aug 14 and 17
Here is the sermon from this past week (preached 5 times total):
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen
How many of you have ever heard the term “word vomit”?*
Word vomit is something that is horrifying to witness and even more terrifying when you are the one suffering from this plights.
Word vomit is when your words spew out from your mouth just like vomit.
Now, I am not altogether excited about talking about vomit today. I may have a solid stomach, but I know others get a bit queasy when they think about smelly and disgusting topics.
But word vomit does not have a physical stench to it. No, it is far worse because words leave emotional or spiritual scars. Words go deeper and last longer.
And when the vile words were already in your heart, your heart truly was defiled and it’s time for a big change that you can achieve only with the help of God.
Reading this gospel text was not easy. There may not be many big words in it, but the idea behind the stories cut straight to the heart.
The Pharisees excelled at using their words and actions to look perfect in the sight of God. They were very concerned with how others viewed them on the outside that they would forget about how pure their hearts were. They were so focused on following the law to keep their hands and mouths clean, through various rituals or avoiding certain foods, that they forgot to ensure that their thoughts were also pure.
In the verse directly before the section of gospel we read today, Jesus quotes a prophet who laments how people’s words while they worship God are meaningless because their hearts are not actually turned to God. Their hearts are not pure, so the words they speak lack any meaning or significance to God and are actually found to be repulsive.
Jesus goes a bit further to show how much he disapproves of insincere words or actions, words that truly stink because they lack the sincere, heartfelt conviction and love. Such words are vile and repulsive, much like word vomit because they are not doing any good when they come from a bad source.
But the Pharisees are not the only ones who appear to suffer the plight of spewing out the wrong words.
Our gospel transitions quickly to another story where the people around Jesus yet again stick their feet in their mouths.
Oddly enough, it almost seems like Jesus joins them for a minute as he argues with the Canaanite woman.
This is a story of a woman whose heart, whose faith is so pure that Jesus changes his initial stance against her receiving special favor to giving her what she wants, namely her daughter to be healed.
Jesus in this story starts looking a bit off. I wonder if he is simply frustrated and exhausted from having had to deal with Pharisees all day¸ or if he’s truly annoyed that this foreign woman is pestering him. As he points out, he’s having enough trouble trying to deal with all the lost sheep of Israel that he’s finding it difficult to also deal with foreigners. He’s got a lot on his plate and seems to just want some peace and quiet. After dealing with the woman, he will take off for a quiet retreat that will be interrupted by even more people. He just can’t seem to get a break.
And here is another person pestering him.
But she is persistent.
Even though Jesus compares her to a dog, she remains adamant that he help her. She is humble enough to be willing to accept any scrap of food he’s willing to share because she knows that a crumb from what he has to offer will be enough.
Her faith shows not just a persistent or intelligent mind, but a pure heart that recognizes how important the man standing before her is. She is not the first one in scripture to match wits with God and win. We have stories of Abraham and Moses, among others. God seems to enjoy bantering words with people to see just how connected their hearts and words are to their actions.
And hers are clean.
She has one desire, and that is to get the son of God to help heal her daughter.
Despite the frustration Jesus must have been feeling, he seems to enjoy her wit and words and agrees to help her. I always picture Jesus standing there with a little smile on his face as he realizes that she is not going to leave, tossing up his hands as he give in to her begging, her persistence, her faith.
Her words came from a pure heart that was full of concern and faith that Jesus could help her little daughter.
Even though this woman stands outside the clean customs of the Israelite people, her heart is clean. She stands outside the Jewish people and wins favor of the one sent to care for the lost sheep of Israel.
And she too is cared for.
So what does this mean for us today?
I hope that you try to figure out where in the gospel lesson you fit.
Are you a Pharisee, whose words spew from an unclean heart? Are you a disciple, who often sticks his or her foot in their mouth? Or are you the woman, whose persistence and faith pay off when she argues with Jesus and wins his favor? Are you an onlooker just observing everything from a distance? Where do you fit in?
I’m sure that we can honestly say that depending on the day or situation, we have a little bit of each character type in us.
There are days when we act like the Pharisees. When we realize that we are part of the chosen people of God, picked out for salvation. When our words come from a heart that is not pure or clean, from a heart that is not truly worshipping God.
But there are days when our hearts are worthy of receiving God’s blessings, when our words come from a heart that is pure and full of faith. There are days when we are up to the challenge of bantering words with God and winning God’s favor because of our persistence and faith.
Words are truly powerful. When we remember that God created the world using words, we can also start to understand how concerned God is with word vomit, with words that come from unclean hearts. God is concerned with words, not because of the sounds that come, but because of the heart from which the words originate.
So the challenge for us is to keep our hearts clean, to keep our thoughts and hearts focused on God, to be willing and able to fight for God to keep true to his promises because we are keeping true.
May your words be blessings to yourself and to others. Amen.
*Note: read Mt 15:10-28 in the Message translation to help better understand my train of thought