Jim Walker recounts a group of people gathered for a festive conversation about life, about God. An angry middle-aged man walking by himself was out on the corner with a sign that said, “Unless you repent and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you will surely burn in Hell for all of eternity.” The man walked up to the window where they were sitting with the same angry face and shoved the sign up to the glass. Up close the man looked lonely and miserable. The pastor in the group wondered, “Who’s really in Hell here?” The group motioned for the man to come and join them, to sit at table, adding, “We’re buying!” But he scowled and walked away, sign in tow. He turned back and looked like one of those people trapped in Christianity.
“Signs of Traditionalism” – Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs 7/30/14
Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a 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.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Why was the woman’s faith so great?
She refused to be denied God’s mercy, even by Jesus.
Sometimes Jesus needs us to say the thing he can’t utter.
That her understanding of God included her.
That she was persistent, even irritating.
The screaming wasn’t for her but her daughter.
It is not tradition, the cumulative wisdom and witness of the saints, but rather traditionalism. The dead rituals, the dead regulations, the closed cannons, the orthodoxies of omission. The theology of favoritism and election that only has value if someone’s left behind.
Why was the woman’s faith so great? Because she helped initiate the turning point in the history of God’s people. A conversion from man to Messiah, from carpenter to Christ, a Jesus who goes on to trespass all over the boundaries of exclusion, who welcomes every Gentile as an honorary Jew.
“Faith works like a lever in him,” says Barbara Brown Taylor, “opening his arms wider and wider until there’s room for the whole world in them, until he allows them to be nailed to the cross.”
Often, we have to abandon the traditional Christian values of the Church to be the Church since “the Good News is only Good News if it’s Good News for everyone” (Rob Bell).
We are all here in worship to lay down our street corner signs of traditionalism. We all deny someone, some group, some something. If Jesus’ faith can be converted, then so too can ours.
All we have to do is listen to the screaming pagan, love the demon possessed, and court the Canaanite in our midst. After all, “you have nothing to lose but your life the way it has [always] been” (Barbara Brown Taylor).