On Sunday in my sermon, I was wrestling with the idea of God’s providence—God has a redemptive plan and will give us what we need—and the idea of our freedom, a crucial aspect of the gift of human life. The idea of God’s will sometimes can seem like it conflicts with our will. This came up in the context of the story of Joseph, forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery, as he ascends to the heights of power and ultimately saves their lives when famine strikes. How does God allow terrible things to happen to people? If God was planning for him to be powerful and wealthy, couldn’t God have just as easily have prevented him from getting thrown into that pit in the first place? Does the positive outcome outweigh the suffering?
So, too, with our Gospel on Sunday—Jesus behaves terribly toward a Canaanite woman looking for healing for her daughter—he calls her a dog. In response, she bests him—even the dogs get the crumbs, she snaps. BAM. Even Jesus needs to be converted sometimes. Was he testing her? Treating her cruelly to see how she’d behave? I don’t think so. Jesus’ encounter with her shows us that even the Son of God can be transformed, that transformation is essential, like freedom, to what it is to be human.
Jesus was transformed—he was pushed out of his previously narrow assumption of what he was called to do. Joseph was transformed—he forgave his brothers for their violence, and saw God’s hand in the world around him. God was working there, but I reject entirely the notion that God intended the events that lead up to them. Our world is a place where God dances—but it’s not always God’s choreography from the beginning.
I can point to all kinds of places I need to be transformed, and this week, I’m particularly aware of where our country needs that grace, too. A study was released on Tuesday that said that 37% of white Americans believe that the shooting and protest in Ferguson, MO raises important conversations abut race. 80% of African Americans think so. So, just for the record, let me say: The events of the last ten days raise important issues about race. Our country is an amazing experiment of seeking equality, democracy, and fairness (see my July post about patriotic humility). There is a lot that we get right. But the evidence at how we think about difference, and how people of different races are treated in the courts and in law enforcement, makes it clear to me that we’re not all there.
God’s providence means that there will be reconciliation, there will be salvation. But, like Jesus and the Cannanite woman, like Joseph and his brothers, we have to take some risks around vulnerability and truth-telling. What could we do at Christ Church to more faithfully embody God’s healing for this world? Where does God’s providence lead us in fighting racism and confronting prejudice?
I’ll close with a prayer I found from the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska, and their anti-racism work:
God, Creator of all things, we come broken with a heart that has been torn like Jesus on the cross, the cross that draws together your children of many colors.
You know our suffering.
We ask in Jesus' name that you heal your people.
Where there has been unearned advantage because of the color of our skin,
give us courage to repent and to fight the injustice and sin of racism.
Holy God, who created all colors of people, allow us to honor your light in every soul.
Help us to see you in one another, to hear your voice in all people, and to work to end racism in our church, our communities, and the world. Amen.