Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As this country’s news, this week, focuses on the sudden and tragic death of Robin Williams, let me begin with a story.
A man goes to see a doctor. Doctor asks the man “what seems to be the trouble." The man says “Doc, I’m depressed. Simply, I can’t sleep sometimes, I can’t eat, and I feel down and irritable most days. I just can’t feel happy.”
The Doctor figuring it was a simple case of a man being down in the dumps offers a solution saying “Sir, I’ve got the perfect fix for you. In town, tonight is the great clown Pagliacci. He’s considered to be the funniest man in all the land; he will make you laugh until you cry. During his show, you will experience a joy unprecedented.”
Upon hearing this advice, the man broke down beginning to sob hysterically. The Doctor is thoroughly confused by the man’s reaction at this point, so he asks “Why the tears?” At which point the man belts out “Doctor, I am Pagliacci."
What this story along with Williams’ death reminds us is how we can’t judge what’s going on in a person’s life merely on the basis of external appearances. We remember how a man who had brought so many people happiness and laughter throughout the years went through life unable to escape from the darkest of places.
The reality of not only Williams’ death but also our neighbors well-being brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from Matthew the 15th chapter. To understand our story you need to know that it takes place in Tyre and Sidon which were outside the land of Palestine where Jesus spent most of his life. Within Tyre and Sidon, Jesus would have encountered a very different type of religious people from everyone else he would have encountered previously within his ministry.
Let me tell another story, when I was in Seminary I attended quite a few Minnesota Twins games. I was in school during the Twins run of back to back to back division titles. The Twins closest competitors during these years were the Chicago White Sox. The contrast was stark between the big market; power-hitting White Sox versus the small-market, small-ball Twins. I went to a few games between the White Sox and the Twins in Minneapolis during this time. There was the occasional White Sox fan at the games during these times. White Sox fans were wildly outnumbered by Minnesota college kids who had bought $3 tickets. If any White Sox fans got too-bold, there would be trouble.
I liked nothing better than cheering loudly for the White Sox to get beat with tens of thousands of other Twins fans to back me up. Well, a few years after this, I went to a game at US Cellar Field on the South Side of Chicago right in White Sox territory. 2005 was the year the White Sox had the best record in Baseball and would eventually win the World Series. It’s safe to say that I was a lot less bold in my cheering surrounded by inebriated White Sox fans than I was in home territory.
Our lesson for today takes place in the heart of Gentile territory, amongst the Canaanite people. The Canaanite people engaged in every sort of religious practice that good first century Jews like the disciples would have found offensive they engaged in interfaith marriages, and they sacrificed children. These bad feelings between Jews and Canaanites over their religion had stretched back nearly two-thousand years since the days of Abraham. The idea of a Canaanite going to Jesus for religious wisdom seems about as probable as me wearing a White Sox jersey to Target Field.
There was this woman, and this woman was a piece of work.
One of Robin Williams’ most-famous movies roles was the film Mrs. Doubtfire. In this film, Williams plays an unemployed actor, who is loved by his kids, but considered immature by his wife. The wife played by Sally Field eventually divorces Williams’ character, ending up with sole custody of the kids due to Williams’ irresponsibility. Many people would have heard this news and given up. Williams’ character though was going not to stop until he could spend time with his children. Upon Williams finding out that his ex-wife wanted to hire a housekeeper to help watch the children, Williams decides to fake a resume so that he may pose as an elderly Scottish Nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire as a way to spend time with his kids. What gave this rather silly film its heart was the lengths that Williams’ character was willing to go on a daily basis through make-up, ill-fitting clothing, and continuous awkward situations for the sake of his children.
Jesus encounters a woman in Tyre and Sidon who was persistent just like Mrs. Doubtfire. This woman was sassy; this woman was bold, and this woman dared to approach Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter of demon-possession. The Disciples were probably uncomfortable with this scene as it would have been considered scandalous for a religious teacher to be interacting in such a matter with a foreign woman who wasn’t his wife. Jesus seems to at first shrug off this woman’s request, proclaiming that he could only deal with the sheep of his house the House of Israel. Merely saying no isn’t going to deter Mrs. Doubtfire.
This woman who is the star of our gospel lesson reminds me of the lady at Walmart who even though she might not have had a good case for a refund. She is going to be so annoying that the Clerk eventually just throws their hands up in the air, and opens the cash register.
This Lady was not going to stop pestering Jesus until he dealt with her demon-possessed daughter. This woman was not trying to stop Jesus’ mission to the people of Israel; she was merely asking that he bring his ministry beyond the people of his homeland. What this lady wanted on this day was merely scraps from the Master’s table.
What does this story say to us on this day? I think it reminds us of something important about Jesus’ ministry how he is always finding faith outside the traditional religious establishment of his day. What this story reminds us is that the Kingdom of God is about breaking down boundaries every single day that many people thought to be previously unimaginable.
We face some stiff challenges in the days ahead as a congregation. We’re getting older every day; our numbers have been declining for years and years. We pray that something will turn it all around. We assume that we are not up to the task. Some of us have given up hope. We figure we’re not preachers, we assume that we have no way to reach other people.
Let me tell you a story, there once was a teenager girl named Kate. Kate was the first of her friends to get a driver’s license. One of Kate’s friend’s parents decided that they would let Kate drive their new Ford Explorer so that their daughter and her friends could have a good time. So a group of teenage girls goes out having a good time and being silly in the car blasting music when Kate loses control of the car crashes into a telephone pole. The car is unsalvageable. Kate believes her life to be over. Kate had to first call Mrs. Anderson her friends’ mom to explain everything she had done wrong. Eventually, police arrive onto the scene of the accident. Main officer asked questions to Kate; she confessed the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As every discriminating word came out of Kate’s mouth, she grew more and more convinced that she would wind up in jail. Kate sits in the back of a cop car for 45 minutes, when one of the girl’s parents came up wanting to say something to her. Kate didn’t know Jessica’s dad all that well as he approached her. The only thought that could go through Kate’s head at this time was that now she was going to get everything she deserved. As soon as Kate rolled down the window, the first words out of Jessica’s dad’s mouth were “You know one time; I totaled a Porsche when I was test-driving it.” Kate broke down in tears at this very moment. As Jessica’s dad proclaimed “We’re all just so thankful that no one is hurt. Don’t worry; this happens to all of us.”
As Jessica’s dad spoke forgiveness, this was the first time since the accident that Kate didn’t hate herself. A figure that Kate dreaded as a condemning judge chose to pour out grace and empathy instead.
How do we face the challenges before us a church? We’re going to do what Jessica’s dad did. We’re going to proclaim grace when people become convinced that no one else in the church will proclaim to grace to them. We’re going to speak forgiveness, when people don’t believe they can receive forgiveness. We are going to embrace people when not one other person in the world will embrace them. These things do not promise us success, for Jesus wasn’t successful in earthly terms, the disciples weren’t successful in earthly terms, yet they realized that their proclamation was more important than mere success in earthly terms.
It was not easy for the Disciples today to accept that Jesus dared to reach out to such a strange woman in such a strange land. We are often called to reach out to people whose behavior extends beyond what we might dare to consider acceptable.
Loving someone who has hurt you or even could potentially hurt you is tremendously difficult, yet the most-meaningful love that we encounter in this life doesn’t come without struggle or hurt. The most-meaningful love of all was poured out upon the cross.
So who are we trying to reach this morning? We’re going to try to reach Kate the reckless driver. We’re going to try to reach Terry and Kim the upstanding church couple who accidentally had a kid out of wedlock. We’re going to try to reach Steve, the guy who just got busted with a DUI and now needs rides to work every day. The type of woman that Jesus encounters in our Gospel is the type of person that we need to be encountering, the type of person who pours out all her hurts and needs upon Jesus’ feet.
We will reach people by reminding them that no one person in this room has life all figured out. We will remind them that no matter what brought them to this place, we have a God whose grace is bigger than our weakness. We will remind them that everything that people think they know about religion might very well be wrong. These truths are what Jesus taught the Disciples on this day.
We encounter today the very types of people that would have been in Jesus’ mission field. We’re going to let people know that in the midst of deserving judgment that we still love you and Jesus does too. For ultimately there are more than enough table scraps of God’s grace to go around. Amen
 This joke is based on the 1892 Italian Opera Pagliacci. This story/joke was told in the 2009 film Watchmen.
 Matthew 15:22
 Matthew 15:23
 Matthew 15:24
 Matthew 15:27
 Norris, Kate. “Judgment Kills, Love Gives Life”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 26.Oct.2010. Web. Aug.12.2014. This story is from a collection of stories called Judgment and Love put out by Mockingbird Ministries in 2010.
 These were inspired by a article by Corrie Mitchell at On Faith entitled “5 Churchy Phrases Millennials Want To Hear” published on August 14, 2014