The Pilgrimage Statement

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I imagine Jesus is doing a lot of sighing this morning.  The Nashville Statement.  Several evangelical leaders–President of the seminary I attended among them–so narrowly defining marriage, that not even my husband and I would be considered married in the eyes of their God.  (Procreation is given as one of the purposes of marriage.  That’s never been an option for us.)  They have drafted a statement–14 articles long, plus a lengthy preamble–excluding from the church large numbers of people because their sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to a rigid, binary understanding of sexuality or gender.  Excluding people from the kindom of God because they don’t understand them.


A trans woman in our congregation grew up in church in the South, but now practices as a pagan.  One Sunday during prayer time, she said, “If I had had a church like this one when I was growing up, I would still be Christian.”  Because of the way the church treated her when they learned of her true self, because of statements like the one issued yesterday by evangelical leaders, that person has given up on Christianity.  Is it any wonder?


The Jesus I know, the Christianity I practice, is inclusive.  The meme where Jesus says, “What part of ‘love your neighbor’ aren’t you getting?” sums it up.  “Love your neighbor.”  At Pilgrimage, we talk about love in terms of “acting each other into wellbeing.”  Acting someone into wellbeing begins with accepting that person for who God has created them to be.  As the t-shirt worn by a person to whom I served lunch yesterday at MUST declared:  “God made me.”  The statement was underlined by a rainbow.  Exactly.


If you are looking for a community of Jesus’ followers that truly seeks to follow Jesus, the one who rejected no one, the one who welcomed anyone–anyone–to the table, the one most concerned with how we treat the least of these, I invite you to join us any Sunday morning at Pilgrimage UCC.  You will be welcomed.  You will be challenged to live the faith of Jesus with integrity and inclusion.  You will experience the expansive, radical love of God.

Come Sunday.  We’ve got a seat reserved just for you.

Daily Devotion – August 30, 2017
Making an Entrance
From May 08, 2017
Written by Kenneth Samuel


“Enter into God’s gates with thanksgiving, and into God’s courts with praise: Be thankful unto God, and bless God’s name.” – Psalm 100:4

Recently, I went to court to settle a landlord-tenant dispute.  The judge referred the case to arbitration.

I entered the arbitration room armed with details that supported my claim and pretty much convinced that a mutual settlement was not possible.  The arbiter entered the room and stated that after reviewing the case, she believed that a mutual settlement could be reached.

“Yeah . . . right!” I thought to myself sarcastically.

The arbiter then proceeded to guide the discussion along the lines of what common interests the landlord and the tenant shared.  Both of us tried to focus the discussion on the details that supported our opposing arguments, but the arbiter kept bringing us back to the interests we had in common.

Three hours later, to my surprise, we signed a mutually agreed upon settlement.

I entered the arbitration room with anger and doubt.  The arbiter entered the arbitration room with hopeful expectation.  Thankfully, the hope she brought into the room overcame the doubt I brought into the room.

What we bring with us to the issues of life sets the tone for what we will receive.

The anger or the openness we bring to relationship issues sets the tone for how that relationship will develop.

The cooperation or the competition we bring with us to the work environment sets the context in which we do our jobs.

The thankfulness or the cantankerousness we bring with us to church is a large determinant of what we will receive from the worship experience.

It’s difficult to enter a situation and find fulfillment if within ourselves, we’ve already exited before we even enter.


Lord, help us to enter every life issue with hope…. And let that hope be the arbiter of our days.  Amen.

About the Author
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Daily Devotion – August 29, 2017

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another. We have gifts that
differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the
compassionate, in cheerfulness.                          Romans 12:4-8

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

Words from my sermon that I preached on 7/2/17 at Pilgrimage UCC:

In his book Alphabet of Grace, Buechner encouraged us that if we are having a difficult time discerning our vocation then “when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.” (The Alphabet of Grace)

Where do your feet take you a daily basis? To work, back home? What other places do they take you?
To be with friends, family, to the sick, to the lonely, to places where the voice of justice needs to be heard? What does it mean that our feet brought us all here to this place today? Is it merely coincidence and something you do every Sunday and this Sunday is not any different? Chances are you are coming to church for a reason because of a voice that urges you to be here. Why did you come? Perhaps you know
the reason and just aren’t ready yet to let others know about it. Perhaps you do not yet understand or the reason hasn’t been revealed to you yet. Wherever you are, I would encourage you to listen. And so
would Buechner.

In his book Now and Then, he describes listening as the most important element in discerning our vocation to service. He says,

“Listen to your Life.”

“See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all
moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” (Now and Then, 87).

How are you being called right now? What is that voice saying to you right now? How are you being called to serve this church community, your friends, your family, your co-workers? Are you listening?

Teach us to listen to our lives. May it be revealed in each of us the gifts you have instilled within us. May we then have the courage to use those gifts to serve one another. May we then serve with the same love
shown to us by your son, Jesus. Amen.

Daily Devotion – August 28, 2017

Romans 12:3

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Reflection by Holly CothranDrake
I have received comments from friends like, “You are so thoughtful to take Christmas gifts to patients at the Shepherd Center.”  My reply is always, “I have a lot of making up to do.  For many years I thought the sun revolved around me.”  It wasn’t until I joined Pilgrimage UCC that I started thinking about serving others.  Pilgrimage showed me that serving others was one of the greatest acts I could do to be Christ like.  I discovered that the more I serve others, the closer I feel to God.
Almighty God and Great Creator, please present me with opportunities to serve others, so that I may remain humble in your eyes.  Amen.

Sermon: “Light in the Darkness” (Ex. 1:8-2:10) [8/27/17]

On February 26, 1979, Yakima, Washington, saw a total solar eclipse.  Writer Annie Dillard and her husband Gary, drove from their home on Washington’s coast to experience it.  Like we did last Monday.  Some of us saw a partial eclipse, while others traveled to locales within the path of “totality.”  If you were to write about Monday’s eclipse, what would you say?

In an essay titled, “Total Eclipse,” written two years after the big event, Dillard struggles to find words adequate to her experience of totality.  It’s like the context of everything– day/night, earth/sky, light/dark, real/surreal –shifted to a point beyond which words can reach.  The closest she can come is poetic stabs in the dark, like:  “I was standing in a movie of hillside grasses filmed in the Middle Ages.”  She’s relieved when, later that morning at a restaurant, someone describes the eclipsed sun in the dark sky with its glowing corona as a lifesaver.  That mundane image ushered Dillard back into the reality she was used to inhabiting.

Another part of the eclipse-viewing experience Dillard considers is the scream.  Just as the blackness began slipping over the face of the sun, many of those gathered screamed.

Dillard wonders if the scream wasn’t so much in response to the eclipse as it was to what happened just before it.  She writes:  “The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us.  We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder.  It roared up the valley.  It slammed our hill and knocked us out.  It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon.  I have since read that this wave of shadow moves 1,800 miles an hour.  Language can give no sense of this sort of speed–1,800 miles an hour.  It was 195 miles wide.  No end was in sight–you saw only the edge.  It rolled at you across the land at 1,800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it.  Seeing it, and knowing it was coming straight for you, was like feeling a slug of anesthetic shoot up your arm.  If you think very fast, you may have time to think, ‘Soon it will hit my brain.”  You can feel the deadness race up your arm; you can feel the appalling, inhuman speed of your own blood.  We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit.”  (Teaching a Stone to Talk, 25)

I wonder how quickly the shadow of slavery overtook the Israelites in Egypt.  Did it seize them all at once?  Or did it creep in incremental edicts and micro-whittling of rights?  Ancient Chinese people responded to total solar eclipses by yelling at them until they went away.  If slavery came as sudden onslaught, surely the Israelites as a people would have screamed it away.

So, maybe it was a slow thing.  They’re living their lives, adjusting each decade, each year, each month to the methodical erosion of their self-determination when one day, they wake up enslaved.  Then every day becomes like every day before it… Dig the mud.  Make the bricks.  Work hard.  Work fast.  Go home tired.  Get up tomorrow and do it all again.

Even enslaved the Israelites threaten the Egyptians.  More bricks are demanded.  Less straw is given.  Odd, isn’t it?  That the oppressors have more faith in the Israelites’ power than the Israelites?

Then, terrified by the exploding population of Israelites, the Egyptians begin a true reign of terror, deepening the darkness that already hangs like a pall over the Israelites.  Pharaoh calls the Hebrew midwives in and tells them to kill all the boy babies as soon as they are born.

Shiphrah and Puah, these brave women are called.  Enslaved women.  Midwives.  Doing women’s work.  Ushering new human beings into the cold life of slavery.

But even in the deepening darkness, Shiphrah and Puah see subtle shifts in light.  When the landscape is seized by surreal alterations—triggered by Pharaoh’s heinous command–when light shifts, when darker darkness rolls in, Shiphrah and Puah are ready.  They scream.

But not loudly.  They scream quietly…in furtive glances to and from birthings, in reassuring smiles to fearful laboring mothers, in full command of the power of their roles, even in the mundane, everyday work in which they engage…  They scream quietly when summoned to a puzzled Pharaoh, who frets over a greater abundance of Hebrew boy-children since his edict.  Shiphrah and Puah scream their quiet reply dripping obeisance, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”  What’s a midwife to do?  Pharaoh then sends his own henchmen to dispatch the baby boys.

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Except that one.  Born to a Levite and his strong, brilliant wife.  A mother who wove a basket, waterproofed it, placed her child in it, and sent it down the Nile in the direction of Pharaoh’s house.  The baby is discovered by a servant of Pharaoh’s daughter.  Moses’ sister Miriam emerges from the reeds and ever so innocently asks if she should find a wet nurse for the child…a ploy that reunites baby and mother.  Once he is weaned, Moses’ mother gives the child to Pharaoh’s daughter, who raises Moses as the grandson of a king, a stature that eventually will help Moses lead the Israelites to freedom.

Shiphrah and Puah.  Whenever I mention Shiphrah and Puah to folks, I usually get blank stares, which always makes me sad.  There should be statues somewhere to these brave, brave women!  Talk about women who were told what to do, but nevertheless persisted!  Those women were brave!  And smart.  And compassionate.  And courageous.

And their courage was contagious.  Just look at what their one decision to defy Pharaoh led to—their creativity inspired Moses’ mother to her own courageous, creative act….which in turn led to the courageous, creative action taken by Pharaoh’s daughter…which in turn led to Miriam’s courageous, creative act…all of which led, eventually, to Moses’ courageous, creative act of leading the Israelites out of slavery.

What darkness hangs like a pall over you right now?  Is it chronic illness?  Addiction?  Debt?  Is it fear of the effects of climate change?  Of intensifying racism?  Of the rapidly widening gap between rich and poor in our country and the world?  Is it an unsettledness at just how fast the world is changing, a rate of speed with which you can’t keep up?  Is it fear of bullies, or fear for those who are bullied?  Is it concern for a loved one who struggles with mental illness?  Is it broken relationships you desperately want to be healed?  Is it being in limbo, waiting for a new job to appear, or for a diagnosis to come in, or for deliberations finally to crystallize into a decision?

What darkness hangs over us?  What deeper darkness rushes toward us faster than we can register?  And how in the world do we follow Shiphrah and Puah’s courageous example and find the light in this darkest of nights?

In our own time of darkness, we can look for light in the same places Shiphrah and Puah looked for it—inside ourselves and in our togetherness.

Do you know about bioluminescence?  Down in the depths of the ocean live tiny creatures who, when threatened, emit their own light.  Yes.  Through some evolution-ordained biochemical process, they create their own light to defeat the power of darkness and the scary things that hide there.  When the darkness deepened around them, Shiphrah and Puah used the light within each of them to scream at the darkness—the light of their skill and experience as midwives.  They didn’t have to gain new skill; they didn’t have to pray up some super-human strength.  They only had to believe fully in the important work they already were doing—assisting women in childbirth—and go with it.

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Another source of light Shiphrah and Puah’s story reveals is the light of their togetherness.  In his UCC devotion this week, Quinn Caldwell describes the kind of light I’m talking about.  The devotion reflects on Psalm 124, which reads:   the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters.    
Quinn tells the story of two women who visited Panama City Beach earlier this summer.  “They  heard screams and saw two young boys hundreds of feet from shore.  The boys had gotten caught in a rip current and couldn’t get back. There being no lifeguards on duty, the women went out on boogie boards to try to save them, and got stuck themselves.  Multiple other rescue attempts failed, until there were nine people caught in the water and in danger of drowning.

“That’s when the people on the beach realized that no single person was going to be able to save them. This was a problem that was bigger than any one swimmer, even a strong one, could handle.  So one by one, then ten by ten by ten, they linked arms, forming a human chain reaching out toward the stranded swimmers.  And having made their human bodies into one huge super-human body, they plucked those swimmers from the waters and passed them back to shore.  Not one person died that day on Panama City Beach.”

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One imagines today’s Scripture story going much differently had it only been Shiphrah or Puah.  One midwife defying Pharaoh…it’s hard to imagine how that could have worked.  But two midwives?  Two midwives, drawing on their own inner strength, letting their individual lights shine…joining their lights together…provided a means of liberation for their entire people.

Here at Pilgrimage, we have no pall of darkness hanging over us, nor any ominous cone of darkness rushing to overtake us.  There is so much light here!  There is light within each of us, just waiting to shine forth.  There’s even more light we can create by joining our individual lights together.  There are so many who would find this place, literally, a life saver for them.  How might we become the beacon they need?  How might we join our hands together to form a chain that can reach them?  How might we become the light the world is so desperate to see?   “This Little Light of Mine”

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2017

Daily Devotion – August 27, 2017
Romans 12:2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your
minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and
acceptable and perfect.
Reflection by Julia Shiver

Lately, I have been overly affected by events in my life and in the world. I was left feeling
overwhelmed, burdened, and very tired. But I had a truly wonderful experience at the
Pilgrimage Visioning Day today. I went (very) reluctantly. I prefer to spend my Saturday
mornings at home. Plus I feel uncomfortable with this whole brainstorming and visioning thing. Let’s just say it is not my thing.
But I came away feeling energized about who we are as a church community. The whole
process was well-structured and flowed smoothly and efficiently. And it was all so positive. We looked at who we are, our strengths, our passions, our commitments. And we talked a lot about how to share that with the people out there who are looking for a safe place to be in God’s presence, for the radical acceptance and agape love we are so good at sharing. God was
surely among us today.
Dear God,
Thank you for this day of renewal with my church family. Amen.

Daily Devotion – August 26, 2017

Romans 12:1


I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.


Devotion by Lynne Buell


This text is the beginning of Paul’s plea to the church to change their ways of thinking.


This is a difficult time in our world.  I’ll admit, if I watch too much news, I become depressed and frightened about our continuation on earth.  We pray and pray for peace; yet, we keep on hearing of terrorist attacks and the threats from North Korea.


On Monday, a lunar eclipse pulled thousands upon thousands of people together to experience the joy of a celestial phenomenon.  There were no riots, no shootings…nothing that is consider newsworthy on a normal day…just peace and happiness.


Let’s adhere to Paul’s plea in this way:  We live in a breathtaking environment.  God pleads with us to be happy, not unhappy.  Look around and take in your surroundings…amazing buildings, flower beds, trees, the clear blue sky, children getting off the bus, music (here, you can add your own thoughts to the list).


Decide to be happy with your life and you will remain that way.  We can do our part as disciples of Christ and pass this contentment on to folks who are not fortunate enough to have a faith community like we do.




Loving God, thank you for providing this beautiful world for us.  My prayer is for all to appreciate and love what you have given us.  Amen.      


Daily Devotion – August 25, 2017
Exodus 2:5-10 REB
Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, … She noticed the basket among the reeds and sent her slave-girl to bring it.  When she opened it, there was the baby: it was crying, and she was moved with pity for it. “This must be one of the Hebrew children,” she said.  At this the sister approached Pharaoh’s daughter: “Shall I go and fetch you one of the Hebrew women to act as a wet-nurse for the child?”  When Pharaoh’s daughter told her to do so, she went and called the baby’s mother.  Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take the child, nurse him for me, and I shall pay you for it.”… Then, when he was old enough, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him and called him Moses, because, said she, “I drew him out of the water.”
Devotion by David Burns
The set-up for this text is that Pharaoh has just issued an order that every newborn Hebrew boy is to be thrown into the Nile river.  Pharaoh was alarmed at the increasing number of Hebrews in the land and had failed at several other attempts to get the situation under control.  This is why the child was hidden in the reeds and why it is so amazing that Pharaoh’s own daughter so quickly disobeyed his edict, apparently without much internal struggle.
This beautiful story is all about a collaboration among women.  It is about a mother who did everything she could to preserve her child’s life, hiding him among the reeds in a watertight basket.  It is about a sister who stood by and offered forth a clever plan that allowed the child’s mother to continue caring for him in his early years.  And it is about the daughter of a Pharaoh who was moved with pity at the sight of the child’s tears and acted to preserve his life and raise him as her own.
You never know if your small act is enough.  Most real problems are complicated enough that not a single one of us has the resources or power to fully solve them.  You can only do what you can do.  But never underestimate the power of that!  Never underestimate the power of bringing forth your best and doing what you can do…in trust, and in hope.  Trust that doing what you can do frees someone else to do what she can do.  Trust that doing what she can do will free someone else to do what he can do.  And hope that the sum total of all these actions will get the job done.  
Gracious God, thank you for only asking for what is in our power to deliver.  Give us confidence and faith that you will use and combine our individual acts of courage to affect beautiful and powerful outcomes.  Amen.

Daily Devotion – August 24, 2017

Exodus 2: 1-4

Birth and Youth of Moses

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

The Pharaoh was worried of the growing strength and numbers of the Jewish slave population. He was known to do cruel things to keep their numbers from growing. So to protect the baby boy, Moses, her mother places him in a basket on the Nile hoping an Egyptian will find him and care for him.

It is one thing for a parent to love a child and care for him or her. It is another to give up a child out of love. Isn’t that what birth parents do when they give their children up for adoption? Hoping for a better life for their children? Isn’t that what parents do when they push their adult children out of the nest to make it on their own? Isn’t that what parents do when they push their children to work, or walk to the bus stop, or take a million little steps towards independence?

I have met twin “boys” who were in their sixties. They were sitting on the couch watching television, just as they had been for 55 years. Neither of them had ever worked even though they had no limitations mentally or physically keeping them from doing so. Their 85-year-old mother was still cooking and laundering and picking up after them. Their lives were frozen in time. I may have thought it was a Twilight Zone episode, but I saw them first hand. I wonder how they would have interpreted this scripture lesson?


Dear Lord, I thank you for having a father set the expectation in me to live apart from my parents. I’ve passed along this desire for independence in my children. Sometimes it is hard not seeing my children very often. But I’m glad that they are able to live independent of me. I know they appreciate the freedom and the growth it has provided them as well. Amen.

Sermon: “What Shall We Do with Our Privilege?” (Mt. 15:10-28) [8/20/17]

In light of all that transpired in Charlottesville last weekend, there have been cries for white Christian pastors to denounce white supremacy.  The cries are disheartening for this white Christian pastor…because they suggest that, in our society, the public isn’t sure any more where the faith of Jesus stands on an issue as morally un-ambiguous as this one.

So, let me be clear.  Racism is sin.  That means that white supremacy, which is organized overt racism, also is sin.  Anti-Semitism is sin.  Inciting violence is sin.  Refusing to denounce sin that is so obviously sin is sin.

What is sin?  Sin is whatever diminishes a child of God.  Sin is whatever gets in the way of someone becoming who God is creating them to be.  Sin is spitting in the eye of the Creator.

Was marching with torches chanting Nazi slogans sin?  Yes, it was sin.  Was lashing out with violence sin?  Yes, it was sin.  Was intentionally speeding into a crowd of counter- protesters, killing one and injuring 19 sin?  Yes, it was sin.  That act could only be accomplished by seeing the human beings in front of you as less than human.

I get how crucial it is to denounce the sin of racism.  I get how important it is to remove symbols of hatred like the Confederate flag and statues.  I hear the cries to speak out against all forms of hate-speech and hateful actions.  Speaking out is important.

But then what?  Once the words have been spoken, what actions will follow?

In her book, The Power to Speak, theologian Rebecca Chopp describes the church’s role as two related movements:  denouncing sin and announcing grace.  She writes eloquently of the power of words, of how rhetoric shapes reality.  Because rhetoric matters, it is crucial for the church to denounce everything that diminishes the dignity of any person.

But if all we do is denounce sin, what have we accomplished?  Naming the sin of racism is important, but how will it be transformed?  How will we be transformed?

Chopp reminds us that denouncing sin is only the first step of the church’s job.  The second–equally necessary–step is announcing grace.  What is grace?  Grace is the radical acceptance of every child of God for who they are created by God to be.  If a person can’t leave their home or drive their car or express frustration without fear of retributive violence, they are not living as God has created them to live.  By the same token, if a person only feels powerful when they diminish someone else, they’re not living as God has created them to live.  Diminishing someone else’s humanity, diminishes our own.

So, what might announcing grace in response to systemic racism look like?

This might seem counter-intuitive, but the first word of grace we speak must be directed to ourselves.  For thoughtful Christians–especially those of us who are white and are aware of our privilege–it’s easy to feel guilt, even shame, simply for being white.  I’m not saying the shame isn’t real or warranted…but to let ourselves become mired in shame disempowers us, paralyzes us.  And if we’re paralyzed, we aren’t able to do the work of transformation.

Beating up on ourselves for our white privilege—which is itself an act of privilege—also prevents us from seeing the bigger picture of systemic racism.  In truth, all of us are caught in the web of racism.  Our actions are not entirely our own.  The white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville last weekend, didn’t just appear out of nowhere.  Those views have been held by people in our country for centuries.  Feeling greater acceptance of their views currently, those folks have been emboldened to act on their views.  Certainly, each person who marched made their own decision to be there and to bring riot gear and torches…but there also is a social framework in place that made what they did possible, that made it easier for them to act.

Which is exactly why systemic racism must be transformed.  If a racist structure creates space for racist behavior, to what behaviors might a more life-giving societal structure lead?

Have you picked up yet that we’re talking about the kindom of God here?  This thing of transforming religious and societal structures so that every person has everything they need to live and thrive and become who God created them to be?  Jesus came to show us how to do that.  As Jesus’ followers, it is the work to which we, too, are called.

So, what does Jesus show us today about making God’s dreams for the world come true?

First, he teaches a lesson warning the disciples not to interpret religious laws too rigidly.  “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles,” he says.  He’s referring here to strict dietary laws the Pharisees vigorously enforced.  “It’s what comes out of a mouth that defiles.”

When the disciples ask for an explanation, Jesus tells them, “Whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer.”  Thanks for the digestion lesson, Jesus!  “But what comes out of the mouth”—what we say—“proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.”  What we do matters, but what we do with intention—what proceeds from our hearts—matters most.  Rigid interpretation of the law isn’t the point.  A changed heart is the point.

It’s a good, clearly-taught lesson.  If only Jesus had listened to his own words.

Matthew tells us Jesus left that place” (Galilee) “and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon,” a place inhabited by Gentiles, people with no knowledge of the law.

One of those inhabitants runs up and starts shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”   So, this is interesting.  To this point, few people have recognized Jesus as Lord—think, Messiah—but this Gentile, this foreigner, knows who Jesus is.  How does Jesus respond?  “He doesn’t answer her at all.”

When his disciples ask Jesus to send the woman away, he says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”   The woman responds to these words by kneeling in front of Jesus.  “Lord, help me,” she says.  Seeing her, Jesus says, “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  Excuse me?!  Talk about rigidly interpreting religious law!  Undeterred by his rudeness, and still desperate for her child to be healed, the woman says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Snap!

I’m not going to lie.  Jesus doesn’t look good here.  He’s rude and unbending in his interpretation of the law and of his role as God’s Messiah.  And considering the lesson he’d just taught warning against rigid interpretations of the law, he’s also looking a tad hypocritical.

But then, he gets a clue.  The woman’s comeback, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” wakes Jesus up to his prejudice.  “Great is your faith!” he tells her.  “Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed instantly.”

Did that line surprise you–“wakes Jesus up to his prejudice?”  Jesus?  Prejudiced?  Most commentators struggle to go there.  If Jesus was God, he couldn’t do anything wrong, could he?  For Jesus to learn something—from a foreign Gentile woman, no less—is to suggest that he wasn’t already perfect.  That possibility makes lots of interpreters nervous.

But what if he did?  What if Jesus did learn something from that woman about who is included in the kindom (everybody) and who isn’t (nobody)?  What if a key part of making God’s dreams for the world come true is to listen to and learn from people who are different from us, people who, perhaps, we might even look down on?  What if the first step of creating God’s kindom here on earth as it is in heaven is confronting our own prejudices, acknowledging our own privilege?  It’s kind of hard to use our privilege—white or otherwise—to transform systemic evils like racism without waking up to that privilege, right?

That’s the example Jesus gives us:  immersed in, shaped by, and loyal to the social and religious norms of his day, he listened to someone whose social location and life experience were vastly different from his own.  He took in her words, he faced the prejudice she was pointing out, then he used his privilege—as a man, as a Jewish teacher, as God’s Messiah—he used his privilege to heal the woman’s child.

Ultimately, that’s what all this is about, isn’t it?  Facing our prejudices, waking up to our privilege, then using our privilege to transform all forms of injustice, including racism…we do it all for the sake of the children.

The saddest picture I saw this week—I hope to goodness it was fake news—the saddest picture I saw this week was of a toddler in a Klan outfit.  A toddler.

The most hopeful thing I saw this week happened at 10:00 worship last Sunday.  At one point, I looked up and saw Sunny Alexander coming in the door with Devon Hill-Kalasky on her hip.  I did a double take and thought, Wait a minute!  That’s the wrong kid!  But after the initial puzzlement, I realized just how appropriate it was for someone besides Devon’s parents to be holding him.  We’re all Devon’s parents, aren’t we?  And Maddie’s.  And Noah’s.  And Eli’s.  And Aiden’s.  And Hannah’s.  And Jake’s.  And Maggie’s.  And Mia’s.

These are our children.  At their baptisms we promised, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciples, to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best we are able.  We promised, according to the grace given us, to grow with these children in the Christian faith… and to nurture them so that, one day, they may affirm their baptisms.  We promised them our love, support, and care.

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How will we keep our promises to the children?  How will we keep our own baptismal vows?  How will we “resist oppression and evil and show love and justice?”  How will we use our privilege to help heal the world?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.