By Linda Rex
August 16, 2020, Proper 15—If there is one thing we are good at as human beings, it is finding ways to differentiate ourselves from other people. We seem to find ways to elevate ourselves while demeaning others, or including ourselves while excluding others. One of the worst things we as Christians do so often is to use the Word of God and our religious faith to create unhealthy boundaries between ourselves and other people.
The one place where we as followers of Christ should find common ground is at the table of thanksgiving—communion. Here we each acknowledge anew with gratitude that we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, and that we find our true life in him. Here every person who trusts in him is bound to the community of faith, no matter his or her race, ethnicity, gender, economic or social status, or any other type of differentiation we might come up with.
The gospel passage for August 16th tells the story of a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus seeking deliverance for her demon-possessed daughter. Unfortunately for her, orthodox Jewish people of that day believed they had to separate themselves from the Gentiles. This meant she was excluded from any connection with the Jewish rabbis or synagogues. The fact that she sought help from Jesus showed an understanding and appreciation for who Jesus was that the Jewish authorities had denied. They ridiculed any possibility that Jesus was who he said he was—the Messiah.
Previous to his encounter with this woman, Jesus had been talking to the Pharisees. They had criticized Jesus’ disciples for not observing careful ceremonial washing before they ate. Jesus pointed out their nitpicking observation of their traditions actually prevented people from obeying God and loving others as they were supposed to. For example, they said if a person gave to the temple coffers the support which was meant for the care of their dependent parents, that it was acceptable. But Jesus said that doing so broke God’s command that parents be honored and cared for by their children.
Later Jesus explained to his disciples when they were alone that it wasn’t what a person put into their bodies that made them unclean, but what came out of their hearts. Whatever we eat eventually gets used or discarded by our bodies. But what comes out of us in what we say and do is often what defiles us. He said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”
Matthew, in his gospel, says that after this conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus left Galilee and made his way into the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon. Was he trying to avoid more of these provocative conversations so he could focus on teaching his disciples? Perhaps. But what is interesting is that their next experience was meeting this Canaanite woman crying out to Jesus, “Have mercy on my daughter, Son of David!”
Here we have someone who is excluded from the Jewish fellowship who is calling Jesus “Son of David”, a title only appropriate for the Messiah. Why did she call him this? Was she a Gentile proselyte? In any case, she seemed to be much more in agreement with who Jesus was than the Pharisees were.
The disciples, though, seemed not to have learned much from their previous experience with the Jewish leaders. The Jewish scriptures spoke of the day God’s salvation would be known among all nations. A foreigner coming to Jesus and asking for mercy was welcome—it said so in the writings they read in the synagogue. But it was their traditions regarding the Gentiles which created the barrier between them and caused them to resist including this woman in what they were doing.
Yes, Jesus was sent first to his people, Israel or the Jews, but not to the total exclusion of others. Jesus came to his people first so that when all was said and done, every human being would have a place at his table—all could come to him in faith and be received.
Jesus’ comment to the woman about taking the table food and feeding the dogs could have been an insult. But she knew that in a family, even the pet dogs had a place at the table, picking up the scraps off the floor. Even today, we often consider our pets to be part of our family, included in our life and worthy of at least a few choice leftovers after the meal. Speaking in this way, the woman touched Jesus’ heart, and so, in compassion, he healed her daughter.
Jesus remarked on her faith. While the disciples were busy trying to avoid having her bother the Messiah, the Messiah was busy being who he was—the bringer of salvation to all people, both Jew and Gentile. She trusted him to be compassionate and gracious, and so he was. She asked for mercy and she received it, because she trusted him to provide it.
What joy there must have been as this woman’s daughter was finally free from what had brought such chaos, pain, and suffering in her family! What Satan had meant to steal, kill, and destroy was replaced by the love, healing, and mercy of God—the renewal of the family bonds. This was but a small reflection of Jesus’ eternal intimate bond of love with his heavenly Father in the Spirit.
Perhaps it would be helpful to take a few moments to reflect on what barriers we may have at work in our lives which need to be replaced by love, compassion, and mercy. Who do we know who needs the tender touch of our Savior? Perhaps instead of criticism, condemnation, or isolation, today we may offer prayer, understanding, and a kind word or smile. What barrier can we replace today with God’s love and grace?
Holy Spirit, grant us the heart of Jesus towards each and every person we encounter in our lives. Enable us to see them as you do—one whom you came for, Jesus—one whom you love, Abba. Grant us the grace to love our enemies, to do good to those who treat us ill, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is only possible through you, Jesus, and by your Spirit. In your Name we ask this. Amen.
“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, | To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, | To be His servants, ‘every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath | And holds fast My covenant; | Even those I will bring to My holy mountain | And make them joyful in My house of prayer. | Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; | For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.’ | The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, ‘Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.’” Isaiah 56:6-8 NASB
“That Your way may be known on the earth, | Your salvation among all nations. | Let the peoples praise You, O God; | Let all the peoples praise You. | 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; | For You will judge the peoples with uprightness | And guide the nations on the earth. Selah.” Psalm 67:2-4 NASB
See also Matthew 15:21–28.
By Linda Rex
This month at Good News Fellowship we are celebrating all the hands which join together to minister to the people in our community and to the body of Christ. We have so many people in our little congregation who are integral in some way to the ministry of Community Café and to the church itself. I am grateful to each person who contributes their gifts, prayers, and financial support.
I realize there are times when we wonder whether or not all the effort is worth it. We sacrifice and struggle to serve, and it may seem like it doesn’t make a difference or we can’t seem to do enough to satisfy the needs or expectations of those we are serving.
Needs seem to multiply the more we try to meet them. We cannot control the weather, or the destructiveness of fire and wind. Jesus said we would always have the poor among us, for there will always be someone who can’t or won’t live within their means. It seems there will always be needs for us to meet as a participation in God’s care for his creation.
Expectations, however, are a different thing entirely. The longer I am in pastoral ministry, the more I realize the power of expectations to cause disappointment, discouragement, resentment, and disunity.
Some people do not realize the unreasonable expectations they put on pastors and others in pastoral ministry. I know of pastors’ wives who dread the phone ringing just when the family is setting down to dinner because it seems to always be the same person demanding instant attention about something which is not urgent nor life-threatening.
Pastors and those in pastoral ministry have to have really strong personal boundaries otherwise it is very easy for them to allow people to invade every part of their lives to the extent there is nothing left for their own family. They often find themselves saying yes to too many things. There are a lot of good things to do—people to care for and needs to be met. And the list of things to do seems to grow all the time.
It is because we have a heart to care for others and to show them God’s love that it is easy to say yes to too many things. It is easy to burn ourselves out working for Christ, when Christ never once asked us to do any of the things we are doing. This is why it is so important we be able to discern God’s real calling to each of us individually and collectively, and to only participate fully in those particular things God is calling us to do with him.
But in saying no to certain things, we need to be willing to accept the reality we are going to disappoint someone. We are going to fail to meet someone’s expectations of us, and that is going to feel uncomfortable for a while for both us and for them.
I have a hard time saying no to opportunities to serve in my community group. I would really like to be doing everything they ask me to do. But I have learned I cannot say yes unless I am certain it is what God wants me to be doing and I genuinely have the time, the ability, and the calling to do it. I realize saying no is going to make them unhappy just as it makes me unhappy, and it very well may cause them to draw away from me and not include me in future opportunities. But no is what I need to say.
I am grateful I minister to a congregation which is so respectful of my time and home life, I have to remind them to call me when they are going through a difficult time. I am grateful they remind me to take care of myself and my family, and they often step up when I have more going on than I can do on my own.
I don’t have a spouse to share my load, and I am deeply grateful when my brothers and sisters are willing to help me and serve me in so many ways. But realize I also have to be respectful of their time, energy, and capacity to serve as well. I need to not have expectations of people in my congregation which are unreasonable or insensitive.
Sometimes I forget to be thoughtful and considerate to my spiritual community, and I regret it when I do. My brothers and sisters in Christ pour themselves out generously and freely, so I pray Abba will pour generously and freely back into them in every way possible so they will be renewed and encouraged rather than drained and exhausted.
Sometimes we can have and do express unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of people and do not realize we are doing it. Unhealthy expectations of others can cause pain and disrupt relationships. When we know someone has a caregiving, generous personality, we need to protect them from their tendency to over give rather than taking advantage of it all the time.
We also need to respect the humanity of those who serve or lead others in the body of Christ. I cannot enumerate the veiled criticisms I have received about decisions which cost me hours of prayer, fasting, and tears to make. It seems sometimes people expect me as a pastor to not have anything in my life which I regret or which I did not have control over. Their expectation is I will always have lived my life in a way which meets their idea of perfection. Such expectations are unreasonable and unhealthy. The truth is, any pastor I know who is worth their salt is an ongoing creation of redemption in Christ and has places in his or her life where God is at work right now healing, transforming, and renewing.
There are times when in conversation with someone, I perceive sly innuendo and subtle hints of how I need to improve my ministry or home life. This seems to be an unpleasant but natural part of the journey of pastoral ministry. I have always been open and transparent, and it tends to open me up to criticism. But I would rather live this way than to feel like I need to hide myself away from the people I love and serve all the time. Real relationship requires authenticity, even though such transparency opens us up to criticism and unrealized expectations. Real relationship requires a lot of grace—grace which pastors and those in pastoral ministry need a lot of.
Perhaps as we celebrate this month, it is good time to be reminded of the generosity and kindness of the God who laid everything down for us. This is the God who in Christ willingly joined himself to our humanity and sent his Spirit so he could share in every part of our life and our service to others. This is the God who replenishes, renews, and restores us, and who inspires us to care for and love others. We draw our life and our being from him. May we be filled anew with his love and grace, and find renewal in him as we serve him and those he brings into our lives.
Thank you, Abba, for each and every person in our lives who serves you and each one of us. Thank you for those who give of their time, prayers, and resources so that others may be blessed, cared for, and comforted. Free us from our unhealthy and insensitive expectations of others, and enable us to be gracious and compassionate in every circumstance, and sensitive to the limitations of those who serve us. Replenish and renew all those in pastoral ministry, and remind them what they do to share in your ministry is valuable and worthwhile, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” Philippians 2:17-18 NASB
“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians
By Linda Rex
I think one of the most difficult things for us as human beings to accept is God’s freedom to tell us “no.” For those of us with boundary issues, it can be even more difficult to accept, especially when we see no human reason why he should not say “yes” to what we may be wanting from him. If God is a good God, then why doesn’t he say “yes” to our requests, especially when they are important and good requests? Why do people suffer injustice, pain, loss, and other tragedies when God could so easily protect us all from evil and suffering?
There is something so tragic about someone who is caught due to circumstances beyond their control in a situation in which they must suffer loss, pain and/or grief which is overwhelming and debilitating. The human condition is such we face these type of events in our lives whether we like it or not. We cannot escape them, even when we want to. Some of us may try to find ways to escape the pain and suffering of life through addictions and distractions. But at some point, we all have to come face to face with the reality God sometimes says “no” to all our pleas for relief and deliverance.
The past few weeks in our Wednesday night small group we have been talking about boundaries, and how healthy and unhealthy ones are formed in the early years of life. Parents play a crucial role in a child’s development of boundaries which will enable them as adults to handle interpersonal and relational issues in heathy ways.
Our modern business world is looking for people with a high EQ or EI (emotional intelligence) rather than just a high IQ or intelligence, because business leaders understand the need for workers to be able to interact in healthy ways with their boss and their peers as well as with the customers they serve. So, teaching a child and a teen to respect other people’s boundaries as well as their own is important work to be done in their lives by a loving parent.
Every parent knows, if they are honest, there are times when they have to tell their child “no” but they really don’t want to. When a parent loves a child too much to tell them “yes” and tells them the “no” they need to hear but don’t want to hear, the parent may struggle with this process. How is it possible to tell a child “no” when it seems to cause them such suffering? Wouldn’t it be better to just let them have what they want?
The obvious answer, of course, is “no,” but that certainly doesn’t make it any easier for the parent to stand their ground. But stand their ground they must. And yet, there is always room for grace. Every parent needs to learn to listen to their child and to come to know their child’s heart.
Sometimes a child says “no” for really good reasons. And sometimes a child has a really good reason to ask their parent for something. This is where the parent can offer his or her child the opportunity to experience what it is like to have their healthy boundaries respected and honored. The critical piece here is the intimate relationship between the parent and the child.
What we see in action in this whole process is something called mutual submission. This is the mutual submission we see at work in the Triune relationship between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. C. Baxter Kruger explains their relationship in this way:
“Jesus lives by relating to God as his Father, by seeking him and knowing him as Father and loving him with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His life is not really his at all, it is sonship. He never lives on his own, doing his own thing, following his own agenda. He has no self-interest. ‘Not what I will, but what you will be done (Mark 14:36); is not just the prayer in Gethsemane; it is the prayer of his whole life. …The Father is utterly riveted to his Son’s every move; he is the beloved Son. And the Son is in tune with his Father’s heart and filled with joyous passion for its pleasure. …This is a relationship of the deepest affections of the soul. There is no dead ritual, no façade or shame or hiding or reticence. The Jesus of the New Testament is so aware of God’s presence, so aware of the present God as his Father, and so confident in his relationship with him; and in turn his Father has such earnest joy in him and affection for him, that they share everything and live in utmost fellowship. The formula ‘Thou art my beloved Son’ and ‘Abba, Father,’ signals a living, personal, and active relationship of profound love and togetherness, a rich and blessed communion in which all things are shared.”
We tend to overlook the reality the Father submits to the Son in the same way the Son submits to his Abba. God, who is Judge over all, defers all judgment to his Son. Our heavenly Father, who created all things, created them through the Word in the Spirit. There is no hierarchy in the Trinity, but there is a Father-Son relationship in which there is mutual respect and submission. Jesus illustrated for us and lived out in our humanity the obedience each of us was created for—an obedience held in the midst of a loving, warm fellowship with Father, Son and Spirit as our Triune God of love.
The thing is, Jesus in his humanity, did not tell the Father “no” even when he was faced with the horrors of the crucifixion. He did ask the Father, but he did so in submission to the love and wisdom of his Abba, allowing him to say “no” to what he in his humanity desired. Jesus was invited by the Father to participate in humanity’s rescue from sin and death, and Jesus was free to say “no” to his Father. But his relationship with his Abba was such, he would not say “no”—his free choice was to join us in our humanity and to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, even though it cost him suffering and death.
One of the most difficult things for a loving parent to do is to watch their child suffer. Abba did not turn from his Son when he went through this suffering, but was “in Christ” when he suffered (2 Cor. 5:19). This event of Holy Week from beginning to end was a shared experience with the Father and his Son in the Spirit. There was no separation at all.
So, God’s “no” is never something which disassociates him from us. When we must live in the midst of whatever “no” we may think God has given us, God is present, going through it with us. When evil seems to be holding sway, understand the God who makes things right will indeed do so when the time is right. He sees what we cannot see, and understands the full ramifications of what is going on, and knows the end from the beginning. There is nothing too hard for him to set right. In Christ, in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and in his gift of the Spirit, we have this assurance.
It boils down to this: Will we trust him? Will we allow God the freedom to do as he wills in our lives, believing he will make all things right in the end, and has our best interests at heart? Will we respect God’s freedom to do what he will in our situation, trusting he is a good God, a loving and faithful God, who will never leave us or forsake us?
Abba, thank you for your patient and faithful love. Grant us in Jesus and by your Spirit, the will and power to believe you are who you really are—good, loving, and gracious. Hold us in the midst of our suffering, pain, and struggles, and enable us to experience a deepening in our relationship with you. Let us know you are near, through Jesus our Lord, and in your Spirit. Amen.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; …” 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 NASB
Yesterday I tried to reach someone at business by phone, but was put on hold. I waited and waited for someone to take me off of hold and to answer what I thought was an important question, but they took a very long time to respond. As I tried to wait patiently, I listened reluctantly to the voice on the line telling me all the positive attributes of the organization and why I should be doing business with them rather than with someone else.
There were a lot of good things said by the recording I was hearing, but after waiting on the line for quite literally an hour, all I really heard was their indifference to their customers. In fact, every couple minutes they would remind me someone would be with me “shortly”. I remarked to my daughter, who was tempering my impatience with reminders to be calm, that apparently their definition of “shortly” was a lot different than my definition of “shortly”.
After another phone call put in a little later during which I was hung up on and then called back and apologized to, I finally got the answer I needed. And I didn’t even think to mention my concern about their definition of “shortly”. I was just happy to have my concerns taken care of.
However, today when I got put on hold with another company, after about 10 minutes of waiting for tech support, I was beginning to wonder about what the word “momentarily” was supposed to mean. The recording told me someone would be with me “momentarily”. I thought “momentarily” meant in just a moment something would happen. I’m beginning to see that I might need to adjust my use of the English language to fit a culture where time has become very relative for some people.
But then again, maybe the problem isn’t with them, but rather with my inner need to have what I want done, done right now and at my convenience rather than theirs. Maybe what needs to change is my view of time and what is really most important in each moment. For me it is the task at hand. But for God, I’m beginning to believe it is instead the relationship I am encountering in that moment.
When I slow down enough to create space in a circumstance for Christ to enter in by the Spirit, I find the capacity to be patient when I have no reason to be patient, and to be gracious when I have every reason to be frustrated and angry. I’ve noticed lately I need to pay closer attention to my response to the situation in which I find myself, and to detach enough I am no longer reacting but am being proactive instead.
I first learned about dealing with inter-relational issues proactively when my children were little and they knew just how to push my buttons. I learned the time to deal with a problem behavior was not after it had occurred and my temper was hot, but before it ever occurred.
Being proactive meant I set a healthy, safe boundary and let them know ahead of time what it was, why it was in place and what the consequence would be for choosing to violate it. And when they pushed the boundary, the consequence was immediate though compassionate and gracious. In this way they could not blame anyone but themselves for having brought the unpleasant result upon themselves by their behavior.
Handling such issues in that order saved all of us from a lot of anger, yelling, and other unhealthy ways of dealing with the problem. And the result was healthier and more pleasant relationships, I believe, and a greater sense of security in my children. They didn’t have to guess at how I was going to respond, nor could they manipulate me into responding the way they wanted me to in order to get their way.
And a lot of times it only took one or two times standing my ground on important issues in this way, and it ceased to be an issue. They just needed to know what it meant to be a part of the family with regards to that particular issue, whatever it was—honoring bedtime rules and being honest and caring with others, for example.
Now at this late juncture in my life I am learning I need to treat myself in the same way—proactively rather than reactively. It works so much better when I plan ahead of time what my response is going to be in a difficult situation instead of allowing it to cause me to be upset, frustrated and angry.
When I make a phone call expecting to be answered immediately, I am put out when I have to sit on hold for an hour before getting the information I need. I could have hung up and called back, but I still would have been on hold. The issue isn’t with the phone call, but with my expectations and my response—I am reacting to the situation, not proactively following the way of love. I am allowing the circumstance, the person on the other line, the poor customer service, to define me and how I am going to respond.
But what really defines me is not that phone call. Nor is it the person who answers or doesn’t answer. What defines me is the Who in whose image I was made. It is the love of God in Christ which I am filled with, led by, and surrounded by. I, and every other person, am made in the image of God Who is love, and Who created us to love and be loved.
So proactively, I respond to this irritating life situation with the love of God in Christ—making space for Jesus to rest between me and the other person I am interacting with. If I just react instead, there is an immediate response directly to the person and to the situation, which leaves very little room for the Spirit to work. God is a whole lot more concerned about us loving him and loving others than he is about us getting our way in one particular instance in our lives. So we need to proactively create space for the Spirit, to allow the Spirit to go to work in every situation.
My daughter and I were talking about the phone call yesterday, and I was reminded again that stress is never the issue—stress does and will happen. It is our response to the stress which happens in our lives which can be the issue rather than the stress itself. Do we make space for God to work? Do we rest in him and seek to build the relationships of love in our lives, or are we merely focused on the task at hand?
How we respond to and deal with stress impacts our mental, emotional and physical health, as well as our spiritual health. I can see I have a new way to put what I have learned into practice in my relationships with God and others by proactively living in love with those who can be and are irritating, thoughtless or indifferent.
I will face challenges to my self-control and my patience and peace of mind, just as everyone else does. But Christ has already provided what is needed in these situations and he lives in you and me by his Spirit. As we invite him into these situations, and slow down in the moment and realize what is most important to him—living in love—we will find the capacity to create space for the Spirit and the ability to be patient, gracious and understanding instead of frustrated, irritated and angry. It is the work he is doing in us and in our lives, and by making room for him to work, we participate with him in the process.
Lord, thank you for your faithful love and grace, and for living in love in us, with us and for us. May we open space up in all our relationships and encounters in daily life for you to do your perfect work, so we may all grow up into the fullness of Christ. In your Name we pray. Amen.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Ephesians 5:1–2