Crumbs for the dogs.


Sermon –

I am famous, in my house, for re-reading books.

Any book – every book, in fact, that has caught my attention or imagination,

is bound to find it’s way back to my night stand (or any of my other favourite reading places…)

I’m not sure when I started this, but I know why –

when I was in elementary school, I read rapidly, but carelessly –

I was always skipping stuff to get to the end –

then someone would mention a particular part of a book I had just read, and I wouldn’t recognize it.

So I would go back, read it again, until I had digested the whole thing.

This has turned out to be good training for seminary.

Read quickly, and often – inwardly digest, then start again.

It is a hard habit to break, and now I re-read novels for the pleasure of certain passages –

and I come back to particular moments in a great book –

curious about the author’s ability to capture my attention;

is it the words they use? Their sense of drama? Mystery? (the answer is a little of all of these)

With the bible, it’s a little different, and strangely similar at the same time.

The pattern of the church year brings us back to familiar stories time and again.

We order ourselves around the cycle of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

We are part of the family, so we tell old family stories –

Moses – David – Abraham, Isaac & Jacob –

and the attraction is the characters – the drama – the words/poetry – the mystery – and something else.

Over and over again, we are reminded of our failure to live up to the family motto.

What motto, you ask? Well it comes in different forms, for different times.

It has been translated by languages and cultures – by centuries of manipulation (and misunderstanding),

but the principle remains the same.

Love one another as I have loved you –

so goes the most familiar application of the advice from the head of our extended family.

That love takes unusual forms –

one of our more prominent members is ambushed by his brothers and sold into slavery –

only to become their salvation in a time of universal crisis.

His descendants are absorbed into a foreign culture –

ultimately to be enslaved and resented by later generations

These slaves find their way to freedom,

only to wander in and out of exile for what seems like an endless time.

They move in and out of the spotlight –

a remnant returns to the promised land,

only to become the hired help for the current power-culture of the day, who , by Jesus time, are the Romans.

the struggles to follow God’s loving pattern continue – right through to Jesus day

(these struggles are part of our complicated and broken nature, but that is – oddly enough – another sermon)

Jesus himself is tempted to avoid the Canaanite woman –

shrugging off her request for help –

but the pattern ingrained in God’s people is strangely resilient.

Even the people of God who have fallen from favour,

disappeared from the centre of family gatherings,

and been shunned as outsiders (Canaanites, women, widows, you name it) –

even they have maintained a sense of God’s justice – God’s mercy –

and in their own way, they are familiar with the family motto.

Even the dogs get crumbs from under the master’s table” –

this is the retort that leaves Jesus briefly speechless – one of the most remarkable encounters in Scripture.

the thing that keeps me coming back to Scripture –

in curious hope – in desperate faith –

is this idea that comes up over and over again that the real message is love, simply stated –

every effort to systematize, classify and otherwise qualify the word

into something like a magic book of answers –

(one that excludes those who don’t agree,

and casts out those who dare question the rightness of the self-proclaimed caretakers of God ) –

every effort is miserably defeated

by the enduring message of hope, peace and unconditional love

that in this brief exchange brings Jesus to an embarrassed halt,

and causes him to encourage the one he nearly turned away.

That is the lesson, not just for today, but for all time.

The kingdom of God is like this (Jesus doesn’t have to say)

the dogs and their masters feasting together –

sharing the crumbs and rejoicing in the abundance of God.

Go and learn from this – and live in love where ever you are led. Amen


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