presence, learns something more about what love can be like.
She takes Jesus momentary, and I truly believe momentary in a moment of exhaustion and a moment of stress in a moment of I just can’t respond to the whole needs of the whole world. She reminds him of the nature of the Kingdom of God, that it’s far more inclusive than anyone had ever anticipated. And that reminder almost has to come from the margins from someone who has gone unheard, unseen and unloved for too long. The boundaries of this reign of God can’t be constructed from within, from the insiders, from the people who are comfortable with hearts and candy kisses and easy love.
But they have to come from the margins, from people who are on the outside who know what it means to practice costly love from the margins.
What if we were open? What if we were authentic in the same way that Jesus is presented as authentic in this story, not as some infallible religious hero, but as someone who can learn when challenged even by someone from the margins.
Some twelve step programs even use this story as an illustration for humility.
They talk about humility as the ability to be, teachable, as the ability to respond to our circumstances as who we are, but also as who we hope to be so that we’re learning. We’re curious. We wonder about how we can be a part of making the world more whole in that moment.
And I wonder if that isn’t a significant part of generous love, this humility, this curiosity, this willingness to meet another person, no matter how much or how little we understand of them or their story and say, I see you. I see you. And love is meant for you, my love, our love, God’s love is meant for you. No need to justify no need to have the right pedigree, the right background, no need to be someone who’s in the center, but that everyone is within reach of love.
And it’s really hard to practice, right?
I was having a conversation last night with some of our high schoolers who are relaying this experience of a different sort of Church, probably much less spacious than we try to be.
And I wrote it down. What one of these students said was they asked a question after hearing this story about this Church experience, and they said, Well, can just anybody go to that Church? And the student who had went just said, oh, yeah, no, anybody can go so long as once they’re in there, the Church can change them so that they just are what they want them to be. And so often I think our love calls people to have to change, calls people to have to pretend, calls us to have to pretend.
Sometimes when really generous love costs us something, but invites us into this beautiful vulnerability where there’s a chance for restoration, for reconnection, for beauty.
This story is a microcosm of what I think is God’s, the whole trajectory of God’s narrative throughout human history. And that is that we’re on our way to being mended. Yes, things are broken. We can’t always see each other. We don’t always know how to love.
We’re on our way to restoration, and that love wins in the end. And so friends this week, I just wonder for us, what does generous love look like? What does it look like to step outside of our boundaries, our comfort, our preconceptions, our own bias, the ones we see and the ones we don’t in order to meet another human being, to meet another community, maybe even ourselves, and extend a kind of love that is real and deep and sometimes costly. I bet you can imagine the last time someone truly made you feel loved, like no matter what you did or said, you would find always a place of welcome, always a place of inclusion that you could be yourself and not have to pretend and take a deep breath and just know that you are loved.
Generous love in us and in our community means creating places like that for those around us so that anyone we come into contact with knows beyond the shadow of a doubt.
And even if it costs us, even if it costs us our comfort, even if it inconveniences us, even if it makes us a little shaky on the inside, that we can love them.
I know this story is maybe a little unnerving, but I take great encouragement from finding meaning in the story of Jesus. As someone who can learn who can grow, who can have a momentary lapse and return to his core being to his core belief in the Kingdom of God. We can have moments all the time where we doubt, where we get lost, where we get distracted, where we’re too busy or stressed to see through what’s happening. And we just say, no, I can’t help anymore. I can’t help any more people I can’t.
And rather than just shutting down and staying in that place to listen for a voice that calls us back to who we are and back to the kind of love that is generous and inclusive and maybe invites us to meet the person calling to us on the ground, on our knees so we can make eye contact and truly have a moment where we are human together. This is the way the world heals. This is the way we heal.
May you go forth practicing the generous love that we see in Jesus and in this woman, to be honest, honest, this mother whose love is so fierce and unrelenting, may we practice that kind of generous love.