Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 15A

Track 1: Unity in the Body of Christ

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

The psalmist wrote:

Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brethren live together in unity!

It is like fine oil upon the head
that runs down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron,
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

It is like the dew of Hermon
that falls upon the hills of Zion.

For there the Lord has ordained the blessing:
life for evermore.   (Psalm 133:1-5)

There is great blessing in unity, within the body of Christ as well as within our own lives. Unfortunately, experience tells us that coming together in unity can be most difficult.

The Apostle Paul was struggling with the problem of achieving unity within the Early Church. Paul considered himself an apostle to the Gentiles, though he was trained as a Pharisee, He received criticism from the Church in Jerusalem because his converts were not following the strict practices of Judaism. Paul attempted to explain why God does not show partiality to either Jew of Gentile:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.   (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)

The key to understanding unity between brothers and sisters of the Faith is that God has shown mercy to us all. Not one of us can say that we do not need his mercy. God has forgiven us by removing our sins through the shed blood of Jesus. We have earned no status with God on our own.

Mercy and forgiveness are the building blocks of unity. Joseph of the Old Testament understood this. We remember the Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt. That would have been devastating for most anyone who went from favored son to being falsely accused and thrown in prison in Egypt. Joseph held on to his trust in God and eventually this paid off. Today out of Genesis we read:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’   (Genesis 45:4-11)

As a forerunner of Christ, Joseph forgave his brothers and showed them mercy and kindness. Thus he was able to reconcile peacefully with his brothers. But there is one other thing that we might easily overlook and that is how Joseph was able to forgive his brothers. Joseph understood how his life fit into a wider plan that God had for his people. He told his brothers: “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

If we are to live in unity we must learn to forgive and show mercy to others as God has shown to us. But we must also see beyond our own selfish needs. We must pray ask how God is using us for the greater good, even when we are undergoing difficult circumstances. The Apostle Paul reminds us:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Romans 5:1-5)

Powerful forces are coming against the Church today, to create division and disunity. Let us reject these forces, which are of the Devil, and strive together to live in unity. It is not always so easy. However, when we do God’s blessing falls upon us. Though the struggle may be difficult, with God, all things are possible. Joseph learned this. We have the blood of Christ on our side. All the more reason for us to show love to others. Paul wrote:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.   (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

 

 

Track 2: Great Is Your Faith

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

The Apostle Paul was struggling with the problem of achieving unity within the Early Church. Paul considered himself an apostle to the Gentiles, though he was trained as a Pharisee, He received criticism from the Church in Jerusalem because his converts were not following the strict practices of Judaism. Paul attempted to explain why God does not show partiality to either Jew of Gentile:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.   (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)

In today’s Gospel reading we have a curious account of a conversation Jesus had with a Canaanite woman. The woman would not have been considered as one of God’s chosen people. She was not a practicing Jew.  At first it seems as if Jesus is trying to discourage the woman but then we begin to realize that he was testing her:

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “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 masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.   (Matthew 15:21-28)

The Canaanite woman was not without faith. In someways she understood more about the ministry of Jesus than did his disciples who were trying to turn her away. She was not puffed up about her status with God. Nonetheless, she felt in her heart that Jesus might show her mercy if she asked him. The truth is that God will show anyone mercy who asked. The Apostle Paul writes:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.   (Ephesians 2:4-9)

God is no respecter of persons. The Prophet Isaiah spoke:

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,

for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,

all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant–

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;

for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.   (Isaiah 56:1,6-8)

We are the foreigners joined to the Lord. We are the ingrafted branches of Judaism. Our status before God is not about what we have done for him. Rather, our status is fully based on what Jesus has done for us.

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year A

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