Fierce Love by Pastor Leah Rosso

1 Corinthians 13; Matthew

I have found, as a parent, that one of the attributes of pretty much all children, at least all of mine, is a large amount of persistence. Maybe you’ve experienced that even this past weekend. Time off from school seems to bring on even more persistence with asking for candy or treats or screen time or play dates… it can seem to go on and on and on until I think I’m going to go crazy. And if I’m tired and hungry, it usually ends with me telling them I’ve had enough. And if I catch that little gleam in their eye that reminds me how much I love them, sometimes I start laughing at myself and at their persistence, and I give in.

And it’s times like those that I remind myself that love indeed is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful. You might think that I’m referring to my own love for my kids and how I re-spond to their annoying persistence, but if I’m in a really good place, then I also remember that they are persistent in their asking precisely because of their love for me, and because of their assurance— their absolute confidence— that I love them. What an amazing thing, that even though I keep screwing up as a parent over and over and over again, they keep expecting me to be kind and good and generous. They expect love from me.

In the Gospel text this morning, from the book of Matthew, there is a Canaanite woman— a woman from the land that the Israelites delighted in conquering. A woman who has no place with Jewish people. A woman who is a complete outsider. And this is obvious from Jesus’ response to her. He has gone to the land of Tyre in order to be alone, to get away, to find rest. And instead he finds this annoyingly persistent woman. She’s not one of his fold, this woman is an outsider, a stranger on the street, someone who has no relationship with Jesus at all and was seen as an enemy of the Jewish people. But wow she is persistent. She keeps asking and keeps asking and keeps asking until Jesus turns around and tells her that he has had enough! He is not supposed to take crumbs from the Master’s table and feed them to the dogs.

The disciples would’ve understood the reference. They would’ve understood that Jesus came for God’s people— the Jewish people. When we hear this today, our hearts stop for a moment. You can almost hear the record scratch in the background as heads turn. This is Jesus. This is the one who is the bearer of patience, kindness, and active, unconditional love. And yet his words to this woman are harsh. But the woman knows something by being there that not one of us can see. In that moment, as Jesus tells her that what he has to offer isn’t meant for her, she doesn’t stop asking. She is fiercely fully of love in that moment— full of a fierce kind of love for her daughter who needs her care, who needs her advocacy, and apparently in many ways, this woman is also full of great hope and love for Jesus. She doesn’t give up because she knows something about the love he has, even for her, and so she fiercely asks again, saying, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs off of the Master’s table.” And Jesus sees in her a woman of deep and abiding faith and responds with admiration, telling her that her faith has made her daughter well.

And lucky for us, Jesus’ disciples were paying attention. Here we have one of the examples of Jesus opening the door to God’s grace being available to all— not just to Jews— and in the book of Acts that we also read from this morning, it becomes vitally important that Jesus’ disciples were paying attention, for it is now their turn to decide who is in and who is out. The early church is struggling with where to draw the lines around God’s grace precisely because there are so many outsiders hearing about Jesus and wanting to know how to follow. And these new followers aren’t Jews— they’re Greeks and Gentiles and other nefarious outsiders. So the early church leaders are gathered to decide if circumcision is necessary for salvation. This is an important question because up until now, for thousands of years, circumcision was the sign, if you were male, that you were of the Jewish faith; that you were a part of the chosen people. But cir-cumcision to those newly converted Greeks and Romans was just as offensive to them as female circumcision is to us today. So the question had to be raised. Is this part of God’s plan of salvation still, or is it just a stumbling block that is keeping people from knowing Christ?

After much conversation, after testimony from Paul and Barnabus and Peter who all share stories of the people they have come to know and love. All share stories of how the Holy Spirit has been at work through uncircumcised people, even when they thought this was impossible, and how it doesn’t seem that the Holy Spirit cares about whether someone is circumcised or not, James, the new leader of the church in Jerusalem— the mother church— the original church— gets up and concurs that circumcision, while preferable, does not seem necessary and should not keep anyone from being part of the community.

What has happened here, is the same thing that happened with Jesus and the Canaanite woman. The disciples have been out sharing life with people outside of the Jewish faith, and their hearts have been broken open as they have seen God at work in these people’s lives, and they have come to realize and even admire the tenacity, the fierceness, of which those who are outsiders experience God’s love and share God’s love.

Last winter as the Ad Council, the leaders of this church, met, God unanimously placed on our hearts a care and concern for the stressed out parents and children in our community. And then when we met with the Social Justice teams that had gone out and listened to the community leaders in St. Cloud and Sartell and heard about ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, and began to explore what it would mean to be a Trauma Responsive Church, our hearts began to break again as we realized from our own experiences of ACEs and in hearing each other’s sto-ries, how much we as a church can make a difference. We can make a difference both in the life of young people who already have several ACEs, and in the lives of parents, to help them not be so stressed out, and help actually prevent ACEs. But like most things, this doesn’t just help stressed out parents and kids. While we are on this journey, offering support and ministry in a variety of ways, we also will be exploring our own Adverse Childhood Experiences so that all of us can experience healing and wholeness, and our community will be made stronger by the inter generational relationships that are created.

We have a chance to be like Jesus, hearing the cries of parents and children all around us and responding with love. We have a chance to be like those first disciples, breaking down barriers that children and adults have when it comes to experiencing God’s love, and walking with one another on a path toward healing.

We often think of putting love first as something we do because we are choosing to love some-one else. But the only reason it’s even possible is because God first loved us. That’s what all of this is about— creating space and building relationships that make it possible for all of us to have healthy, loving relationships that allow God to transform our lives through God’s amazing love.

Many of you have heard our story of when my youngest was born. How she was 3lbs 3oz and spent the first seven weeks of her life in the NICU. I was trying to work part-time so I could still take maternity leave when it was time for her to leave the hospital. We were trying to keep life fairly normal for her two sisters at home. And yet we were inundated with all of the daily life of things too— choosing a kindergarten; celebrating birthdays; paying bills... and even with two sets of grandparents and numerous friends, our stress was still through the roof. When I think of how much it meant to find a care package show up at the hospital; or a meal show up at our home; or a neighbor who shoveled a sidewalk, church people who prayed us through it. Every little thing helped at a time when we were too tired to even find the words to pray anything but “Help.”

And it is those people who prayed and helped and brought food that were Jesus’ hands and feet in a time when we desperately needed Jesus to show up.

That’s what we want to do and be as a church. We want to be a people who follow Jesus; we want to be a people who know that we don’t all have to be clones of each other— that there are many ways to church together; we want to be a people that equip ourselves and one another to be in ministry in our everyday, ordinary lives; and we want to be a people who are supporting stressed out parents and their kids because we know both from the Bible and now from science that chronic stress debilitates families— adults and children— and God is calling us to respond.

God’s love for us is fierce— persistent—extraordinary—unconditional. God’s love for us is like a mother hen, brooding over her young. It’s not a tame kind of love, or even polite a lot of the time. And God calls us to love the people of this world in just that way— like the Canaanite mother whose child was dying. May we have a fierce kind of love that never gives up; never looks back; keeps on until the end. Because that kind of love— this amazing love from God— never ends. Imagine what we can do for stressed out parents and kids, for one another, for all of the St. Cloud region, when we put love first. Imagine what you can do today when you choose to fiercely love the children who run up and down this aisle; the parents who are stressfully running after them; the grandparents who may be far away and have a load of stress from not being near their kids. We are an inter generational community that knows we are loved by God. Imagine what we can do when we share that love and trust that God will bring the healing that is needed.