A New Beginning: A New Law
Mark 7:1-8, 17-30
Here we are! We’re back in our own church after a lovely summer of sharing services with our friends in the other Northside United churches. While it’s nice to spend time worshiping and sharing with each other, it’s still nice to be “home” isn’t it? Back to our own routine, our own pews, our own music, our own way of doing things. Back to what we know.
But, in the same breath, this is still different isn’t there? I just can’t quite put my finger on it… oh wait… I’m hear! I’m new! I’m what’s different!
Before we get too involved in this morning’s message, I want to let you know that before I even walked into this church for the first time this spring, we already had a connection.
When I came here for a quick tour in May, Glenn gave me a copy of the book Carman Recollections. I’m sure most of you know it well. It’s a short history of this church and the Christian witness which has happened in this area. As we were driving back to Bev’s parent’s after we left here, I started to read the book. When I got to page twelve, there was a name I recognized. I only noticed his name two more times in the entire book. When we got to an internet connection, I quickly confirmed this was indeed the man I thought he was.
When I started going to church, it was about nine years ago while Bev and I were living in Ottawa. While we were there we kept hearing about a particular long-time minister in the church in the 1930’s and 40’s. In fact, their chapel is named after this man.
The man is the same man named in Carman Recollections. Rev. Dr. Norman Coll. I find it very interesting to know that a minister who came from this very church was the same minister who gave my home church in Ottawa the strong foundation it has today as a large United Church in the city of Ottawa.
In many ways it has come full circle. This same man you formed as part of your history helped build up the church that formed me. And here I am to continue helping build up a community of faith. The seeds you planted many years ago have provided fruit, and now you are seeing the results in action. In many ways, it could be said the faithfulness of your ancestors bring me back here today. Without encountering this church in Ottawa, I’m pretty sure I would not have found a call to ministry.
But enough of that, let’s dig into what Jesus is saying to the woman in our Gospel reading today. It doesn’t seem very pleasant, that’s for sure. Jesus has compared this woman to a dog. She has asked for his help, and he refuses. She responds to his rejection and changes his mind and helps her daughter.
This is what it looks like on the surface. A woman asks for help, and Jesus insults her with the intention of turning her away. Who is this Jesus? Where is the love? Where is the grace? Where is God? This is very hard for us to read today.
Which is why I had us return and reread part of last weeks reading. The part where the Pharisees have challenged Jesus about his disciples and their failing to keep the laws of cleanliness when they eat.
I reread this part because I believe we cannot separate these verses. If you read the story of the woman, you must read what comes before it. It’s the only way we can make sense of what Jesus is doing to this poor woman begging for help to save her daughter.
When the Pharisees challenge Jesus, they are calling him and his disciples to account about following the laws as prescribed in the Old Testament, the books of the Law they hold so dear. Who can blame them? That is their job. They are tasked with making sure all Jews follow the laws prescribed by Moses. So by coming to Jesus about the activity of his disciples, they are pushing him to show how Godly he really is. If these laws come from God, shouldn’t Jesus be making sure his followers are following these rules? After all, he’s been making the claims that he comes from God.
So what happens next. Well, we kind of skipped over that part, but Jesus challenges the Pharisees about how they seem to selectively choose which laws they will follow and enforce. They seem to be able to keep all the easy ones, which are about how you dress, what you eat, who you talk to, but they seem to fail on the ones which talk about relationships. Such as honouring your mother and father. Jesus tells them it’s character which is more important, the things which come out of you naturally as a person of God is more important than what goes in. Such as what you eat.
After this, Jesus goes looking for some peace and quiet. No doubt frustrated and needing some time to himself. So he heads into the region of Tyre. This is no longer Jewish territory, but the land of Gentiles.
Here he enters a home, but does not find peace and quiet. Instead, a gentile woman comes to him begging him to release her daughter from the demon which has possessed her.
This is where it gets hard to read.
Jesus compares the woman to a dog. He says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” What Jesus is saying here is because this woman is a gentile, because she is a woman, she is not able to be part of his society. This is true… in Jesus’ time. Jews lived in a caste-like system. A system where non-Jews were thought to be unclean. A system where men had influence, and women did not. By even acknowledging this woman, by law, Jesus has made himself unclean. By law, he must not associate himself with her. By law.
This is where we have to go back to the start of our reading today. By the laws of the Pharisees, Jesus cannot even look at this woman. He cannot speak to her, he cannot help her. This is what the Pharisees would teach. This is how a faithful follower of God would act. This is not how God acts.
We live in a perverted world. I use this word because because it means “turned from what it right”. What is right was only seen briefly in this world. That was the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden was when all was right in the world. But it didn’t last long.
From then on, God has been seeking us so that we can be right with Him. Instead we create laws and customs which keep us apart from one another and especially apart from God. This is what the Pharisees represent in the Gospel reading today. It’s not about condemning what they are saying because we can’t. We are the Pharisees. We judge people by who they are, where they live, what they do, how they look… we do this all the time.
Enter Jesus into the picture. Jesus is the only one who has shown what truly being one of God’s children really looks like. We’ve had some close examples… Mother Teresa is a good one. But no one comes close to being Jesus. Not even a bit. Jesus shows us it’s not about laws. It’s about relationships. It’s about loving and caring for each other no matter who they are. In doing so, we help bring other people closer to God. Jesus came as the Son of God to bring God’s people back to Him. To show people what God really has in mind for us all. To show us the world does not have to look the way it does with all the inequality and injustices we brought into it.
So today, we’re looking at a new beginning at Carman United Church. But to me, this is just a continuation of the “new beginning” that started 2000 years ago by the Son of God who came down to show us the way. A new beginning which has continually been revealed to us in our churches each and every week. Through our prayers, our hymns, our voices and instruments, our readings and announcements, all the work that is done in our community through the work of our hands and our givings. All of this is part of the new beginning which begins in Jesus Christ.
Over the next year, I’m looking forward to learning more about you, this church, this town and how we envision the three moving forward together. My passion is in new beginnings which hold true to the ancient teachings of Jesus. I love worship, I live to worship God.
Bev and I spent last weekend at the Alive on the Island festival. Friday night was cold and windy. Even dressed in an extra layer or two we were cold. Saturday night we were ready, we wore even more clothes and packed in case there might be rain. We got soaked despite our best efforts to dress to keep dry. But we loved every minute of the weekend. We heard some of the best musicians in Canada and from the States, and together we worshiped. To the outsider it might have looked like every other noisy outdoor concert, but to those of us who gathered in front of the stage, it wasn’t a concert, it was a group of people praising God in worship.
New beginnings. Sometimes we need to step back and take a look at how we are doing things. We need to examine our practices, our own “laws” so to speak. Are we living as Jesus would have us live, or are we trapped in our own traditional rules we have put in place over the many years we’ve been together, passing them onto our children to carry forward.
This is a new beginning, but it’s not new. Jesus invited us to try a new thing 2000 years ago by simply coming to him and letting God change us into His creation doing His work in the world. I look forward to taking this journey with you, as you are a people with a long history of supporting and encouraging people who take the call of ministry as something they pursue and follow their whole life long. May God be with us as we go.