sermons

Life Isn't Fair... Thank God!

October 7, 2018

Apparently, there is a real science to visiting a Disney theme park. If you know how it works, you can see more and do more in a Disney park than the average casual visitor.


Earlier this summer, I was working on a job out in Los Angeles, and Mason came with me to enjoy a few days in Southern California. We had a chance to see a show at the Hollywood Bowl, we visited a TV and movie studio… we actually got to visit the studio and step on the stage where Ellen does her show. That was so cool!


And we spent two days at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. 


Now, we’re not experienced, die-hard Disney-ites, or whatever you call die-hard Disney guests. We went in as ignorant as anyone could. We did download the Disneyland app and bought the fast-pass that allows you to bypass some of the long lines. But even that took some strategy… and we almost figured out by the time we had to leave.


We had a good time though, and we made some great memories.

Disney is good at making you feel good. They’re good at taking fairytales that don’t necessarily have happy endings, and making them happily-ever-after, after-all.

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The story of Robin Hood goes way back, much farther back than the 1973 Disney version that portrays Robin as a clever fox and the king as an aloof, paranoid child. 


The earliest known renditions of the story go back over 600 years, all the way back to 13th and 14th centuries.


But the sermon series we’re in now is about finding God in Disney, so we’ll look at the Disney version of Robin Hood, the one that uses animals to tell the story.


Disney is so good at humanizing things, and giving unhuman things very believable human personalities and emotions. Bugs, computers, monsters, cars, clocks, teacups, pumpkins, and animals of all sorts. It’s a long list.


So it’s no surprise that Disney would reimagine the story of Robin Hood using animals.

Robin Hood is a fox.
Little John is a pot-belly bear.
Friar Tuck is a badger.
Prince John and King Richard are lions.
The Sherriff of Nottingham is a wolf.
Maid Marian is a vixen.

Other characters are vultures, snakes, mice, rabbits, turtles, chickens, crocodiles and dogs.

The narrator, one of my favorite characters, is a rooster. And man, he can get in your head.

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You’re probably familiar with the story of Robin Hood.


This heroic outlaw goes about taking from the people who can afford plenty and gives it to those who can barely afford anything.

It sounds noble, and on the surface it sounds like the right thing to do. Who doesn’t think that it’s a shame for some to live in extreme luxury while others live in extreme poverty?


And who doesn’t like the idea of a “corrector,” a sly fox armed with bows and arrows with nerves of steel, courage and a heart for the neediest?


But the part of Robin Hood that seems to come in most handy, at least in the Disney version, is his ability to disguise himself. Over the course of the movie, Robin Hood becomes a gypsy, a stork, a blind beggar and a buzzard. His enemies are duped by all his masks and fake accents.


But the people who know him best aren’t fooled.


The common people of Nottingham know exactly who Robin Hood is. When he’s with them there are no disguises. He’s their hero and their hope.
 

In today’s scripture, we find another hero of sorts. 


I’ve often called Jesus my hero… for a variety of reasons.


When I’ve needed comfort, I’ve asked him for his encouraging and calming spirit.


When I’ve needed direction, I’ve looked at his instruction on how to determine what’s most valuable and what’s most important… to make that my passion and put my energy and attention there.


When I’ve needed guidance on how to treat others in certain or difficult situations, I’ve looked at his example and noticed how he loved people, especially hurting people.

But to be honest, when looking at today’s scripture, at least at first glance, the conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman seemed completely backwards of the way we should look at and value and treat others.


We all know that Jesus was all about feeding and eating and fellowshipping with the “wrong” people. Heck, he calls us out when we mistreat others, so why would he talk down to and mistreat this woman who has come to him in genuine faith?


In this story today, we find a Jesus who it looks like not only doesn’t condemn prejudices, but participates in them. He perpetuates them.


Here’s this woman who comes to Jesus with an urgent need. Her daughter is demon-possessed, and she’s doing what every loving parent would do. She’s going anywhere she can to find help and relief for someone she loves dearly, even if it means risking herself. 


You’d probably do the same thing.


Imagine her excitement when she hears rumors that the man who is known as the Jewish healer is actually in her town. It has to be a miracle because this is Canaan territory and Jews don’t make it a habit of stopping here, at least not the ones with noble intentions.


The woman says: “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” 


Jesus ignores her.


The disciples notice the woman is bugging Jesus and come to him: “Send her away; she’s been following us around, bugging us too.”


Some scholars believe the disciples were telling Jesus to make her move on, but others believe the disciples were asking Jesus to do the healing already so she’d go away.


But Jesus reminds them of his mission: “God has sent me here to redeem the Jewish people, not the Canaanites.”


That just seems so unlike Jesus to say such a thing. But Jesus knew what he was doing, even if it seemed harsh and unfair.


The woman though, loved her daughter and would not give up: “Lord, help me.”

This is where I cringe at the words of Jesus…


He said to this desperate mother: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”


What kind of loving person, any person with a heart or a measure of compassion would say such a thing?


But this woman’s love for her daughter would not allow her to give up.


She didn’t protest her place in the world, her lot in life, or even being called a dog. As a matter of fact, she decided to own it.


“Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”


I think it’s important that we pause to understand what is happening here.


First, I want us to understand that it was common for the Jews to refer to non-Jews, especially the Canaanite people with whom they had a long and angry history with, as dogs.


It sounds horrible, but it really was the norm of the day.


But I also want us to understand that Jesus was much more gentle than that. Before this story was translated into English, we understand that Jesus used a different term than the other Jews. He did not refer to her, as most Jews did, as a stray dog or a street dog (kuon). He used a different word, one that was almost a term of endearment. It was still in reference to an animal, a dog (kunarion), but it was closer to that of a family pet, a different species still, and not of the same blood, but still a member of the family.


It’s unfortunate that that gets lost when translating from the original language (Greek) to English, because it really does make Jesus look and sound less loving than he really is and was.


We don’t know for sure, but maybe the Canaanite woman picked up on that. Maybe she noticed that where others saw her as dirty, scavenging and vicious, Jesus saw her as someone of value. Maybe that’s why she didn’t let it go and was determined to make her case.


Well, apparently Jesus was impressed: “Woman,” he said, “you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” 


The scripture says right then her daughter was healed.


Today we read the Common English Version of this story in Matthew 15. In other versions, instead of reading Jesus’ words as, “it’s not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs,” it reads, “it’s not fair to take the children’s bread…”

Jesus said, “It’s not fair…” And the truth is, he’s right. It’s not fair.


It’s not fair if we believe God has preferences and divides the world according to skin color, language, culture, socio-economic status, religion, spirituality, sexual orientation, political affiliation, gender, ability or disability, education, skill or any other thing that labels us.

It’s not fair if we believe God chooses who the “children” are and who the “dogs” are.

It’s incredibly important to know that Jesus knew where he was when he had this encounter with this woman.


The verses just before our story today tells us that before Jesus met this woman in Canaan territory, he had just left Jerusalem… where the so-called “children” were. He had a confrontation there with a bunch of religious bigots… well, the bible calls them Pharisees, and that’s when he decides to get away from all the hypocrisy and go to the countryside.


So he intentionally goes to this “unclean” place full of “dogs.”


Yeah, he knew exactly where he was.


And it was there among the “dogs” that he found a woman “full of faith.”


And this is where God is revealed not as “fair,” but as merciful.


Friends, God is more interested in mercy than fairness… and we really should be so glad about it.


We don’t think it’s fair when others who deserve justice for their sins and crimes find mercy instead. But we’ll beg for mercy for ourselves and plead for someone we love.

We don’t think it’s fair when someone else who doesn’t deserve fortune wins life’s lottery, and we don’t.


Please believe me, friends, when I say we do not want God to be fair.

If God is fair, we’ll all receive what we’ve got coming to us.

If God is fair, we’ll definitely reap the crops we’ve sown.

If God is fair, God cannot be merciful.


But God is merciful, which means we get more than we deserve, more than what is right, more than what is fair.


Because God is not fair, the lines that separate you and me and us them are erased to reveal God’s original intent of a world that is whole and united.


It is when we insist on being fair instead of merciful that we prevent that beautiful thing from becoming a reality.


So, appreciate his methods or not, Robin Hood had it right when he tried to correct the oppressive injustices that left helpless people starving.


He wasn’t trying to make everything fair.


He wasn’t trying to make the rich people poor. He was trying to make the poor feel as important, valuable, respectable and respected as they should’ve been all along. He just wanted them to be able to eat. He was looking for mercy.


Jesus wasn’t trying to make the children into dogs, he was making the “dogs” feel as important, valuable, respectable and respected as they should’ve been all along.

Fairness can’t do that, but mercy can.


Thank God!

 Matthew 15: 21-28 CEB 

21 … Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” 23 But he didn’t respond to her at all.

His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.”

24 Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”

25 But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”

26 He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”

27 She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”

28 Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed.

audio coming soon