Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sermon: Hysterical strength

Sermon for September 6, 2015 / 5:30pm
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost 
(Proper 18)
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills, Tucson, AZ
Lord, open our lips, that our mouth shall proclaim your praise.  Amen

We have all heard stories
of mothers who pick up a car to save their baby,
or heroes who do incredible feats
to save someone who is in an accident.

In 2006 in Tucson, Tim Boyle watched
as a Chevrolet Camaro hit an 18-year-old.
The car pinned the young adult,
still alive, underneath.
Boyle ran to the scene of the accident and
lifted the Camaro off the teenager,
while the driver of the car pulled him to safety.[1]

This is just one of dozens of stories. 
Stories of well-documented feats
of what the medical community calls
hysterical strength” – that
-- unnatural and amazing strength
tapped during high-stress situations.
These stories jar our sense of possibility.

This “hysterical strength” might be
what happened with the woman
in the gospel reading today. 

Jesus had left Jerusalem
and went away to the region of Tyre,
a Gentile, non-Jewish region, to get away. 
He did not want anyone to know he was there. 

The Syro-Phoenician woman
heard he was in the area and
sought him out immediately. 
She felt the horror of her daughter’s affliction
and was filled with fierce motherly love.
She approached Jesus and
begged him to cast out the demon
from her daughter.

And then, she heard, “No.” 
From Jesus.  She heard, “No.”

Have you ever heard a “No” from Jesus
in your life?  Or sensed a “No”? 
It seems so out of character! It seems so unfair.

Sometimes, we seem to hear
a “no” from God when we ask for help
in the midst of our struggle while
nothing seems to soothe us.

Sometimes, we don’t even ask;
Thinking that we are not worthy
to ask for our needs –
maybe we feel we are not holy enough,
since we can’t come to church every Sunday,
or we forget to pray every day.

Sometimes, we might feel that
our struggle seems so minor
compared to the horrors we hear about:

the striking SunTran employees;
out of work on Labor Day.

the refugee crisis in Europe
(and in our own country)
… people fleeing a deadly life
in their own country and
are turned away at the borders,
the struggle of race relations in our country,
shown by high percentage
of Af Am’s in prison
compared to the general population,
the death of endangered species
threatened by climate change

We wonder –
why would God even bother with our little pain? 

So we hear “No.”
Or we think we hear “No.”
But is it possible, that it is a “not yet,”?

Is it possible that we simply have not recognized
how God is doing a new thing?

The Syro-Phoenician woman heard “not yet.”
Standing near Jesus, she came and bowed down. 
Near him, she found a hysterical strength
to respond to Jesus, who engaged in a
verbal sparring match.
And with her phrase of equal strength and power,
the woman expresses her gritty faith;
she did not take his “No.” 

She made Jesus reconsider
what “faith” looks like. 
He noticed her persistence.
He noticed her hopeful insight.
He noticed her trusting acceptance.

àHere, Jesus recognized the woman’s argument
as stronger than his own and
he granted her petition.

àHere, Jesus reframed faith as –
clinging to Jesus,
expecting him to hear, to restore, to save. 
It is demanding he do
what he says he is going to do. 
The woman,
fueled by her hysterical strength,
knew that Jesus
would never turn away
anyone who seeks help.
This encounter recalls
the story in John’s gospel
at the wedding in Cana. 
Mary, Jesus’ mother,
insists that since there is no wine,
that he is to do something. 
“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?
My hour has not yet come.”
Yet, he does do something and
changed the jars of water into wine. 
This was the first of his signs,
revealing his glory.

In today’s story,
another women pushes him
with hysterical strength of wit
to cross boundaries
of gender, religion and ethnic origins,
to heal her daughter. 
He was just trying to get away,
but instead, he changed his mind.

He healed the woman’s child.

The miracle here is not just
the demon extraction,
but also the overcoming of
prejudices and boundaries
for his love.

Jesus knew that he could never
turn away anyone who seeks help –
even those “gentiles” –
the non-Jew population of the world.

And so it is with us.  Next to Jesus, we, too,
find in our community of faith
a tenacity, a wisdom, a wit. 
Next to Jesus, in our community of faith,
we find a hysterical strength. 

For example, from our own community,
Early on, the
“Border and Immigration” ministry team
heard a “No” from the community.
There was debate about
where the community might support
 – or not – the refugees and immigrants
from our nearby border. 

Yet as the ministry team continued
to pray and discern and be tenacious,
hearts softened and opened up
to realize our role and
the possibilities to which God is calling us. 

Our community began to find healing
through the presence of Jesus
and monthly prayer vigils, border visits and sewing efforts.
Not all the problems have been solved,
but many hearts have been transformed
and God’s redemption is making way.

In another example, our own community engaged
“After School Music (and homework) Program”
that supports children of two
nearby elementary schools. 
At these schools,
nearly all the children qualify for free lunch
due to their poverty. 

Through prayer and presence near Jesus,
our community
discerned a need to transform
hearts through serving these kids. 

Again this year,
we will have 22 children and 50 volunteers
each weekday to make a difference
in each others’ lives.
Not all the poverty problems have been solved,
but many hearts have been transformed
and God’s redemption is making way.

Coming up on October 31, you, too,
can stand in the presence of Jesus –
in this community. 

On that Saturday,
our community will engage in prayer,
dreaming of ways we can live into
our vision for St. Philip’s. 

How do we do that? 
Like the Syro-Phoenician woman, we persist.
We express hopeful insight.
We demonstrate trusting acceptance. 
We dream of bringing about
God’s redemptive powers to heal the world.
All voices matter in this discussion;
we hope you will participate.

The good news today is that
God’s hyperactive strength embues us
with courage and hope and tenacity. 
God heals and reconciles and offers wholeness
to you and to me and to our community. 

For when we are held together
by the nearness of Jesus,
here at the Eucharistic table,
we can recognize new possibilities
in a truly abundant world. 


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