Say to those who are of a fearful heart: “Be strong, do not fear! Here comes your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.
How do you hear this word of God? Is it good news to you that God is coming with vengeance and terrible recompense? It depends, I guess, on your image of God, and, probably equally so, on your image of self. Is God mostly a law-giving punisher, or a merciful savior? Do you see yourself as being of a fearful heart? Are you one of the weak ones?
It’s interesting to note that this passage from Isaiah comes from the time of the Babylonian exile when God delivered the people into the hands of their enemies, because they failed to live as God had called them to live. They were supposed to be a witness to the nations around them by how they lived, so that their neighbors would come to know God’s greatness, God’s wisdom, God’s goodness, God’s justice by how God’s people lived, but, of course, this never really happened, which, sadly, should be no surprise to us at all, since we all fail to live as justly as God has called us to live, and deserve no better than exile ourselves.
Those with a fearful heart have brought that fear upon themselves by their own sin, and God’s answer is to come with vengeance and terrible recompense – to save us. I hear this almost like a parent who says to their child right before punishing them something like: “This is for your own good.” God is coming with vengeance and terrible recompense for the good of the people.
It’s important to remember that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy. I have to care about what you think, I have to acknowledge in some way that you have value, or power, or deserve recognition in some way in order to hate you or to love you. But, if I’m apathetic toward you, I just don’t care. You’re not worth my time or energy on any level. So
- God will not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear on the sin of God’s people.
- God will not ignore us when we fail to live just lives.
- God will not ignore it when we take advantage of those who have less power, less money, less standing.
- God demands that we live justly, lifting up those who are brought low, and speaking up and speaking out for those whose voices are too easily ignored.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”
- God is not content to leave us to wallow in our sin.
- God is not apathetic.
- God loves us too much to allow us to live according to our own way, so much so that God became human, and died a horrific death on a bloody Roman cross, so that we might know the depth of God’s love.
That’s what God’s vengeance and recompense looks like, when God comes to save us.
God’s version of vengeance and terrible recompense, as it’s revealed in the coming of God in Christ Jesus, looks like
- The eyes of the blind being opened
- The ears of the deaf being unstopped
- The lame leaping
- The speechless breaking out in songs of joy
- Water flowing as streams in the desert
- And burning sands becoming pools and springs of water…
Today, Christians all over the country and around the world, beginning with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and we in the ELCA as their partners, observe “Confession, Repentance and Commitment to End Racism Sunday” – another step along the way toward reconciliation and healing, as we, God’s people, the Church, seek to live lives of justice and peace. And it’s interesting to look at today’s Gospel in that light, especially the last part of verse 24, where Mark writes of Jesus: “Yet he could not escape notice.”
As I was considering these texts this week, I jotted a note next to this line: He could not escape notice, can we?
James 2:17 says: faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead, meaning, if you’re aware of a need, and you do nothing to address that need, like in the example he uses: simply saying “be warm and well fed” to someone who is cold and hungry, and not actually doing something to feed and clothe and house that person, is of no use. God comes to us in love, and creates faith in us, and our response is to live lives of love and service to the other, not lives of opposition, and oppression, and distrust, and separation.
It is absolutely clear to anyone who wants to see, that is to anyone who is not willfully turning a blind eye to reality, it’s clear that the scourge of racism is still rampant in our country. I shared many of the statistics related to this in a couple of sermons earlier this summer, and you can find those sermons on our web site, and I encourage you to do so, especially if you missed those sermons. So I won’t repeat myself here today.
( Here are the links to the 2 earlier sermons:
http://www.reformationwlb.org/multimedia-archive/sermon-proper-7-lectionary-12-b-mark-435-41/; http://www.reformationwlb.org/multimedia-archive/sermon-day-of-repentance-and-mourning-for-mother-emanuel-ame-shooting-victims-lamentations-322-33-2-corinthians-13-7-mark-521-43/ )
But the fact remains that we are not, as many would have us believe, living in a post-racial society, and to pretend otherwise doesn’t make it so. And the question for the Church, for we who are called by the name of Christ, who claim to be his faithful followers, disciples of the one who could not escape notice, is: “Can we?” Do we do so little when faced with the reality of racism, that we go unnoticed? Does anyone, even stand a chance of recognizing and coming to know who God is, and what God cares about in terms of love, and justice, and peace, by observing how we live in the world?
Well, here’s the thing, God is not content to leave us to wallow in our sin, but neither is God content to allow us to let others wallow in their need, no matter who they are…
Jesus is in decidedly non-Jewish territory in the region of Tyre and Sidon, and later in the region of the Decapolis, and, though the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman is hard to hear, especially when Jesus basically calls her and her daughter “dogs”, dehumanizing them as we so often, in our own ways, and by our own careless attitudes and use of language, dehumanize those we consider to be “other”, the fact is that Jesus does cast the demon out of this Gentile woman’s daughter, and he does unstop the ears of this, presumably, Gentile man.
Jesus doesn’t fail to act, because the people are different, or “other.” Jesus doesn’t, in the end, give in to the societal norms that would have him reject these people and their need because they didn’t belong to the right race, and culture, and faith perspective. In the end, Jesus cuts through all of that and does what the love of God compels him to do. He brings healing. He proclaims good news in word and in deed, and that makes all the difference in the world…
For her part, the Syrophoenician woman speaks, perhaps, the most powerful word of all. As she comes begging for Jesus’ help, and faces his harsh rejection, she says: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And we’re reminded that, as Luther said on his deathbed: “We are all just beggars.”
- Insiders and outsiders
- Rich and poor
- Powerful and weak
- Racist oppressors and oppressed ones all
We are all just beggars seeking even a crumb from the hand of God.
And then, here we are, about to do something we do each time we gather. But do we get what’s about to happen?
In a few moments we’ll all stand around the Lord’s Table, and we’ll receive a crumb – a tiny bit of bread pressed into our open, begging, hand – each of us, in our sin and in our need, will receive what looks like a crumb, but is, in fact, our God
- Coming to save us
- Coming to feed us
- Coming to free and heal and deliver us
And then sending us out to no longer be content to wallow in our sin, or to allow others to wallow in their need, but with lives changed, eyes opened and ears unstopped, to strive for justice and peace in all the earth!