Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sermon: September 7

“The most dangerous woman in America”

A century ago - The most dangerous woman in America, as dubbed by some politicians, was an 83 year old woman who fought for the betterment of her fellow citizens. Her name was Mary Harris Jones, she was also known as Mother Jones, and for 50 years she fought to improve the conditions of the miners in Appalachia and their families. She fought against child labor even leading a march of children to the Oyster Bay home of President Teddy Roosevelt protesting child labor. Her most famous quote:
"Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living" -- Mother Jones
And she did just that…it is said that after meeting John D. Rockefeller in 1914, he visited the mines he owned in Colorado. When he did, he was shocked at what he saw and made changes for better conditions. On this Labor Day weekend, we look back at the work of Mother Jones and others and see the work they did, how they opened the eyes of our society to the injustices of child labor and the poor conditions of miners.

The society in which Jesus lived is vastly different than our own when he encountered the Syrophoneician woman by the Mediterranean Sea , and healed a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech near the Decapolis. And yet even in these encounters we can find our own struggles there…

Today’s Gospel has Jesus traveling outside of Israel, and encountering Gentiles, those outside the Jewish faith. Even as he tries to remain unnoticed in these Gentile lands, even there people have heard about him. They bring a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech to be healed. They had faith that Jesus could do this. He takes the man away from the crowd and there with touch and sound, Jesus says be opened and the man is healed. And they couldn’t stop telling people what happened! They were amazed!

But in the first story, it is Jesus who is opened up, by the faith of the Syrophoneician woman. In a house, trying to stay unnoticed, she finds him, and there she kneels at the feet of Jesus & begs that the demon tormenting her daughter be cast out. But Jesus response seems most unkind, even rude… “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.”

You can get a sense of tension between Jew & Gentile. But that woman will not stop fighting for her child. She answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." Right back at Jesus! It took guts for her to approach Jesus in the first place and even more so to respond to him and Jesus knows this. Jesus said to her, "For saying that, you may go-- the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

It was faith that led her to Jesus but it was the fight for her child, her response, that brought the healing. Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living! She did and Jesus opened up to see the need before him and her daughter was healed.

How about us? Are we open?

Two friends were walking down a crowded city sidewalk in the midst of a busy, noisy rush hour - people bustling, horns honking, engines roaring, vehicles rumbling by. Amid all this noise, one friend suddenly turned to the other and said, "Listen! A cricket!"

"Come on!" the second friend shot back. "How can you possibly hear a cricket in the middle of all of this noise? Are there even crickets in the city?"

"But I did hear a cricket." She stopped to listen again, then, with her cynical friend in tow, crossed the busy street to a big cement planter. Gently pushing aside the petunias and impatients, she revealed a little brown cricket.

"That's amazing!" said her friend. "How could you have possibly heard it?" "There's no secret," she explained. "Watch." She then reached into her pocket and pulled out some loose change and dropped a quarter on the sidewalk. Despite the deafening noise around them, everyone within thirty feet turned their head to see where the sound of the money was coming from.

The woman turned to her doubting friend and said, "See, it's all a matter of what you're listening for."

In the midst of all the noise in our lives, we can become "deaf" to our needs and the needs of those around us. We fail to hear the cries from our souls and from those around us. The letter of James reminds us that if a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and we say to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
“Often while sewing for the lords and barons who lived in magnificent houses on the Lake Shore Drive, I would look out of the plate glass windows and see the poor, shivering wretches, jobless and hungry, walking alongside the frozen lake front. The contrast of their condition with that of the tropical comfort of the people for whom I sewed was painful to me." - Mother Jones
And that pain led her to fight for those in need. The pain of her child led the Syrophonician woman to seek out Jesus. Our faith is shown by what we do as Proverbs reminds us that those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Maybe Mother Jones words should become our own: Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living. And then maybe we would be open to what Jesus would have us do today. Amen.

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