Pentecost 12 A 2023 Crossing Boundaries Sermon Matthew 15:21-28
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A few months ago, Phyllis and I went to Australia to take a cruise in the South Pacific. It was our first time being that far away from home. Now, to get to Australia one must cross several international boundaries.
In our case, we traveled first to Fiji, and then on to Australia. And at each boundary we crossed, Phyllis and I had to present our passports and our visas, to continue our journey. Unless one has the proper paperwork and permission, one cannot cross international boundaries.
One thing that I found odd as we crossed these international borders was that one cannot bring water into Fiji, or out of Fiji. The government custom agents check all passengers coming into the country and going out of the country for water. I had to dispose of my water bottle that I purchased in Los Angeles in the garbage can before continuing through customs even though I had the water with me throughout the flight to Fiji.
Before Phyllis could board her flight out of Fiji, Phyllis had to dump the water that was in her bottle out on the ground that she obtained from a water fountain located in the secured area of the airport. In Fiji, they take water very seriously. And, as Phyllis and I found out, there is no getting around the Fiji rules. No water means no water.
As a side point to this sermon, I later found out that Fiji Water is one of the purest waters available. Bottled at its source in Fiji at an ancient artesian aquifer deep within the earth, Fiji Water is protected from external impurities. As one person put it. Fiji water is untouched by man – until you unscrew the cap.
International borders are not the only boundaries that we face in life. And we all know there are unspoken rules that we are expected to follow.
For example. Have you ever wandered into the wrong bathroom by accident? If you have, you know what it is like to cross a boundary, as you hurry out hoping that no one saw you. Or how about when you were a child, and your parents told you that you could play on your side of the street, but you could not cross over and play on the other side of the street.
Boundaries are everywhere. Democrat, Republican. Citizen, Non-Citizen. White Collar Worker, Blue Collar Worker. Urban dwellers, Rural Dwellers. Boundaries exist in our world, and boundaries are in our gospel text today, too.
In our Gospel text, Jesus and His disciples have just crossed the border into Tyre and Sidon. And it is important to point out that this is Gentile, non- Jewish territory. They don’t belong there. Just a few chapters earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus instructed His disciples to “Go nowhere among the Gentiles.”
But now we are told that Jesus led His disciples into Gentile territory. I can just imagine the disciples’ thoughts as they crossed the border with Jesus. We are not supposed to be here, they must have said to themselves. This is enemy territory. There is a boundary here that we were told that we are not allowed to cross.
And as the disciples contemplated what had just happened, suddenly, out of nowhere, a woman, a Canaanite woman, appears waving her arms in the air, and hollering at the top of her lungs yelling “Have mercy on me, Lord. Son of David. My daughter is sick. I think she is possessed by a demon. Help me.”
The disciples could not believe what they were seeing, or hearing. A woman was not supposed to act this way. A woman was not supposed to speak to men she did not know. And a Canaanite was certainly not supposed to interact with Jewish foreigners.
This woman was breaking the rules. This woman was crossing boundaries that she was not supposed to cross. And how does Jesus respond? He ignores her. And He is silent to her cries.
And to make matters worse, the disciples jump in and holler “Get rid of her.” This woman is a nuisance. She must be out of her mind. What does she think she is doing?
And in response to His disciple’s request, Jesus said to His disciples “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Ignoring the woman, Jesus responded only to His disciples. But the woman would not let things be. The woman approached Jesus, and knelt before Him, and said to Him “Help me.”
Hearing this, Jesus put up a wall between Himself and the woman. Jesus said to her “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” And with these words Jesus created a clear boundary in the midst of all the other broken boundaries.
But then something unexpected happened. The woman turned Christ’s argument on its head. The woman said to Jesus “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table.” In other words, the woman is saying to Jesus “Yes, I may be a dog, but even dogs get to lick up the crumbs that fall from the table.”
The woman identifies the boundary, and steps over it. She does so with no permission, no passport, and no visa. And as she breaks through this boundary, everything stops.
After Jesus had pushed the scenario almost to the point of no return to get His disciples attention (and our attention), Jesus now addressed the woman face to face. He recognized her, and He told her “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
In His great love for this woman, Jesus stepped over the border, and healed her daughter. And the point being, God’s love for us knows no boundaries. And God’s love for us has no use for custom officers or border guards.
God, through the Redeeming Activity of His Son, has broken down (and will continue to break down) the borders, and the walls that we create to restore our relationship with God and our relationship with each other.
I would like to close with a verse from a song that was a hit in 1966. It was a song sung by Petula Clark. It goes like this…
God’s love is warmer than the warmest sunshine, Softer than a sigh. God’s love is deeper than the deepest ocean, Wider than the sky. God’s love shines brighter than the brightest star that shines every night above. And there is nothing in this world that can ever change God’s love.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, your love for us is wider than all the universe and your mercy greater than the heights of heaven. When we are tempted to put up walls (or borders) put a new song of love on our lips, that we may sing your praises to all people. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.