Pastor Phil

The bark of a Dog that changed everything!

I’m a big proponent of individual responsibility.  I tell my kids and self often, “It’s not what happens to you in life that matters, it’s all how you react.”

There are some interesting reactions going on in our past Sunday scripture passage, Mark 7:24-31.  This passage is often called Jesus interaction with the Syrophoenician Woman.

Mark 7:24-31 (NRSV)
24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

It’s not an easy dialogue to follow, let alone understand, what do dogs have to do with Jesus’ answer or for that matter what crumbs are being fed to children?  I marvel at Jesus and the unnamed Syrophoenician woman’s reaction.  Their reactions speak volumes of maturity, civility, and healthy responses to painful realities.

It starts with understanding that Jesus uses a generic insult by using the word, “Dogs”.  This insult was directed at non-Jewish people, particularly this woman and her sick daughter.  Dogs were considered shameless and unclean.  In using the term Dogs, Jesus let her know his mentality toward non-Jewish people.  A reality reflected in his culture of the day.

Geography matters in this story!  If you look at an ancient map of Israel in Jesus’ day, Tyre is a port city well north of Galilee, outside of the “Promised Land”.  Jesus is in foreign territory.  This Greek or Gentile woman is described as being Syrophoenician in origin.  Syria and Phoencia are also north of the “Promise Land”, in an area that would be considered unclean.  Jesus is in unclean land with unclean people.  At least according to his culture.

Jesus’ use of the slang, “Dogs” for people who do not live in the “Promise land”, would have been culturally conditioned.  Some conservative commentators suggest Jesus uses this insult to illicit faith….I have a problem with that.  Let’s allow Jesus to be human, brought up in a culture that looked down on those who were different.  Have things changed????? REALLY.  I know I have to fight those impulses toward those who are different from me.  Foreigners…..I notice difference in clothing, language, wealth, manners as well as skin color.  I don’t like that, but it is who I am.

What’s amazing is the woman’s REACTION after being called a Dog.  After having her sick daughter called a dog!  She takes on the slur!  She didn’t spit at him or curse him, she used her neo-cortex and his language to make her point!  She reacted with civility and maturity.  “Sir, even dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”

The Children are Jesus’ kind, those people who live in the “Promise Land”.  Jesus is the food, his words, his teachings, his healing…he is the bread of life.

She is willing to recognize who the children are, what the food is, and that she might be considered a dog…but she will still take left overs, crumbs, anything for the love and healing of her daughter.  WHAT A WAY TO REACT TO SUCH AN INSULT.

Jesus to his credit reacts well too, put in his place in a foreign land, by a foreign woman!  He uses his neo-cortex and realizes she is right.  All people deserve spiritual nourishment regardless of race, sex, religion, language or neighborhood.  She was right.  Jesus realized that and REACTED WELL.  Her daughter was healed.

Then Jesus continued his new found understanding that his mission and words, his healing and teachings were for all people in all lands and left this unclean place, Tyre, and traveled to an new unclean place east of the “Promise Land”, the region of the Decapolis.  (Verse 31)  This unclean dog’s bark changed everything.  In the Gospel of Mark this story presents a seismic shift as Jesus then continues his new expanded mission to new wild places, with wild people, to do wild things.  In the wild place of the Decapolis.

This coming Sunday Jesus challenges his disciples to “Follow Me”.  Will you do that?  Follow Jesus to foreign lands, risk engaging people who are not your “Kind” and learning from them!  Will you remove yourself from your comfortable TV news that confirms your believe because of the slant of the reporting?  Will you remove yourself from email groups and face book friends that make enemies out of the “Other Side”?  Our world needs followers of Jesus in order to embrace new ideas in wild places from wild people which might create a little wildness in us.

How we react to one another matters!

It’s amazing that a bark from a dog changed everything for Jesus!

 

DPADTUGD

This is a helpful acronym!  Unfortunately it is unpronounceable.  I just completed a series entitled, “What is the Bible?”  Protestants today need to put the Bible in its proper context in order for it to be the life blood of our Christian Faith.  DPADTUGD is an acronym that sums up my sermon series.

The Bible is a Library.  All good libraries have a variety of books on a variety of topics and not all the books will say the same thing regarding a given topic.  Matter of fact some books will be critical of other books and authors who see the topic from a different vantage point.  We all know this is true.  When researching a topic, it is best to get the opinions of a variety of authors expressing viewpoints that may not agree with one another.  This type of info creates a broad perspective in which to form your opinion.

The Bible is such a library.  Different People At Different Times Understand God Differently!  DPADTUGD!  When the Bible is understood as a collection of poems, stories, myths, confessions, and letters, written over a vast period of time by vastly different people who understand things such as God, life, heaven and hell, or salvation from their particular vantage point, you understand that the Bible is a library.  This for me was the beginning of making sense of the Bible and its internal contradictions.  Any serious study of the Bible will pick out the evolution of religion thinking within our scripture.  Fundamental things to religion such as “sacrificing of animals”, changes as we move within the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament.

Moses is commanded by God to teach the ins and outs of sacrificing.  If you read Leviticus chapters 1-7, you will get detailed information on how, what, and when to sacrifice animals.  Its Animal Sacrifice 101, you might say.   But the prophets such as Amos or Hosea question the practice.

Amos 5:21-22   Amos speaking on behalf of God, says, “I hate, I despise your festivals,  and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.   Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,  I will not accept them;  and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals  I will not look upon.”

Hosea 6:6   For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Even the Psalms condemn the practice,

Psalms 40:6  Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,  but you have given me an open ear.  Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.

Psalm 51:15-19    O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.  For you have no delight in sacrifice;  if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.  The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;  a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Whoever wrote Psalm 40, never heard the words of God spoken to Moses.  What do you mean, “you have not required”, that’s what Leviticus is all about.  Required sacrifice!

Jesus joins the prophetic rejection of sacrifices to, read Mark 12:28-34!

Different people at different times understood God differently and we have it all at one place called the Bible!  We are fortunate to have this library.  For me it frees me to use my experience, my tradition, scripture and reason to articulate a relevant and true faith for myself.

The Bible can be a companion on our journey of developing faith.  It may not have all the answers we need, but it core teaching expressed in the life of Jesus, is that we can love as God loves.  This is very clear in the passage from 1 Corinthians 13, “faith, hope, and love abide these three but the greatest of these is love.”  God’s Love.  What’s vitally important is that Paul introduces this passage on love, with the instruction that Paul will teach the Corinthians a new WAY to be, matter of fact the MOST excellent way to be.  The way of love.

1 Corinthians 12:31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Paul believes the Corinthians can love as God loves, and I would venture he thinks you can do the same!

Paul’s not alone.  Jesus does too.  When you read the Greek Text of Jesus teaching about the greatest commandments, “to love God and love Neighbor”, the Bible writer uses the Greek word, AGAPE!  How about that.  We are challenged to love as God loves.  This for me is the center of the Bible, which in turn needs to be the center of our lives.

We can AGAPE.  This for me is the central theme that the Bible brings to my life and experiences.  Agape needs to be the center of all our discussion on God, heaven/hell, welfare, immigration, our national debt, our political discourse, everything.

You too can AGAPE, for the Bible tells me so, BUT Different People Might Disagree With Me…  DPMDWM.

The Bible. How words on a page can transform your life!

What is the Bible?  How words on a page can transform your life and our world!

The word of God can’t do it alone.  It needs followers of Jesus to live out the truth of Jesus’ teachings.

I started a series on The Bible and I will continue it for 4 more weeks.  I mentioned some facts and issues with the Bible that many people may never have considered.

It stems from our perspective.  Where and when we live in TIME.  We are fortunate in many regards to be part of the Scientific Age.  It began during the Reformation/Enlightenment and has continued to today.  We have benefited from discoveries that have improved our lives, travel, medicine, technology, and agriculture, to name a few.  We have easy access to people from around the world, some physically others through social media.  Our world is getting smaller.

But all great things have unintended consequences.  In trying to compete with Science, western Christianity became defensive and established its own theories and proofs, rule that cannot be broken.  The inerrancy of scripture, the need to believe in creation not evolution, the need to believe in the virgin birth….I could go on and on.  These are the concerns of “Fundamentalism” which has shaped much of western Christianity these past few decades.

Christian faith does not need to be defended!

In this scientific age, proofs, facts, provable experiments, and things of reason, are fundamental to our evolution.  We have gained significantly because of the scientific method.  But when we think that truth is revealed through a laboratory or test tube exclusively, we have missed much of the ancient truth and wisdom revealed in stories and myths.  This type of truth speaks to the heart and the mind.  It may not be provable, but it can be experienced.

I often say, just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t make it factual.  Science looks for facts, I look for truth.  We need to stop equating truth with facts.  Truth is much deeper.  I have heard it said often that if you aren’t a poet, you may never grasp the Bible.  Poems, stories, and myths speaker a deep truth of reality.

So in opening this series on the Bible I reflected on these 5 points.

#1        When properly interpreted the Bible creates freedom to evolve in our thinking about God, the world, humanity, heaven, and life.  The reason for this freedom stems from point #2.

#2        The Bible is a Library, not a constitution.  DPADTUGD, this is my acronym for Different People At Different Times Understood God Differently.  We are fortunate to have in the Bible, letters, poems, and stories from different authors over many centuries who do not agree with one another’s understanding of salvation, heaven, hell, God, or satan.  When I read that in the Bible it frees me up to allow the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into doctrines and dogmas of the Church.  It frees me to think for myself, as well.

#3        The Bible was not written for you or to you!  This is vitally important to accept if you are going to place the Bible in its proper context.  Specific people wrote at specific times, to specific people or groups of people, to convey a specific message.  We can receive the Word of God from these voices.  It takes work and interpretation to seek the original meaning and context.  We may never truly know if we reach that point.

#4        Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t make it FACTUAL.  As I stated.  The American culture needs to recapture the truth and wisdom of story and myth.  Helen Keller is quoted as saying, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched they must be felt with the heart.  The Bible is full of the most beautiful things,     they may not be factual but they are true.

#5        We take the Bible Seriously NOT Literally.  If you take the Bible Literally you will run up against contradictions.  A major contradiction exists in the opening chapters of Genesis.  What is the order of creation in regards to Male, Female, and animals, created?  Our Bible begins with chapter 1 not agreeing with chapter 2.  In Genesis 1, the story of the 7 days of creation, you have all the plants and animals created and then the final act, the culmination of creation on day six, God creates humanity.  It’s like the cherry on the top of a sundae.  God creates them Male and Female, at the same time, after all the animals.  Genesis 2 says nothing of the sort.  It opens in Gen 2:4, with no plant, no water, no animals….only barren dry soil, so God takes the dust and blows into it the breath of God and creates a Man.  Man first.  Genesis 2 is the story of Adam and Eve and Garden, nowhere found in Genesis 1.  Then God takes the man and places the man in the garden and adds water to the earth.  Now animals and plants can be created.  Man first, Adam, then animals, then Eve from Adam’s rib.  Two totally different creation stories, in the opening two chapters of the Bible.  Can we really take the Bible literally?

Genesis 1   All plants and Animals Created, then Male and Female at the same time.

Genesis 2  Man created, then plants and animals, finally Eve, the last of creation.

Like Jesus we take the Bible Seriously and Selectively.  I’ll examine that next week.

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