First Lesson: Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Responsive Reading: Psalm 125
Second Lesson: James 2: 1-10, (11-13), 14-17
Gospel Lesson: Mark 7: 24-37
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The following is a modern retelling of Jesus’ encounter with a Syro- Phoenician woman from Mark 7. The following story takes place in a town such as this one.
I want to tell you the story of a woman named Sarah, who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Growing up Sarah’s Dad was an alcoholic on whom she could never count. Sarah’s Mom abandoned the family when Sarah was but four years old. Sarah was left to fend for herself as a child. Sarah didn’t have much exposure to religion growing up; she was occasionally dropped off at Sunday school when Dad was sober enough to drive. Sarah’s life was beginning to unravel by the time that she started to reach confirmation age. Sarah was smoking cigarettes by 11, drinking by 12, smoking weed by 13, and injecting meth by 16. Sarah got pregnant for the first time at 16. Sarah got pregnant again at 18 by a different guy. Sarah finally thought at 20 that she had met the love of her life, only for him to abandon her once the third baby came. Sarah seemed to be imperfect in all aspects of her life. Sarah had a quick temper and had spent nights in jail because of it. Sarah’s work history was checkered. Sarah worked hard, but her lack of education and responsibilities at home never led her to get anything beyond a minimum wage job that she couldn’t hold down for very long. People who didn’t like Sarah claimed that she slept with every guy on the south side of town and that it was a miracle that she had only had three kids. Truth be told that Sarah would have had more children except she scrounged up enough money for a couple of abortions out of her financial desperation. Sarah’s boyfriends had been a series of losers: abusers, users, cheaters and flat-out deadbeats. Sarah had been called a “dog” more than once in her life. Sarah often felt like a stray mutt just drifting through life hoping to hear someone tell her that she had value for something other than her body.
One day Sarah finally snapped. One more guy had failed to come through for Sarah in the end. Sarah thought her life would never escape screaming children and pinching every penny. Sarah had to get away for a morning. Sarah dropped her kids off with a friend. Sarah drove to a part of town where she had never been. Sarah figured that she should do something rather than just drive around. Sarah saw a church that looked like the most beautiful building that she had ever seen. Trinity Church looked like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The parking lot at Trinity Church was filled with SUV’s and luxury sedans. The service seemed to be in progress, but this wasn’t going to stop Sarah from going in. Sarah was the definition of a religious outsider once she stepped into Trinity Church. Sarah prayed occasionally, never got the answers that she wanted. Sarah was a stranger in a strange land, gathering amongst strange people in the hope of answers.
Sarah walks in late, and every eye in the sanctuary turns to Sarah. Sarah was pretty, but she wasn’t their kind of pretty. Sarah’s jeans were torn, her shirt failed to cover her entire stomach, her hair was dyed a cheap, jet black. The people inside Trinity Church looked at Sarah like they would a stray dog that was running down their street. Sarah stood out like a sore thumb amongst the lovely dresses and pressed suits. The people that Sarah saw looked like the most religious people that Sarah had ever seen. Trinity Church’s membership was ideal with engineers, school teachers, nurses, and business owners where as the best-paying job that Sarah ever had been cleaning septic systems. Trinity Church wanted to be a very particular kind of church: they wanted their type of music sung, they wanted their minister to project a certain type of image in the community, they wanted their favorite treats served at coffee hour and they wanted the minister to bless and affirm their comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle. Sarah didn’t fit the image. Sarah was just hoping not to say a cuss by accident during the passing of the peace.
There was one man in the crowd at Trinity Church that day that was a little bit different. Everyone at Trinity Church liked Jesse. Jesse stood out for his long hair and a full beard. Jesse always dressed in Hawaiian shirts plus shorts and sandals. Everyone at Trinity Church liked Jesse though because of the sincerity with which he lived out his convictions. Jesse would give the occasional what people thought was kind of nutty sermon about the kingdom of God, but Jesse practiced what he preached. Jesse was the only one in the building who lived with any sort of conviction.
Jesse notices Sarah standing alone after the service. Jesse goes over to greet Sarah. Sarah snaps at Jesse. Sarah probably wouldn’t have snapped most other days. This Sunday morning though Sarah was in a particularly bad mood as it brought her to church in the first place. Sarah said, “no one here would want anything to do with a person like me.”
These were the people whose kids made fun of Sarah’s children for their ratty clothes. Sarah finally confessed “I know about sin, I’ve done every sin in the book, more than once, I’ve enjoyed them too.” Sarah cried out “If there’s a hell then I’m probably on the top of their waiting list”. Most of the other people steered clear of Sarah at this moment. Jesse would not move from the presence of Sarah.
Sarah then looked at Jesse’s eyes then began blurting out all the problems with her life. Her oldest child was nearly ten years old, and couldn’t read. Her second oldest son was emotionally and behaviorally disturbed and Sarah didn’t know how to take care of him. Sarah’s youngest child was bullied nearly every day at school, by the so-called “good Christians” kids.
Jesse did not answer her initial venting. Jesse could have made a polite excuse to leave Sarah. Jesse probably had what others would deem more important people to talk to on that day. Sarah wasn’t going to bring much money to the church if they ever saw her again. A few of Jesse’s friends tried to come up with an excuse for why Jesse had to leave Sarah’s presence, but Jesse blew them off.
The truth about Sarah is that she was nothing more than an annoyance to the many of the people at Trinity Church. Sarah did not even come close to meeting the definition of prim or proper that many would except within the church crowd.
Finally, Sarah shouted out “I some days feel like I’m lower than a dog.” Jesse did not answer. Sarah began to cry.
Jesse knew he needed to say something “Woman, great is your faith.” Sarah was confused, how could her faith be great. Sarah was a lousy Christian sticking out like a sore thumb among so many good Christians. The Christians at Trinity Church knew their Bible verses and could pray long beautiful prayers. You see Sarah’s faith was great because she did not own it. Sarah’s faith was great because it was sustained by the occasional sunlight of God’s word when she encountered it. Sarah’s faith could not be taken from her, even as the world around her might give her every reason to abandon it.
Jesse said to Sarah “I will pray for your healing.” Sarah was as healthy as a 26-year-old woman who had lived hard like Sarah could be. Sarah didn’t need physical healing. Sarah needed spiritual healing. Sarah needed to know that her sins of being an imperfect parent with a temper were forgiven. Sarah had many things that she needed to be forgiven everything from spending many nights passed out on the floor to guilt of her abortions. Forgiveness of her sins was the healing that Sarah required. Jesse on that day assured Sarah that no matter how defeated that she possibly felt that everything could be alright. Jesse had fully proclaimed the Gospel in Sarah’s presence. Sarah was no dog in the eyes of God.
The thing about Sarah is that she embraced the forgiveness that many of the people within Trinity Church didn’t believe could be for them. Sarah though did believe in the promise of Jesse’s words regarding her own forgiveness.
After the service, Sarah finally went back towards the other side of the tracks. Sarah picked up the kids. Sarah entered the single-wide where they were living. Sarah’s approach was going to be different. Sarah’s life certainly wasn’t going to be easy. Sarah was going to go through it not as an angry sinner but rather as a forgiven being who held out hope for the possibility that someday someone outside this world would call Sarah a saint. Sarah’s life was not going to be the same. Sarah’s life was not going to be what it was before. Life was still going to knock Sarah down, more times than a person could probably count. Sarah was going to be persistently though because she had been assured of God’s promises of grace, hope and resurrection.
God on that day at Trinity Church had said “yes” to Sarah. God had opened up the heavens in Sarah’s presence and declared “you are my child”. The thing about our God is that he’s not afraid of the rough edges that other people might be. When others shout out nasty names, God responds with compassion. Sarah was not a stranger in a strange land when it came to entering into God’s presence. The fact was this wasn’t going to matter when it came to receiving God’s abundant generosity. Sarah was not going to receive merely a crumb of God’s grace as she begged for it. Sarah was going to receive a whole meal.
 Karoline Lewis’s commentary at Working Preacher entitled “God Said Yes to Me”. Web. Aug.30.2015 provided the motivation for this re-telling of Mark 7 tale with Sarah playing the part of the outsider Syrophoenican woman.
 Jesse would be the one voice of grace that Sarah would encounter.
 This is a play on Mark 7:28 where the woman talks about how even dogs receive crumbs from the master’s table
 Matthew 15:28 (Matthew 15 is a different telling of the Mark 7 story)
 The story of Sarah versus the membership of Trinity Church is trying to invoke Jesus’ previous encounter with the Pharisees in Mark 7 on the meaning of defilement.
 Lewis. “God Said Yes to Me.”
 Today’s sermon text was Mark 7:24-30.