On Servants' Wings
A gynandromorph butterfly with the transgender pride flag for the front wing and the rainbow pride flag on the rear wing On Servants Wings
Resources and Reflections by Ari Leigh


Conversation and the I AM


Sermon for St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Emporia, KS on Aug. 17, 2014

Print Version




Text: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Psalm 67, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-28


Last Tuesday several of us gathered for the first session of Holy Conversations

Together we shared stories of joy and connection, strength and faith.


These conversations are important because they invite us

to hear echoes of the eternal and timeless tale

Which speaks of the God who brought forth all things

And loves ALL things without limit.


This week our readings provide another summary

of the richness of God's story


Of the story that in Christ has been made our own.


We begin with the End,

with the promise that has been whispered to every generation.

Isaiah prophesies:

"My house will be a house of prayer for all people"


God promises that the foreigners,

those who have been cast out, thrown aside and degraded

will be brought to the Holy Mountain,

and made joyful in the one who made them.


This is a beautiful promise

One which has sustained generations

Through war and famine

Hatred, pestilence, and slaughter


Indeed it is easy to hold on to the Promise as a distant hope.


But today's Gospel gives us a different understanding.

One which reveals how threatening that promise is,

While beckoning us to live into the riches of its fulfillment.


As modern Christians it is easy to write off Jesus' teachings

about defilement as simple common sense

After all "you can't judge a book by it's cover"


Easy words to say,

But hard to live by even to this day.

When we reduce this passage to platitudes that "everyone" understands

We ignore the struggle,

Both of the disciples and in our lives today.


For the conflict isn't about purity

But identity.


Our identities are those words we use to finish the phrase "I Am"

For this is the truth

That we are made in the image of the great I AM


From the beginning God intended us answer in the affirmative

I am (Fill in the blank)


Yet throughout our history, we have answered in the negative.

"I am NOT like those people over there."


Rather than looking inward for our God given identity

letting the lines between ourselves and those around us

stay permeable in love


We look outward,

searching for the next threat


By challenging the culture of purity

Jesus is pointing out that boundary, formed of "I am not"

Which had stood unquestioned for centuries

was now a barrier to the Promise

That was given to all.


And no one was quite ready for that.

In order for the disciples to grow into the Promise

The barrier that was the defining part of their identity

Had to be shattered


As someone who has been through several periods of

shattered illusions

I'll confess it's a painful, terrifying process.

It's traumatic, and in those moments

It feels as though the entire world has been turned upside down.

and nothing will ever be the same.

From that place it easy for me to feel for the disciples.


When they are quick to point out

"Don't you realize the Pharisees took offence?"

I hear their fear,

their desire for any excuse to not let go of where they are.


For to let go of the boundary is to lose everything,

including their sense of self.


We often tease Peter for his lack of understanding.

Today I'd like to take a moment to admire his courage.

He owned his vulnerability and confusion.


In asking for an explanation

he admits that he has been shaped by the world about him.

He confesses that to surrender the "I am nots" of his identity,

threatens how he views himself.

In his request he owns his fear,

And admits that he needs to hear the promise anew.


Jesus repeats his explanation,

The Promise that our external differences are not

Those things which lessen us

But rather our actions that lesson others also degrade ourselves

Murder, Adultery, Fornication, Slander, Theft,

What do these have in common?

Each of them debases and lessens another person,

Each of them takes a being, made in God's image

And makes them as an tool in a self-centered narrative


Yet even as Jesus speaks, he knows that words will not be enough.

The boundary of "Am not" is tall and wide

An impenetrable force, to all but the love of God.


So that leads us to the Canaanite woman, and her request.

Christians have struggled with this story for years.

Jesus' denial seems so out of character

for the merciful healer we love.

Explanations which try to shift the blame abound

And his actions here are written off as a mistake.


Yet I believe Jesus was acting very intentionally.

In the first part of the reading

We've seen how firmly boundaries are drawn.

We've heard how threatened the disciples are

by this changing understanding.


As we come to this woman Jesus loves her

AND not her alone, but all who would come after.

So too he loves his disciples,

Trapped as they are by the walls

they have built to defend their perceived identity


Mere words cannot express how painful these boundaries are

For the outcasts and foreigners

And for those trapped within them.


It is for us on the inside,

Trapped by the boundaries and divisions of this world

That Jesus turns the woman away.


Placing his hand on the wall that divides

He acted as we do, time and time again

So that we might see the wall.


The boundaries of our world are insidious,

Written into law and culture

Families and friends

And even scarred into our identities.

They are so pervasive that we often fail to know that they are there.


Bias and exclusion

Oppression and erasure

These have surrounded us for so long,

that we cannot see them on our own.

Unconsciously we repeat the mistakes of our forbearers

Internalizing voices which demand that we "be not",

that we "are not"


In his challenge to the woman,

Jesus demonstrates the effects of those walls.

By acting first as we would,

Then in the fullness of himself

He shows us both the wall and what is hidden.


He takes us by the hand

Pressing it against the cold stone barrier

Pushing us to feel the pain of division


Before drawing us through,

As though the wall were never there.

Through his challenge Jesus invites the Canaanite woman

to share the wealth of her faith

That he already knew she carried


He beckons her to reveal to us and to his disciples

The treasures that lie beyond the wall.

He calls her,

not only to heal her child

But to play a critical part in the healing of the world.


"Woman how great is your faith!"

He exclaims.


In that simple phase he draws our attention towards what we are missing


As long as the disciples defined themselves as "I am not like her"

They could not share in her faith

For her very presence challenged their illusions of themselves.


It was in the dispelling of illusion

That space was created for the fulfillment of the Promise.


But what does that promise look like?


The eradication of barriers

is often equated to a total loss of individuality.


We need only look to our own culture to see this connection in action.


Our "Great American Melting Pot"

Which called to the "tired and poor" of the world

Has in practice become a place where the gifts of difference

are melted to enforce a selective conformity.

Bring us your "huddles masses yearning to breathe free"

As long as we don't need to press 1 for English

And they're willing to look, dress and act like we expect.

You know just as long as we're not overly inconvinenced.


Is this the promise? Total unity through uniformity?

To be melted into one big happy God loving mass of spirit stuff?


ABSOLUTLY NOT!


The Promise that has been given to all peoples

Is one that embraces the fullness of God's creation.

It is about unity, yes

But a unity of fulfillment, not erasure.


A long time ago there lived a Rabbi named Yehuda.

One night, he dreamed that he had died

and was brought before the throne.

And the angel who stands before the throne said to him,

"who are you?"

"I am Rabbi Yehuda of Prague,

the maker of the Golem," he replied.

"Tell me, my lord, if my name is written

in the book of those

who will have a share in the kingdom."

"Wait here," said the angel.

"I shall read the names of all those who have died today

that are written in the book."

And he read the names,

thousands of them,

strange names to ears of Rabbi Yehuda;

as the angel read,

the rabbi saw the spirits of those whose names had been called

fly into the glory that sat above the throne.

At last the angel finished reading,

and Rabbi Yehuda's name had not been called,

He wept bitterly

and cried out against the angel.

The angel said,

"I have called your name."

Rabbi Yehuda replied,

"I did not hear it."

And the angel said,

"In the book are written the names of all people

who have ever lived on the earth,

for every soul is an inheritor of the kingdom.

But many come here who have never heard their true name

on the lips of human or angel.

They have lived believing that they know their names;

and so when they are called to share in the kingdom,

they do not hear their names as their own.

They do not recognize that it is for them

that the gates of heaven are opened.

So they must wait here until they hear their names and know them. Perhaps in their lifetime one person

has once called them by their right name:

here they shall stay until they have remembered.

Perhaps no one has ever called them by their right name:

here they shall stay until they are silent enough to hear

the Maker of the Universe themself calling them."


The fulfillment of the Promise

Is nothing less than the day when all peoples stand together

And know the fullness of who they were made to be.


Through Jesus we are called back to the Ancient Promise

You, yes YOU have been given the power to BE


You have been called to NAME

To speak the truth of value

Of worth

And of wonder held within all peoples

To Everyone


To those whom you know

And to those you are yet afraid to meet.


So now we come to the table,

To the feast that has been prepared and promised

To ALL peoples from the beginning.

To the space eternal,

Where we join with countless thongs of people and angels

From every language, time and culture

We join our friends, our family,

and those we fear and do not yet understand

From all that was, is, and ever shall be

We come together

To hear our Creator calling out to us in love.




Copyright © Ari Leigh 2019