Eve Meets Mary

Format Image

Lately, as I’ve made my way home from work here at the church, I can see the stars in the sky. And it’s not because I’m here until 10pm.

No, the days are growing shorter… the air colder…
This is the time of year when we are preparing ourselves for the longest night, the winter solstice, and while the daylight wanes, we are clinging to reminders that better days are ahead.

Right here, in the midst of this season of darkness, we remember that it is in the darkness that new life comes.
The bulb has to be planted within the cold, dark earth to bring forth its buds.
Babies grow and are formed in the dark warmth of the womb.
And in this “bleak midwinter” we set out our evergreens and yule logs to remember that resurrection and eternal life are ours.
We are waiting, you see, during this time of Advent for the birth of the child spoken of by prophets… the Savior, Messiah, Prince of Peace, Light of the World.
And… as people born on this side of his birth, life, death, and resurrection… we are still waiting.
Advent you see, is not only a season of remembrance. It is also a time to look forward. The fullness of that kin-dom that Christ came to bring has not yet fully been realized.
All we have to do is open the newspaper to know that God’s will has not been done on earth.
We are still waiting.

Earlier this week, I heard news reports that the Island of Puerto Rico still only has power for 46% of its residents. The devastation of Hurricane Maria was so severe that months after the winds and rain poured down, rural areas still do not have any access to resources.
But not only Maria… the impacts of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana are still being felt.
While it is not as present in the news, the continual onslaught of storms in Louisiana has had a doubled impact because of the simultaneous destruction of wetlands. The dead zone in the Gulf created by run-off farther up the Mississippi and the altering of the flow of the Mississippi for human habitation has devastated the area. The US Geological Survey now reports that nearly 1,900 square miles of land have disappeared in the last seventy years.
Sometimes, the sin and destruction and pain of this world is almost too much to bear.
Sometimes, it feels like we have been waiting too long.
Sometimes, it is hard to have any hope when we look out at reality.

Maybe that is why I find so much comfort in the words of The Archbishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput. He defines hope as a choice, “a self-imposed discipline to trust in God while judging ourselves and the world with unblinkered, unsentimental clarity.”
Those words remind me that hope is not a naïve sentiment or wishful thinking.
We can look out unfiltered at the world that surrounds us… and we find hope at the intersection of what we see and our faithful trust in God
Hope doesn’t shirk away from problems or difficulties, but enters into them, confident that God will be there and will bring order, life, and joy out of the chaos.
That hope is not only for you and me. It is for all of creation. This whole world is waiting with us.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we are reminded that “the whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice – it was the choice of the one who subjected it – but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.”

Whatever was intended for creation, with the tree of life and fertile land and those first humans holding dominion over it all, is not what we experience today.  When we read through those first chapters of Genesis, there is no mention of rainfall or storms, no death, no decay, only life, and life abundant.

Our faith explains the brokenness of creation – the cycles of destruction, natural disasters, violence, and death by pointing to a single moment: When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden (Genesis 3:6-7).
At that moment, everything changed.
That first sin, that first rejection of God’s intentions, had an impact on the entire world! God confronts Adam and Eve and there is not only punishment for the snake and the two humans, but as Genesis tells us, “cursed is the fertile ground because of you; in pain you will eat from it every day of your life. Weeds and thistles will grow for you, even as you eat the field’s plants; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread – until you return to the fertile land.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
We acknowledge this pain of creation even in the songs we sing this time of year. We proclaim how “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy”…. But we also sing about the groaning of the earth itself and its longing for redemption… “no more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.” (Isaac Watts, Joy to the World, UMH #246)

And as our Advent candle reading from Isaiah lifts up, it was not only the first sin of Adam and Eve that impacted creation, but as we continue to sin, the earth dries up and withers. (Isaiah 24:4-5)
Theologically, we are called to remember that our selfishness, our disobedience, our breaking of the covenant impacts the physical world around us. Because of our continued sin, the whole of creation is trapped in a cycle of death, enslaved by decay, and waiting to be set free.

So where is the hope that Paul writes of in Romans? Where do we turn for hope as we look out at the groaning of creation today?


One afternoon I stumbled upon an image that took my breath away.

It was drawn by Sister Grace Remington who is a member of the Cistercian Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey here in Iowa. It depicts Eve, clad only in the flowing locks of her hair and clutching that forbidden piece of fruit. Her leg is entwined in the grip of a snake; her head hung in shame. Evil, sin, and death are her legacy. It is our legacy.
But with one arm, she reaches out and places her hand on Mary’s womb.

Mary stands there full of grace and mercy.
She gently touches the face of Eve as if to tell her it is okay. She holds her other hand over Eve’s and together they feel and experience the life of the one who was coming to redeem and restore all the creation.
There is hope.
When Paul writes about the groaning of creation and all of God’s children, he describes that pain as nothing compared with the “coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
And then in verse 22, he uses the Greek word synōdinō to portray this reality; a word used only once in scripture to describe the agony of childbirth.
Creation is suffering labor pains.
Something new is about to be born.

In this season of Advent, this image of Eve and Mary fills my heart with possibility and invites me to hear the words of Romans 8 in a different light.
So often, I hear the frustration and groaning of the text, instead of diving in to see the good news.
Yes, the world around us is groaning, but they are labor pains. Creation itself is about to be delivered, to be release, to be set free to become what God fully intends for it.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul keeps pointing back towards Adam, because in those first human beings, we see God’s ultimate intention for the human race.
Paul believes that in Christ, in that child that would be born of Mary, the human project finds it’s completion (Jospeh Sittler).
In the beginning, there was a part for humanity to play – tending the garden, carrying the image of God, helping all of creation to thrive.
And now, as Christ is born into our lives and we claim the Spirit of God that sets us free, it is our job to take up that role once again.
As this image conveys, in Christ, we find release from our temptations… that snake of sin that would bind us is being stomped on by Mary.
In Christ, we find forgiveness for past transgressions… the head hung in shame and guilt is gently touched, the hand is embraced.
The way we have lived on this world – using and abusing God’s gifts for our own intentions – doesn’t have to be the way that we move forward.

In fact, Paul tells the Romans that those who have been set free by the Spirit of Christ have an obligation to live as God’s sons and daughters right here and now.
Not for our sake.
Not for selfish reasons.
But because the whole earth is waiting for us to do so.
The love and mercy of Christ reaches out to us as the descendents of Adam and Eve and yes, we are offered forgiveness, but more than than, we are empowered by God’s Spirit to live differently.

Paul believed that God linked the restoration of creation with you and me, and so I find hope in this season of Advent in the possibility that people of faith can help to change the tides of decay.

All throughout this season, we will highlight some of those stories and ways we can make an impact, but these Christmas Trees here at the front of the church remind me of one…


In the midst of that loss of habitat and wetlands in the Louisiana delta, people are working to restore the wetlands and help mitigate the impact of storms by collecting used Christmas trees.
As they deposit them into threatened bayous, they become the basis for new marsh vegetation and they help to reverse erosion.

We have a choice of how to live on this earth and whether or not we will obey the call of God to care for all of creation.
Just like this image of Eve, may we be transformed by the birth of Christ into our lives, so that we might be the hope for the world.


NOTE:  This sermon is an adaptation from chapter one of my book, “All Earth Is Waiting.”

Prayers from the silence

Psalm 62:1 & 5 (NRSV): “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.”

After waiting on God, write a prayer that arises from the silence.

God, I’m trying to wait for you.
I’m trying to focus on you.
But I am so easily distracted.

The cats are playing in the bathtub. (yes, the bathtub)
My husband has fallen asleep watching an e-sports match and is snoring.
The screen is too bright and I should have shut it off.

For God alone my soul waits…
Heck, I can’t even get the silent part right.

I have a feeling, Lord, that you wait for me more than I wait for you.
I know you are my hope and salvation.
But I take it for granted.

Clear the chaos and the clutter
Clear my eyes so I might see
All the things that really matter
Help me be at peace and simply be.

Let it Be with Me…

This is our fourth week of waiting for that coming of Christ – and we are so close we can almost taste it! We are ready for the heavenly choirs of angels mingling with the smelly shepherds in the field, for the time when wise men led by celestial signs witness the fragility of an infant of a manger. It is a season of holy anticipation – not for experiences beyond this world, but ones that are embodied in things that we can touch and feel, live and breathe. We are getting ready for God to take on human flesh in our midst!

This morning, we get to hear the beautiful telling of the annunciation – the announcement ! – in Luke’s gospel this morning. The angel Gabriel appears and proclaims Mary to be favored in God’s eyes – blessed among all woman – for she will bear a child who will be called the Son of God. And Mary, for her part, asks but one question: How will this happen? And then responds with that very familiar statement: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Maybe this is because for over half of my life I have heard this story as a child – but Mary has always been in my mind a wise and beautiful woman, full of the grace of God and ready to face any challenge that might come her way. She is filled with a maturity that to me has always belied her age. She seems so much older than me, so much more ready to accept God’s joyful burden, and yet- Mary was probably no more than fourteen or fifteen years old when the angel Gabriel stood before her.

Fourteen or Fifteen years old! For nearly half of my life I have been OLDER that this amazing young woman who said yes to the impossible.

Now, granted, Mary was living in a world of prearranged marriages and was likely promised to her husband-to-be, Joseph, for many years. Young women would have been married and having children by the age of eighteen to be sure. But it was also a world where a woman’s only education would have been in the home, a world of Jewish faithful living under a Roman occupation, a time of darkness and poverty, disappointment and despair.

We witness her willingness to accept the burden that God is bestowing upon her. We hear her song of praise to the God who has come to her, a lowly servant. “Let it be with me according to your word.” And we forget how difficult it must have been to not only accept this joyful burden with those words, but to carry that joyful burden in her life.

Because of the nature of Christmas, we hear the annunciation on Sunday, and by Wednesday evening we have a beautiful, bouncing, baby boy in a manger. There is so much we skip in these precious few days before Christmas… and in part, we skip this part of the story because we do not know what happened. The scriptures leave us to fill in the blanks.

We are told in the gospel of Matthew that Joseph probably would have quietly broken off the engagement had not an angel of the Lord intervened. Thank God for angels.

Mary would have still been living with her parents at this time, but we don’t know how they responded. I can tell you that it was customary to send an unwed mother off to live with distant relatives, so as not to shame the family… perhaps this is the cause of Mary’s hasty trip to visit her cousin Elizabeth after the angel Gabriel appeared. Elizabeth, herself, was overjoyed to greet Mary and her unborn child – yet Elizabeth was also in on the secret of this divine birth and was in the middle of her own miraculous pregnancy. Her husband Zechariah wasn’t so sure… at least not at first.

With the exception of these two, we don’t know how the rest of the family responded, or how her community responded. A young woman, still unmarried, becomes pregnant and the people are supposed to…what? Celebrate? Extol her virtues? Even if Mary told everyone that it was the Son of God in her womb, who would have believed her?

I think that this is an important part of the story that we miss, because if she wasn’t believed, and if she wasn’t protected, Mary would likely have been stoned for adultery. And yet, it is precisely in this vulnerable and difficult experience that we come to understand that Christmas as the celebration of God entering the world, not to condemn it, but to redeem it.

Christ comes into this world not to condemn it, but to redeem it.

Two thousand some years ago, a young woman, a girl really, said “yes” to God’s invitation – and just look at how the world has changed. But then, if you think about it, that is how God has been working all along. It is how God has always changed the world.

From the very beginning, the people of God were transformed and moved along and inspired by ordinary nobodies who hesitantly said “yes” to God. Think of the poor nomad Abram, think of the murderer Moses, think of the shepherd boy David.

Each of them, in their own way, said “let it be with me according to your word.” And they opened themselves up to God’s will in their lives. They followed his call. They tried to live obediently. And God accomplished amazing things through them. That is how God works.

Does that mean it was easy? No. Does it mean that they faced straight paths with no obstacles? No. Does it mean that they found perfect happiness? No.

Think again of our young Mary. She would have to struggle to protect her child from the slaughter of infants by fleeing to the foreign land of Egypt. And then she would live to see her own son crucified by the Romans. There was no way of knowing when she said “yes” to God that this would be the course her life would take. But still she said, “let it be with me according to your word.”

We look back, and perhaps we are thankful that we have not been faced with such a momentous decision. We are thankful that we do not face persecution because of our faith. We are glad that God did all of that work a long time ago, so that we can now enjoy this life that we have in Christ.

The Gospel of John reminds us that:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. And the Word came and lived among us, and we have seen his glory… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

The Word came and lived among us. God took on flesh – God worked through human lives, God’s will was embodied in the small “yeses” of many insignificant people. And the world was changed.

But you know, right now, in this season of Advent, we are not only preparing to celebrate what happened in the birth of Christ 2000 years ago, we are also preparing for Christ to come again – we are getting ready for the new thing that God is about to do in our midst.

And the question I want us to really ponder today, is what would it mean for the call of God to ring out again? How would we respond, if we, as ordinary people not unlike Mary or Joseph, or Moses or David, we asked to say yes. Not as some kind of temporary commitment, like a new years resolution that we make today and forget about tomorrow, but in a real and powerful way?

What would it mean for us to stand here, fully and openly before our God and say, “let it be with us according to your word.”?

Are you ready, are you prepared for something new to be born within your spirit? Within this community? Are we ready for Christ to enter our midst, our hearts? Does that idea terrify you?

You know what. It terrifies me a little bit. Because I hear that call of God all the time. I hear that call of God challenging me and challenging us to really and truly take the plunge, to hand our lives over to God’s will.

I hear God calling us to stop being simply Sunday Christians, or even, every other Sunday Christians, and to fully let the Word of God dwell in our hearts every single day.

I hear God challenging us to take risks and to put ourselves on the line as we go out into the world to be the hands and feet of Christ. I hear God urging us to say yes, because God doesn’t want to change the world without us.

And what is so hard, what is so scary, is that saying yes means everything will change. The kind of transformation that God wants to see in this world – the kind of redemption that God is continuing to bring about is only possible if we leave behind everything that we know and follow.

The reason that we haven’t fully said yes in the past is because we keep assuming the path will be easy. We keep hoping that whatever comes our way won’t involve some kind of radical change. We want to believe that we are already living the way we are supposed to and that not too much more will be required.

I can guarantee you – that is not the case.

Everything changed for Abram. Everything changed for Moses. Everything changed for David. Everything changed for Mary. Everything changed for every single one of those disciples who put down their nets and their tax bags and decided to follow Christ.

But you know what… they didn’t have to do it alone. And when someday, we find the courage to say yes to God, we will not be left on our own either.

As the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, one of the first things that he whispered in her ear was: “Do not be afraid.”

The words of that hymn we have used quite often – “You are Mine,” seem to express the words of encouragement that might have helped Mary find the strength to accept this blessing in her life, in spite of the difficulty, in spite of the whispers behind her back, in spite of the long hard road ahead. “Do not be afraid, I am with you… I love you and you are mine.”

No, we will not be left to our own devices when the time comes and the call is given. Because while God freely chooses to use ordinary people to accomplish his will – God also gives us everything that we need.

That is what grace is all about. That is what love is all about.

During this time of year, there are goodies everywhere. My sister-in-law loves to bake, but she also really wants to involve her children in the process. Now, Cami and Xander are 3 and 7 respectively, and so there is only so much that they can do as children in the kitchen, but Bevin tries hard to include them nonetheless. She calls them each into the kitchen, gives them various small tasks to do, and pretty soon, before they know it, they have made a beautiful and delicious masterpiece.

In many ways, that is how God works. God wants so much for this world to be transformed, but he also loves us so much that he lets us in on the secret, wants to teach us the recipe, and hopes that we will want to help out where we can. So little by little, we are charged with the task of redeeming this creation. Little by little, we do what we can. Little by little, God helps us along. Like a loving parent, God will not leave us on our own to burn ourselves, or let us be with a sharp knife, but carefully, painstakingly, helps us to navigate through the dangers. God molds us, supports us, guides us and leads us.

Don’t be afraid. I love you. I will see you through this. You are mine and I am never letting you go.

Are we ready to roll up our sleeves and say yes? Have we spent enough time preparing? Have we put off the call long enough?

In three days, we will come together again in celebration and joy for the birth of the Christ child. May these days of waiting and anticipation help us to get ready for Christ to be born in our hearts. May these days help us to be able to say, “Yes, Lord, Let it be with us according to your will.”

Throw Me a Bone Here!

Some days, I think that my cat Turbo secretly wishes to be a dog. He does things that are at times very odd for a cat – like wanting to have his belly rubbed or playing fetch. He also is very good about communicating to us when he is ready to play because he walks into the room with a toy firmly in his mouth and meows… Mraow!

The thing is, our lovely, adorable, little Turbo never wants to play when WE are ready to play. It’s always in the middle of writing a sermon or in the middle of a really intense part of a movie that he shows up ready to go. And he doesn’t make it easy for us either. You see, Turbo likes to stand just outside of the reach of our arms – about four feet away from wherever we are sitting and he drops his toy and looks at us. It’s like he’s saying… “Come and Get it!” Get up and come over here. Drop whatever you are doing and pay attention to me!

Sometimes, I think that its rather annoying. Sometimes I really just wish that he would go away and find someone or something else to play with. Because I have other more important things to focus on. But he stands there near me, with that cute little mraow! And pretty soon, I can’t help but give in.

How many of you have pets in your family? Whether they are big or they are small, whether they live outside or inside, pets are in 63% of American households. I was curious to find out a little more about all of these pets and found estimates from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association that Americans own approximately 73 million dogs, 90 million cats, 139 million freshwater fish, 9 million saltwater fish, 16 million birds, 18 million small animals and 11 million reptiles.

That’s a lot of animals!

The thing about pets is that they have this amazing ability to make us better people. According to a pet therapist, “Love is the most important medicine and pets are one of nature’s best sources of affection. Pets relax and calm. They take the human mind off loneliness, grief, pain, and fear. They cause laughter and offer a sense of security and protection. They encourage exercise and broaden the circle of one’s acquaintances.” (http://www.sniksnak.com/therapy.html)

This morning, we hear a very different sort of story from Matthew about a how a woman who was callously called a dog – widened the circle of God’s love for Jesus, for the disciples, for the church itself, all in a conversation about table scraps.

And so as I thought about those two things together: about how much I love my cat and how sometimes he really pushes me to the limits and challenges me to move beyond what I am doing, about how he helps me to love more – and about how much that woman was hated and yet how she pushed the boundaries of the gospel and helped Jesus to love better – I got to thinking about table scraps and ever-widening circles. Table scraps and ever widening circles.

First of all, a little background on this passage of scripture. Jesus is walking around with his disciples way out on the border lands of Israel – out by Tyre and Sidon. Now, this would have been like venturing into Iowa State territory for these disciples…. If they were Hawkeye fans that is. People talk funny out there, people look different (okay, well not all that different), but there is definitely some long held animosity between the people of Israel and the people “over there.”

Before they realize it, this woman comes up to them…. And not just any woman, some crazy, foolish Canaanite woman, who starts yelling and begging and pleading with them to heal her demon-possessed daughter. I can just see the disciples now… are you sure that your daughter needs the help… because you are kind of freaking us out!

And then Jesus – the one who is always supposed to have the answers and who models to us how to treat others – surprisingly just ignores the woman. Doesn’t even bother to give her the time of day.

Now, if I were a disciple, and I saw Jesus ignoring someone – I’m not quite sure what I would have thought. It probably seemed like an affirmation of their worst thoughts and assumptions about this woman. It probably seemed like they were way too good to stop and pay attention to this persistent, annoying woman who was starting to make a scene. And so one of the worked up the courage to tug on Jesus sleeve and said… “Let’s figure out some way to ditch this lady… she’s getting on our nerves!”

Now, in most of our scriptures about Jesus, here is the point where Jesus would very firmly put the disciples in their place – take care of the woman’s concern – no matter who she was – and they would be on their way. Hopefully with the disciples having learned a very important lesson. Whenever I read this passage from Matthew, I am ready and waiting and longing for Jesus to give those hooligans a talking to.

But he doesn’t. We don’t know what is going on inside of his head, but he says something very strange to our ears – even today. Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” I was sent only to the Jews – that is my mission, that is my focus, that is what I am going to do.

And this woman, this Caananite, certainly wasn’t a Jew. In the gospel of Mark she is called a Syro-Phoenecian woman, but whatever way you look at it, she was definitely not included in the bunch Jesus had in mind. If you remember all the way back to Moses and the promised land, all the way back to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob… the Israelites were promised the land of the Caananites – the land of these people – to live in, to have as their inheritance from God.

Probably the best way that I can communicate to you the kind of racism, hatred and animosity that existed between these people is to think back about a hundred years to the way that Native Americans were treated in our country. Although they lived here long before Europeans ever set foot on the continent, those who came believed that this land of America was our promised land. It was a gift from God and a place where we could grow and live and love. But what came as a result of that was the demonization of a whole group of people – who were seen as nothing more than mongrels and barbarians and dogs to the white culture.

So imagine that kind of history between them, with those kinds of walls dividing this Canaanite woman and Jesus and his disciples, not to mention the fact that he is a man and she is a woman…. knowing that she is not included and not welcomed – this woman drops to her knees in an act of worship and begs Jesus… Lord, Help me.

Scott Hoezee, a biblical scholar wrote in his reflection this week that Jesus’ “ministry is a kind of extended heavenly feeding. (In the previous chapter Jesus fed bread to 5,000 people. Immediately following this morning’s story he will do something similar feeding bread to 4,000 people. Jesus is the bread of life.) And so, this woman is asking for a place at the table, but Jesus, chillingly, relegates her to the floor of life. ‘It’s not right to toss perfectly good bread meant to feed the children to the dogs.’ Jesus calls her a dog. It’s a kind of slur, an epithet, and the disciples no doubt approved.” (Scott Hoezee http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php)

Jesus has just denied this woman what she wants, what she longs for. He has not only done that, but he has insulted her in front of all of these other people.

But what I love about this woman is that she never backs down. She is quick and witty, she rolls with the punches that are thrown at her and she boldly speaks back. “Okay, so you want to call me a dog? Fine. You say that as a dog I don’t deserve the food off of the table. Fine. But you know what? Even dogs get the leftovers from the table. Even dogs get the crumbs that fall under the children’s feet. Even dogs deserve that… so, c’mon! throw me a bone here Jesus!”

Table scraps and ever-widening circles.

Edwin Markham once wrote a quick little poem called Outwitted that describes for me what is going on here. It goes:

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

We drew a circle that took him in… table scraps and ever widening circles.

We don’t know why Jesus initially excluded her, except that he felt like he had a mission to preach the Kingdom of God to the Israelites. So in a sense, he had drawn a line – a boundary – he had placed a limit on what he was willing or able or felt called to do. He had drawn a circle that shut her out.

But then this woman had the wit and the courage and daring to flip his statements on him and to draw the circle big enough so that she was not only included, but that others could be included as well.

In our Roundtable Pulpit discussion this week, we talked a lot about the table scraps – the crumbs from the gospel feast that are leftover or fall to the floor. Jesus is of course talking about himself, and his ministry and his calling to find and feed and care for the children of Israel. But even as he does so, as he goes out into the world teaching and preaching, there will be others around who will benefit also. They might have been eavesdropping as Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. Maybe they were the neighbors of someone who was healed. Perhaps they saw the multiplication of the loaves and fishes – were on the outskirts of the crowd as the food was passed around. In any case, there were numerous people who were not of the Jewish faith and heritage, who were receiving the gospel. Whether or not Jesus was talking directly to them.

We don’t know if Jesus knew this all along and he was just acting out the kind of transformation he wanted his disciples to embody, or if Jesus really did learn and grow as a result of his conversation with this woman.

What we DO know is that after she had drawn the circle bigger – by having the courage to say that even she, a “dog though she may be”, had the right to eat the table scraps – Jesus had nothing but praise and willingness in his heart toward her.

“Woman! You have GREAT FAITH!” He cried out. Like she had won a prize at the fair he made sure that everyone around him – Jew and Gentile alike – knew that this woman, this Canaanite, this nobody who he had but moments ago unkindly called a “dog” – was not only faithful, but that her plea for help would be answered. Immediately, we are told, her daughter was healed.

Here is the talking to I was waiting for! Here is the moment when this woman and Jesus partner up to stretch all of our hearts open just a little bit farther. And as they do so, they challenge all of us to think about who we are ministering to out in the world.

You see, it’s easy to get caught up in a mission. It’s easy to get caught up in one defined goal. But if we aren’t careful, we allow that one thing to so define our work in the world that we have in fact drawn a circle. We have built a wall and we have imprisoned the gospel. Because, although we may think we know exactly who should be included in our ministry, we have to remain open to whomever God sends our way. Because as Taylor says, God [is busy] rubbing out the lines we have drawn around ourselves and calling us into the limitless country of his love.

Dan Nelson writes that “Even Jesus, who presumably has diving authorization for his limits” – you know, that whole “I was sent…” thing – Even, Jesus “allows those limits to be stretched by another’s necessity. In other words, the rule here is that there is no rule, only a creative tension between our finite capacities and the world’s infinite need.” (http://sio.midco.net/danelson9/yeara/proper15a.htm)

Our finite capacities and the world’s infinite need.

Jesus as fully God never stopped being aware of this woman’s need and he never stopped loving her. But Jesus as the person who was also fully human was very aware of his limitations – of the demands on his time and energy. And maybe in this situation he had some of his priorities mixed up, but the love and the mercy were always there.

That’s the message that we get from our Romans text this morning. Paul is here writing about whether or not the love of God changes – if people can ever fall out of their standing with God – if we can ever be rejected. And his message is simple: NO. You see, as many times as we turn our back upon God’s grace and mercy, God never turns God’s back upon us. God is always there, waiting to take us back in and longing for each one of us to turn to him.

In the Old Testament, Israel was chosen, not because they were the only ones that God loved, but because they were to be a beacon to the nations – they were charged with the task of making God’s name known throughout the world. God’s vision and God’s love was always universal in scope – but that love began in just one corner of the world with one group of people.

As Paul writes Romans, he is living in a world in which his own people – those lost children of Israel that Jesus kept talking about – have rejected Jesus as their savior. They are like ungrateful children who take the bread that has been graciously set on the table and throw it on the floor.

And ironically – Paul says – their disobedience, has allowed all of us to gather up the crumbs and has allowed all of us to enter into a life with God.

The Message translation of the Bible has this wonderful way of sharing that message with us and it reads:

There was a time not so long ago when you were on the outs with God. But then the Jews slammed the door on him and things opened up for you. Now they are on the outs. But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.

God makes sure that we all expedrience what it means to be on the outside, so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in. The reality is, all of us have disobeyed. All of us have turned our backs on God at one point in our lives or another. All of us are as unworthy as the disciples thought that Canaanite woman was to receive God’s grace.

And yet it is offered anyways.

And it keeps being offered in ways that stretch us and stretch our hearts and stretch the gospel around the world. In our final hymn today, we will sing in the second verse the following words:

Wider grows the kingdom, reign of love and light;
for it we must labor, till our faith is sight.
Prophets have proclaimed it, martyrs testified,
poets sung its glory, heroes for it died.
Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,
move the faithful spirits at the call divine.

Forward through the ages, that love of God has gone. Forward through the ages there have been people both shut out and pulled into that glorious kingdom by our actions and by our words.

We are finite and there are limits to what we can do – but never should we put boundaries around the gospel. Never should we try to determine who is and who isn’t worthy. Because our boundaries will never be able to contain the vastness of God’s love and mercy.