What’s in a Name?
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

September 6, 2015


Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Mark 7:24-37

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

This past week has once again been one of pictures in the news that cause us to tremble. A child, a refugee, put on a boat in hopes of getting to a land that is not in the grip of war, famine, disease, and death, whose poor little body was washed up on the shore. An aunt who grieves because she sent the money to try and get the family out of Syria and to a place where they could live. A father who says he wishes to bury his child and sit by his grave until he himself passes away.

In the midst of this refugee crisis, the Hungarian Prime Minister says that Hungary is a Christian nation, and will only allow Christians to immigrate to Hungary. Contrast this with the response of Austria and Scotland. When the truckload of 71 refugees was found, and all of the people in the back were dead, thousands of Austrians came out in Vienna to protest their treatment and to argue for welcoming refugees. Scotland’s First Minister wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron and argued against the policy of the UK, which she called out as “walk on by on the other side” in clear echo of the Good Samaritan story.

I am not naïve enough to believe that I understand the whole situation in Syria, or in the refugee crisis of those trying to flee the four horsemen of the apocalypse (death, famine, disease and war). But I do know where Syria is. It is the same place it was in the Bible, alongside the land of Phoenicia, north of Israel and Judah.

And Jesus has tried to get somewhere where no one knows his name. But he cannot. He has done too much, is too well known, the rumor mill travels faster than the disciples can walk on foot. His name has traveled far and wide.

And so in this place where he hopes not to be recognized, a woman comes to him. A Gentile woman. A Syrophoenician woman. A mother. A Gentile mother from Syria, whose child is afflicted with a demon. And she drops down and begs, the posture not only of groveling, but also of worship in those days.

And Jesus, in ways that have been echoed by the church down through the centuries, says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (See, “dogs” was one of the nicer insults that Jews used for Gentiles in those days.)

Every three years when this has come up in the Lectionary, I have tried to justify Jesus’ statement to here; I have tried to downplay his words; I have tried to dance around their implications; because what Jesus is saying is, “Once we get all our own people taken care of, we might have some leftovers for you strays. Until then, I guess you can just get on a boat and hope you make it.”

How often has this been the answer of the church? Towards children fleeing Central American war zones in our own day, towards patriotic Japanese-Americans in World War Two, towards black Americans since even before the Constitution labeled them 3/5ths of a person, towards people who do not fit the stereotypes of male and female that we grew up with, towards those with mental illness, towards those who are homeless, towards Native Americans, towards veterans returning from war with substandard medical and mental health care, and so many others. Well, once we get done with ourselves, there might be some leftovers for you strays…

For all the times that this has been our answer, we need to pay closer attention to Jesus, because he is about to learn something. Because this woman, this mother, says, in effect, “Syrophoenician lives matter.”

And Jesus changes his mind. Like God did, when Moses argued against the wrath of God for the Israelites. Like God did when Abraham argued with him. Jesus changes his answer. Go. Your daughter is healed.

And if he could not hide before, now he cannot go anywhere without someone coming to him. And he tries to keep it quiet. He says to the man he heals, “Now that you can hear and speak, don’t tell anyone who did this for you.” The response sounds like that terrible joke, “Telling you? I’m telling everybody!”

Is that our fear, that if we become known for helping, others will want our help? That our name will get out there as a people who help? Because if that is our fear, then we have forgotten that it is not our name that we live and work and help under. It is in the name of Jesus that we do what we do. And if we are to honor that name by which we are claimed, then we need to learn as Jesus did, that there are no outsiders to God’s love, nor are there any insiders free from the call of God’s commandments.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
the LORD is the maker of them all.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor.
Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate;
for the LORD pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them.

A good name… We are called by one whose name is above all names. And Jesus, who has called us by name, did not come to be served, but to serve. And whom did he serve? The poor, and the poor in spirit. The weak and the halt, the blind and the lame. The unloving, the unlovely, and the unlovable. Those of Jerusalem, in the heart of the culture and the religion and the land, and the Syrophoenician, the foreigner, the one of different religion, the outsider.

What is in a name? In the name of Jesus, we are the church. In the name of Jesus, there is service to all the children of God.

Thanks be to God.
Amen.