January 12, 2024

“How Shall I speak to a Canaanite Woman?”


Good morning to all.
It seems that it is my role to walk from the pew into the pulpit today.
Our minister has been leveled by the ‘flu’ and it seemed the right thing to do.

Today Christmas has already ended and it is now the season of the Epiphany. I think I might have been in my 20s before I heard that word in church. Of course, we’ve all known St Matthew’s story of The Magi – the 3 Wisemen, we call them.

Significantly, they came from outside the world of the Hebrews,
a kind of recognition of the wider world, the universe, of the significance of this birth. Most of us prefer to stick with our kind.
By nature, we flee to our own ghetto.

If anyone were to show up here this morning, looking a little different – racialized, speaking another language, or just an all-around bad fit, we would be uncomfortable, despite our training to appear welcoming.

About a century ago, when the Japanese came close to being a majority in the Fraser Valley, when the straight community discovered people among us of LGBTQ orientation and when the federal government decided we should be more open to speaking French, we all gasped and winced.

We then looked for a basis to say that it was all downright unchristian. That’s how we are.

We don’t take to Epiphany – the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, to the outsiders – with any comfort.

Today’s passage from the Gospel comes from the middle of it
and it helps us to see Jesus, face-to-face with an outsider.
How am I supposed to go about speaking to such a human being?

Recognize this first: Jesus is a Jew.
He was raised in that culture and spoke that language and that was the context of his calling.

As we join the Lord and His followers, they’ve left town.
They’ve now gone off into the backcountry where the heathens live.
Sure enough, he runs into what is described as  " a Canaanite woman”.

I trust you remember the bare bones of the story of the People of God.

Sent into slavery in Egypt, they understood that God had called Moses to lead them out, and then to lead them into a fine land that’s always referred to as “the Promised Land.”

That land already had people in it and they referred to it as “the Land of Canaan”. Ousting the Canaanites was part of claiming this land.
What the Israelites knew as Canaanites, and what we 21st-century Canadians know as the First Nations, are just about the same phenomenon and experience.

But there’s something else at work here.

Early last October a group called Hamas stormed Israel with devastating effect. The world was horrified. That was the point when a lot of political ideology boiled to the surface. It seemed natural for the Americans, and many of similar minds, to side with Israel. The Dispensational Christians happily joined them. Their claim: Israel is the apple of God’s eye, the promised people, and their well-being will predict the well-being of the whole world. Most of us are not Dispensational Christians – don’t even know what that phrase means – yet we are influenced by its fundamental urges.

If you feel a need to explore this sort of thing, Google “Christ in the Rubble”. You will come to a much-viewed sermon preached this Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. It is a Christian portrayal of the teachings of Jesus on the conflict.

In the name of Christian justice, I call on you who are both bold and curious, to check it out.
While you are at your computer, check the website of the PCC for an ecumenical clarification.
If you need a link to connect to these two, ask Christina in the office (by email) and you’ll get it.
Reconciliation with the stranger is never easy, yet it is always our call.
We cannot hope to cover such a topic adequately here this morning
but there is a story I would like to share
that may help you to reflect on your own life,
your own thoughts,
your own attitude,
your own way of relating to “the Canaanite woman” in your life.

A few years ago, some of us had a chance to be exposed to a great man – Martin Rumscheidt. He was born in Germany in 1935,
grew up in a very devout family, raised by a father who worked for a tire company using Jewish slave labour, at Auschwitz, to make products.

Whenever he asked his father about this, it became clear that there were things that his father just did not want to know or to talk about,
Although young Martin was largely shielded from the war some events shaped him.

One was the day he went scurrying to a bomb shelter and looked back to see his fleeing mother — bullets bouncing off the pavement just inches from her. He knew he hated that soldier. The other was the death of his older brother, a soldier at war for Germany.

Martin moved with his family, first to Switzerland, then to Canada,
where he entered the Christian ministry and became a teacher of theology. He describes himself as being “in search of a theology capable of mourning.”

He shares this story.

When in Switzerland his mother took the bus one day to do the shopping. A woman got on, sat down beside her, and asked directions, both, of course, speaking in German. As Mrs. Rumscheidt gave directions, she scrunched over closer to the window side.
The passenger said, I noticed you moved away and why was that?
“You are an American. One of your soldiers shot my son,” she said.
“And when was that?”, said the American lady. “It was on 21 of April 1945,” she said, giving that date that was shortly before the war ended. “And where was that?” said the American woman, so Mrs. Rumscheidt told her the field. The American said, “My son was shot on that same battlefield, on the 21st of April.” Within seconds they were both in tears. Within a moment they were standing, embracing, as the bus jostled through Swiss streets. Two grieving mothers have more in common than the differences that exist between hate-filled nations.