Monday, August 15, 2011

Crumbs

First Presbyterian Church - Lafayette, Louisiana
August 14, 2011 - Ordinary (20 A)
Genesis 45:1-15
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

Leftovers, lagniappe, crumbs - Oh my! Leftovers, lagniappe, and crumbs - these are a few of my favorite things. My children often give me the fried crumblings left in their chicken nugget boxes even before I request them. It’s not exactly heart healthy - I do confess - but sometimes the crumbs are the best part. I imagine that’s where things like cracklin’ came from. In just about every culture you find things like cracklin’ because someone has taken the leftover and made it into a main attraction.

Of course, not all leftovers are created equal (see Robert Burns’ Address tae the Haggis), and some crumbs are not pleasing to anyone. Why else would we refer to a bad day as being crumby? Maybe that’s not too common a term these days, but we all have days where the one thing we desire or feel called to is just out of reach. Sometimes I call those days “linebacker days” because it feels like every time I get close to my objective a linebacker takes me out. We all have days where the things we turn to for substance simply crumble. We all have times when we come to the table, and we are hungry.

Of course I am speaking of a general condition of need here, but there is also a fine line between symbols of need and needs that are specific, actual, and very real. When Joseph’s brothers came to him there was a famine going on. They were hungry - really hungry. As it turns out, their need was a good thing.

We don’t really know what Joseph was planning. At first it seemed he was angling to get his little brother and his father near him and throw his other brothers in jail (sounds about like what I would have done). Then he loses control. He reveals himself, and in his vulnerability the will of God is set loose to redeem and to save. God saves them through their own confessions and through silos of leftover grain from the harvests of years past. And Joseph assures them, as he assures us, you did not do this!

It makes me wonder - where are the leftovers in our lives? Are they in the keeping of someone else, or are we holding them in trust - waiting for the opportunity to lose control? Or maybe we have become as the ones expecting the law to save us. Christians often speak of grace, but we can become as much of a bunch of decent and orderly legalists as anyone. That’s where Paul comes in to assure us whether we are banking on our heritage or whether we are banking on our willingness to follow, our salvation is deeply rooted in God’s decision to love us.

God’s grace is lavish and unnecessary, and in that sense it is lagniappe. It’s the batter you lick off the spoon. It’s the way by which we might know that God is beyond our capacity to conceive and control, and yet God is closely and intimately involved in our lives. Our response does not determine God’s, but because of God’s response to our lives we can participate in something that is simply over the top. We can respond in faith.

I imagine that is what the disciples felt that they were doing. They knew the Canaanite Woman was not supposed to be speaking to Jesus. First off, she was a woman approaching a man in broad daylight. Next, she wasn’t even a Jew. So they did the logical thing. “Hey Jesus, we get it that you love and accept everyone - but she’s barking up the wrong tree. Can’t you just make her go away?”

Now, this story is one that a friend of mine ruined for me a while back, and I’m going to try to do the same for you. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that once you have seen something you can not unsee it. Anyway, my friend David - who happens to be an African American, and a pastor, and a lot of other good things too - once challenged me by acknowledging the fact that, although Jesus responded to her in a way that was correct by law and by culture, Jesus responded to her with a racial slander. He called her a dog, and he did it because she was not a Jew.

Now, why does that matter and what do we do with it? It matters because Jesus knew that there were rules to follow. It matters because Jesus knew that the rules were more important to us than they have ever been to God. It matters because in this simple moment of fatigue, or hunger, or whatever burden he was consumed with at that moment - Jesus demonstrated his humanity. It matters because in the Canaanite Woman’s vulnerability God opened up a window to demonstrate the fact that the light of faith can penetrate any darkness.

What do we do with this? For one we can realize that even Jesus had a bad day every now and then! For another we can come to a deeper understanding of what it means to be faithful. For Jesus, faithfulness was not simply about being an all knowing, all powerful super hero. Instead, faithfulness was about attentiveness to God’s will in all things. Jesus was, at first, responding to the situation based on the law and the expectations of the covenanted community (not a very Jesus-like thing to do in my opinion). Then, in hearing her response, Jesus could do nothing short of acknowledge the truth in her claim - her claim to a share of God’s love.

You see, it wasn’t simply that she accepted a position of subservience; it was the fact that she spoke a word of truth about the Master! Even the dogs are allowed crumbs! Could this Jesus who proclaimed the value of flowers and sparrows deny God’s providence, God’s grace, and God’s mercy to this woman? Surely not! What’s more is that it was not simply the woman who was blessed - it was her daughter!

Wouldn’t that be a switch to the prayer chain emails that promise blessing if you forward it to 12 people in the next 5 minutes? Perhaps we should start one that says, “Tell God you want to be given the dregs of someone else’s good pleasure, then forward this to 15 friends. In the next 24 hours you will receive nothing, but someone you love will be blessed beyond measure!”

Believe it or not, there is some truth in that. I know, because I have seen it. I’ve seen it because people come here when they are hungry. I’ve seen it because people come here with a hunger to care for their neighbors in need. I see it regularly in our fellowship events, in our study groups, in the passionate care and reverence we show for God’s property, and especially in our outreach and care for others.

And that’s a good thing. I believe it’s good because it is through our hunger and vulnerability that we open up windows for light to shine into darkness - not only the darkness of the world, but even the darkness of our own souls.

And it can happen right here. Lagniappe, leftovers, and crumbs - oh my! All the providence, mercy, and grace we have been hearing about today is coming true here and now. After church we will have a luncheon today that extends the love and joy of worshiping as God’s chosen people, holy and beloved. That’s lagniappe - so don’t forget to lick the spoon!

After that some will join the C.U.P.S. elves making gift baskets for needy families for this Christmas. Why are we starting so soon? Because there are more leftovers in our silos than we can handle, and because this year we will make 1,ooo baskets! As I think about this little congregation making that many baskets, it occurs to me that we are not just opening a window - we’re nocking down walls!

Let’s see. That takes care of the leftovers - what about the crumbs? What about those who are outside our reach? What about the opportunity to tell people that we do not normally talk to that this is a place to experience the compassion of the Master’s table?

That’s a tricky one, and I want to be very clear here in saying that I am not just talking about people in different income brackets. I’m talking about anyone who may have a need to experience the presence of God. I’m talking about anyone who might benefit from a kind word, from the offering of care, and from the witness of faith you might offer.

I could tell you about programs like our upcoming Community Grill that offer the opportunity to invite others, but I think there is something deeper than a program that has to be considered first. I think the first step any of us might take is to realize that we were once outside of the covenant. We must first realize that we are not by birth the children of the Master’s table. Once we realize that we have no more claim to God’s grace than the next person - then and only then - we will see abundant opportunities to extend the grace that we have received.

In fact, I believe that it is only when we realize our own hunger and vulnerability that we find and receive the salvation of God. And I believe it comes from people and places we never suspect it to come from. I think that is what people are after, not a program but a real community of people sharing their burdens and celebrations and giving thanks to God. That sounds a lot like what we do here - crumbs and all! Let us continue with all that we have, all that we do, and all that we are. And to God be the glory, both now and always. Amen.
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