JESUS KNOWLEDGE OF HIS CALLING GREW
The story of the encounter of Jesus with the Syrophoenician woman reported in scripture has long challenged me. It describes a Jesus unfamiliar to me and challenges me to discern on a deeper level what is happening here. Today’s sermon is my most recent understanding of the encounter and what it might mean for our life of faith.
Jesus has been challenged by the need to heal sick people and the questions of the religious leaders who have become aware that Jesus is bringing a radically different point of view about the Kingdom of God, and it is making them question their own understandings. Over time some dropped their point of view and became disciples of Jesus, others grew in their opposition to the point they begged Pilate to crucify him.
So, today we find Jesus north of Israel in what today is Lebanon and Syria. He is tired. He needs some R and R. He enters a house and hopes no one will recognize him other than a tired traveler.
But that is not the case: a woman of the region recognizes who he is and crosses several taboos of the time to seek his help for her daughter who has a demon.
An unfamiliar woman of that age was not to approach a stranger for conversation. There was an enmity between the Israelites and the people of Tyre and Sidon. They were enemies.
She not only comes into Jesus’ presence and bows down at his feet but begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter.
Jesus is tired, and shocked at the assertiveness of the woman and rebukes her. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” At this moment Jesus’ understanding of his calling was to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He had not yet realized his call to all sheep, Jew, or Gentile.
Undeterred the woman continues to pursue her request. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Something deep in the soul of Jesus heard God talking to him through this woman. His attitude totally changed. “For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter.” So, she went home found the child lying in bed, and the demon was gone.
I believe in this moment that Jesus grew, and over his life he grew into a fuller understanding of his calling to be the Savior of the World.
Remember when his parents took him to Jerusalem on his twelfth birthday. He disappeared and they found him in the temple talking to the elders. When his mother found him, she was upset. “Did you not know everyone would be upset if you disappeared?” He responded like a smart aleck teenager. “Didn’t you know I would be about my father’s business.”
Or how about the wedding feast at Cana. Word came to Mary the couple had run out of wine. In that day such an event would be a social disaster. “Jesus do something.” “Woman, it is not yet my time.” Mary ignored his comment and told the wine steward to do whatever Jesus told him. They filled two large jars with water and Jesus turned the water into wine.
Or even late Thursday evening in the Garden of Gethsemane after the celebration of Passover Jesus prayed earnestly that this cup of going to the Cross would pass from him. Yet at the end of the prayer Jesus says, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”
Immediately he leaves to go to another Gentile area and there is asked to heal a man who is deaf and mute. Without hesitation he healed him. His understanding of his calling had grown.
What might this story from Mark tell us? I believe the message is that our entire life we can grow in our understanding of who we are and what is our calling today.
I am amazed over how much the Lord has shown me over the years. You have heard me tell you how many years I struggled with God’s calling for me to become a pastor.
I love my vocation. It has led me to go places I did not plan to go, to do what I did not plan to do. I have served parishes both in Ohio and North Carolina. I have served a congregation that was majority African American. I have served rural as well as urban, as well as suburban.
In my personal life I stopped dating a fine woman who lived over 30 miles from my home. Soon afterward I fell in love with Ann who lived 600 miles from my home.
At one point I thought only men could serve as pastors. Now I believe any child of God, male, female, straight, or gay can serve if God issues the call.
When I led worship here for the first time in February, I was interested in preaching twice a month. The longer we talked the more interested I became in becoming your interim pastor.
Covid-19 has made me alter my ministry. I have lead worship using zoom. I have attended worship with Zoom. Most of my calling used to be face-to-face. Now many of my calls are on the telephone.
In what ways has the Lord altered your life as you have matured? Don’t think that discovering your calling will not change. I have both served as a parish pastor, and a chaplain for Hospice. I have cooled steel with a fire hose, and delivered milk door to door. In one congregation I served on a fire department/rescue squad.
I only mention these to get you thinking about where the Lord has led you, and of profound importance what is God calling you to do today.
Jesus’ understanding profoundly grew over his lifetime, in what way or ways is God showing us our calling today? Amen.