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The Canaanite woman and the conversion of Jesus

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Matthew 15 v 21 – 28

Ten Marks of Consequence
Take the paper and pencil that you chose as you arrived and I am going to give you 10 instructions, one at a time, about making marks on the paper. Please carry out the instruction in any way you choose and after each one we will pass our sheet to someone else near us and receive one from someone else too and do not be anxious about this, if you don’t know how to make your mark it is my fault for not explaining it properly
1.    Draw a line from one edge to any other edge ….now swap paper with someone close to you
2.    Draw 2 triangles, that is three sided shapes, they can be any size that don’t touch the line or each other….and swap with someone else
3.    Draw three circles, rounds, of different sizes, two that overlap the triangles. Swap
4.    Draw a big s shape that begins and end meeting another line ….swap
5.    Turn the paper through a ¼ turn and draw your initials in any way you like that slightly disguises or hides them….swap
6.    Pick an uneven shape that has now been created and make some parallel lines inside it of any width and number and spacing…swap
7.    Draw some zigzags of any kind you like somewhere within the biggest space on the paper…swap
8.    Turn the paper a half turn, upside down and draw 4 semicircles that begin and end meeting another line…swap
9.    Draw a wavy line diagonally across the page from one corner to the opposite corner
10.    Draw the initials of someone you’ve met who is very different from you, again in a way that disguises the letters

Now take a moment quietly to look at the pattern on the paper you now have and on those around you
What do you like about it?
How did it feel to keep making your marks alongside what others had done?
Can you still see any shapes or lines that you made…how does it feel to see them among the mixture of other peoples marks?
We followed the same instructions….we all responded in our chosen ways.
There would be no point or purpose in judging who did it right or who did it wrong.
Now share a short conversation with those around you, perhaps prompted by our pattern making exercise, about what you find delightful or what you find difficult, about living in a world of such diversity

Conversation

Over both the referendum last year and the election this year I was initially proud that my news feed on social media was unanimous, everyone agreed with me. But as events unfold across this country and elsewhere in the world I have become profoundly disturbed by the stratification of society ,ashamed to admit my friends are so uniform. it is a huge threat to community and kingdom today that so many feel marginalised, as if they have no voice, each group is walled in by their own supporters. We live in a divided society and have little to do, if we can help it, with people who are different.

We change not so much by telling ourselves that we ought to change but we change when we begin to see things differently, when someone or something opens our hearts and minds. We are changed not by oughts but by delight and curiosity and love. That is what happened to Jesus in the encounter we heard earlier. This Canaanite woman in her need and with her persistence opens Jesus eyes to a wider ministry. He thought he had come to serve the people of Israel only, he leaves her knowing his ministry is far wider.

This is a story of Jesus’ conversion

Matthew calls her Canaanite, that is like calling a modern day Norwegian a Viking, for all his hearers it would have taken them straight back to some verses in Deuteronomy 7 where the 7 tribes who inhabited the promised land are named including Canaanites and the people of God under Joshua believe that God tells them to slaughter them all , to refuse to show them any mercy.

Is this the God that you have encountered?. This God is terrifying , not who I see in Jesus. Surely this was a false god that was created to justify punishing of those  deemed evil, thus burying the God of mercy whom Jesus reveals.  Matthew has caught a glimpse of the covenant made with Abraham and Sarah that they would be a blessing not just to one tribe of people but to the whole world, it is suggested in his very first chapter where the non Jewish women Tamar Ruth and Rahab are included in the genealogy of Jesus, and his gospel concludes with the challenge to take the gospel to the ends of the world, to all peoples, no one is beyond grace. And here today we see the turning point as Jesus meets a feisty subversive gentile woman. She exposes the narrowness of his vision, in humility and with patience and humour and immunity to the offence of being called a dog .She asks for mercy, the very thing her kind were forbidden in Deuteronomy…..and Jesus is open to change, he has come to bring mercy, in his manifesto blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy….. and begins to realise that God’s unconditional love is for all, not just his own nation.

This is a message our world desperately needs to hear after watching the events of Charlottesville in the States. There is a growth in both hate and racist crime in our own country Those very verses in Deuteronomy are still used to day by Zionists to justify oppression of the Palestinian people. Violence like slavery and racism has been normative in our past, and is still all too common in our present. We must expose and challenge such narrow and bigoted talk wherever we meet it, in the name of Jesus we proclaim God prepared to show mercy and reveal grace to absolutely everyone.

God delights in variety and difference, just look around you. God is not utilitarian. So difference does not need to bring fear to us, we can learn to celebrate and rejoice that not everyone is just like me…or you. Not everyone makes marks like us.

It is very hard to know what you do not see, to be aware of our own prejudices, we need one another, people who make different marks in the patterns of our world, to help us become aware, to wake up and to have ongoing conversion, just like Jesus.

A Prayer
God, our creator, you have wonderfully made us
You have planted in us different gifts, no two of us the same
On our own we may or may not shine
But together, in your company,
You turn us into a kaleidoscope of grace
Lover of all and of each
Enable us  to be fully open to you and to one another,
to all you and they have to offer
and to all that you ask of us….Amen

                     prayer from the new Iona Abbey Worship Book
                        Wild goose pubs, the Iona Community