August 20, 2017 Sermon
Genesis 45:1-15/ Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32/ Matthew 15:10-28
Called and United into God’s Family
We have already discussed family more than once, but let’s do it again. When we think of family, we immediately picture our own biological or legal family (because some children are step children or adopted). I have told you that, having been a part of the LGBT community in Montreal, I also have friends who are like family. And speaking of the LGBT community, this past week while reflecting on family, for some reason, I had the song “We Are Family” stuck in my head. Actually, the reason is obvious; this song is one of the biggest gay anthems. “We are family. I’ve got all my sisters with me.” Okay, I won’t torture you further with my singing, but here are the lyrics of the first verse; “Everyone can see we’re together as we walk on by. And we fly just like birds of a feather. I won’t tell no lie. All of the people around us they say, can they be that close. Just let me state for the record. We’re giving love in a family dose.”
As we can see from this song, we assume that family members are close and give each other love. But in reality, we know that families are not always loving and happy. In fact, there are a lot of broken families and families with difficult relationships. Let’s begin with the story of Joseph that we started last Sunday. As you may recall, Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son and it was shown in a not very subtle way. Joseph’s brothers were jealous, so they sold him as a slave. It doesn’t seem like they were much of a happy and healthy family, does it? Joseph was sent to Egypt and worked for an officer named Potiphar. His wife seduced Joseph and when he rejected her, being his master’s wife, the wife out of humiliation, falsely accused him of attempted rape. He was sent to prison, started interpreting people’s dreams, and blah blah blah, he ended up interpreting the Pharaoh’s dream and became governor over all Egypt. According to the Pharaoh’s dream, seven years of great harvest came and Joseph saved the crops in the storehouse. Then came seven years of famine, and people from all over came to buy grain from him. This is how his father Jacob heard the news and sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain. Little did they know that the governor of Egypt was the brother they sold into slavery (oops). Joseph was overwhelmed by the sight of his brothers but didn’t reveal himself right away. But it’s a long story; you can read this thrilling story in Genesis chapters 42 to 44.
His brothers sold him into slavery, but joseph finds himself weeping of joy when he meets them more than 10 years later. The whole family ends up moving to Egypt; this is the beginning of Hebrew people settling in Egypt that will end with Moses and the Exodus. But Jacob’s family or the family of the other patriarchs in Genesis are not the only examples of relationship struggles. The whole Bible is full of stories of God choosing the nation of Israel and Israel’s constant struggle to be God’s faithful people. Throughout their history, Israel has struggled with their relationship with God, so much so that all their national traumas were interpreted as God’s punishments.
In Romans chapter 11 that we read today, Paul offers his interpretation and states that God has never lost control of history, and that God’s rejection of Israel in their history actually served a purpose, which is so that Gentiles can be saved, and when Israel finally receives God’s salvation, they would know that it is by God’s grace and not their merit. He teaches that God’s purpose was to unite both Jews and Gentiles together into one family.
In our gospel text, Jesus does something in the same vein. First, his debate with the Pharisees and Scribes teaches us that the outer expression of the religion, which is the observance of the Law for the Jews, is not important. It was a shocking message for the Jews to hear at the time; it seems like he was invalidating the whole Jewish religious system based on the Law of Moses. It’s like when Jesus taught that Sabbath was created for humans and not the other way around. Whether you actually obey the individual law or not is not important; what is important is that your choice and action expresses the spirit of the Law, which is compassion and justice. With this debate, Jesus is challenging the limits of the Jewish religion, preparing to take the gospel beyond the Jewish boundary. It is one’s heart and intentions that matter, not what one does.
This debate is followed by Jesus’ encounter with a Gentile woman. Jesus withdraws to a Gentile land for some quiet time but still gets sought out by a desperate person asking for help. There is a debate on why Jesus insulted this woman, calling her people dogs. Some believe he was testing her faith; some think this a learning moment that broke Jesus’ own human prejudice. After all, she was one of the Canaanites, the ancestral enemies of the Jews. Also, there is an interpretation from my old theological school teacher, who is Mexican, that although this woman’s kneeling act seems like she’s humbly begging for help, it is actually an ironic act because she believes that her people deserves God’s mercy as much as the Jews. It is a powerful interpretation from a Mexican scholar, considering the relationship between Mexico and the US.
Whichever way we read this story, it doesn’t change the fact that it was a significant event; the beginning of the end of all barriers, fore-shadowing the gospel being spread to the whole world. From all the Bible stories we read today, we are learning how it is God’s will to break our boundaries and to unite all people into one family of God. Through these stories and lessons, God is challenging us to be united and to expand our community. God’s kingdom is an egalitarian community. We are equals, and siblings to each other. No one has the right to feel superior to others, and promote discrimination and hate.
What is happening in the US right now is shocking and worrisome. White supremacists came out of the closet and started bluntly spreading their hateful agenda. A lot of people are exasperated that the Nazi ideas that we fought so hard and even died for are coming back. After all the civil rights movements and the sacrifices from many activists, it feels like our progress is being reversed. The saddest thing about this resurgence of blunt racism is that many of those people call themselves Christians. This is why it is doubly important for us in the Christian church to fight racism and spread the love of God outside our boundaries. Christians around the world are our brothers and sisters. So are Muslims and people of different religions. Caucasians, Asians, Africans, Arabs, and First Nations people are our brothers and sisters. So are gay and trans people, poor people, disabled people, and people from different cultures. It is a good time right now to revisit the core message of the Bible that promotes unity and unconditional love. Let us remind ourselves to let God open our hearts and challenge us to draw our circle wider and wider beyond our boundaries, and take a stance against hate and bigotry.
Rev. Sunny Kim