The Rev. Canon Leonard L. Hamlin Sr.
Certainly, as we gather on this morning, why don’t you join me in a word of prayer?
Almighty God, Lord, as we come now, we ask that you would bless us, that you would cover us, that you would hold us and that you would fill us for all of the places that you have prepared for us. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I am often reminded of hearing many say that it’s good to be here. In these days, it is good to be anywhere, but it is certainly good to be here. Over the past perhaps months, I hear my father often saying as we would sit in certain moments together, “I don’t know how individuals can make it without faith.” I didn’t realize then how much that made an impression upon my life, only to be wrestled with later on. But while I am grateful for this moment, recognizing the company of being with our dean, as well as our vicar, whose presence and fellowship is greatly appreciated, as well as the worship team, who had pressed their way this morning, that we might be able to connect one with another.
I am thankful to connect with those who are watching this morning, not in this space, but perhaps wherever you are in your homes, perhaps in your workplaces and workspaces, those who have made use of the internet and the worldwide web. It is true that we have all learned to appreciate opportunities to connect.
Our connections today do not always resemble the familiar moments of yesterday and our opportunities that we have now should be appreciated just as much as they were yesterday. And perhaps for some, who took them for granted, appreciated even more. We have all learned to appreciate not only six feet, but an opportunity to be in the same area. Many of us have quickly developed a different appreciation for FaceTime, for Zoom, for Skype, for WebEx and other platforms that bring us, even digitally face to face. I find myself in one moment complaining about being overtaxed by Zoom, but then grateful to see someone’s face.
While I’m grateful for this moment, I’m always humbled by the responsibility that accompanies any preacher in a space like this. For while any preacher seeks to make a connection with the here, I may not see you directly, but through the power of the spirit, I know you’re there. I was looking forward to meeting you on this day. So wherever you are in your homes, wherever you are moving about, even watching, perhaps some that may see this later in the week, it is good to make a connection. I am humbled and joyful in knowing that you are there in your homes. Because you’re not here, the space where you are has been transformed, even for just a moment into a sanctuary right there. Like many of you, I come this morning and come to this moment, having been confronted and at times feeling as if I’ve been assaulted by the constant reporting and opinions on the realities in which we face and live. The continuing pandemics of racism and COVID and all the tangible elements that have been brought to light even further keeps showing up at the door, keeps showing up on the screen, keeps showing up on the text, keeps showing up in every place that I might turn.
I say that these pandemics have brought to light the tangible aspects and other aspects. And I say brought further into the light as opposed to some characterizing many elements as if they are being discovered for the first time. In trying to respond, not only have I been wrestling with the chapters of my own experience and listening to the narratives of others, but I have picked up publication after publication, read article after article, listen to program after program, specials that have been aired during different aspects of the week and time slots, all in attempt to steady my spirit, while firmly planting my feet. I was even reminded this week of the opening words of Langston Hughes, notable poem, “Mother to Son that opens with the words, “Well, son, I tell you, life ain’t been no crystal stair. It had tacks in it and splinters and boards torn up.”
I could go on in expressing that emotion and feeling that I was identifying with. But in the midst of my reflection, I was challenged to lift and to focus in on this 15th chapter of Matthew. It is a passage that in recent years has gained more scrutiny and examination, as close attention is being paid to the interaction between Jesus and a perceived outsider. It is an encounter that brings a seismic shift for us as we read the gospel. A seismic shift for us who walk in the faith, a seismic shift in all of us who follow the ministry of Jesus. If you are listening and paying close attention, you hear in this passage, a shaking of the ground, a disturbing of what has always been, a transformation and a door swinging open to those who perhaps have been left out and casted out.
As we’ve been looking closely in here, Jesus encounters a woman who may be described by some as a member of the community that has been disavowed, disallowed and disinherited. We know through another gospel writer that she was a Greek born in Syrian Phoenicia. She lived in the north country and was of mixed nationality. We do not know our name, but her witness became part of the record and recorded and sacred texts that has transformed generations ever since. Her witness helped others to be able to do what they thought was impossible. Her witness and her faith allow things to be seen, not as they have always been seen, but to be seen in ways that they have never been seen before.
Jesus journeys to this region, as we look at this passage, and while there he comes face to face with this Canaanite woman. This encounter should speak to all of us at something happens when our limited concepts and the shaping of our humanity is invited to wrestle with the limitless and ever presence reality of divinity.
The meeting appears to be confrontational at the onset, as she is crying out to Jesus, to have mercy on her, as her daughter is suffering intensely. Jesus does not answer right away. And then even the disciples are in her way as they came to Jesus and urge, and the disciples had enough nerve to urge Jesus, and to cry out to him themselves saying, send her away for she keeps crying after us. I always have to pause and note that we look at the elevated egos of the disciples as she is calling out to Jesus, but they interpret her calling as her calling out to us. Sometimes we’re in the way, thinking that we’ve got all the answers. When really, if we can just get closer to the one who has what we really need, our lives would be changed. Our communities would be changed. But as they’re trying to send her away, it was in this moment, as if they speak to the disciples’ impatience, displeasure and irritation, Jesus turns and addresses this Canaanite woman, this woman of mixed nationality, he addresses this woman who is a perceived, perhaps by the disciples, outsider.
I’m sure as she stood there, and in the midst of Jesus is turning and beginning to address her, I’m sure she could feel the eyes upon her. In a world where she was at this moment, seen as the outsider, he could feel it in her time, a spirit that still is present today for some. And a voice that is still being echoed for some that declared, “Go back to where you belong, that you don’t fit in right now. You’re not part of the in-crowd.” But she was at home in the moment. She stood firm in that moment. She was able to steal her back and lift up her head. And she was able to respond in that moment, no matter what was being said around her, she knew that she had something within her. She was at home in the moment, right where she needed to be.
Perhaps if we look at this moment closely, we better understand even James Baldwin, as he stated in one of his publications, “Perhaps home is not a place, but simply an irrevocable condition.” While this can be seen in the actuality of our natural existence, those who have a roof over their head, those who have an address by which they can be secure. We all would want to be in a place where we could have an irrevocable condition in our spirit that says, “I belong.”
A condition that is not dependent on what people say about me, but a condition that I know through the power of the Holy Spirit, I know who I’ve been created to be. What a difference faith can make in our life. What a difference faith can make when we’re addressing hard times and difficult situations. What a difference faith can make when we’re seeing faith, not just in our life, but how it touches the lives of those who are around us and with us.
This Canaanite woman listened as Jesus replies to her cry for mercy. By stating, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” I could go on, but she does not let that faze her, and cries again, “Lord help me.” Jesus responds in a manner that is the topic of discussion in the analysis by numerous theological and cultural commentators, Jesus responds by saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” The Canaanite woman; however, and what I would have you hear and see, is that this woman is unfazed and unmuted by this challenge. As a man of fact, the challenge even gave her more to hold on to, the challenge gave her something by which pushed her. Her faith was even fed by the difficulties that were present. And the challenges that came to her, she simply responds back, “You’re right, master.” In the message translation. It says, “But beggar dogs do get scraps from the master’s table.”
She did not hear shy away, but her faith made her rise up. Her faith made her speak up. Her faith made her stand up. It is at this point that the seismic shift that I was referring to is taking place. It is at this moment that the ground begins to change. It is at this moment that those of us who have been following Jesus’s ministry, feel the door swing open and a breeze coming in. It becomes apparent that here Jesus recognizes her faith. It is in this moment that we can see the power of faith and the difference faith can make not just in the personal experience of our own lives, but in our family’s lives, our community. But her faith moved her to challenge the accepted cultural norms. Sometimes we’re moving because we’re saying that’s the way it’s always been. But our faith says it doesn’t have to be this way.
Our faith says that we can do better. Our faith says that there’s a seat at the table for everyone. Our faith is able to do and to put us in places and to do what we’ve never thought was possible. Her faith opens the door for others to be identified as belonging to the beloved community. This woman’s faith was strengthened and not limited by her own self-interest. Because many of us, we all live to a certain degree and are motivated by self-interest, but if we paid close attention to her, her faith moved her because of her concern for another, her concern for her daughter, her concern for someone else, other than herself. I remind us this morning and even challenged myself to remember, that faith is more of a verb than it is a noun. We are called to possess a faith that is strengthened by our concern and our actions on behalf of one another, especially for those that have been relegated to being part of the disavow, the disallowed, and dare I say disinherited. Jesus acknowledges, celebrates, and is even moved by her faith.
And the text says right, then her daughter became well. I remind you by looking at what needs to change in our own lives, what needs to change in our community, what needs to change in our world, what a difference faith can make. What a difference faith in Jesus makes. I don’t know what she heard about him, but she heard something that made her seek him out. I don’t know what others told her about him, but they told her something that made her draw closer to him. I don’t know what she might’ve heard about what he said, but she rested on his words and knew that he had what she needed. I remind you today that faith will move you and give you the strength to be like this woman. John Lewis reminds us on this day and his words still ring true. We need someone who is going to stand up, speak up and speak out for people who need help for people who need and who have been discriminated against.
I remind you today that Henry Ward Beecher put it this way, “We should all have ambition. All ambitions are lawful, except those that climb upward on the miseries or credulities of mankind.”
We as a people of faith, as men and women, and dare I say, as a country and as a world, have the ability through faith to be instruments of ushering in and strengthening what is often termed, “beloved community.” I come out of a tradition and a heritage where on this morning, my mind’s eye is remembering those people of faith that I grew up with. Those people are faith that Sunday after Sunday, I stood in the midst of. Those people of faith, service after service, special moment, after special moment, would gather. And after been being beaten down all week, pressed down all week, pushed back all week, when they gathered with their faith, something would happen, and their lives and their spirit would be stirred. Faith with them help them to lift their heads. Faith would help them to straighten their backs. Faith helped them to not just talk, but to move into action. It was by faith that Sunday after Sunday, special moment after special moment, we’d gather, and I could hear them lifting their voices saying, “We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord, trusting in his holy word. He’s never failed us yet.”
I can hear in that moment, the melodious and the sounds ringing out that said, “Oh, I can’t turn around. We’ve come this far by faith.”
At this moment in your homes, in your sacred spaces and places, we’ve come too far to turn around, because we’ve come this far by faith and faith will lead us on. Amen.