Have you ever thought about being exiled in the desert under the control of your enemies? It is a place of danger from the elements, the lack of rain and food, wild animals, fear and flight. The wilderness can also be a place to find redemption and faith. It can be a place to let go of all our sinful actions learning to trust in God again, and to believe in the promises he made to his people. This is the situation the Israelites found themselves in due to their disobedience for their worship of idols, and the many injustices they caused among God’s people. The people of Israel and Judah did not live up to covenant God made between them and the Law of Moses. God made a covenant with his people to give them security, peace and be prosperous as long as they recognized his presence among them; in which they promised to worship him and to observe the law he gave them, the Law of Moses. Unfortunately, both the leaders and people of Israel and Judah failed to obey God’s law and covenant.
God’s message to his people through his prophets was to be a vital connection between worship and work. It is similar to the life blood in our bodies which control all our vital signs and gives us life. We cannot survive our spiritual life without a vital connection to Jesus and his calling on our lives. This vital connection in our lives includes leaving any arrogance and pride aside, acknowledging that it is only through Christ where our sufficiency comes from; that being prosperous and wealthy means nothing if we use this against those who are abused, poor, those on the margins, the homeless, the mentally ill, and all those in need. Isaiah and the prophets were trying to convey that to trust God is to understand that peace comes from God himself, that what we have in life comes from him alone. In God we live, move, and have our being. Isaiah and the prophets tried to convey this to God’s people in their day and now ours. To be God’s servant then and now gives us a glimpse of our future as children of God.
The vision Isaiah was giving God’s people living in exile was that there is hope. Figuratively speaking the wilderness will become alive. God will come and save you, your eyes and ears will be opened, and water and food will be plentiful. God will reveal himself and you will see his glory through his creation, relief and restoration will come to all who have been exiled. God calls on the Israelites to be strong and not to fear. Do not be anxious for God will make you strong again. God is here with you he will give you strength and salvation. Soon God’s people will be leaving the wilderness to once again live as his people. Of course, the big question is: “Will they live as God’s people?” As with God’s people then and God’s people now we are faced with this same question. I like what A. W. Tozer says “If you’re not worshiping God on Monday the way you did the day before, perhaps you’re not worshiping him at all.”
It seems to me that from both our readings from Isaiah and James today state that if we are not living as God’s people every day we are not living for him at all.
My favorite dismissal is the one which expresses leaving here with the peace we have received from Jesus and going forth into the world to love and serve the Lord. It means we have work to do in the world so let’s get to it.
Many of us know that there is a separation from our worship on Sundays to transitioning back into the workplace and society Monday morning. Isaiah’s message is that if we know the Law God gave to his people and love God no one should be mistreated. The people of Israel and Judah are already paying for their sins and now they have a chance to live their lives as followers of God. Because Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law through his sacrifice on the cross we too know God does change lives. Our love for Jesus dwells in our hearts where God’s law is written. God is always preparing the way we should go whether we are like the Israelites traveling in the desert, or living out our daily calling in the world.
Even though God’s punishment seemed harsh on the Israelites he never gave up on them. He showed them his love and mercy when they had no hope. Like all of us we look for forgiveness and restoration in our relationships and lives.
James speaks about genuine faith, a faith that stems from God himself, not from ourselves. As with the Israelites not taking care of the poor and handicapped is not genuine faith unless it is backed up with action. Now James likes to use the term works, to me anyone can go out and do good works. For me it’s the act of doing which stem from our faith and love of God in Jesus Christ. As A. W. Tozer, said: “It’s not because we are good, instead it is because God is good, and from him all right things proceed.” It is God’s hand on us which guides and directs all our actions. This is how we should view what James is saying to us. There is no such thing as prejudice if we live our lives serving others. Faith changes lives ours and those who are in need and need Jesus. This is why the Fresh Expressions Movement is so important; it is where our faith and actions come together. The Kingdom of God does not exist for us alone, the Kingdom of God is the world in which we live, move and have our being. Showing God’s mercy trumps judgment. Our richness is in Christ Jesus himself. It’s the relationship we have with him on a daily basis, loving our neighbor, loving the unloved, handicapped, the poor and destitute, the mentally handicapped and mentally ill. To me, the churches and other faith-based organizations in Lake Wales are an example of what James is speaking about. We have the Care Center where many of our church bodies donate goods and money so they can minister to those in need. It is through our outreach into the community that we minister in and to the Kingdom of God.
In the Gospel reading for today we hear a great act of faith. Here we find Jesus traveling into Gentile territory, the region of Tyre and Sidon. It was a long trip from the region of Galilee to there and Jesus was tired, in need of rest and refreshment. And as he enters a house, longing to be left alone, he is confronted by this Syrophoenician woman asking him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. As hard as Jesus tries to travel quietly from place to place word about him spreads. Jesus cannot catch a break from the miracles and healings he performed to the miracle of feeding the crowds.
For Jesus, there was no down time no matter how much he needed spiritual and physical rest. Now confronted by this woman who breaks all the traditional, religious, and cultural barriers, she approaches Jesus, although she is not a Jew, she is a Gentile, impure because she lived outside of Israel, nor was she a believer in the Law of Moses whose descendents were enemies of Israel. On top of that, she was a woman who approached Jesus by herself and begins a conversation with him. She does all these things because her faith in Jesus is more important than the religious and cultural mores of the day. Now here is where the confusion lies, when she begs Jesus to heal her daughter he responds: ‘let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ Instead, the woman replies; ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’
Is Jesus speaking about the small dogs that eat the crumbs which fall under the table or is he referring to those who are not from Israel and beyond. Or is this a riddle to see how she responds to what he said? How do we respond when someone responds which seems insensitive or off the wall? She did not let Jesus’ response deter her; instead she was even more determined to have her daughter healed. Here, I believe, we see a very human side of Jesus, exhausted and needing rest he still listens to her anyway. She still calls upon him to heal her daughter and he does. How much faith do we have when someone tries to discourage us, do we let them or let our faith lead us?
It is through God’s love and healing power which know no social, cultural, religious, or political boundaries. Here Jesus enters Gentile territory heals this woman’s daughter, then goes on to heal someone who is deaf and mute not letting any boundaries get in the way. It was Jesus’ mission then and now our mission to proclaim the Gospel to everyone where ever they live, work, and have their being.
As we approach God’s Holy Table today let us remember we are always welcomed to receive His Body and His Blood. We do not have to come begging because the food God provides is more than just crumbs it’s his life giving Body and Blood. With his Body and Blood we are strengthened through God’s grace and forgiveness, not only for us, but for all who need God’s healing love and grace. Amen.