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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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