Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 20, 2023
[sermon begins after two Bible stories]
Matthew 15:10-28 [Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just 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.” 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.
Genesis 45:1-15 [After Judah offered himself in place of his brother Benjamin,] 1Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.
4Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Picture this, we’re merrily driving along in two lanes, getting where we’re going at a reasonable speed. Suddenly traffic slows. Up ahead we can see a flashing arrow redirecting us from two lanes down to one. People start merging over and before we know it, the lane that’s going to end is wide open for a quarter mile, maybe half a mile. What do we do? Do we start merging early? Or do we go for the zipper merge and drive up the empty lane until the last possible merge point? Traffic engineers tell us that the very legal zipper merge is the most efficient way to keep traffic moving when lanes decrease.  I’m going to confess to being a zipper fan. One of the few here in Denver as far as I can tell. In the zipper merge, we use all the lanes right up to the cones and flashing arrow sign and then we alternate taking turns merging into the open lane. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been in a zipper merge situation where where someone who is an early merger blocks me from a lane that’s ending way up ahead as if I’m the demonic fiery beast Balrog in Lord of the Rings and they’re Gandalf – “YOU. SHALL. NOT. PASS!” But the reality is that we all get where we’re going faster if we take advantage of the zipper merge, filling both traffic lanes as long as possible, and then taking turns to merge. Did I say that it’s legal? I’ve footnoted it in my sermon. Check it out. Honestly, in the thick of traffic, who doesn’t want to accelerate the timeline of getting where we’re going?
Accelerating the timeline is one way to understand the Canaanite woman in our Bible story today. She’s very hard to ignore, taking up space and making noise where she’s not wanted. We often don’t know what to do with her any more than Jesus’ disciples did at the time. They just wanted her to stay in her lane, out of their way. The Bible would be easier to read without her there. And there she is, demanding that Jesus help her even after he calls her a dog. Most interpretations of this story leave us wanting, like finishing a puzzle only to find there aren’t enough pieces. The interpretation that I like best at the moment has us reading backwards through the story. Starting with the woman’s faith. The Canaanite woman saw God’s promises as including her too. She spoke with that level of dignity in her moment of desperation. Perhaps she heard the stories about Jesus feeding of the 5,000 where men, women, and children ate their fill and there were baskets of broken pieces left over. Did she equate the leftover broken pieces in those 12 baskets to the crumbs that fall from the table to the dogs? Somehow she knew that Jesus revealed God’s abundance. She seemed to know that God’s promise was expansive enough to include her. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t know about God’s promise to the whole world through the Israelites.
Jesus was raised on the stories of Jacob and Joseph too. Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers and then became his brothers’ salvation. Joseph who forgave his brothers, wept on them, fed and housed them during a multi-year famine because God gave Joseph the gift of dreams. Joseph who was part of the line of Abraham down through his father Jacob who was renamed Israel and whose descendants were called Israelites. Jesus was a part of Abraham’s lineage now called Jews. Jesus revealed God and the Canaanite woman knew him by faith. God made promises to bless the whole world through Abraham’s lineage.
Jesus, talking about the lost sheep of Israel, may have had a timeline is his mind in which the whole world would be blessed, but the woman accelerated it to include the Canaanites perhaps sooner than planned. The Canaanites were “Israel’s notorious ancient foe.” But no one wants to be left out of God’s promise – especially a desperate mother. Desperation is often overlooked when groups of “others” exist who have no power. It’s easy to tell the “other” group, “We can’t do that right now, we have to do this in order.” Or, “Well, you’ll get yours later.” Or to say, “Don’t worry, the process moves slowly, yours will come.” The woman didn’t have time because her daughter didn’t have time. Waiting until a more feasible time, a better time, another time, was not an option while her daughter suffered. I often wonder in these kinds of stories what I would have done as a mother and as a woman. What would you have done? Questions and arguments of this sort often happen across race and gender.
Arguments across race and gender often have to do with power much like the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman. We could argue that he had the power, and she didn’t. But we could also argue for the power that she had through faith, a faith that gave her the dignity to fight for her daughter. Her faith saw a God of abundance and claimed Jesus as “Lord.” If we’re honest about the power certain groups have over and above others, we can start working together across differences, with groups of others, to find a dignified path forward for everyone.
This afternoon, Augustana’s Human Dignity Delegates are inviting you on a field trip downtown to History Colorado to see the Sand Creek Massacre Exhibit that records the U.S. Military’s slaughter of over 230 children, women, and elderly Arapahoe and Cheyenne people in 1864. Our Indian neighbors tell this story as not only as history, but as deeply personal and painful family history. The goal is to learn more about our Indian neighbors, so that we are equipped to love our neighbors as ourselves. To better understand Indian family history in Colorado allows for better understanding of our present moment and, perhaps, helps us to be better listeners as we attempt to live together in ways that move us all forward. If our God is a God who blessed the world through the ancient Israelites, then we are invited into God’s expansive view of the world as neighbor to neighbor. If we have enemies, Jesus calls us to love our enemies earlier in Matthew’s gospel, and to pray for our enemies as fellow human beings.
Reading the Canaanite woman’s story backwards is a good way to challenge us from a place of faith through her story of difference and into some of the Pharisees’ ongoing challenge to embody the law. Pharisees were religious leaders like pastors. The law was a gift passed down to them from Moses through the generations, a baton in the form of a Torah scroll. The law was not meant for these Pharisees to follow blindly without seeing the people it affects or the God who bestowed it upon them. Jesus regularly took these particular Pharisees to task in Matthew’s gospel. Their high view of the law wasn’t the problem. We’re all supposed to see the law as a good thing – a good thing that helps us love our neighbors as ourselves. These Pharisees knew and taught their people the verse in the book of Leviticus to love neighbor as self while making religion burdensome for the very people that it was supposed to free, creating stumbling blocks around blind corners that they could not navigate.
Holding tightly to our faith and to God’s promises is encouraged. But holding tightly to tradition, to religion, at the expense of other people is something else entirely. Jesus expanded the circle of God’s promises time and again. Jesus saw this woman through God’s eyes. He saw her heart like God saw Job’s heart, knowing Job’s heart better than Job knew his own. Jesus knows the Canaanite woman’s faith and “how much she knows the promise – he can question her, talk to her, challenge her, and offend her because she knows that God is good and that’s the God who Jesus is revealing in the flesh.” His expansion of God’s promises through difference and beyond tradition means that we’re here by faith today, invited to the table by the crucified and risen Jesus. We eat at a table not our own. We eat at the table of Jesus who challenges us, offends us, blesses us, and asks us to build an even longer table. Amen.
 Miles Blumhardt, “Roundabouts and zipper merging are polarizing, but here’s why traffic experts say they work.” September 23, 2021, for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2021/09/23/roundabouts-and-zipper-merge-how-do-them-and-why-they-work/5795436001/
 Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2002). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bReJswiMGM
 Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, August 20, 2023. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/917-12th-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-20a-aug-20-2023.
 Skinner, ibid.
 Matthew 14:20-21
 Richard Ward, Professor (Emeritus) of Homiletics and Worship, Philips Theological Seminary, Tulsa, OK.
 Sand Creek Massacre Exhibit, History Colorado, Denver. https://www.historycolorado.org/exhibit/sand-creek-massacre-betrayal-changed-cheyenne-and-arapaho-people-forever
 Matthew 5:44
 Leviticus 19:9-18, see v18.; and Matthew 22:34-40, see v.39
 Skinner, ibid.
 Joy J. Moore, Professor of Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, August 20, 2023. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/917-12th-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-20a-aug-20-2023.