Facing racism and prejudices head on!

CCC                      September 9, 2018                                 Mark 7: 24-37


Well today is the kick-off of a new school year, and despite the church’s liturgical calendar that puts the beginning of the church year with the first Sunday of Advent, and our calendars, that put the beginning on January 1st, the first Sunday after Labour Day is when most holidays are over, and Children’s Church is back in operation after the summer break.

A break is good from the regular routine. It gives people a chance to recharge their batteries. Today’s gospel also speaks about Jesus own need for a break, not a summer break, but one within his life of ministry.

Jesus had left Galilee and had gone to Tyre, hoping to get away from the crowds. Since, Tyre was not Jewish territory, Jesus hoped he would be less know and get a bit of a break.

I like that, Jesus needed a break. Jesus was trying to take care of himself.  Many of us this summer were able to take a break but now the work begins. I think it is important for all of us as we start again, to remember to take care of ourselves. It will be very easy to get caught up in the busy pace of life, whether you are a student at university or a senior citizen.

So I would like to ask you, what do you need to do to take care of yourself? How can you pace yourself?

I remember when I was at the beginning of my ministerial training, some 30+years ago, my supervisor, a seasoned minister, probably in his late 40s, asked if I wanted to be a sprinter or a long-distance runner. He was not talking about the sport either. He obviously saw in me that side that throws himself into what must be done, not measuring well the long-term consequences of working at such a pace. I don’t think I appreciated how true his feedback was at the time, but I soon realized how accurate and wise his counsel was.

Of course, I wanted to be in my career a long-distance runner. Well, that was about 34 years ago. I have put it into practice, most of the time. When I didn’t, I paid the price, but overall, I became a long-distance runner.

So now, I go back to the question. What do you need to do to be along-distance runner? What do you need to do so you can continue the work that God has called you to do at this time in your life?

Jesus knew he needed to take a break. Now, I can suggest all kinds of ways, a daily break, a weekly day off, what ever, but it is only you that knows what you need, given your circumstances, to continue the work that God has called you to do. What type of break do you need to book into your life so you can recharge yourself?

So my first point is pretty simple, what must you do to take care of yourself?

Now let’s continue with our gospel passage. Although Jesus had wanted to get away for some peace, it did not work. The word of his ministry had travelled outside of Galilee. People had tracked him down. The first story then deals with a Syrophoenician woman who comes to Jesus asking him to heal her daughter.

There is so much about that story that one can get into, not the least the woman’s incredible determination. What I want to focus on though is what happened to Jesus in this encounter.

Because she is a gentile, a non-Jew, a foreigner, Jesus turns down her request. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Ouch, this is not the Jesus we are used to. No where else, in the Gospels, does Jesus turn down a person’s request for healing. What is going on?

Some scholars have a real problem with this, if Jesus is God, how can He have responded like that? He could not have changed his mind.  They propose that he was testing her. Personally, I don’t buy thatBut let’s continue the story.

She answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  

Jesus is truck by her answer and heals her daughter. He believed his mission was to reach the Jewish people. He was also a man of his time, with all the racial prejudices that existed. Her quick come-back challenged him and he grew in his own understanding of his mission.

We do not have to put into question Jesus’ divinity, but we have to leave him his full humanness, which means he was a man of his time, and his awareness, his understanding, thanks to this woman, deepened.

That is a good thing for us, because it challenges us to face our own prejudices that we might not want to acknowledge. We would like to believe, I am a good Christiana, I am not racist. I don’t have prejudices. But are we sure?

I remember years ago when I was on the Mennonite Board of a Missions, which was, at that time, a bi-national agency, hearing that all staff had to participate in racism awareness workshops. I was surprised. These are all good people, why would they need to take a workshop on racism? The premise for this was that we all are racist, even good Christians, and we all need to face our racism, and own it. Only then can we deal appropriately with the issues before us. I realized how true that was.

For us here is Canada, where would that racism lie? Where would our prejudices be hidden? Is it concerning our First nations people? Is it about Muslims? Or it is about immigrants in general?

Don’t be afraid to scratch the surface to face your prejudices. Our own racism, prejudices, are fed by the media, traditional and social. I read a fascinating article this week, in response to President Trump’s complaint that conservative perspectives are not given their air time so to speak. It explained how the algorism in You Tube and Facebook work. Every click like on Facebook, every viewing on You Tube, are registered to offer you next time options that you might like. The accuracies of the articles, the political nature, the hate that is brought forward, are not very well controlled. The recent genocide in Burma of the Rohingya minority was fuelled on You Tube by extremist Buddhist monks.

The flare-up of anti immigration feelings in Germany, Hungary, Italy, and even here is Canada are nurtured by the various media. Without wanting to get into politics, in response to a created fear of immigration, our present provincial election has parties promoting cutting back on immigration. One of the parties is using the age old fear of the French community’s assimilation to justify cuts in immigration.  If you check yesterday’s LaPresse +, there is an article that lists the myths and prejudices about immigration and give the actual facts. The fear of immigration is not based on facts.

In Quebec, the fears and prejudices lie as well in the English community. It does not take much to ignite intolerance in people.

So I ask you again, where lie your prejudices? Confront them within yourself, remembering that racism, nationalism and xenophobia are antithetical to the Gospel.

Going back to the gospel reading, we have one other story, that again happens in a non-Jewish area, so we can assume the deaf man who also had a speech impediment, was a non-Jew. The part of the story I want to focus on though, is, how after the healing, people could not keep quiet about it. Even though Jesus told them to keep quiet, they wouldn’t. It was just too good to keep to themselves.

We have to ask ourselves, as individual Christians, as a Church, are we like the deaf man with his speech impediment, not hearing what is going on in the world, not able to communicate, not willing to confront the racism that underlies a lot of the public forum?

I thank God that voices are being raised saying no to racism.

I mentioned the rise of the right in several countries in Europe, and here is Canada. In Germany, though, with what happened in Chemnitz with the far-right demonstrations last week, a rock concert was held and drew close to 50,000 people.  Its aim was to raise their voices loudly and clearly saying NO to racism and yes to a society that includes all people. 50,000 people could not keep quiet!

As Christians, we are called to not only face our own prejudices, but to speak out loudly against the prejudices and racism that exists in our own society.

God has given us ears to hear, and voices to speak, so we can speak up for a society where there is room for all people, regardless of the colour of their skin, their religion, or their sexual orientation, to live in peace.

Sisters and brothers, Jesus’ example calls each one of us to ask ourselves, what must you do to take care of yourself, so you can continue the work God has called you to do?

Secondly, Jesus’ ability to face his own prejudices and adjust his thinking, confronts us to ask ourselves, what prejudices, what racism, must I confront within myself so I can be more faithful?

Finally, as individuals and the Church, as people who Christ has opened our ears and loosed our tongues, faced with the rise of racism, xenophobia, & nationalism, we must speak out, and not remain quiet. We must speak out for what God hopes for us, a world where all people live in peace.


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