Call to Worship
Let the people praise God;
Let all the peoples praise the Lord!
Let the nations be glad and sing with joy,
For God guide us all with justice and equity.
Let the people praise God, for how we have been blessed;
Come let us worship and offer all honour and praise.
Hymn 124 – Praise to the Lord
Prayers of Approach and Confession
God, your presence lifts us, Your grace amazes us,
Your power overwhelms us, Your love excites us.
We come to worship, expecting to hear your voice.
God, your people encourage us, Your church feeds us,
Your worldwide family holds us, Your kingdom beckons us, We come to worship, expecting to hear your voice. Draw us close to you, as you draw close to us, speak clearly into our hearts, speak deeply into our lives, speak wisdom into your church
we confess that we have not lived as you have taught us. Forgive us those times we have not welcomed others into our community; and those times we have avoided others because something about them made us uncomfortable.
Forgive us the ways we have judged people unfairly.
Reveal to us our own prejudices, and show us how to see your goodness in those who seem different from us.
While it is true that we have all sinned, it is a greater truth that we are forgiven through God’s love in Jesus Christ. To all who humbly seek the mercy of God, I say, be at peace with God, with yourself and with one another.
Readings – Genesis 45: 1- 15 (Pg 50)
Matthew 15: 21-28 (Pg 982)
Hymn – Give me joy in my heart
Father God, help us always to give our best, to work to our fullest and never be ashamed to confess your name. We pray for the those tormented by the demon of mental illness. We are reminded that although Joseph's brothers action meant it for evil purposes, God meant it for good; for "many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails". Amen
Imagine someone you know is arrested for a terrible crime, which they deny, yet the authorities seem convinced by the evidence. What do you do? Do you stand by your friend and argue their case or is there a niggle that maybe they just did it. It is part of the plot of a book I am reading, but I am conscious that this week a man was freed after years in prison for a crime for which he had been convicted, but now, because of the advances of science, the evidence has been discredited. He had always argued his innocence. Did his friends continue to plead his cause or had they accepted he was guilty as charged?
I admire those who persist in seeking justice, who show a determination to see that justice prevails. It reminds me of the Canaanite woman whom we read about this morning.
Jesus and his disciples had been to the seaside. Well, at any rate, they had crossed the border into what is now Southern Lebanon, the region of Tyre and Sidon, which are both by the Mediterranean, so conceivably Jesus could have gone to the sea. But if he was planning to have a break, get away from all the demands, then he had another thing coming! Maybe he thought he was incognito – he had crossed the border after all, but he soon learned that even there people were aware of his healings and miracles. Enter the Canaanite woman (Of course, the Canaanites were the enemies of Israel). It was a woman whose daughter was ill, was tormented in mind, and she needed healing. The woman had heard of Jesus, and here he was in the area. She was desperate.
All of us, at some time or other know or will know what it is to be desperate in small ways and large.
And when it happens we turn to God we stretch out our hands in protest. We cry out for help. It’s not hard, then, to identify with the suffering of this mother. Helpless to heal her child, she turns to Jesus as her last resort. Jesus will help.
And that is where this passage becomes interesting, for Jesus refuses to help. Yes, you heard correctly. Refuses. He completely ignores her appeal to his mercy. He ignores her. As do Jesus own disciples. In fact, they demand Jesus send the woman away. And Jesus agrees with them. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
So here we have it. Jesus, our Jesus, is refusing to help this woman and her daughter because they are foreign. They are not citizens of the house of Israel. They are Canaanite, invisible, unimportant. Outsiders. A minority. The woman is not to be the subject of his compassion and mercy. Jesus turns her off.
BUT the woman refuses to be sent away. Protesting, she kneels before him, “Lord, help me.” she says.
Still Jesus refuses her. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” In other words: it is not fair to take what is intended for my people and give it to those who are inferior. Harsh, harsh words. But the woman is desperate and in that desperation speaks the word of truth. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus is shamed. Finally, his eyes are opened. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” The daughter is healed.
It is an uncomfortable story and turns all our thoughts about Jesus on their head. Jesus the compassionate one, the welcoming one, the one who kissed the leper clean is suddenly refusing to listen even. It was a PR disaster. Commentators have said that maybe the tone Jesus used was playful, perhaps the words were not actually as offensive as they seem. But Matthew includes it in his Gospel.
We want to see Jesus as compassionate, unprejudiced, perfect in all ways, but he was also human and he was shaped by the culture he grew up in, as we all are. That culture dismissed Gentiles. A few weeks ago we read in Matthew’s gospel about the sending out of the disciples, and they were told not to go to the Gentiles. But by the end of the Gospel in the great commission, the disciples are charged with taking the Gospel to all nations. There has been a shift.
Because of the woman’s persistence, Jesus truly sees her for the first time. He hears her protest. His heart is opened, and he knows compassion. It is the right thing to do. God is not to be limited by citizenship, race, ethnicity, religion, orientation, or status. The Canaanite woman knew that. Now Jesus understood it too. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” The daughter is healed.
This crossing of boundaries is there in the Old Testament in Ruth and Jonah and even Joseph in Egypt and Paul would develop it in his epistles where he declares, ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’
The Canaanite woman dug in her heels so her daughter could be well. At the heart of God is love for all. Jesus expects us to show that love to all, to gaze upon the world with our hearts, to recognize we can be wrong, that we can be too narrow, too opinionated, too fixed in our views, too eager to believe we are right. To follow the Jesus way is to accept his challenge to pursue the truth, to be open to new insights and possibilities. To love God, love our neighbour, and to love our own self, no matter what it takes.
Hymn 716 – Come and find the quiet centre
Prayers of Dedication and Intercession
Generous God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
to you we bring these gifts. Use them, use us, we pray, in the service of your world and to the glory of your name. Amen
Almighty God, Summoning God, ever calling, ever ready to bless, we thank you that you are without limits. You break the moulds of the past to teach us something new, You meet everyone where they live and call us to do the same. Renew our sense of purpose and commitment to sharing your love.
Teach us to treasure one another, those who are like us and those who are different. Teach us to keep the doors open, the welcome warm and the love unconditional.
In this time and place you have called us to pray for those in need. We pray today for all those who are outsiders. Those who marginalised because of their race or their gender... Those who feel ignored because of their faith, the colour of their skin, their sexuality, their age. We think particularly of the women of Afghanistan, denied the right to education and employment. And for those in Iran, where protests against restrictions on women seem to have been suppressed.
We pray for those whose voices are seldom heard, and those, who like the Canaanite woman’s daughter need others to speak up for them. We think particularly of people with disabilities. Those who are unable to speak… Those who speak out, but are ignored or silenced… Those who experience mockery or judgement in the physical or online worlds…
We pray for those whose motives are constantly questioned, those who are told that they should be more than satisfied with crumbs. We pray for: those fleeing persecution, and looking for asylum in the UK and other European countries… those whose choices in education and healthcare are limited by where they live, or their financial position…
We pray for those who are living with a sense of despair. Those who have lost everything through wildfires or floods… Those living with conflict – in Ukraine, in Israel/Palestine, in Niger… Those for whom recent exam results mean the loss of dreamed for futures…
We pray for all who speak out for a better world. For those who work for justice through politics or protest. For those who through persistence change hearts and minds.
And we pray for your Church – the church worldwide, and the church in this place. May it be a place of welcome and warmth. A place where all voices are heard. A place where worldly status is irrelevant. A place of righteous anger and of true peace. Amen
Hymn 562 – Through the love of God, our saviour