May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
- Carnival colours, sounds of all nations
Brighten the drabness and ring in the air
Fullness of fun and joy in creation
Offered to God in our thanks for his care.
- Steel bands and dancers, loud reggae music
Streamers and rainbows of love and delight
Laughing together, smiles on our faces,
God at the centre, rejoice in the sight.
- Festival faces, joy of the children,
Adult divisions are swept clean away
Simply by love, uniting all races,
Heralding clearly, the dawn of the day.
With permission Urban Theology Unit.
Prayer of adoration
O God of all people, we come to worship you
because you make us one great rainbow family,
with different gifts and abilities,
ages and experiences, backgrounds, and insights.
May the peoples praise you, O God.
O God of all people, we come to rejoice in your loving power which overcomes the barriers we build between ourselves.
May the peoples praise you, O God.
O God of all people, we come to celebrate together, to receive your forgiveness of our sins,
to hear your good news
and to go in your name to proclaim your love.
May the peoples praise you, O God.
Prayer of confession and declaration of forgiveness
God of truth and mercy, we make our confession:
We have not always maintained justice in our midst.
We have not always done what is right.
We have not always looked for your saving help.
We have often despised those who are different.
We have refused a welcome to the stranger in our midst.
We have mocked the devotions of others,
and criticized their offerings and their prayers.
May we imitate the compassion and justice of Jesus, holding to the truth and offering ourselves to your transforming grace.
May we learn to see him in the humanity and faith of others,
hearing the Spirit in their prayers, and working with them to create a community where all belong.
God of the nations, to whose table all are invited
and in whose kingdom no one is a stranger:
hear the cries of the hungry
and mercifully extend to all the peoples on earth
the joy of your salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Reading Matthew 15:21-28 NRSV
21Jesus went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.‘ And her daughter was healed instantly.
A foreign woman decides to come to Jesus to ask for his help for her child. She calls out to Jesus because he’s her only hope. She knows knows that as a woman and foreigner the disciples aren’t going to let her make an appointment to see him. So she shouts his name. ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.’ But though she asks for help surprisingly Jesus does not respond. We are told by Matthew that he acts as if she’s not there. There’s nothing worse than being invisible. I remember having a conversation with some homeless people who were talking about their experience on the streets. They all agreed that the thing that hurt them the most was not the contempt or the abuse they received from some passersby. What hurt the most were people who ignored them and the eyes that looked straight through them as if they didn’t exist. So we can imagine how the woman felt.
But that woman does not give up she just kept shouting. Send her away the disciples say.
However Jesus seems to feel need to explain why he is not responding to her so he says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The Jews believed that they were God’s chosen people and that God would look after them first before bothering about foreigners.
But the woman will not give up. She stops Jesus walking away by kneeling down in front of him. She says “Lord help me” Jesus still won’t help her. He says “Its not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”. The Jews often spoke about themselves as children and the foreigners as dogs. The Jews did not keep pet dogs. They were regarded as unclean animals. Most dogs in Israel were the wild ones that fought each other for scraps on the rubbish tip.
Of course we don’t know how Jesus said these words. Some have argued that Jesus said them with a half smile on his face. They have argued that he actually called the foreigners “puppy dogs” and in some people’s minds that gets over the problem because it doesn’t sound quite so offensive. The only problem is that this line of argument only works if Jesus was speaking Greek and we can be pretty certain from other things Jesus is quoted as saying that like most Galileans he mostly spoke Aramaic.
There is not much that is affectionate about implicitly calling someone a dog. Through out history some of the very worst of human behaviour has occurred when men and women have chosen to characterise other human beings who are not like them as being animals. Such stereo types have been the excuse for denying people civil rights be they black people in South Africa, Catholics in Northern Ireland or Jews in Nazi Germany. When you think of people as animals you can do what you want to them.
The woman however has the courage not to take “no” for an answer. She says “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” In some ways you could argue that the fate of the Gospel rests on Jesus response to those words. Either Jesus is going to be Jesus or he will not be able to be the messiah for this woman. Jesus has to choose who he will be just as once before in the wilderness he was tempted by the devil and he had to choose whether to tread God’s way or take the nationalist road to power. Will Jesus be just the Messiah for the Jews or will he be the Saviour of everyone in the world?
This is one of the most critical perhaps revolutionary moments in Jesus’s ministry. Jesus already knew that his Father’s love reaches out to lepers, tax collectors, women and poor people in other words all of those thought of as second class citizens in Jewish society. Now suddenly through the most unlikely source imaginable- a foreign woman- Jesus eyes are opened. He sees that God’s love must reach out even to foreigners that many Jews felt were spiritually little better than animals
Jesus makes his response. He no longer implies that the woman is a dog. He doesn’t know her name but he says “Woman” great is your faith. Her faith has forced Jesus to deal with her. It seems her faith has opened Jesus eyes to a deeper truth.
Now some people find this story both disturbing and uncomfortable.
The picture that that Matthew presents of Jesus conflicts with many things they think that they understand about him.
You see some many people picture Jesus as knowing everything all the time and never changing his mind. But this is not the picture of Jesus that we get from this story. The Jesus we are presented with is a Jesus who like all humans does not have perfect knowledge but he is perfectly faithful to the divine love that is in his heart.
This makes him open to people and prepared to receive challenging insights from them, because he recognises his Father speaking through them. I suspect that when that woman spoke to Jesus he heard in her reply his Fathers voice.
Being both human and divine Jesus has to deal with the prejudices and racism that comes as part of the package of sharing the culturally conditioned humanity that you and I share and experience.
Personally I find great hope in this story. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was tempted in all ways just as are we yet without sin. The great Christian thinker Athanasius once said that Jesus humanity is as important as his divinity because that which has not been assumed cannot be redeemed. If Jesus was truly human then racism was a temptation for him just as surely as it is for us. This is not to denigrate Jesus. In fact it is exactly the opposite. For it means that we recognise that Jesus has the power to redeem us even from the evil of racism because he knew and overcame its force and power.
This is our hope today. We are all prejudiced but if we let him God can give us the love of Christ that will overcome our prejudices and help us to begin to heal our broken and divided world.
1 The right hand of God is writing in our land,
writing with power and with love;
our conflicts and our fears,
our triumphs and our tears,
are recorded by the right hand of God.
2 The right hand of God is pointing in our land,
pointing the way we must go;
so clouded is the way,
so easily we stray,
but we’re guided by the right hand of God.
3 The right hand of God is striking in our land,
striking out at envy, hate and greed;
our selfishness and lust,
our pride and deeds unjust,
are destroyed by the right hand of God.
4 The right hand of God is lifting in our land,
lifting the fallen one by one;
each one is known by name,
and lifted now from shame,
by the lifting of the right hand of God.
5 The right hand of God is healing in our land,
healing broken bodies, minds and souls;
so wondrous is its touch,
with love that means so much,
when we’re healed by the right hand of God.
6 The right hand of God is planting in our land,
planting seeds of freedom, hope and love;
in these many-peopled lands,
let his children all join hands,
and be one with the right hand of God.
Patrick Eugene Prescod (alt.)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 715
Words and Music: © 1981 Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC), Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. All rights reserved.
To think about
- Do we judge people differently because of their race or their gender?
Before you say “no” ask yourself….
- Do we ever find ourselves saying “I am not prejudiced but….”
When and why does this happen?
We praise you, all-embracing God, for being our God, for being the God of all the world,
and for being the God of all creation.
Give us eyes to see you in all people;
hearts that are changed through our daily encounters, and lives that are in tune with your loving purposes for all you have made.
Welcoming God, we bring our prayers for those who are the outsiders in our society.
We pray for those in poverty,
living on the crumbs and scraps of others’ riches.
We pray for those who are denied the basics of living, food and water, shelter, housing or healthcare.
We pray for those who have no place of safety,
for refugees and asylum seekers who have no home to call their own.
God of the outsider, we pray that you will bring healing and welcome to all. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your Name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,
now and for ever. Amen.
Hymn: “And can it be” StF 345
1 And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
2 ‘Tis mystery all: the Immortal dies!
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
to sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
let angel minds enquire no more.
3 He left his Father’s throne above —
so free, so infinite his grace —
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
for, O my God, it found out me!
4 Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray —
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light,
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
5 No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ, my own.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 345.
The blessing of God,
our Creator, Christ our redeemer and the Holy Spirit our renewer
be among us and remain with us always.
May the peoples praise you, O God:
May all the peoples praise you. Amen.