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It’s really hard to figure out what to do with your life. It’s even harder to figure out what God is calling you to do with your life. How do I discern, how do we as a community discern what our mission is, the ways in which God is calling us to proclaim the good news in our time and place? And it’s not just a one-off process. Our God-given mission and purpose in life will evolve, so we’re constantly in discernment, and there are moments when the path we’re called to, will change. It’s not easy, but in this, as in so many things, we can take Jesus as our guide, and that’s why today’s gospel reading, which is challenging, can also be so helpful.

In Jesus, to use Paul’s phrase, the fullness of God is pleased to dwell. The wideness of God’s mercy, grace upon grace, the love of God for each one of us is embodied in Jesus. And yet, Jesus is also fully human, and so like us, he too needed to discern how God was calling him, he too needed to figure out what to do with his life. Because as we humans know only too well, you can’t do everything with everybody all at once. It just doesn’t work that way. Missional living involves figuring out what God’s priorities are for us at any particular moment in time. The question of when can be as important as the question of what.

Which is why every day Jesus spent time in prayer with the One he called Father. Jesus would withdraw from the crowds, early in the morning or late at night, and go to a deserted place to pray. Prayer and meditation are so important in figuring out what God is be calling us to. Jesus showed us that, and more. Jesus was also well-versed in the scriptures, in fact he had studied and reflected upon them, he knew them inside-out. The scriptures are kind of like our discernment case studies. They are the stories of people like us trying to figure out what God is calling them to do in their lives, and how to respond. Our scriptures tell us what God is like, how God speaks to us and how his people have responded, for better or for worse, throughout history.

Prayer and scripture are good. But we still need more. We need the voices of other people. God sends us prophets and angels. We listen to the voices of those we trust. Jesus did as well. Do you remember the story of the wedding at Cana in John’s gospel? Jesus is there at the wedding as a guest, and the party runs out of wine. Mary, his mother, says to Jesus, “They have no wine.” But Jesus response is “What concern is that of yours and mine?” But Mary, somehow knowing that the time had come for Jesus to begin his ministry, says to the servants “Do whatever he tells you.” And Jesus then turns the water into wine, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. It was the voice of his mother that prompted Jesus to realize that his time had come, that God was calling him to launch his mission on that very day.

God speaks to us through the voices of others. God also speaks to us through the events of our lives. And that brings us to today’s gospel reading. Jesus is in foreign territory, most likely to escape the crowds which followed him everywhere he went in Galilee. You might recall that days earlier Jesus found out that John the Baptist had been murdered by Herod, and since then, he’s has been trying to find some alone time to pray, to grieve, to reflect on this horrendous turn of events and to discern what this might mean for his own mission going forward. Jesus’ mission has been to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God throughout Galilee. As the Messiah sent by God, Jesus was to bring healing and liberation to the lost sheep of Israel. That was in accordance with scripture, that’s what the Messiah was expected to do. It’s not that the Gentiles were to be excluded, far from it, but rather it was understood that the good news was to be proclaimed first to the people of Israel and then to the Gentiles.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus, still looking for some alone time, he takes off for the coast with his disciples. He walks five days to get to the Mediterranean, north of Israel in present day Lebanon, perhaps thinking that at least there, in a foreign land, he can escape the crowds.

But even there, he can’t escape notice. Somehow this Canaanite woman finds out he’s in town, and she knows who he is, who he really is. Her daughter is tormented by a demon, and there is no one more determined than a mother who needs to get help for her daughter. So, she bangs on the door and shouts at Jesus, she falls at his feet and begs him for help.

Jesus is silent at first. Surprised? Reflective? At a loss for words? His disciples urge him to send her away, but he does not. Instead, he says:

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

How do you hear these words? To whom is he speaking? Is he speaking to the disciples? Is he speaking to the woman? Is he talking to himself? Is this a prayer spoken to God?

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Do you hear these words as an argument? As a lament? As a justification? Or as a question?

I’m hearing these words as a moment of discernment. As a window into the very moment when Jesus himself is discerning a call to enter into a new phase of his mission and ministry. Yes, Jesus was sent to bring the kingdom of God to the lost sheep of Israel. But here at his feet, right now, is a foreign woman who is desperate for what God’s kingdom can bring. “Lord, help me.” Is it right to make her wait? Or is God working through the voice of this woman to say ‘Yes, the moment is now?’

It's almost like Jesus needs to test the moment, to test this new possibility.

“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

But she replies. “Yes, Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table.” And her grace, her persistence, her courage, the wisdom of her response, these seem to resonate with Jesus’ own discernment. It is time to expand the mission, to go beyond the people of Israel and to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom to all people and to all nations. And he does. And her daughter is healed instantly. And he sets off on a journey into foreign lands.

Read this way, and yes, I know that there are other ways of reading this text, but read this way, today’s gospel is instructive for our own discernment, for each one of us, as we seek to answer the question, ‘how is God calling us to proclaim the good news in our time and place?’ Discernment involves prayer and meditation, and the study of scripture and the wisdom of our tradition. But God is also present and active, God speaks to us, through the people we meet and the events and experiences of our lives. Often, we may not get it right away. It is an important spiritual practice to take some time to reflect on the events of our lives, to see where God has been present. Experiential discernment, at least for me, operates with a kind of resonance. Stuff happens, something resonates for me, and I spend some time reflecting on that and then bringing it into prayer. That’s actually how I ended up doing what I’m doing now, although that’s a story for another time.

It's hard to figure out what to do with your life. It’s hard to figure out what God is calling us to be and do. It’s hard to figure out how God is calling us as a church community to proclaim the good news in our time and place. We need to wrestle with our sense of calling, just as Jesus did. We pray, we study scripture, we meditate, we discuss, we reflect. We recognize that God speaks to us through the people we meet and the events of our lives. And we bring our thoughts, intuitions and reflections into community, into this community, because it really helps with our discernment when we do this together.

And so I’ll leave you to a time of discussion this morning with this question:

How is God calling us to proclaim the good news in our time and place?


Homily Yr A P20 August 20 2023. Trinity

Readings: Genesis 45.1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11.1-2a,29-32; Matthew 15.21-28

Image by Andre Moura



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