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Sermon For Ordinary 23 Year B - September 7, 1997
James 2:1-10,14-17 and Mark 7:24-37
"Inside Out and Outside In"


READING:  James 2:1-10,14-17 and Mark 7:24-37
SERMON :  "Inside Out and Outside In"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or23sn.y-b 742 

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

   The sermon was delivered September 7, 1997 - at the end of a week 
   which began with the death of Princess Diana and ended with the 
   death of Mother Teresa seven days later.  The sermon deals with 
   this in the context of the texts - in particular the Epistle and 
   Gospel reading.    

   Sources: With much appreciation to my various sources, both 
   those named and those not named, from Sermonshop and Lection List.
   A special thanks to Bass Mitchell, "The Outsiders" (homily 
   reflection for Sep 7 1997) as sent to Lection-List@BIBLE.ACU.EDU 
   and to Donald Olson, Comments on Mark, Sermonshop.1997.09.07.


HYMN:  "In Christ There Is No East or West"


SERMON:  "Inside Out and Outside In!"

I want you all to think today.  To be humbled - and saddened -
and encouraged -- and filled with hope.  We travel - as I have
said before  - we travel in a world of both great beauty and joy 
and of great danger.  There is day - and there is night.  There
is a path - a road - and there is uncharted wilderness.

There have been several events this past week that - to one
degree or another have, I am sure - caught your attention.  And
there have been other events - which have not.

This week - the week which began with Princess Diana's death 
ended with the death of Mother Teresa seven days later -
     this week 300 Africans were slaughtered in their beds,
     - countless thousands died of  malnutrition in places we
     have never heard of, 
     - school girls and soldiers were blown up in Jerusalem, 
     - and around the world hundreds of people died in automobile
accidents, while others, like our own community's Brett Skawski,
died of cancer or other diseases. - - all whose names we will
never know.

Whether we know their names or not God knows and God grieves
because all people are truly princes and princesses.   That is
our inheritance as sons and daughters of the Sovereign one. 
 
But our grief - our sense of outrage concerning folk like Diana
and the girls in Jerusalem- and or our sense of loss concerning 
Mother Teresa -and Brett, reveals one of the great strengths -
and great weaknesses of the human heart 
     - and that is that we are very able to love to pray for
     people we have  never met; 
     - and while, like God, we are able to love everybody and to
     bless the world by how we think and how we act -- most often
     we do not -- and quite often what we do we do on a very
     preferential basis.

Would that it were true --- that in Christ there is no east or
west, in him no south or north.
Would that it were true --- that no partiality was shown to one
brother or sister over another,
that in Church - that among the people of God there was one great
family of love, but it is not.

We miss the mark - the church - you and I - 
no matter how well intentioned we are 
we end up making distinctions 
- we end up preferring - or honouring - some, and not others.

For the most part - we do not make these distinctions with in our
assemblies - within worship - or at our pot luck dinners and
community events - though in some places those with more money,
more time, more resources, are frequently better heard than those
with less 
     -- no we do these things, we show favouritism, we make
     distinctions, we judge one another,  for the most part out
     there in the world - out  in that place where we are called
     to live our lives - out in that place where we are called to
     act out our faith.

And we do so - so often - without even thinking about it. 

I would like to think that not one of us here is a racist,
or culturally intolerant,
or homophobic
or involved in the tyranny and blindness of political correctness
or sympathetic to any ISM that divides one from another
but consider the news this past week.......
consider how some folk are more favoured -- some are given higher
honour --
and some totally forgotten - even in their own lands - and their
own cities,
and not for mean reasons, 
not for cruel reasons,
but simply because preference is hard to avoid -
we hear some things,
we do not hear others,
and accordingly, we think about those things we hear
and become comfortable with them in one fashion or another - 
and do not think about others.

A story - a meditation - from a minister in a large American city
that came to me over the Internet  Friday afternoon.  He writes:

     I spent of few minutes talking with one of the street
     people down at the  mission Wednesday.  I've talked
     with her before so I know her story of abuse,
     addiction, prostitution, and psychiatric
     hospitalizations.  Diane is in her mid-30's, and quite
     attractive even with the wear and tear of fifteen years
     on the street.  Surely at 19 she could have competed
     with Princess Diana in the beauty department.  But no
     prince came her way.  

     Diane is not well, her mental illness making it
     difficult at times  for her to care for herself.  I got
     to thinking of the millions who sent flowers and
     expressions of sympathy for Diana.  Who will note
     Diane's death--which with life expectancy on the street
     is sure to be very soon.  Diana left an elegant
     restaurant minutes before she died, Diane eats many of
     her meals at the mission.  Churches all over the world
     are mentioning the death of Diana, praying for her
     family, her children.  Who will pray for Diane?  Who
     will pray for all those who know more of Cinderella's
     life before the ball than the happily ever after life
     of the princess? 

I found some anger - and some things I didn't quite agree with in
these words, but also there is something to think about here,
how, in our best moments, we can ignore or shut out the needs of
others,how we can forget those who most need our care, especially
when they are in far away lands, or live in ways that make them
utterly alien to us.

Things like making a large to do about Diana or about Mother
Teresa are hard to avoid, especially given the fact that these
two women have been well known to us.

Our mourning for them is natural
and our honouring of their memory is a good thing -
as long as we don't forget to honour the less well known as well
as long as we remember all people in our prayers,
as long as we don't make a habit of putting the well known, the
rich, the famous, or even the saintly  - ahead of those among us
who are normal folk - those among us who are just like us.

We are called to honour all people,
and to mourn for all people 
and to pray for all people.

And when we do - it makes a difference - just as our prayers for
Diana, and Mother Teresa, and Brett made and still make a
difference.

But there is a kind of giving preference - of favouritism that is
far less excusable ---
one that shuts out normal folk - not because they have not come
to our attention
but because we have bias - we have prejudice against them,
because for one reason or another we think them less worthy of
our time and our attention
less worthy of our approval and our admiration, less worthy of
our respect and our care.

It is such that underlies both today's gospel reading
and our reading from the Letter of James.

The latter speaks bluntly of those kinds of things that separate and 
    divide us -
it speaks of seats of honour in our houses of worship
and of how wrong it is to pay more attention to the rich than to the poor
how sinful it is to prefer those who wear designer clothing and
    sport tasteful jewellery
to those who wear nothing but jeans and have tattoos or earrings in all 
    the "wrong places".

The former     the story of how Jesus enters the region of Tyre
               and is confronted by a woman, a gentile woman,
               seeking a healing for her daughter, and then goes
               on to the Decapolis - the heartland of non-Jewish
               settlement in the land of Israel - and heals a man
               of his deafness and his inability to speak clearly
is a little less blunt.  The full impact of what is happening in
this passage is lost on us if we do not understand just how
Gentiles were thought of by many of the devote in the days of
Jesus, and of just how women were expected to behave when dealing
with a man in public - especially with a holy man .
Without going into great gory details - suffice to say that
everything that Jesus does in this section of the  gospel
according to Mark was truly offensive to a sizable number of the
believers of his day.

He debated with a woman.
A Gentile woman.
A Canaanite woman at that -
and then rewarded her for her audacity - for her unspeakable
rudeness, by granting what she asks.
And then he goes further in Gentile territory
and not only heals a gentile man - but does so by touching him -
by laying hands on him
on one that according to the law was unclean....

     In Mark, Jesus is not a boundary guarding figure but a
     boundary crossing figure. The story of the
     Syrophoenician woman is the culmination in Mark of a
     series of episodes emphasizing how Jesus crosses social
     boundaries designed by those in authority to avoid
     those considered to be unclean.  So, when Jesus touches
     a leper, drives out unclean spirits, goes to Gentile
     territory and visits at a grave site with pigs present
     (!), is touched by a woman with a flow of blood, and
     lays hands on the corpse of a child, he is crossing
     social and religious boundaries that marginalize and
     exclude those who actually need help the most.  The
     kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims in his actions
     reverses the usual flow of things.  In the religious
     culture of Jesus' day people withdrew from uncleanness
     to avoid  defilement; by contrast, Jesus crosses
     boundaries to spread holiness, to spread "wholeness",
     by the power of the Spirit of God.

Jesus in fact declares by his actions - as well as by his words -
- that those whom we think to be outside of God's kingdom are in
--- and those whom we think to be inside - are out, unless they
have a change of heart about who they think is worthy of their
love and who is not. 

 In other word's Jesus confounds human sinfulness -- with pure
love - undiscriminating love - grace filled and life giving love. 
He lives out his faith.  And his faith is good.

Mother Mary Teresa, as a holy woman, a nun - and Diana - as a
Princess -- are good examples of the impartiality - of the love
that Jesus had - and we are called to have for all people.  

Mother Teresa said the goal of her life was "to be a pencil in
God's hand", that she was called to care for the sick, the poor,
the dying, and the dispossessed, to show them the love that God
had for them.

And she did.  And we called her a living saint because of it.
 
And Diana - one of the reasons Princess Diana was so loved 
     was that no one was an outsider to her (though she must
     have felt like one often enough). I find it most
     interesting in a replay of some interviews she did that
     she said in her experience the one problem most people
     she met had was "feeling unloved.".  She knew that she
     had been given a very special role and
     opportunity...and that no matter what she did, the
     media would always hound her. So, I think, though they
     tried to use her, she also used them. She took them to
     places and persons they never would gone...to the
     hungry, to rooms filled with AIDS patients, to children
     living in landmine fields...to champion the causes of
     the outsiders, the invisible ones. And, as a mother,
     she tried to make sure that her princes, William and
     Harry, knew first hand about the paupers in the world,
     for she knew her boys would also have the opportunity
     one day to do much to reach out and include the
     outsiders. 

The Gospel, the Good News, is that God so loved THE WORLD and
that whosoever believes is given eternal life. God's love is an
all embracing love, a love for the whole world. Red and yellow,
black and white, they all are precious in God's sight. But what
about ours? 

God's a bridge builder, not a wall-maker. What about us? 

Jesus confounded his disciples
Jesus confounded the religious of his day
He turned things inside out as it were by his attitudes
     That the unrighteous are loved by God
     That the poor and those who mourn are blessed,
     and those who dwell in darkness - are elected by God to come
     to his light
     and live in his eternal kingdom.

And he reach outward in his ministry
Outward to those who did not "deserve" his favour or the favour
of any man or woman of faith.
He reached out to sinners - to tax collectors - to traitors -- to
adulterous persons
he reached to the unclean and to the unholy - to lepers and to gentiles
he reached out and he touched them - and embraced them,
just as warmly as he touched the holy scrolls of scripture in the
synagogue each Sabbath
just as lovingly he embraced his mother and his brothers and sisters.

And this is truly the good news of today and of every day.
Jesus cares for those who are forgotten
for those who are marginalized
for those who are truly are sinful - as we are sinful.

Jesus cares - and he works miracles of caring through those which
are open to his love,
he uses flawed vessels and imperfect tools to accomplish his will
and in the process transforms both the vessels and the tools
and the world in which we dwell..

Jesus shows us that love is possible - a love that expands the
circles that we draw about ourselves,
and today we recall - not only Jesus shows us this - but a pauper
and a princess have also shown us.

When a poor Romanian woman and a rich princess can both expand
the circle of love
we - the children of God - have much reason to take hope.

Don't lose faith my friends because of the sadness we see and feel
and don't lose it because of the sin that is the world 
- or even because of the imperfection within,
rather unite yourself more firmly to the living God,
- embrace the Christ 
and greet all the people that you meet as your most beloved
brothers and sisters.  AMEN



copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1997, 2003
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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