Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Yesterday Marianne and I went to a Yankees game. It was Marianne’s first and it was quite a game—described later as an ‘ugly’ win but a win just the same. The game went 13 innings before the current centerfielder, a young collegian up from the minors hit a single which drove in the runner from second.

It was almost a year ago that I saw my first live Yankee game. The Yanks were surging toward first place. The top of the order was magnificent in batting; the pitching sound and the fielding good.

This year the Yanks are in 3rd; most of the bats were cold and they plainly struggled but they persevered just like the Canaanite woman in this narrative from Matthew’s gospel. To save her daughter she is willing to stand up and argue persuasively. If Jesus won’t grant her mercy on behalf of her child, perhaps he can toss a crumb of healing her way.

Barbara Crafton in her eMo (her electronic meditation) regarding this reading says that Jesus really comes across as mean-spirited until he comes to realize that his ministry is for all. I quite agree. Jesus gains an insight of breath-taking proportions.

I found myself wondering then why these two seemingly dissimilar narratives are grouped together. It could be just chronological—one event following soon after the other, but it seems more to me.

I think Jesus’ first response to the Canaanite woman as he later thinks about it falls in the realm of the poison from the mouth. Why because Jesus realizes that what has come from his heart is as narrow as the actions of the Pharisees whom he characterizes as the blind leading the blind.

Jesus as a good Jew characterizes the heart as the center of being, the center for all that makes us who we are and so when from the heart comes judgmental talk, hateful speech, or actions which violate another’s personhood, we are on dangerous ground.

Because of scientific discoveries, we understand the seat of emotion and voluntary behavior comes from the mind but the mouth can still be the perpetrator of rank nastiness and slander and sadly, often is.

Intemperate speech should be beneath us, as Christians. When we mouth off about something or someone, others hear and draw conclusions about what we stand for. If they conclude that we’re Christian, then they can’t think much of our practical Christianity.

Practical Christianity is pretty simple—live each day as if it might be your last and that you will have to make amends for your actions. We associate Jesus with love and that is a correct understanding, but Jesus is also about responsibility. How do we respond in the various circumstances that we encounter each and every day?

There are a lot of jokes about Anger Management and a pretty funny movie by that name starring Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler but the fundamental teaching of anger management is that we always have time to stop and think before reacting. There are only triggers when we allow ourselves to over react. Otherwise these triggers lose their power.

Jesus said that there are two great commandments on which all the Law and the words of the prophets are based: love God with the kind of passion that we seem to be able to shower on sports teams or Olympic athletes or that car the ownership of which will define us in every way and love those around us—all of them—as we come to love ourselves.

Mean-spiritedness, innuendo, gossip and rudeness should have no place in our daily living or in any organization of which we are a part.

Why? Because Jesus says so.

Amen.