Saturday, September 5, 2015

Filled With Love

Kim Davis. A name we should all be familiar with by now. A county clerk in Kentucky and an Apostolic Christian. A visit to the official website of the Apostolic Christian Church, on the tab titled Lifestyle, we learn that Apostolic Christians are to be “doers of the Word, not just hearers,” as we read in the Letter of James just last Sunday. In her attempt to live that out as she best understands it, Kim Davis has refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. For this fact I cannot open my Facebook news feed without scrolling through at least several postings excoriating this woman, insisting she comply with federal law or resign, and labeling her a hypocrite for being on her fourth marriage herself, and having been a known adulteress in the past. Some Christians rise to her defense and point out she has been born again and ought to be forgiven. Others, including Christians and non-religionists, mock and deride  her by passing on mean spirited memes. Perhaps we need to review the gospels

Kim Davis is an all too familiar character in the Gospels. I think of the woman caught in adultery in John – “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” says Jesus. And the Samaritan Woman at the well, perhaps one of the most broken persons in all the gospels, having been married several times, and the man she lives with now is not her husband. Yet, she is commissioned by Jesus to be the first evangelist – to return to her village and tell people about Jesus.

Then there is our woman in Mark chapter 7: 24-30, the Syrophoenician Woman – that is a gentile from what was Syrian territory in the Roman Empire. Her daughter is not well. She is desperate to find help. Jesus, we are told, was by himself having just fought with his co-religionists over the traditions of the elders. [Note- the defenders of the Traditions of the Elders and what has been called the Purity Code in Leviticus (no shellfish, no clothes of mixed fibers, no meat and dairy together, etc) are constantly portrayed as challenging Jesus, and not once does he side with them – Christians take note!]

Jesus is trying to get away from it all but it is not to be. We all know what that feels like. He “notices” that there is this woman, this gentile woman. We need to know that at that time a man was not to be seen with a woman not his wife in public or private. Most especially not a gentile woman. She knows this we can be sure. She is taking a tremendous risk just to be approaching him. Yet, she is of an undivided heart and a heart filled with love, and her single minded mission is to get help for her daughter who is beset with a demon. She asks nothing for herself. Despite all of our pretense as moderns to not believe in demons, we may as well admit we all know what that feels like as well.  She begs him to help. She has heard the stories. All other avenues of the health-care delivery system have failed her. She pins all her hope on this stranger, this Jew with whom she ought not to be seen.

Then it happens. I have been in Bible Study groups who insist this just did not happen, could not have happened. He calls her and her people in Syria dogs.  “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The children, of course, are the children of Israel; the dogs would be gentiles. It turns out that our Lord and Savior knows a thing or two about prejudice and bigotry, not to mention the fine art of insult. Suddenly he appears to revert to the traditions of the elders. Perhaps this will send her on her way, he thinks.

Then it happens. Perhaps the single most important moment in all of Biblical scripture. She does not wither. She does not withdraw, tail between her legs. Her heart is filled with love. She knows no fear. “Say to those of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong and do not fear,” declares the prophet-poet Isaiah.

This woman from Syria is strong and fearless as she replies, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She will be happy with crumbs. She gives it her best shot. And with that the earth and time and God all stand still. There is an axial shift in the operation of the known universe. Jesus is moved. Jesus is deeply moved.

Jesus is moved enough to drop the traditions of the elders once and for all, set aside his prejudice, drop his fear of “the other,” and he grants her request. The child is made whole once again. The demon is gone. The food that he has to give, the bread that comes down from heaven, is now to be shared with all people without any concern for who they are or where they are from. For all things and all people are from God. We come from Love, we return to Love, and Love is all around.

Jesus was changed. And so have we. It may surprise you to know that in the Sunday Lectionary in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer this story is omitted – as are most stories about women of faith. Not until we as a church adopted the Revised Common Lectionary have we heard this woman’s story read in church. It took as a massive a change of heart and mind to make the change and allow this woman’s story to be told – a story that very likely changed the entire focus of our Lord’s, of God’s, mission.

It strikes me that in light of this story, heaping scorn, mockery and derision on Kim Davis is exactly what we as disciples of Jesus ought not to do. We ought to pray for her. For she, like us, is a member of the body of Christ. When one part of the body hurts, we all hurt. She strikes us as strange and as “other” as the Syrophoenician Woman was before Jesus. No doubt, her heart is filled with love and she is doing the best she can to live her life as an Apostolic Christian. What this most critical story in the New Testament tells me is that we are compelled by our baptism in Christ to love her with all our heart. This would be just as true for the Muslims I see excoriated every day on my newsfeed, and for all the anti-Democrat and anti-Republican screed I must wade through every day. It is easy to throw stones. It is difficult to live with a heart filled with love.

The night of Shock and Awe as the US invaded Iraq, March 19, 2003, a musician in Maine, Joyce Anderson wrote this song.  I think it could be the Syrophoenician Woman’s theme song. It is all about how we view “the other.” May it become our song as well.

Men of anger, men of war
My heart is filled with love
Tell me what you are fighting for
My heart is filled with love
This death I see won't make me numb
My heart is filled with love
Every boy a mother's son
My heart is filled with love
Raise your voices, spread the news...
Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, Jew...
They all teach the golden rule...
Do unto others as you'd have them do...
I will not fear these foreign tongues...
There is a place for everyone...
I cannot make my will their own...
But fear can turn a heart to stone...
I do not know my neighbor's name...
I love that stranger just the same...
Hope is rising from this place...
Divine wisdom, amazing grace...
Men of anger, men of war...
Tell me what you are fighting for
My heart is filled with love
My heart is filled with love
My heart is filled with love
©2003 by Joyce Andersen/JoyScream Music
Written the night of March 19, 2003

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