Greetings in Jesus’ name on Sunday 5 September 2021, the first Sunday of the Season of Creation.
Services are this Sunday at 7.30am and 9.15am. Maximum attendance at each service is 50 persons. Mask wearing, sanitising and social distancing are essential. Temperatures and tracing details of those attending will be taken.
The full Service Slides including the hymns and prayers for this Sunday may be found on our website.
A video regarding vaccination (and the text of it), received from the Archbishop’s COVID advisory team, to be played at each service, can be found here.
Sermon by Revd Sabelo Mthimkhulu (Mark 7: 24-37)
“For such a reply, you may go, the demon has left your daughter” In the gospel reading we just read, Mark has placed two stories of healing together The story of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and the story of a deaf-mute man.
These two healings take place as Jesus moves from Jewish territory (the centre) to Gentile territory (the margins).
The Syrophoenician woman and her daughter both inhabit the margins of society: WHY?
Firstly, they are women and secondly, they are both gentiles, and as such, considered unclean (Hence Jesus’ response “For it is not right to take the Children’s bread and toss it to the dogs”.
As if these two are not enough for the daughter, Mark tells us she has demons, which makes her doubly unclean. So, there are these 3 barriers that exists in between them and the centre (where Jesus seems to be). Regardless of all these barriers, the woman risks rejection and comes to Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter. She invites Jesus to the margins Disturbingly, Jesus seems to discourage her, and even refers to her as the “dog”.
Take note, the woman doesn’t get offended, but instead she politely uses his own argument to convince him “Sir, even the little dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”. So, in other words she is saying, even we “dogs” in the margins do eat the “children” crumbs Doesn’t this sound familiar? When the corrupt senior government officials have benefited, then all those down there can get food parcels.
When the company owners have taken their chunk, then all their employees can fight over what is left. Mark also tells the story of a deaf-mute man, who is also a gentile. Once again, another boundaries that Jesus get to crossed as he spits on his fingers and touches the man’s tongue, at a time when saliva was considered unclean. But as was the case with the Jewish leper in Mk 1:40, the contagion is reversed, and the man healed.
These two healings demonstrate that Jesus’ mission reaches both Jews and Gentiles, both ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, but
Jesus does this, with a particular concern for the marginalized. I think Mark places these stories in this sequence for a reason. For Mark, Jesus firstly attends to the needs of those doubly marginalised. He leaves the centre and joins the margins.
God does not conform to the norms of human institutions, whether religious, social, or political.
A question I asked myself as I was preparing this sermon and would like to also pose to you this morning is
“Which are the marginalized voices that we should listen to today?”
For those who were here on Wednesday, we leant that Mother Earth can speak.
But is her voice, heard?
Do we listen to her?
Sometimes we are tempted to move directly to advocacy, to attempt speaking for the “voiceless”, which sounds good but unfortunately lead to them being further disempowered.
In this gospel we see how Jesus was willing not only to listen to but also to learn from someone who was excluded and marginalized.
It is the words/ reply of the marginalised Syrophoenician woman that changes his mind. Jesus allows himself and his ministry to be transformed by the plea of the Syrophoenician woman. It is hard to understand why Jesus uses such an offensive word, but in referring to her as the ‘dog’ he is reflecting the views of his society and social group (those in the centre) and is challenged by her reply.
In the healing of the deaf mute – a man whose voice cannot be heard, Jesus extends the realm of God to the least noticed, those pushed to the periphery. This extension of God’s kingdom to those on the margins serves as a challenging model for the church. Not only was the Syrophoenician woman a marginalized foreigner, but she was also a woman and as such considered second class or less.
Women today are rising and challenging powerful structures, for the sake of their children and for Mother Earth, and we are all called this morning to join them. Jon Sobrino suggests “from the world of the poor and the victims can come salvation for a gravely ill civilization”. Do we too easily assume that “salvation comes” when we, the church, draw people from the periphery into the centre? Like many models of “development” which assume that the solution to the ills of poverty is to make everyone rich.
Do we similarly assume that those on the margins just need to be a bit more like us, in order to be saved? Are we perhaps challenged by these stories of Jesus going into Gentile territory, healing there and, as we read in chapter 8, eventually feeding the Gentile multitude there too? For all the talk (and some activism) about addressing poverty, many of us still participate day by day in the system that continues to push the poor, and Mother Earth to the margins.
We participate in systems that generate extreme scarcities, dehumanize people, and destroy the community of all Creation. Is Jesus inviting us to follow him to the margins? Is he inviting us to allow ourselves to be challenged and transformed, as he was by the Syrophoenician woman? Is he inviting us to participate in the work of healing, not from our comfortable position (the centre), but by going out to those less heard (the margins)? Many of us (Church structures) in the face of media photos we give, we donate, and we pray for those affected by natural disasters and are left stranded. But we never challenge the structural injustices and root causes of climate change and environmental degradation.
This morning I would like to challenge us as church to re-activate the prophetic voice of the church, particularly by amplifying the voices of women and youth. And we must be willing to be converted ourselves, by the voices of the marginalised. My sisters and brothers in Christ, this morning, we are being called out to a new promised land, To the land of the less heard To the Land located in the margins.
During this difficult time of the global pandemic, you are invited to make a contribution to the ministry and mission of our church by making a donation to the following account: Account Name: St Paul’s Church Account Number: 50854628623 Bank: First National Bank (FNB) Branch Code: 221426