All the same kind of people
Lectionary blog for Aug. 17, 2014
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67;
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: 21-28
By Delmer Chilton
A minister friend of mine grew up in a small town in Georgia. His grandfather lived nearby and owned a chicken farm. In the mid-1960s, industry started moving into the area and the small farms were turned into subdivisions. The American Can Co. built a factory nearby, and soon a lot of people from the Midwest were transferred down to Georgia to run the factory. Suddenly, for the first time, my friend had a lot of neighbors from Wisconsin.
They were not entirely like the people my friend and his family were used to. For example, they called a “cookout” a barbecue and they drank beer right outside in their yards in front of God and everybody. They walked up and down the road for exercise. And, they talked funny.
One day one of the new couples came to grandpa’s barn to buy eggs, just like almost everybody else in town. But this couple walked over instead of driving and they exchanged only a few brief words of pleasantry instead of chatting for half an hour like locals would have. As they walked away hand-in-hand with their eggs, Grandpa looked after them and then shook his head and said to his grandson, “They’re nice enough folks, I guess, but they’re not our kind of people.”
Have you ever heard of birds the Peterson Field Guide calls “confusing” warblers because some of them are so similar that only the size of the white stripe above their tiny eyes differentiates one from another? Yet, they are completely different species.
We humans, on the other hand, are all the same species. African, Asian, European, Native American – short, tall, thin, heavy, blue-eyes or brown, black hair or blond, dark skin or pink or something in between, we all possess almost identical genetic material. None of it matters – we are all the same kind of people.
And we are alike in ways that have little to do with our DNA. The people of China, or Somalia, or Haiti or Iraq of North Korea of New York or North Carolina all love their families, all are concerned with the price of food and the cost of housing, we all ponder the meaning of life and the future of our children. Yes, we are all very much alike and yet we so often live in fear of each other, keeping ourselves separate from others, not just others from across the world – but others from across town or across the street.
Not too long ago I read a piece in the “sound off” section of a southern newspaper identifying their state as a “red” state and advising that people moving from Minnesota or Wisconsin or one of the other “blue” states should just keep their mouths shut. Meanwhile I heard a radio talk-show program in New England where callers were talking about the people in the “red” states should just stay away from the area. And so it goes.
And as the world becomes more and more fragmented, the church finds itself more and more divided between Protestants and Catholics and the orthodox, between liberals and conservatives, between those who ordain women and gays and those who don’t, those who baptize babies and those who don’t, those who have the truth, and those who apparently don’t, etc. Currently, there are 20,000 different Christian denominations in the world. And all of this not only saddens God’s heart, it is also, quite literally, against the will and plan of God for the world.
In Isaiah 56: 7 we read – “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
Our Romans text is a bit of Paul’s complex reasoning about how the Jewish people have not been rejected by God. In the midst of it, he says, “that (God) might have mercy on all.”
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus finds himself on the receiving end of instruction about the wideness of God’s mercy. After Jesus makes remarks about being sent only to the children of Israel, dismissively topping it off with a proverb about how it’s not right to give the children’s food to the dogs, the foreign woman turns the insult around and gently reminds him that even the dogs get to eat the crumbs from the children’s table. All three texts are a proclamation of the radical inclusiveness of the kingdom of heaven. Inclusivity is not a minor theme in the Scriptures; it is at the heart of the story of God’s love for all God’s people.
German theologian Jurgen Moltmann once wrote, “The nearer we come to Christ, the nearer we come together.” In a world anxiously searching for peace, in a world where people desperately need to learn how to trust and help each other; God is still calling the church to be an example of what God wants the world to be – a community where all people are our kind of people.
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.