For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people. Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Now that's a nice vision, the people of Israel were to be a light to the nations and an ensign, a flag, welcoming the people to Jerusalem, to the worship of God.
In reality the Jewish People, like all of us, hold a common fear - the fear of the stranger or outsider, the fear of those who are different.
A stranger could become our friend or our greatest enemy. We don't know so sometimes we hold people at a distance.
I grew up in a small community in North Central Montana by the Canadian Border. Most people in our community were caucasion. The Hutterites lived in our midst. They were different. They spoke German and they dressed differently. They lived differently.
To see people of a different color you had to travel 30 miles to the Ft. Belknap Reservation. If you wanted to run into someone of Asian descent you had to drive 75 miles to Havre, MT. If you wanted to see someone of African American descent you had to drive to Great Falls. Growing up I don't remember hearing negative talk about people of different skin color.
But, at time I was a little guarded about people who were different. It seemed like they might be scary or looking for trouble. There is one incident I'm not too proud of. I was in grade school when I went to Chuck Wagon Days, a rodeo in Harlem, MT. I was walking along with my Dad and I saw a young guy. He was white like me. He had a cowboy hat, boots, shirt, levis, just like me. But he had a severe form of scleroderma. His skin was real tight and his eye protruded. It scared me half to daeth. I never wanted to see him again.
Later, I thought about it and I was ashamed. His name was David. He tried to lead a public life. His community accepted him. Still, I'm sure he was made fun of by kids. Can you imagine not being able to go out in public without someone noticing you and either staring or looking away?
For some reason David lived longer than expected. He graduated high school and worked on the family farm. He became increasingly isolated. He liked to stay on the farm where he was safe from staring eyes.
First Lutheran in Havre had a weekly radio broadcast of their worship service. Pastor Rod Kvamme of First Lutheran was an interesting speaker. David listened to the services and finally got the nerve to call Pastor Kvamme. They established a friendship. David was able to share his struggle of being an outsider with his friend. But, finally that horrible disease claimed David's life. Pastor Kvamme did the funeral service for David and later wrote about his experiences with David. He lifted up for us David's humanity and his goodness. He wasn't an outsider. He was one of us.
For my house shall be called a house of prayer - for all people.
Our gospel reading is connected to this verse. It would seem that in this story Jesus is being pushed about his inclusiveness of all people by a Canaanite woman, but there is always more to the story.
In this story Jesus withdraws to Gentile territory, Tyre and Sidon. Since the time of Abraham there has been tension between the Israelites and Canaanites. Many Jews would not set foot on Canaanite soil. But, Jesus sailed across the Sea of Galilee and healed a demon possessed man in Gentile territory. He walked into Samaritan villages and talked with the people, another big "no no" for a Jewish rabbi. And people believed in him! Jesus broke down barriers.
In this story a Canaanite woman confronts Jesus, seeking help for her demon possessed daughter. The disciples wanted Jesus to send her away because she was "crying out", making a scene. In that day it was not proper for a rabbi to talk with a woman in public or with a Gentile, but Jesus did.
At first Jesus says nothing, then he says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" and then "It is not right to take the children's crumbs and throw them to the dogs." That sounds kind of rude, but it was not unusual for Jesus to chide and challenge, to illicit, to bring forth faith in people. And that's what happens in this case. Jesus responds, "Great is your faith!"
In other places Jesus did similiar things. Jesus was always trying to call faith out of those around him. Jesus was about breaking barriers, inclusion. The question is, what will we do with this? What is this story calling us to do?
For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people. This is God's dream for us. It's connected to the story of the Canaanite woman, God reaching beyond barriers, bringing us closer, wanting to break down barriers, growing closer to each other as we grow closer to God.
Recently we were in Durham, NC to see our new granddaughter, Hila. On Sunday we went to the Duke Chapel for worship. What a magnificent structure! I wish I had more time to look around.
The guest preacher that day was African American. We were just a ways away from the Charlottesville incidents. The preacher was so disconsolate over the continuing violence that he almost couldn't go on. But, he made a good comeback. He said sometimes our world gets a little wobbly, like an old table. So, we need to prop it up with the steadfast love of God. God's love endures all the trials and troubles of humanity. God continues to love, continues to give freedom. God hangs in there with us even when we blow it.
The preacher reminded us of Eric Garner, a man killed by a choke hold in the back of a police van. Several weeks later 2 other policemen were shot near the same place. Eric Garner's mother went and laid a wreath at the site where the policemen were killed.
In a world that fears the stranger, where hate leaks out, we turn to God who loves the world, who established a house of prayer for all people. God wants us to be sources of healing, pouring his love back into the places of pain. This world will never be perfect as it is so we turn to God in the house of prayer and we pray with the Canaanite woman, "Help us Lord."