My wife had an outpatient procedure. The first time I accompanied her to one of these procedures, I was left in the curtained prep and recovery area when she went into the surgical unit. And I stayed. And I fretted. Alone, beneath fluorescent bulbs I cried. I worried. I played out the worst in my head. I barely resisted dumping my panicky feelings on my daughter via text.
This time, I wandered downstairs, bought an apple, and found the hospital’s Healing Garden. The warm summer sun warmed my spirit as I wandered the Healing Garden and chomped on my apple. As I admired the floral symphony, I wasn’t alone this time. The Holy Spirit touched my worries, acknowledged them but reminded me of the love that flowed through doctor’s fingers, nurse’s skills, and anesthesiologist’s watchfulness.
“Dogs, a highly insulting name, dogs were regarded as shameless and unclean” (Jewish Annotated NT)
Region of Tyre
Gentile area bordering Judea
Nevertheless, he persisted.
Meets Syrophoenician woman
approaching a man?
her daughter is sick
Nevertheless, she persisted.
The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Mark 7:26-27 CEB
Jesus says heal the Jews.
says in derogatory way
Possible interpretations of Jesus’ actions
ignore context and think of our own pets
xenophobe “Make Judea Great Again”
seizing a teachable moment
use of “dogs” plays into Jews’ biases
good news is for all
He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Mark 7:27 CEB
We need to take care of Americans first. It isn’t right to take the bread and toss it to the refugees and immigrants.
Jesus has laid his trap.
On to him,
Nevertheless, she persisted.
“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7:28 CEB
Story has turned
Jesus reveals his point
Jesus heals her daughter
when she persists
tho she’s not Jewish
tho she’s a she
The kingdom of God is for everyone
and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 CEB
Condon UCC criticized
Nevertheless, you persisted.
Your faith is palpable
resist an inward focus
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness… Matthew 6:33 NRSV
be active in your faith
My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it?
Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? James 2:14 CEB
You have big decisions & challenges
Nevertheless, you will persist.
I leave you with the words of the apostle Paul writing to the Philippian church,
I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6 CEB
This was my final sermon at the Condon United Church of Christ, delivered Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017.
I was disappointed that I was unable to significantly exceed my goal, a goal that seemed insurmountable a year ago. I recall saying as I signed up for the challenge, “I may not make it but I can try, can’t I?” I ran 1000 kilometers last year. (Actually, 1037k which is equivalent to 644 miles.)
Running 1000 kilometers in a year was a significant accomplishment for this fifty-seven year old man. I didn’t win any races (or run more than one) but I cannot forget the feelings of accomplishment intertwined with physical exhaustion on that hot summer morning when I ran 13.31 miles in less than two hours. For non-runners, that’s a half-marathon. That’s better than a nine minute mile.
So, why was I disappointed that I did not significantly exceed my 1000k goal? I think my disappointment was tangled up with my injury discouragement. Between mid-September and late December I was on an injury-enforced hiatus. I lost one-quarter of the year to an injury I didn’t see coming. It felt like a personal attack.
Running continues to teach me about balance. It teaches me about being.
My natural inclination is to do, do, do, and do. Until exhausted. This inclination is something akin to a compulsion but is also a learned behavior. As a child, I absorbed the internal belief that my value as a human being is related to what I do. This is a “works theology” in which hard work gets us love.
My journey over the last decade has enabled me to be more and to do less, but my embedded inclination is still a powerful force. Yes, hard work can and often is a good thing but it is not the source of my worth. It is not the source of love. Love is only love if it is given freely and without strings of expectations.
And I love running!
I love running! (To be sure, I hate running during the first mile or two of every run but after that, I love running.) I love running under the big skies of rural eastern Oregon. I love running along Portland’s suburban footpaths. I love running in the rain! And I’m learning to love running in the cold.
Running requires balance. I must pay attention to my body. Like my faith that dictates a regular sabbath, running requires rest days. It requires time for adequate recovery between runs. It requires pacing and kindness to myself when my body and, sometimes even my spirit, needs a day off.
When I miss my body’s signals, my body can become injured. My love of running allowed me to push myself too hard through the summer months. It was time for a vacation. A week or two off from running before my injury might have prevented the long healing period at the end of last year.
Running is metaphor. Just as my body needed a break to prevent physical injury, something I failed to give it, our spirits need rest. When I fail to take adequate sabbath or insist that hard work will get me more love or prove my worth, I am harming my spirit just as I injured a tendon in mid-September.
Goals like my 1000k goal last year serve a purpose. It is reasonable to set goals that require effort and provide purpose. However, goals and New Year’s resolutions can cause us to harm ourselves. If the goal becomes more important than ourselves and the people around us, we fail to be who we are created to be.
Yes, I was disappointed but I am learning. I am learning to be. This year, I’ve set a personal goal of running 1000 miles (equivalent to 1609k). In addition to the distance goal, I commit to paying closer attention to my pacing, not just the speed I move but to take weeks off here and there to rest my body.
Because running is metaphor, I also commit to the 1000 mile journey of the new year by pacing myself. I will take care of my spirit, taking adequate sabbath and vacation to avoid injury to my core, my soul.
The way we characterize Santa Claus with our children reflects our image of God. The Santa we create for our children mirrors how we perceive God.
This was manifest for me in two recent exchanges with my regular grocery cashier. In the first, she joked about the toughness of my job as a local pastor. “You’ve got a tough boss to please,” she kidded me. A few days later we were talking about her three-year-old’s behavior. “She’s behaving better because she’s afraid Santa won’t bring her anything. I think I freaked her out last night, though. I told her the elf-on-the-shelf I put over her bed was telling Santa all the bad things she’s done.” Indeed, in a photo the mother shared of her daughter’s rigid body and suspicious eyes posing beside Santa’s spying Elf looked to me like a child frightened of an invisible deity.
Leaving with my carrots, grapes, and potatoes I thought about the presentation of Santa Claus as the arbiter of childhood justice. Many adults create an image of Santa of a magical being focused on judging naughty or nice. They use him as a threat to get compliance from children. “You better behave or Santa won’t bring you anything!” This image is much like the God created by rigid, rule-bound versions of Christianity.
Like the old man with a naughty and nice list, the harsh and severe God of fundamentalist Christianity is a demanding task master. God’s love like Santa’s toys are earned by following regulations at the expense of our personality and humanity. The path to Christmas and God’s embrace is narrow with many pitfalls. Love the wrong person, go to Hell. Perceive God differently than fundamentalists, languish for eternity. Let your child nature get the better of you, lose a gift.
But not all St. Nicks are about lists. In some families, Santa is an opportunity to give with as much abandon as budgets and good sense allow. Santa gives gifts because it is in Santa’s nature to do so. Santa becomes a teacher of how to give generously. Adults give children opportunities to pick out toys to donate to Toys for Tots and to choose the color of socks to give to the local homeless shelter. This Santa is about extravagant love.
The Santa of generosity and giving reflects a very different understanding of God. God loves flamboyantly, extends undeserved grace, and lures us to live in a community of love and justice, becoming our true selves, because that is the nature of God. God desires us to be generous, loving, and compassionate with all people, especially those rejected by society. Christmas marks the beginning of the story of the Bethlehem babe who will grow up to expand circles, stand with those on society’s margins, and love as God dreams we can all love.