Sermon – 14 August 2005

Whilst I was on holiday I was sitting one day in a caf? in Scotland and got to overhearing people talk. And the talk was of the terrorist attacks in London that had just been happening ? both the bombs that went off and those which failed to go off.

As I listened to the people talking my eyes were on a newspaper which was proclaiming that everything in London was carrying on as usual. That the great will of Londoners was business as usual and that nothing would make us change our values, nothing would make us shift from our hopes of decency and democracy, nothing would make us as a nation change course.
Whilst I read this, the people at the table next to me were competing with themselves to outline what should be done to ?them? when ?they? were caught.

– They should be sent back.

– Aye and their families should be rounded up and sent back too.

– Aye, and they should chop their hands off first like they do in their own countries.

– Aye, prison is too good for them.

– Aye, we should never have let them come here in the first place.

– Aye ? they should all be sent back.

Hardly business as usual. We have been brutalised by these attacks to the point where people want vengeance instead of punishment, collective punishment rather than making people face their own crimes and the end to being a generous nation where all are treated alike under the law. Hardly business as usual at all.

This morning, I am starting a process which will not be completed quickly or easily. There are no easy answers which will solve all of this. But these themes must be faced.

And I ask you this morning to begin to ask big questions of God. I ask you this morning to begin to make big demands of God. I ask you this morning to bring your questions to the word of God and demand answers.

Just like the Canaanite woman whom we read of in the gospel this morning.

Jesus is located in border country. He has actually put himself on the borders of decency already for Tyre and Sidon were not at the time places where a good preacher went. They were way out on the fringes of civilized Jewish life. The people there had a pagan religion which was not really what Jesus should be seen mixed up with.

Yet he maintains a fairly decent, civilized line of argument when she appears. He knows he should not be mixing with her. He knows that he needs to keep her away really for decency?s sake.

And he says, ?I am here for the lost sheep of Israel ? you cannot take the children?s food and throw it to the dogs?.

Now it seems to me that there is no excusing this ? Jesus is saying ? not for you, not for you. All the good things I have are not for you.

And I have always believed that Jesus himself faces something of an epiphany moment here. For the faith that he speaks of is thrown back in his face by a cheeky and impudent answer. And this answer causes him to think again as he realises that God?s blessings are for everyone.

What the woman said to him is really very rude and very offensive.

When our translation of the bible says that she says, ?Yes Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master?s table?, it barely does justice to her. The word dogs that she uses is the diminutive and it is female.

I?ll put it into Scots and you might get her message more clearly:

He says ?It is not fair to take the children?s food and throw it to the dogs?.

And she says, ?Aye! Big man! Even the wee bitches eat the crumbs that fall from the laird?s table!?

Strong enough to make him stop and think again, and perhaps strong enough to make us stop and think again for ourselves.

Now, what does all this have to do with terrorism and suicide bombers?

Well, that woman was blurring the boundaries between faiths and people and refusing to accept the myth that her people were unclean and untouchable and unlovely and beyond the reach of all that was decent and Godly.

She says to the young preacher ? Aye! Big Man! What would you know.

And he knows that she is right. What God has to offer the world is for all God?s children not the select few.

You can feel him stop short as he realises the truth of this. You can feel him take a deep intake of breath at her cheek.

And there is something of her cheekiness which we need to stir into the current thinking about how to live at peace with one another in the great global melting pot.

Cheek which dares to question the assumptions of religious leaders from the bottom up and call them to account when they deviate from the commonsense commonwealth of God which all good people know as their birthright.

Cheek which dares to ask whether there is something within the faith and experience of other people that can bring healing to my little bit of the world.

Cheek which dares to question God himself and demand ? have you done enough for the word yet? Have you yet taught us enough to live at peace with you and with one another. Have we experienced all your grace yet or is there more to come that will make our lives complete.

Cheek which dares to cross boundaries and include within even those who would exclude and punish.

Cheek which dares to demand a peaceful and quiet and decent life for all of God?s people.

And in ending, I will end with a saying of the prophet Mohammed ? peace and blessing be upon him and the people called by his name.

He said this:

Oh God, You are Peace.
From You comes Peace,
To You Returns Peace.
Revive us with a salutation of Peace,
and lead us to your abode of Peace. – Amen

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