Sermon: Crumbs are enough

Pentecost 10A
Matthew 15:10-28
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Newark DE
“Crumbs Are Enough”

Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be faithful and fruitful in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Once upon a time in my seminary career,
a preaching professor paraphrased Karl Barth
and told my class that we should always prepare sermons
with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
I mention this
because I want to point out
that this has been a really intense week to pick up a newspaper.

A perfect storm of conflict continues between Israel and Gaza.
Terrible things are happening in Iraq.
Another unarmed black boy died in Ferguson, Missouri at the hands of a white police officer,
robbing us of the illusion that racism in this country is a thing of the past.
Robin Williams died of suicide,
and the ensuing flood of commentary
shows us how far we have yet to go in understanding mental illness.

The world is more than usually tense and sad and stressed right now,
and I felt like this week,
it would only take one more thing,
one more thing I had to care about,
and I would overextend my sense of compassion,
trip and fall and break my heart.

Come to think of it,
that preaching professor also suggested opening with sermons with a joke.
Oh well.

I think Jesus knows what it feels like to be overwhelmed by the needs of the world.
By the time we hit chapter fifteen of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ to-do list looks like this:
• Heal the sick.
• Cast out demons.
• Preach that the kingdom of God has come near.
• Feed thousands of people with a couple of fish and some loaves.
• Upset the Pharisees.
• Recast the laws of the Torah in a more compassionate light.
• Invent parables to describe the logic-defying, paradoxical kingdom of God,
• Walk on water,
• And do all this while circumnavigating the Sea of Galilee repeatedly.

So it’s significant that at this point in the narrative,
Jesus schleps over to the region of Tyre and Sidon,
a forty miles trek though hill country,
the farthest point north that Jesus goes in his whole ministry,
and definitely outside the ethnic and geographic boundaries of Israel.

It’s easy to imagine that he slogs over the hills
in the hope that he can get away from the constant demands
on his time and his energy and his compassion for just two seconds,
because just one more thing,
one more thing would push him over the edge.
And no sooner does he get to this place where no one is supposed to recognize him,
than this woman shows up, asking for…
just one more thing.

And it’s not just that her request unwelcome,
but her very person is.
Matthew deliberately labels this woman as a Canaanite,
which wasn’t even really a people group that survived into Jesus’ day.
The Canaanites were an Old Testament people,
the Hatfields to the Israelites’ McCoys.
They had been enemies ever since there was a people called Israel.

So this Gentile,
this woman,
this ancient enemy,
is the package in which a very unwelcome plea is repeatedly, annoyingly shouted:

“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”

And Jesus?
Jesus reacts just the way that any tired, burned-out, fed-up person would.

Which deeply worries me.
Look, I know that I’m not perfect.
But Jesus is supposed to be.

I know that we profess that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine,
but here’s my confession:
I am more comfortable with Jesus’ humanity when it pertains only to his fleshiness.
The divine putting on flesh is wonderful enough to test the limits of my imagination.

So for example,
I can imagine God wriggling his toes in the sand.
I can imagine God skinning his knee as an eight-year-old boy.
I can imagine God getting hungry,
and going through a phase where he doesn’t like cous-cous,
and I can even imagine God with bed-head.

But when God being fully human means that Jesus occasionally has a legitimately bad day?
A day when he gets fed up and ignores a plea for help,
and then tells a woman whose daughter is suffering
that he didn’t come all this way to help the likes of her,
and in making this point compares her to a dog?
I have a really hard time with that.

But…if we take Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman seriously—
if we don’t try to mitigate it or explain it away—
then what we see in this text is Jesus’ vulnerability.
It’s a glimpse into his exhaustion and his overwhelmed reaction
to a world that never,
ever,
even for a moment,
stops needing him.
It’s a moment where he wonders,
in a deeply human way,
not whether he can be enough for all people,
but whether he can even be enough for his own people.

Now stop here for just a moment.
If you’re like me,
the story-loving part of your brain is straining at the leash,
trying to get ahead to that cool part about the Canaanite woman’s great faith.
And we’ll get there,
but for a second,
just sit here with me and look at Jesus’ humanity.
Because something wonderful is about to happen,
and if you don’t notice Jesus’ vulnerability in this moment,
you might miss it:

In response to Jesus’ ugly response,
the Canaanite woman does something remarkable.
She accepts Jesus the way he is,
fully human and everything.
She doesn’t get angry
or blush
or yell back
or apologize for bothering him
or slink away.
She stays still.
She says, “Yes.”

And then she reminds him of who he is,
in all his fullness,
as she continues:
“Yes, Lord: but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”

I don’t know how the Canaanite woman heard about Jesus.
Matthew doesn’t say what miracles she heard about
or what rumors she listened to that brought her to her knees before this man.
We don’t know whether she heard the story of how Jesus
fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fishes.
But somehow,
this woman knew that crumbs were enough.
That there was so much abundance at God’s feast
that even the dogs under the table would be satisfied.

This woman has faith in what Jesus seems to have momentarily forgotten:
that in God’s economy,
there’s no such thing as scarcity.
There’s no such thing as not-enough.
At God’s table,
some measly loaves and a couple dried fish
are enough to feed fifteen thousand men, women, and children
(Matthew only counted the men).
At God’s table,
the fallen crumbs filled a dozen baskets full of bread.

And the woman has faith that a God like that
isn’t going to be satisfied
with loving just the people of Israel into salvation.
The woman has faith that grace like that
overflows human boundaries,
and that there is enough for everyone.

The Canaanite woman has come to seek healing for her daughter,
but through her great faith,
she opens a healing moment to Jesus.
Her gentle words in the face of his rude ones
grace Jesus’ weakness
and embrace his humanity.
Her presence
and her persistence
and her words
remind him that he is not alone,
that God is for him and in him and is him.
She is a sign of grace to the Gracious One,
a sign which perhaps he needed
because after all, he was fully human,
as well as fully divine.

You and I came here this morning in the wake of a difficult week.
Maybe you’re just about at your saturation point for hard news.
I am.
Maybe you’ve stopped watching the evening news
and are filtering topics like Gaza
and Iraq
and Ferguson
and the kids at the Mexican border
and Robin Williams
on your social media newsfeed.
Perhaps you came to church this morning
because you needed to spend some quality time with the good news instead of the bad.

But the good news this morning is
that it is in those very moments of feeling
like you’re overwhelmed and not-enough that God shows up,
like a needy Canaanite mother crashing your pity party.

It’s in those times when really,
we just want to shut the door and wallow
that the Holy Spirit speaks,
asking us to have just a little more mercy.

And when she does,
we’re driven to realize that compassion gig,
this loving our neighbor as ourselves thing
hurts and exhausts us—
even as it awakens us
to how little can afford to be exhausted.
And in those moments when our weakness and our human limits are laid bare,
God speaks.

And God says, “Yes.”

“Yes, I know you’re tired.
Yes, I know this is hard.
Yes, I know that this love,
this compassion,
this caring is exhausting.
Believe me, I know.
But the little you have is enough.
The little you do is enough.
Because I am the God of overflowing,
limit-breaking grace,
and you are in my kingdom,
and at this table,
crumbs are enough.”

You know,
what Karl Barth,
(that guy my preaching professor quoted)
actually said to do
was to “take your Bible and take your newspaper; and read both.
But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

So pick up your newspaper.
Read your newsfeed.
Stay informed.
Call your friends.
Listen.
But hold everything in the light of this wonderfully fantastic truth:
There has already been a savior of the world.
And you’re not it.

What you need to do is what you can.
That might feel like nothing more than crumbs.
But in God’s kingdom,
crumbs are enough.

“Jesus and the Canaanite Woman.” Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib. 1684. Wikimedia Commons.

Amen.

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4 thoughts on “Sermon: Crumbs are enough

  1. The beautiful Canaanite woman with hope in her heart. Your message was so moving, Victoria. What power in graceful women. You are a grace-full woman, Victoria. I wish you well in your studies and future. Were you filling in on campus?

    1. Thanks very much, Martha! No, I’m moving up north this weekend. St. Paul’s is the church of my childhood and young adulthood.

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