Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works…
Make room in your hearts and for the World…
It seems to me that this is the message we get from today’s readings. Make room in your hearts for God and for the World
Today’s Gospel is tough to hear. Why would Jesus sound SO harsh.
The Gospel of Matthew is a Gospel written to an early Jewish-Christian community. They are primarily Jews - and a lot of the emphasis in this Gospel, is that the message of Jesus Christ is not solely for the Jewish community, but is made for the whole world.
This Gospel includes the feeding of the 5000 as well as the feeding of the 4000. They are nearly identical stories, yet the second gathering of the 4000 is in a Gentile region.
I also always love numbers when they appear in scripture. They often give us clues. In the feeding of the 5000 Jews we have 12 baskets left over. While in the feeding of the 4000 Gentiles we have 7 baskets left over.
It is very likely that the 12 baskets represent the fulfillment of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus was going after the lost sheep of Israel. Now the number seven is almost always used to describe completion. Jesus message is not complete until he has gathered all of the peoples of the Earth. (Seven baskets).
This passage with Jesus and the Canaanite woman is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry between these two feeding stories.
Now what proceeds their encounter is a teaching about what “defiles.”
The strict orthodox tradition believed in certain dietary restrictions and held to purity laws and rituals.
And what follows their encounter is the feeding of the 4000; a clear indication that Jesus and his message is meant for more than the select Jewish community.
Jesus teaches that it is not what comes into the body that defiles us, but what we harbor in our hearts.
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Purity is not to be sought from the outside. Purity is an interior state. It is found in the mind and the heart; that singleness of mind and heart, where we perceive unity, rather than separation. From this space love flows.
Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman is an immediate demonstration of this concept.
His initial remarks appear very harsh to us. And what happens? We respond with what?
“Weren’t our hearts burning within us?”
Aren’t we moved? (the disciples and readers of this scene) Aren’t our hearts stirred to cry out in solidarity with the woman?! We know what is called for here… and I believe Jesus knows that we know. A singleness of heart…It is our knee jerk response: Save her! Of course you will save her daughter, of course we know you are the Messiah for the whole world…
That is the turning point in the disciples’ ministry. That is the great conversion (not of God’s heart) but of those who listen for the heartbeat of God.
His message yet to come is:
Your feeding of the 5000 will be completed by the feeding of the 4000 who are Gentiles. Who are “Other” and who are equally deserving!
“for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.”
Paul in Romans is also trying to convey this idea, saying, “I ask then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” He speaks of this inclusivity in quite odd terms:
“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”
It sounds strange, but he is trying to put to words the breadth of God’s mercy.
Paul is saying, it is not a bad thing that God’s Mercy is meant for all…because it is by the very fact of the need itself, that we come to know that we are all deserving of God’s Mercy. It opens us up personally and to others.
It reminded me of The First Beatitude:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
We are looking at this passage in our current book study. Cynthia Bourgealt presents this beatitude from a wisdom perspective:
Blessed are we all, who are poor in spirit, because in this state we are actually available to receive the gifts of God. We can be filled with God’s mercy and love. That’s what Paul is getting at here.
After all, Jesus said “Those who are well have no need of a physician,
but those who are sick.”
If we are filled up with ourselves and our own self- righteousness there is no room for God’s grace.
The Canaanite Woman offers us an example of this need and this receptivity even while Jesus makes the outrageous claim that she and her daughter are not worthy of healing.
He equates them as being as low as dogs…
But she immediately responds with a plea that even the dogs eat crumbs from the master’s table.
She is ready to be filled…
She is famished…in fact:
Her yearning is so great. She is an open book, completely receptive.
And this conversation is meant to be overheard by the disciples and by us.
She has faith that even God’s mercy is powerful enough in a dose …as small as a bread crumb.
Does this remind you of anything else?
Faith as small as a mustard seed?
Faith as small as a mustard seed can indeed bloom into a massive tree.
It is that tree in which we are a part, the branches of which Jesus is the central core: the vine “Grafted in our hearts…”
The message of Jesus’ is meant for all people. All people who come to him, receptive, Poor of Spirit, and “imprisoned’ as Paul describes it.
Faith will set us free.
Faith will help us to be healed, fed, and nourished to grow beyond our small exclusive identities… to grow into the knowledge that we are all one: That “singleness of heart” that Jesus describes - and that we pray at the end of every service.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Empty yourself and Open your hearts and minds to the love and knowledge of God.
May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
2 Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations...
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.
This week we have New Testament readings that speak to us about Faith. In the Gospel Jesus famously "walks on water." Peter then attempts to join Jesus but begins to sink in the face of the storm. He cries out for Jesus to save him, and indeed Jesus does.
But then he questions Peter: "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Now we know why Peter doubted. It said he was “frightened.” When he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened.
Jesus asks (as a teacher would) a rhetorical question. Try to hear it softly and lovingly: What’s going on Peter?
Now, Peter wasn't doubting Jesus. Peter was confronted with self-doubt. Most of us struggle with it at some point or another.
Craig and I refer to the voice that tears at our sense of confidence and well-being as "The Minister of Doubt.”
…That menacing voice that quite literally rides on the waves of fear… that ministers to all of the creepy crawly thoughts that tear down our confidence:
Who are you anyway? What will others think?
I’m probably not good enough, and so on…
…Fear of rejection, injury, stepping out on a limb (or onto the water) … vulnerability, risk…
Chapter 14 of Matthew is packed with intensity.
At the beginning of our chapter the news of John the Baptist’s beheading has reached Jesus and the disciples.
Then just before this passage Jesus and his disciples feed the 5,000. The disciples were participants in this great miracle. It is one of the first big public demonstrations of their ministry.
Do you think that Peter could possibly be having doubts about his abilities?! Do you think he could be afraid?
John the Baptist (who had an even larger following than Jesus) has been executed.
There is a real storm brewing.
Rather than Peter being unsure of what is happening, I prefer to believe that Peter knows very well that he is embarking on a public ministry with Jesus that is at one time beautiful and miraculous - and also dangerous.
He falters because of this fear, not because he hasn’t gotten the message, not because he is faithless.
Fear is a signal for us. Is there a clear and present danger?- or am I not good enough? Peter probably felt both.
And Jesus’ tender rhetorical question “why do you doubt?” expresses that
Jesus believes in Peter.
Jesus will name Peter the “Rock” all the while knowing he will falter and he will abandon. Jesus still believes in Peter: his call and his ministry regardless of his doubts.
Doubt is not the opposite of Faith, but rather a part of it. What is the correlation between our own self-doubt, our faith, and our relationship with God?
Certainty can ignore the messiness of life, the complications and confusions.
Doubt is a sign that we are grappling with life's big problems, as well as our own personal issues.
Doubt pushes us to grow and expand our vision and our faith.
Certainty can be very limiting.
But self-doubt keeps us in a cycle of confusion, always looking outside of ourselves for the answer; always seeking affirmation from others, listening to that “minister of doubt” rather than listening to that still small voice that Paul speaks of in Romans:
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart.”
Growing and evolving our relationship with God over time begins to make it more real, more helpful, and more supportive.
Developing a close relationship with God "the Word" through a pattern of prayer and lament and thanksgiving is a path to self-assurance.
It is not a path that skirts the trials of life.
It is not a path that gives us complete certainty, but it is a path worn deep with conviction, seeking to "know thyself."
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” - Psalm 119:105.
Moving self-doubt into an energetic process (working with it - rather than identifying with it as a static condition) is an act of faith.
One practice you can use in this journey is to remember…
…that like Peter, God has faith in you.
God’s work is done by the hands and feet of his disciples. Like the feeding of the 5,000 and in all of the centuries that we have (with our fear and our faith) striven to do the work that God has given us to do…
Jesus had faith in his disciples.
Remember, all the while you are weathering real storms and the fear of the unknown…
God has faith in YOU.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. We read about both Moses and Jesus glowing from their encounters with God.
Moses comes down from the mountain and he is lit up! The people are afraid but they recognize this as a holy sign, but because of their fear Moses veils his face most of the time when he is with them.
Jesus and Moses become fully integrated in these mountain top moments. We talk about that in the spiritual life… about being “integrated.”
The transfiguration is more than a transformation, it is a moment of vibrant clarity in which Jesus understands his mission and identity as one with God.
Jesus is wrapped in light as we hear the words “this is my Son.” It is an occasion of God’s direct voice that only comes to us one other time in the Gospels: at Jesus’ baptism.
Jesus is fully integrated in this moment - and for the eyes and ears of a few disciples to witness. This time God’s voice doesn’t only speak to Jesus but says to everyone, “This is my Chosen Son.”
But the disciples do not speak of it. In Matthew Jesus instructs them not to speak of it. I believe Jesus wants us to have direct experience with God. He chooses to reflect God’s face back to all of us. In his common flesh...not glowing on the outside but glowing from the inside and we are a part of it. We are part of that divine spark.
The scene leaves us with a lot of questions: Why Moses and Elijah? Why does Peter want to build tents?
Theologian and commentator, Matthew Skinner, suggests
The presence of Moses and Elijah at the very least expose the great thread of tradition, that Jesus participates in. To paraphrase:
“Why are Moses and Elijah there? No matter how we look at the myriad of interpretations for their presence.. at least everything in the Gospel is saying pay attention to this guy Jesus.
'The hopes and fears of all the years’ are found in him. And in no way is he a departure from the old testament promise.”
We don’t all expect to glow with the encounter with God, although we would like to have such moments. What does it feel like to be in the midst of the Holy?
Would you tremble like the psalmist?
What is your response?
Very explicitly both of our stories suggest that we may not “glimpse the glory of God and not be changed.”
Moses face is transfigured…
Jesus himself and his clothing are transfigured.
How else might we individually be changed?
What other ways does this happen?
One thing we can do is remember and try to participate and enact those things that make us feel most integrated, and importantly connect us to this long tradition of humanity and wisdom and spirituality.
One of my nephews has started a “re-wilding” school around teaching ancient paths of nurturance. It is based on learning from nature and understanding plant medicine. It is going back to our ancient roots (literally). He has started a program bringing on other teachers; training kids in ancient skills for tool making, foraging, and medicinal plants, music, drumming.
While the younger generations might not always “get” what we are doing, I am confident that we are following in a deep trodden path of the ancients looking for spiritual wisdom, guidance; participating in rituals, ancient prayers to guide us - and to make us present - and a part of those who came before us.
To participate in this path… we must engage in those things that make us alive, make us feel integrated. That’s what my nephew is doing. Re-wilding. It means stopping the onslaught of busyness and media. Personal encounters with God are not likely going to arise when we are watching television or filling our mind up with constant distractions.
What makes you feel integrated, in the flow?
Besides prayer, I love sculpting. I love hiking. My mother in law loves to clean, truly. One of the retired deans from the Cathedral loves ironing. I know sometimes we cannot do some of the things that once gave us true fulfillment, like going to a concert -
or even participate in personal hobbies the way we used to.
But to remember we are part of a stream of human activity, knowledge, wisdom and action that make us one is helpful.
We can just look into the face of a flower and know that forever humans have enjoyed this simple gaze.
Simple activity can get us there. We can breath in and out and rest in our breath when we cannot sleep.
We can reach our hands out at the rail and receive communion.
It is very simple to be engaged with God really. And our interior light awakens in these moments when we feel connected.
Epiphany comes when we least expect it.
I believe Jesus was this least expectant presence: In flesh he was incarnate as a carpenter’s son, a guy that hung out with the outcasts of society. But a guy that healed people just by shining his light into the hearts of others. He gave us peace - which is now ours to give.
He came down from the mountain to be with us in this common flesh we share to teach us how to follow in his footsteps;
for us to know that he is in God, and God is in him, and we are in him. Integrated.
It is a one-ness that he continually tries to convey. It is a divine calling seeded in us - and is available to grow, by touching one another and shining that light out in as many ways as we can transmit.