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Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Fruits of Compassion

A Sermon preached by the Rev'd Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton
All Saints Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
Pentecost X - August 17, 2014
Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Well, those of you who were here last week and tolerated that rather long sermon about the DNA of Jacob and Joseph and Jesus are being rewarded. As you read and listened to the story of Joseph this morning, I hope you were better able to understand the compassion Joseph showed to his brothers, the self-same brothers who, we learned last week, had sold him into slavery.

For those of you who weren’t here last week, I urge you to read the story of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Rebekah and Leah, and all their children, including Joseph and Benjamin who are featured in today’s reading.  It’s part scriptural soap opera, to be sure, but it’s also an important context for understanding the limits of our own humanity as well as the excellence to which we are called through our baptism in Christ Jesus. 

I think rereading our baptismal covenant is a good thing, especially this week. The bad news seems unrelenting and coming from all over the world: Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine, and, God help us, Ferguson, MO. To make matters worse, many of us are still reeling at the news of the suicide of Robin Williams, which has sparked a national conversation about suicide, depression, addiction and Parkinson's Disease. 

If ever we needed to stay clear and focused on the promises of our baptismal covenant, it is in these days. If ever we need to stay centered in the unconditional love of God in is now. And, into these very dark days comes two more stories from scriptures about compassion.

It’s a remarkable thing, isn’t it, this finding the divine spark in ourselves, which helps us to find the divine spark in others? This change of heart leading to compassion is like watching a miracle unfold.

We see this in the story of Joseph in the scripture from Genesis as well as in today’s gospel from Matthew (15:21-28). Both are stories of how prejudice hardens the human heart but the divine spark that is part of our baptismal DNA can allow compassion to shine through even the darkest human impulse.

Jesus is approached by a Canaanite woman who comes after Jesus and his disciples, shouting and calling and pleading with him to heal her daughter. The disciples try to shoo her away but she is also persistent – as any mother would be whose daughter was ill.  But this mother refuses to accept Jesus’ first response of exclusion.

She pushed and persisted and reached down, deep down, past her anxiety, past the fear she knew came from years prejudice against her ethnicity as a Canaanite and her gender as a woman, pushed way down until she reached that place where she knew God’s love and found the voice of her own intelligence.

When Jesus, in his humanity, insulted her by saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” she said, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

And, in that moment, Jesus was able to push and persist and reach down, deep down, past the limits of his humanity, past the human arrogance that blinded him to the fullness of the woman’s humanity, pushed way down deep into that place of his own divinity where he could see the goodness and the wonder of all of God’s creatures and creation.

 And, in that moment, not only was the woman and her daughter healed, but so was the human side of Jesus. 

In that moment, Jesus recognizes that his mission and ministry in new and profoundly different ways. He begins to understand that his ministry is to all persons – not just those who are like him. 

In touching his divinity, Jesus finds compassion for the woman and her daughter and he says, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, her daughter was healed instantly.

In that moment, Jesus himself was changed and transformed and would never again be the same.  And, he went on to change and transform the world.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about this Gospel story as the stories and images pour out of a little town just outside of St. Louis, Missouri I’m sure you have been as distressed as I’ve been about Michael Brown, a young, 18 year old, unarmed, African American man who was shot to death by a town policeman in Ferguson, MO.

All the details are not yet in, of course, and there has been the usual media spin, first to make him a saint by talking about how he was scheduled to go off to college in two weeks and then to demonize him by showing security tape of him appearing to steal cigars from a convenience store.

Truth is, like most boys his age he was probably not a saint. We don’t have enough information yet to know how bad a sinner he really was. 

Did he deserve death?

The question hangs in the air like a noxious cloud, filling us with toxic uncertainty. 

How 'bad' do you have to be to "deserve" death?

You have likely seen the photo of Brown’s mother staring into the camera, her husband encircling her neck with his arm, her eyes swollen to slits after what must have been hours of crying and asking questions that went unanswered.

I have no doubt she has, many times this past week, cried her mother’s cry to Jesus, asking for healing, begging for understanding, pleading for justice.  

 If Jesus were here today, what do you suppose he would do?  What would he say to this woman who, like her Canaanite sister, is judged by the color of her skin?

What does the church, the Body of Christ, have to say to any mother who loses her child to the injustice of bigotry and hatred? Or, the insanity of gun violence and war. Or, modern plagues caused by the Ebola virus? Or, the depression that ends in suicide?

In moments like these, I don’t believe we are called to judge. That is for the courts. In moments like these, I don’t believe we are called to respond with violence. That is for fools. 

In moments like these, I don't think simple answers make complicated situations any easier. 

In moments like these, I do believe we are called to push past our own anxiety and fear, to push and persist and reach down, deep down, past the limits of our humanity, past the human arrogance that blinds us to respect the fullness of what our baptismal vows calls “the dignity of every human being”; to push way down deep into that place wherein the spark of own divinity dwells, where we can see the goodness and the wonder of all of God’s creatures and creation.

It is in that moment that we will find compassion. 

And in that compassion, we will find, like the Canaanite woman, healing for our daughters and sons. 

And in that healing we will find reconciliation, such as Joseph and his brother Benjamin and all of his brothers found, even after unspeakably cruel infidelity and betrayal. 

And, in that reconciliation we will know the peace of God which passes all human understanding.

Vaclav Havel, was a Czech playwright, essayist, poet, philosopher, dissident and statesman. He was the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic after the Czech-Slovak split.

Shortly after his election, he gave an address to the United Nations, in which he said a few most remarkable things. He began by saying that his new nation had much yet to learn, and he asked the nations of the world to help this new nation learn what it needed to know, but he also pointed out that, given the struggle for freedom his country had just been through, it had much to teach other nations who might have begun to take their freedom for granted.

And then he said this: “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.”

You see, the miracle of compassion which we see in Joseph and his brothers and in Jesus and the Canaanite woman is not about having power and might.  Indeed, the miracle of the compassion which leads to healing and reconciliation is nothing less than a deep, confounding mystery.

It is this:  Like Christ, we can become victorious by virtue of our defeat. 

I don't pretend to understand that. I just know it to be true. 

Jesus said that we are to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And, he gave us a new commandment. He said, love one another as I have loved you.

That sounds pretty straightforward to me. Not easy. Not simplistic. But, straightforward.

It's our 'mission' statement as Christians. That's important to remember in these dark days.

Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love one another as Jesus has loved us. 

And, with that love, with that love, that compassion, I believe we are changed and transformed.

I believe that with that compassion and love, we can change and transform the world.

Indeed, I don’t know anything else that ever has – or ever will.



JCF said...

And Amen!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, JCF.

Fred Garvin said...

I don't believe this; you can't prove any of it.
And your own church is barely 4% non-White; either your "multicultural outreach" programs aren't very good or you don't really want non-Whites in your churches.

Anonymous said...

Dear Reverend Kaeton,

I am trying to reach you to request permission to use a snapshot you included in your blog about making Kate Clinton laugh. It is a picture of a graffito that says "Sometimes the hardest thing to be is yourself" that you took at the Provincetown wharf.

I am a poetry editor for Return to Mago, an international feminist webzine that addresses the divine feminine principle, and includes people who believe and also people who use it as a metaphor for women's cultural role both now and in the past.

We use art or pictures to illustrate the poems we post. I plan to use a poem by Mary Saracino, a well known LGBT author, about finding her own truth, her own voice as a child. I would like to use your photograph with her poem, with proper attribution both to you as photographer and to your blog, which will be of great interest to many of the Return to Mago readers.

I hope you can answer me soon, as we plan to use Mary's poem in the next few weeks.

You can contact me at, or on Facebook either on my own page or through the Return to Mago page.

Thank you for your work and commitment, and for your attention to this request.

Donna J. Snyder
Co-Editor for Poetry
Return to Mago

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Fred Garvin. You don't have to believe any of it. I can't prove a lot of things and neither can you. That's what faith is all about. it's about choosing to believe something despite lack of firm evidence.

Thanks for visiting. Thanks for "owning" your opinions and leaving your name.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


I would be honored to have you use my picture. I will send you an email and let you know.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Fred -

Give it a rest. I've got your number. Move onto another blog.

Oh, and a word of advice: You may want to hold off on drinking that whiskey or vodka until AFTER you finish posting on various blogs.