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Where Blessing is to be Found in a World Like This

September 6, 2014

Aug. 17 Background

I’d like to begin this posting with a video of a group of dear children singing before the February 17, 2013 Service at St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad. The man in the middle of the group is Canon Andrew White, the Incumbent of St. George’s, who is often called the Vicar of Baghdad. You’ll note an unusual quality to Canon White voice. This is from Multiple Sclerosis, which he has been living with for over 17 years.

Canon%20Andrew%20White%20in%20the%20Church%20he%20baptized%20the%20childI thought of these children when I read the awful words in an Aug. 7 Anglican News Service article:
The five-year-old son of a founding member of Baghdad’s Anglican church was cut in half during a terrorist attack on the Christian town of Qaraqosh. In an interview today, an emotional Canon Andrew White told ACNS that he christened the boy several years ago, and that the child’s parents had named the lad Andrew after him.

Terrible persecution of Christians and other religious minorities is occurring in Iraq; shooting and racial tensions in Ferguson, MO; violence in Israel and Gaza; violence in the Ukraine; and the list could go on.

Where is blessing to be found in a world such as this!?

The passages from Holy Scripture we looked at together at St. Paul’s on August 17 provide us with an answer. The key is 5 outbursts we see.

Let’s begin with the passage from Genesis (45:1-15). In the Lectionary Reading from Genesis on August 10, Joseph was betrayed by his own brothers.

Genesis 37:18 says:
They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him.

Instead of killing Joseph, his brothers ended up deciding to throw him into a 4 metre-deep pit without water, and then sold him into slavery.

Joseph has now come to be second in command in Egypt. For 3 chapters, Joseph has concealed his identity from his brothers. But now he can contain himself no longer, and in our passage this week reveals to his brothers that he is still alive:
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.”

Everyone leaves, so that only his brothers are left in the room. They must have been filled with fear, wondering what was going to happen next!

Verse 2 says:
So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.

The reader is told that this is about to happen, which heightens the tension further. What, the reader wonders, will Joseph do?

The answer is that he will give expression to the first of the outbursts in today’s passages:
Joseph began to weep so loudly that the Egyptians outside the room, and the household of Pharaoh, heard it.

And then Joseph reveals himself:
“I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?”

Verse 3 says:
But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

José-Génesis-45

Joseph then offers the invitation:
“Come closer to me.”

This refers to intimate closeness. It’s not the common Hebrew term for merely coming near or walking up close. Joseph is inviting his brothers to observe his face “up close” and see that it was indeed he.

It’s not a coincidence that Joseph’s brothers had conspired to murder him “from a distance, and before he came near to them.” Now they’re invited to come close and really see him, to allow barriers of fear to be broken down.

9780857212924Andrew White, who in addition to being the “Vicar of Baghdad,” also chairs the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq, writes in his book, Father, Forgive:
The American poet Longfellow said, “Who is my enemy? It is the person whose story I have not heard.” This statement is profoundly true. … To really listen to another person’s story, so that they are no longer our enemy and therefore distant from us, takes time; a lot of time. But with commitment and persistence, over time and with mutual understanding, enemies can become friends.

Joseph removes any last doubt his brothers may have had of his identity by revealing their secret – something nobody but Joseph could have known:
“I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.”

 At this point the brothers must have feared the worst!

9781418574673_p0_v1_s260x420Charles Swindoll in his book, Joseph, a Man of Integrity and Forgiveness, writes:
Humanly speaking, the average individual, when faced with people who have done them such grievous wrong, would likely frown and demand, “Drop to your knees and stay there! You think you know what humiliation is all about. You wait until I’m through with you. I’ve been waiting all these torturous years for this moment!

At the very least, most people would have a response of icy coldness, and let the brothers know they wanted nothing to do with them!

But Joseph does neither of these things.

He falls on their necks and weeps with them. He tells them he wants them close by, so that he can make sure they are cared for in the famine.

What wonderful forgiveness and reconciliation!

Imagine how Joseph’s forgiving his brothers blessed God’s heart! I think that Joseph and his brothers weren’t the only one weeping!

The world needs this so much!

Many say this is unrealistic, but our world shows us clearly where unforgiveness has gotten us! Deep down we know that there MUST be a better way!

This way is difficult, to be sure. The Genesis passage gives hints of how Joseph is able to walk it. Joseph doesn’t excuse his brothers’ actions, but sees God’s Hand in his life, using what he’s gone through to bless others – including them! He remembers that they are brothers, who share the same father.

Genesis doesn’t tell us exactly how Joseph is able to forgive. It only tells us that he does. And because he chooses the hard path of love, the story of the promise to bless all nations through Abraham continues.

The next 2 outbursts come in the Gospel passage the Lectionary assigns for August 17 (Matthew 15:21-28).

The context is that just before this, there’s been debate about being clean and unclean. Jesus has taught that not external matters but: “evil intentions, murder, … fornication, theft … These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19-20). Now the implications of these words are about to be lived out!

The passage begins by saying:
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus was looking perhaps for relief from conflict with the authorities, and time away from the crowds.

But then verse 22 states:
Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out

9780802825018R.T. France points out that Matthew here uses term that was:
part of traditional Biblical vocabulary for the most persistent and insidious of Israel’s enemies in the OT period, and whose … religion was [seen as] a constant threat to the religious purity of Israel

and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
The tense indicates in the Greek: “kept on shouting.”

This is the second outburst. Imagine having someone continuing to yell at you to help them!

Verse 23 says:
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.”

These are the same words used in Ezra 10:3 and 44 of foreign wives. The disciples are saying, “Exclude her! She’s impure!”

Jesus explains to the woman:
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Israel, Jesus says, is the focus of his earthly ministry. The worldwide mission starts there. Through Abraham’s seed all nations of the earth will be blessed. But the seed must fall to the ground and die first, Jesus says in John 12, for that to happen.

You’d think this would have settled it: Jesus has said “No”!

But, like the widow before the judge in Jesus’ parable, the Canaanite woman is too desperate to stop here, her love for her daughter is too great.

canaanite-woman-2

So verse 25 continues:
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

Jesus answers:
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

In other words, “It’s not right to feed your pets with the food you should have been giving your children.” Mark 7:27 has before these words: “Let the children be fed first.”

But the woman replies:
“Yes, Lord,”
 R. T. France thinks that she’s saying here: “Yes it is, Lord!”

“even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
“All I need is crumbs. You’re so powerful, you have such an over-abundant supply of power and grace, that there’s no question of “either-or,” of one at a time, or one first! While the children are being fed, the dogs can be fed, too!”

Jesus’ responds:  
“Woman, great is your faith!”

 The essential part of the story to reach is this, the third outburst in our passages!

This is an outburst of joy! This Canaanite woman is the only person whom Jesus describes as having great faith. (Usually it’s little!) Here is someone who GETS IT, who knows him well enough to know that there’s more than enough of his life and love for all! 

Jesus says:
“Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

And even more happens! Right after this, there’s the healing by Jesus of Gentiles (15:29-31 – concluding with “and they praised the God of Israel” in verse 31); then his feeding of 4,000 Gentiles – feeding them bread (Matthew 15:32-39) – and not just crumbs, either!!

I don’t understand all this. It’s a mystery to me. I don’t know why Jesus answered as he did, except that in our lives God often seems to be like this. But I do know that it delights Jesus’ heart when we seek to have heaven break upon earth now, rather than just in the future – to have God’s will done, God’s kingdom come on earth.

12805721N. T. Wright comments:
Being a Christian in the world today often focuses on the faith that badgers and harries God in prayer to do now, already, what others are content to wait for in the future. In the early 19th century many Christians agreed that slavery was wrong and would eventually have to stop, but not many wanted to do it just yet. William Wilberforce and his friends worked and prayed, devoting their lives to the belief that what would happen in the future had to happen, by God’s power, in the present as well.

You and I are called to care enough to be desperate, to settle for nothing less. As one long-time leader in the Civil Rights’ Movement said:
You don’t know what prayer is until you stand at the door and knock until your knuckles bleed.

No person, no circumstance, is shut out from God’s grace. God’s supply of the riches of grace is infinite! Hallelujah!

Grace is for all! Life and the Good News are for all – not just some time in the future, but NOW!

This is the point of the Epistle assigned for August 17 (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32), in which Gentile Christians have completely turned the tables, asking if God has not now God rejected Israel.

The very suggestion brings a fourth outburst in these passages:
By no means!

It’s the same temptation we saw in Matthew 15 – to try to limit God’s grace – just a different “in group!”

In answer to this, the Apostle Paul says that God’s mercy is over-abundant. Paul uses “mercy” 4 times in this passage, including one “full of mercy”! NO ONE IS EXCLUDED!

When’s the last time you had to burst out “No!” when someone was trying to exclude a person from God’s grace?

We need to share Paul’s passion about this!

The fifth and final outburst occurs in the Psalm (133) appointed for August 17:
Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brothers and sisters live together in unity!
2 It is like fine oil upon the head
that runs down upon the beard,
3 Upon the beard of Aaron,
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
4 It is like the dew of Hermon
that falls upon the hills of Zion.
5 For there the Lord has ordained the blessing:
life for evermore.

We cannot know fellowship with God, know God’s forgiveness and love, if we refuse to let them flow through us. Do you want to draw close to God? Then draw close to your fellow-creatures; if cut yourself off from them, then you cut yourself off from God.

We experience the in-breaking of the kingdom, of heaven on earth, when we truly love one another, when we share God’s grace (God’s bread) with all!

May the Lord stir our hearts to share his passion for the in-breaking of the reign of God, for fellowship now, justice for all now, grace now, a passion that would move us to outbursts of anger, pain, and joy!

For the sake of the little ones like those pictured at the top of this posting, and 5 year old Andrew and others being murdered in Iraq – for the sake of all God’s dear children, may we be embody and show to all the world the truth of Psalm 133:
Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brothers and sisters live together in unity!
For there the Lord has ordained the blessing:
life for evermore.

Amen.

(This is adapted from the sermon for St. Paul’s August 17 Service.)

IRAQ-UNREST-YAZIDIS

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Embedded below is a three part documentary on Canon White, entitled “The Vicar of Baghdad,” which we watched together after our Wednesday Holy Eucharist on August 20. Underneath it are three videos of Arabic Christian Chant, which were playing as background music at our Prayer Vigil for the members of St. George’s, Baghdad, other persecuted Christians, and other minorities in Iraq on August 23.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One of the prayers many at our vigil prayed was the Sabeel Center‘s Prayer for Victims and Perpetrators of Injustice. I invite us all to offer it now together.

Arabic-Nazarene-2For Victims and Perpetrators of Injustice

For all those who have fallen victim to hatred and inhumanity,
for those loved ones who are left behind to mourn,
for the souls of those whose hearts are cold,
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the children who are being born into this world of conflict and violence,
for women and mothers who suffer needlessly, 
Lord, hear our prayer. 

For all the children who have died before their time,
for the healers who are denied the opportunity to use their gifts,
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the redemption of souls of both victim and perpetrator,
for those who commit themselves to the forgiveness of sins,
Lord, hear our prayer.

O God,
Open our eyes that we may see the needs of others;
Open our ears that we may hear their cries;
Open our hearts that we may feel their anguish and their joy.
Let us not be afraid to defend the oppressed, the poor, the powerless,
because of the anger and might of the powerful.
Show us where love and hope and faith are needed,
and use us to bring them to those places.
Open our ears and eyes, our hearts and lives,
that we may in these coming days be able to do some work of justice and peace for you.
Amen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SEPTEMBER 23 UPDATE:

Today, I came across the following prayers for the people of Mosul by the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, from the Church of England’s website:

dark_red_candle-2

Lord, in this city where Christians and Muslims have lived together for over 1400 years, we pray for healing, peace and restoration. Bring light out of this present darkness and hope from despair that guided by your Holy Spirit, all your children may find a new way forward together based on your love for us all. Amen

Holy God, your Holy family was driven into exile and many holy innocent boys were massacred, we hold before you today the suffering people of Mosul. Amen

Hold in your loving arms, all those who have been caught up in this conflict. We pray for those forced to flee their homes, all who have lost friends, family and possessions and who now face an uncertain future. Bless our Christian brothers and sisters who have seen the destruction of their churches and communities and for our Muslim neighbours who have also experienced destruction and suffering. Amen

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