May God be merciful to us and bless us;
may the light of God’s face shine upon us.
Let your way be known upon earth,
your saving health among all nations.
I took a few days off this past week for my annual vacation with my son. But whatever expectations I had that my return would be uncomplicated went out the window even before I began unpacking. As I drove home Saturday, I listened with a mixture of outrage and sorrow to the heartbreaking tragedy of the violent confrontation between White Supremacists and counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Then I sat down to read the lessons for this upcoming Sunday, which made matters worse.
The Gospel reading from Matthew – Jesus’ healing of a Canaanite woman’s daughter – comes on the heels of this weekend’s horrific catastrophe; and raises confounding questions that make the narrative difficult to explain. Why would Jesus have rejected the Canaanite woman? Why was Jesus so focused on ministry to Israel, to the exclusion of others? Isn’t that exclusion just the kind of narrow-mindedness Christians are battling today?
The woman persists, perseveres, and prevails over a rather nasty and seemingly bigoted Jesus, who eventually grants the woman’s wish and heals her daughter. But why did Jesus put this woman through all this?
The reading is troubling because this doesn’t sound at all like the Jesus we have come to know and love. Let us consider, however, that Jesus may have had another objective in his behavior: to hold up a mirror to us and say: “this is you!”
We should be bothered by all these barriers that Jesus puts up in front of this woman, but then we should also look at ourselves. How many times have we ignored someone, turned them away, or felt, said, or done worse, because they are different, because they are not like us?
This reading, and the events in Charlottesville, both teach us that bigotry, hatred, and intolerance have no place in God’s Kingdom. As people of God, we are challenged to overcome those biases in our lives with repentance and prayer, seek God’s forgiveness, then speak out whenever and wherever we see injustice. As people of faith, we are called to witness to the God whom we serve – the God of kindness, justice, and mercy.
This reading also moves me to commend the work of a group of rostered ministers and lay people here in Northeastern Ohio. Over the past two years, the Cross-Cultural Conversations Team has taken upon itself the responsibility of gathering monthly to engage with each other in discussion, prayer and Bible study on the issue of race, racism, and talking with one another cross-culturally about tough social issues. They have held workshops at each of our last two synod assemblies, and offer themselves as a resource to individuals and congregations who are interested in breaking down those barriers that divide them from others, and inhibit the establishment of meaningful relationships.
I borrowed three questions which they asked at the workshop held during our last assembly, and reprint them here as a helpful guide to you who may be struggling with how to move forward:
a. When/where did you encounter someone different from you this week?
b. How did you feel about it?
c. What questions did the encounter raise for you?
To these, I would add a fourth question:
d. How did you sense God’s presence in all that for you?
For more information about the group and its work, you may contact Pastor Dirk van der Duim, at Grace Lutheran Church in Hubbard, Ohio.
I am asking a favor of those who attended the Rostered Ministers’ Gathering last week in Atlanta. I’ve read so many positive comments on social media that I would ask that any of you who would like to share your experience, drop me an email by this Friday with your reflections on the event. Three to five sentences would suffice.
I so regret that I was not able to be with you, but it would be a blessing to your colleagues and the good people you serve to hear your impressions. I will use as many as space allows on next Monday’s Musing.
This coming Sunday, August 20, at 11:00 a.m., I will be at the High Meadows Picnic Area in Elyria, for the Second Annual Worship in the Park. Eight congregations, five Lutheran and three Episcopal, will gather together for an ecumenical service that witnesses to the glory of God and our full communion partnership, which is now in its 18th year.
In the meantime, may God be merciful to you and bless you, and may the light of God’s face shine upon you this week and always.
+Bishop Abraham Allende