Speaking Truth

The message delivered at Goose Creek United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 6th.

Scripture: Mark 7:24-30

After reading this passage, the first thought that came to me was the phrase, speaking truth to power. Most of us are familiar with that phrase from the American Civil Rights movement. The phrase also has a home in the Quaker Church. In the 1950s the Quaker Church used the phrase as part of the title for one of their books on non-violence. It was believed that the church had a responsibility to speak truth to power. Where earthly powers believed might made right, the church should point out that there were ancient and fundamental truths:

…that love endures and overcomes; that hatred destroys; that what is obtained by love is retained, but what is obtained by hatred proves a burden.

Speak Truth to Power, A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence

It is easy to see the spiritual roots of the phrase. When you look at the Gospels, there are so many occasions where Jesus is confronted by earthly powers. And in each of those instances, his response is not divine power. His response is the divine word. He speaks truth that shows the weakness and temporal nature of the earthly powers. One example of such a confrontation is when the city leaders bring a woman before Jesus. They tell him that she has committed adultery, and the law says she should be stoned. They scattered quickly when Jesus told them that the first stone should only be cast by one without sin.

Another example that comes to mind is the passage where a young rich man comes to Jesus and tells him he knows and keeps all the laws and wants to know what else is required of him. Jesus responds back that the young man does keep the law, and all that is required of him is to sell all he has, give it to the poor and to follow Jesus. And that young man goes away in despair. I often wonder about why he left in despair. Was he looking for an ego boost from a well known teacher and didn’t get it? Or maybe he came because he recognized there was a hole in his heart that all his riches couldn’t fill; but when salvation was pointed out to him, he couldn’t stop taking all the placebos he’d used trying to sustain himself.

What’s interesting about the passage from Mark for today is that Jesus isn’t being confronted by an earthly power. In the passage a desperate woman is searching for divine power. Some think Jesus is testing the woman in the passage, but she has already been tested well before she spoke to him. She had to break with social norms just to be in his presence. She lived in a time where women didn’t have rights, and their opinions weren’t heard. But she went unescorted to see Jesus for her daughter. Next she was a Gentile. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. She wasn’t of his faith, and it would have been expected that the disciples simply sent her away. Even if she managed to sneak past, Jesus should not have spoken to her. Yet in the passage, she is in his presence, and he is conversing with her. She may have been tested, but I don’t believe Jesus was testing her.

What I think we often fail to see in this passage is the shortest and least recognized parable that Jesus spoke. When confronted by the woman, Jesus responds that the children should be fed first. Jesus’ ministry must initially fulfill prophesy, and that prophesy is directed at the Jewish people. But first implies a second may come. In time that ministry will spread to others outside the Jewish faith. Jesus’ response isn’t a no. His parable implies not now and not yet.

I wonder how often when God responds to our prayers with not now do we respond back with indignation? How often do we rage at God because we come before him in desperation, and the answer we want to hear isn’t the one we receive? Indignation isn’t the response Jesus receives from the woman in the passage. Her response is one that implies understanding. She knows she isn’t initially the focus of the blessing that is Jesus’ ministry. She knows that can’t make demands of Jesus. She understands the parable he is speaking, but she also understands its ultimate completion. She is part of the household of God. Even the children’s pets benefit from the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table. If all the blessings she receives are just the crumbs compared to what the Jewish people receive, it will be enough. It’s a lesson for us today. Whatever blessings we receive from God, they are enough.

What does it mean for God’s blessings to be enough? Sometimes it is the strength to keep on going. I remember once speaking to an usher in the church where I grew up. The usher asked how I was doing, and I told him that I was doing fine and would be going to college soon. The usher told me, “Good. Keep going that way. Don’t be like me.” That usher had a problem with alcohol. It was a demon that tormented him in so many ways. Somedays he won, and some days the addiction did. The thing is, God’s blessings are enough. On Sunday morning when he came to church, the addiction didn’t win. That usher had a church that loved him and didn’t turn away from him. He had a place where he could bring his burdens to God and serve Him no matter the demons he fought.

As I prepared this message, I saw another Facebook post from Rev. Chris Barrett. We’ve lifted prayers for him on more than one occasion in the church. He’s been fighting a relapse of lymphoma. He and his wife decided after news of this latest relapse that it was time for the family to leave SC to be closer to her family in the event of his death. Chris was tentative in sharing his most recent Facebook post. In the last several months, he went through chemotherapy and donor lymphocyte infusions to shore up his immune system and give him the best chance against the cancer. His latest doctor’s visit was a shock. Instead of seeing the continued spread of the lymphoma, they saw his immune system was rallying and suppressing it! Chris is celebrating this good news even as he understands that they are very early in this treatment and so many things could go wrong which would allow the cancer to come back. But in this moment, he is taking time to step back and be grateful and thankful to God.

Church, we don’t speak of blessings and miracles because of our own great righteousness or because we can demand they come into being. We speak of blessings and miracles because we have gained insight. Around all the strife and turmoil, God is still there. And through his grace and glory; our souls are healed, and we are made whole.

So when you leave here today, remember to speak truth to power. When you face earthly powers, remind them that there is a Truth beyond their temporal rein that builds a Kingdom that shall never end. When you face divine power, may you acknowledge we have all fallen short. But God loves us anyway and still carries us when we have not the strength.