Last Sunday at the Gibson Amphitheater in Los Angeles, 17-year-old singing sensation Justin Bieber received another accolade at the Teen Choice Awards. I know some of you might be thinking Lord have mercy, Pastor Bill is gonna preach about Justin Bieber! Well some of that thinking is correct, as the title of today’s message is Kyrie Eleison, or Lord have mercy.
But back to the Beib for just a minute…
- After thanking his fans, he shared his faith saying: “You gotta keep God first, keep your family first.”
- Then dramatically pointing to the excited crowd he assured them, “Jesus loves every one of you!”
- Beiber pointed to the One. The One that matters. The One that loves everyone.
He did more than the usual celebrity point to the heavens after a touch-down, or the standard podium protocol where celebrities often begin with “I’d-like-to-thank-my-lord-and-savior-for-making-this-all-possible” in one fell swoop, and then mention all the peeps who “really” matter to them. Justin Beiber pointed to Jesus, not in thanks, but faithful proclamation. The teeny-bopper idol of millions, told his adoring fans about the One who loves every one of them hoping that the ‘Beliebers’ might believe in Jesus, the One who really loves them.
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The Gospel from Matthew continues the discipleship boot camp training for the twelve and for the crowds of Jesus fans and followers. Jesus uses colorful language captivating crowds and teaching the twelve. Lets put ourselves in the crowd trying to figure this faith in the Lord, Son of David (which means Messiah) as we walk through the story again…
- So Jesus gathers the crowd and says, “Listen-up, this is stuff for you to take to heart. The stuff you swallow is not what screws-up your life, it’s the stuff you say and spit out of your mouth.”
- A while later the twelve roadies just had to break it to him, “Ah Jesus, you should know that… that what you said really, well kinda, alright, it [pissed] ticked-off the Pharisees when they heard what you said?”
- But Jesus wasn’t phased at all. In fact, he said, “Every mighty tree, that my Dad in heaven didn’t plant, will be yanked out like a weed by its roots. Forget those hot shots. They are clueless and don’t see what is really important, blind men leading blind men. And you know that a blind man leads another, they both end up in the ditch.”
- Roadie leader Rocky, Petros Pete piped-up, “Jesus I don’t get it. Just say it in a way we can understand.”
- Jesus shot back, “For pete’s sake you, too? Are you trying to be stupid? Everyone knows that everything that is swallowed gets digested and is unceremoniously defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we spew-out evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and swears like sailors. That crap is what pollutes. This business about eating or not eating proper foods, washing or not washing your hands—doesn’t really matter (it’s not me who says cleanliness is next to godliness).”
The story continues…
- After all this Jesus and the crew road trip to Tyre and Sidon. They hadn’t time to settle in and some loud-mouthed Canaanite, that is outsider, no believing woman came out of nowhere and starts shouting, “Master, Son of David, have mercy! My daughter is messed-up by an evil spirit.”
- Jesus blows her off and the roadies find him to complain saying, “Ah Jesus, now she’s bothering us. Can’t you make her stop or go away, she’s really bugging us.”
- Jesus gets cranky and tells them, “Look, I’ve got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel, you know our fellow Jews who don’t get it!”
- Then the woman had the nerve to go back to Jesus, got on her knees, and begged Jesus boldly demanding, “Master, help me.”
- So Jesus quizzes her, “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and toss it to dogs.”
- The woman didn’t miss a beat, “Right you are Mr. Messiah, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the master’s table.”
- Jesus surprises them saying, “Oh, woman, your faith is authentic. What you have asked is what you’ll get!” And immediately her daughter’s wellbeing was restored.
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I find it interesting that the teaching moment for the small group of disciples with the Canaanite woman follows a teaching to the large crowd about what really makes a person unclean. Jesus frames this by railing against the religious insider Pharisees who rush to judge and then loudly label things and people as unclean. This sets up the case study, or example of the woman who would be clearly labeled unclean by the Pharisees because of her birthplace and ancestry. Jesus enlightens the disciples about their lack of vision, or seeing the kingdom reality of welcoming and valuing the stranger and outsiders in their midst, turning a blind eye on the norms and behaviors of the world.
The people of the world blindly follow human, rather than divine, or kingdom norms and expectations. Jesus repeatedly teaches the disciples to focus on the kingdom, something they (and we) struggle with. But this woman recognizes Jesus as the Messiah with a faith from deep within. When Jesus compares the Jews to children, frames the gospel as food, and people like her as yapping puppies, she takes no offense, she has been blessed with a faithful heart that her resolute response reflects.
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Change begins with a whisper is the tag line from the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett that was released as a film this Wednesday. The Help is a provocative and controversial glimpse of what happens when a southern town’s unspoken rules and expectations of those in elite positions of power and privilege, is shattered by three courageous women who become unlikely friends, and open eyes and expectations along the way. It reminds me of the exchange about rules with the Pharisees and the change that comes from faith, even in unexpected people, places and predicaments.
The Help is a story narrated by:
- Aibileen Clark, a middle-aged African-American maid of great faith who has spent her life raising white children, and is deeply grieved by the recent death of her only son,
- Minny Jackson, an African-American maid a bit younger than Aibileen, and goes to the same church, but has a habit of back-talking her employers resulting in frequent job changes and stressful instability, and
- Eugenia Phelan, a young white woman known as Skeeter, is a recent college grad who has just moved back home where she is disturbed that the beloved maid that raised her has abruptly disappeared and she can’t track her down.
The stories of the three women are woven together and shed light on the complexities of power, money, emotion, and systematic racism that tie together the white and black families of early 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi.
The Help novel and movie are not perfect, but reflect our focus and comfort on ourselves and those most like us. Ultimately courageous African-American women who persevere through harsh realities, speak boldly, name injustice, gain their voice and visibility and are graced with new beginnings, opportunities and hope. In the last scene of the film, Aibileen walks by herself down a neighborhood street and speaks words that could be shared by the Canaanite Woman,
God says we need to love our enemies. It’s hard to do, but it can start by telling the truth. Once I did that I felt free.
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Kyrie Eleison, Lord, Son of David, Messiah, have mercy we cry…
- We who like the Canaanite Woman and the women of The Help, often approach our circumstances and our God thinking we do not have enough faith or understanding.
- We who most often approach Jesus when we are disempowered, empty, and unable to change our circumstances ourselves.
- We who find ourselves like the Canaanite Woman and the women of The Help with seemingly nothing to offer but the shouts and whispers of the change longings of the heart.
A heart that hopes and trusts in Jesus. A Jesus who replaces the harsh realities of racism, prejudice, and oppression, with the life-giving realities of welcome, love, and healing.
It doesn’t matter if we whisper or shout our Kyrie cries of Lord have mercy, Jesus loves every one of you and reminds us all that faith is not a head thing, it is a heart thing. Thanks be to God!