Toorak Uniting Church

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Jesus learns something new!

Mark 7: 24 – 30
Rev. Pr Wolfgang Stahlberg
Pentecost 15
6 September 2015

Grace and peace

Jesus sighs. After a lot of travelling around in his home region of Galilee, with a lot of preaching, teaching, and healing, he finally got away for some time into the neighbouring area of Samaria, to a nice beach resort. He is taking it easy with his friends, and then somebody not only recognizes him, but has a clear need for him to act.

OK, because it seems that his time off is over, he is really frustrated. But does he have to call the woman a dog? She is a desperate parent. Her daughter is sick, and when she sees a chance to get to a famous healer, she begs him to help, and she throws herself at his feet. I suppose that all desperate parents would do something like that. And all she gets is a mean and ugly insult!

Jesus actually reacts in this - to say the least – very negative way. And don’t tell me that it is a test! This woman does not need any test, she has already proven that she believes Jesus can help her daughter by coming running to him and begging him! What more can she do? Well, she can respond to his insulting riddle, she can respond with more wit. And she does: She gives it back to Jesus, a man, a Jewish man, a rabbi. She shows that she has courage! She accepts his approach of ‘Jews first,’ but she fights for inclusion of Gentiles.

And by the way, if you think that "our Jesus" cannot be this mean, think again: Jesus, after all, is human, and even the best person can once in a while have a melt-down. The only "flaw" of this woman is that she is not Jewish. She is Greek and Syrian, but of course, for an observing Jew like Jesus, she remains an "unclean Gentile!"

Jesus is still learning! This woman gives him a practical experience of the wisdom that in God’s Kingdom there is – as Paul expresses it in his letter to the Galatians – no difference between Jew and Gentile, man or woman, slave and free, insider and outsider. At God’s table there is a place for everybody, even for this "dog-woman" and her daughter! God provides unconditional hospitality! Jesus learns here to become aware of his prejudices, to be open and hospitable to an outsider, and to include all people into God’s kingdom!

This wonderful story shows to Jesus and to all of us here at Toorak Uniting Church, what a blessing can come from a stranger, who is not used to the way "we have always done things," who just is not aware of a special brand of politeness that would never mention certain things. What a blessing a stranger can be, who is not used to repeating – unfortunately often without thinking – what we all seem to have in common since our time in Sunday school. Today and for the next two months, I am that stranger, who will ask questions when you least expect it, who will share of his experiences that might be different from yours, who will challenge you with different angles of interpretation, and who hopes to have many giving conversations with you!

You know, hospitality does not mean to wait patiently and politely that newcomers become like us. Hospitality actually means that we are willing to open up to the special gifts, questions, ideas, understandings, and experiences that visitors and new members bring to our community, that we are honestly interested to hear what they have to share, and that we are open to be challenged and stretched by their approach – just like Jesus was in our story. Hospitality means that we are eager to learn from the newcomers, to move forward together with them, and to listen to possibilities of doing ministry in new ways!

Today is my first Sunday with you as your Roach Exchange Minister. I hope that we will have a lot of fun together: in worship and fellowship, in learning with and from each other, and in serving together building the kingdom of God in this place, in this neighbourhood, and in this world! We are called to bring the people from "under the table" up to sit with us at the table. We are called to serve our neighbours, whether they are new to our community or longtime members, whether they live in Melbourne or in Syria.

We are called not to ask "What would Jesus do?" but to ask "What does Jesus want me to do?" And believe me, there are many options for all of us to support the ministries of our church community. We are called to grow – not for our own sake as Toorak Uniting Church, but for the sake of our neighbours, those "under the table," the "least of these," who need our advocacy and help. And all ministries need our stewardship and support.

Our call as followers of Jesus the Christ is not only valid on Sundays, it is important for all days of the week and for all days of our life. I urge you to stay connected with your community of faith in every way possible – through participation in worship, through prayers on behalf of this community and its ministries, through volunteering, and through testimonies to relatives, friends, and colleagues: This is my community, and if you are looking for a good one, come and see!

May the Holy Spirit be with us all, as we jump into an exciting time and new opportunities for all of us!


© Rev. Pr Wolfgang Stahlberg, 2015

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