Yearning for Redemption
Aug 16 “Yearning for Redemption” Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.
Yesterday I stopped at Fred Meyer on the way to work and locked my keys in the car. A sudden change in plans needed to be made, so I walked to work. We were planning to have an Easter Sunrise Service in the Grotto, but maybe next year. A buddy of mine from work was planning trips to Hawaii and Alaska this summer, but no. We have all had sudden changes to our plans and lives due to the pandemic, but have been relatively unscathed here, when there has been great loss of life elsewhere. Our lives may seem to be at a standstill at times, but natural disasters and man-made ones like the horrible explosion in Beirut continue. Our lives are suddenly changed, not to go back to how things were. We should be used to that by now.
As troubling as such things are, perhaps it is even worse when someone targets us, causing us pain and suffering. A loved one betrays us, someone wants a divorce, we are the victims of crime or someone shows hatred for us in a way that seems unreal. Sometimes we understand, sometimes we don’t. At first, we are angry and want revenge, and then are saddened by the rupture of a formerly good relationship, if that is the case, or can’t understand why it happened to us, why could someone do such a thing?
In all of these cases, we want something good to come out of the suffering. We want to restore the fractured relationship, get our property back, get a refund for our travel plans and make new ones. Find a lost treasure with our metal detector. Doing so means getting past the urge for revenge and to let love take over. Sometimes it seems to feel good to let our anger burn, but that is not healthy, we need peace and reconciliation. Sometimes someone else needs to take the first step, sometimes we do. Sometimes that first step is the hardest one. But we want redemption, closure, and a return to normalcy. Jesus of course is the example par excellence, who gave his life for us so that we could have a right relationship with God. Can we follow His example, even a little bit? Can we make bad things good again, and restore our fractured relationships with one another? Can we forgive others and ourselves as God forgives us?
Now we may not be able to identify with Joseph’s story in itself, but certainly we can recognize the inner battles he feels, and perhaps those of his brothers. He is sold into slavery and taken to Egypt. He rises to power yet spends time in prison after being accused of something he didn’t do. But he always trusts in God. Eventually he reaches the highest place he can go in the kingdom, having displayed his wisdom and gifts from God, from slavery to a position of great power. He has everything he could possibly want, except for reconciliation with his family, and suddenly they show up. Joseph goes through inner turmoil. At first, it may seem like he is after revenge. He hides his identity and plays games with his brothers, certainly causing them great emotional turmoil. He could easily snuff them out or put them in prison, but his love for them wins. He reveals who he is and saves his family from starvation in a time of famine. He gives them a home in Egypt, and in doing so, saves the people of Israel, yet it would lead to later struggles under the leadership of Moses. But through Joseph’s suffering, God shows His faithfulness. In a land far from home, He redeems His people, and brings them home at the right time. Joseph’s story has a horrible beginning but ends in redemption.
All of us have been the Prodigal Kid at some time, making bad choices, causing harm, wasting what God has given us, yet He never gives up on us. No matter how far we have strayed, no matter what we have done, His love follows us, waiting for the right time to break through and bring us back home. His grace is freely given, but He expects us to respond and change our hearts and lives and reflect His grace back into the world.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus tells his disciples: “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” What is in our heart is what defines us, so we must be on the alert for what is lurking within us. Is it good, bad, a mixture? For those of us who identify with the teachings of John Wesley, the founder of the People called Methodist, this means the pursuit of Holiness. We try to overcome sin and that urge for revenge and seek to love God and our neighbors with all our being. It is not just a matter of doing good and avoiding evil, but in aligning our hearts and lives with God’s commandments and letting the love of Jesus fill our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s not just about being nice and not cussing, but about how we respond to life’s events. Instead of wanting revenge or vindication, our first response to all events and people is to act in love in accordance to the example Jesus has given us. It is not just about having a list of what to do and not to do, it is about having a vibrant faith and a life of meaning and purpose in Christ.
Our Gospel lesson for today concludes with:
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
We have all been told in sermons that the Samaritans were enemies of the people of Israel, and at this time they were. But they were not that different from the Israelites. Samaria was essentially part of what was the Northern Kingdom of Israel, long destroyed by this time. The people there would have been a mix of Hebrew peoples and others brought in by the Assyrians and Babylonians, too intermixed at that time to be recognized as kin by the Israelites. The Samaritans essentially had been sold into slavery, but never had their redeemer. But for our story, that doesn’t really matter. The point is that the woman is not an Israelite, and Jesus’ mission was to the Israelites. He may sound cold to us by at first refusing her request, but she just was not part of his assignment at that time. We most likely wouldn’t have been either if we were there back then, so we rejoice always that we are now!
Do you identify with this woman? Have you ever felt cast out, victimized, inferior? Then this story should resonate with you. If not, remember that you too may not have belonged in the people of God once but have been adopted into God’s people by the sacrifice Jesus made for you. Wherever you stand, though, we recognize that healing came to this woman’s daughter because of her faith. Her actions bring the redemption of someone else! But she had to make that first step. Jesus really doesn’t have to do anything for her, He is not responsible for her at this time, but He is amazed by her faith. She too knows that she is not part of God’s Chosen People, but her belief in Jesus and trust in his power brings healing and restoration. We, too, do note deserve to be saved on our own merit, but through our faith in Jesus, redemption is freely given to us and all those who declare that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And so, when we find ourselves in a fractured and wounded state, we should seek redemption rather than revenge. That is what Jesus teaches us through His suffering, death, and resurrection. Like Him, we seek to share God’s grace and love with all people and seek reconciliation with those we are at odds with. It can be a very difficult path for us to follow, but it honors the difficult path He took to secure our redemption. As Jesus has reconciled us to God, we seek to be reconciled with all people. Putting aside the urge for revenge, we seek to act in love. We seek redemption for all, not just ourselves. We share Christ with all people so that they too may find the redemption only He can provide.