Summary: A sermon about the radical openness of God.
Matthew 15:1-3, 7-28
“Jesus Heads to East Ridge”
By: Ken Sauer, Pastor of East Ridge United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN eastridgeumc.org
How many of you like Winnie the Pooh?
In one of his famous escapades, this loveable toy bear tries to trap an elephant—or, as he pronounces it, a Heffalump.
So Pooh digs a hole to catch the Heffalump, and decides to bait the trap with some of his own favorite food: honey.
But of course, it is very hard for Winnie the Pooh to part with honey, and he just can’t bear to leave a whole jar of it in the trap, so he starts to eat some of it himself…
…excusing himself with the thought that it’s important to make sure it really is honey, all the way down.
It wouldn’t do to have anything else, perhaps cheese or something, at the bottom.
And so of course, by the time Winnie the Pooh is finally sure that it was honey all the way down the jar is empty!!!
For Pooh, what matters is what the jar really contains, all the way down.
If it’s only got honey at the top, but something quite different underneath, then what’s the point?
And this is what lies at the heart of what Jesus says about the Pharisees and their purity laws.
What’s the point of keeping all the purity laws?
In order to be the kind of person God always had in mind.
What sort of person did God always have in mind?
A person who was pure, not just on the surface, but all the way down to the very depths of the personality.
And Jesus is saying that the purity laws of what is “clean” and what is “unclean” miss the point entirely.
What God is offering through Jesus Christ and a personal relationship with Him is a cure for the deep-level impurity we all suffer from.
Being right with God has nothing to do with trying to follow a bunch of external laws.
That will only make you a hypocrite and you will eventually fall into a pit.
Jesus Himself is the only remedy for the wickedness and uncleanness that infects us all.
And Jesus, as the Remedy, needs to be applied to the disease, deep down inside each of our human personalities, so that we can be changed from the inside out!
This morning’s Gospel Lesson marks a radical turning point in Jesus’ teaching, ministry and in the history of human relations.
As I mentioned, the Jewish people were experts, so to speak, at labeling what was “clean” and what was “unclean.”
And the most unclean thing in the entire universe was a human person who was not an Israelite!!!
The Israelites believed that they were God’s only beloved people, and that they were the only ones who were going to be saved.
And all this, simply because of their race!!!
Everyone else were dirty, rotten, no good, less than human dogs!
Prejudice was huge in Jesus’ day, and it was religiously sanctioned racism.
If you think we have a hard time getting along with persons who are different from us now…
…we can’t even imagine what it was like 2,000 years ago.
And Jesus was the first Person ever to shine light on this wrong thinking and to revolutionize what it means that God is Love and that the key to life is that we are to love our neighbor as our self!
So just having finished speaking to His disciples about what makes a person “clean” or “unclean” Jesus moves forward and gives them a picture lesson, using a real person—the Canaanite woman!!!
And what better place to come in contact with a “so-called” unclean person than to leave Jewish territory and enter Gentile territory.
Gentiles were any people who were not Jewish.
We, for example, are Gentiles from birth.
The Jews of Jesus’ day would have deemed us “unclean,” with no chance of being redeemed or saved.
As a matter of fact, it would have been a dangerous thing to head into Gentile territory.
For example, if a Jew were to even eat Gentile food that would cause that Jew to become “unclean”.
That’s why the disciples always carried their own food with them, if they happened to go through Gentile territory.
Suppose, for example, the people in Hixson were God’s Chosen Race.
And we poor folks over here in East Ridge were nothing but a bunch of “hell-bent heathen Gentiles.”
The people in Hixson would not want to have anything to do with us whatsoever.
They certainly wouldn’t eat at our restaurants.
They would teach their children not to play with our children.
They would not even speak to us, and if we happened to find ourselves walking down the same path, road or sidewalk as a person from Hixson, the person from Hixson would cross the road, quickly!!!