Sunday, August 17, 2014

"...and the child will be healed." -- A sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 17, 2014

Come Holy Spirit, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Take our minds and think through them.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our souls, and set them on fire.
"Like this Gospel story, 
this week started eight days ago 
with a mother’s wailing cry." 
OK, everybody take a deep breath.

I mean it. Take a deep breath.

And let it out.

Let’s try that again.

Everybody take a deep breath.

Let it out.

God is here.

God is here.

And that means right here, right now, in the middle of everything that has happened this past week, in the middle of everything that is happening all around us as we gather, this can be the eye of the storm. For this moment, right now, we can take a deep breath,

and let it out.

And feel the presence of God.


I could not believe my eyes when I opened my Bible this week and saw that we had this story of the Canaanite woman and Jesus. Because at a time when we desperately need healing, it is for my money the most remarkable healing story in all of scripture. Because it is the only story where Jesus is both the healer and the healed. It is a story not just about Jesus changing hearts but about Jesus’ heart being changed.

And in a week where we all need healing, and we all have hearts that need changing, I believe it has something to say to us.

Jesus is in a foreign land. He’s no longer in Galilee but he’s up north, in the Gentile district of Tyre and Sidon. To a faithful Jew, the people living in that region were unclean. People to be avoided, if they were to be acknowledged as people at all.

And Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews. This is what they’d been taught ever since they were born. Both by word and experience.

Then all of a sudden here’s this Canaanite woman. And she starts shouting at Jesus. And what is she shouting? She is begging him to save her child. She’s pleading for the life of her child. And Jesus absolutely ignores her. And why not? He is a faithful Jew. And to a faithful Jew, a Canaanite – and particularly a Canaanite woman is a second-class person at best and less than human at worst. Ignoring people like her is how he was raised his whole life.

And the disciples, faithful Jews themselves, encourage Jesus. “Look the other way. Pretend you don’t hear her. Walk faster. She’s just one of ‘those people.’ She is no concern of ours.”

But this remarkable woman will not be quiet. She will not stop her pleading, because this is not just about her, this is about her child. And in fact she runs up to Jesus and gets in front of him, drops to her knees and blocks his path, literally stopping him in his tracks.

And she puts her hands up and pleads, Lord, save my child.

And Jesus looks down at her, and does he have compassion on her? No.

Does he say as he says to so many others, “My child, tell me what you want?” No.

Jesus looks down on her and to the shock of our ears, he calls her an animal. He calls her a dog.

But this amazing woman, who is pleading for the life of her child, like a tree standing by the water, she shall not be moved. She takes his insult and turns it right back on him. She knows who he is. She has called him “Lord, Son of David” and now she is reminding him who he really is, calling him to his best self.

“Even an animal,” she says, “Even a dog gets to eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

And when Jesus heard these words he was, maybe for the only time in his life, brought up short.

And I have to believe he took a deep breath.

And let it out.

And realized that God was there, right there in front of him.

I have to believe he paused for a while to let her words sink in, to let them convict him and convert him, because his next words were so different from his last.

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her child was healed instantly.

This is a healing story, not just of the woman and her daughter but of Jesus. And what Jesus was healed of because of the persistence and the love of the mother, because of Jesus having ears to hear and eyes to see, because of Jesus’ ability to be moved and changed by seeing the deep humanity of the sister kneeling before her, what Jesus was healed of … was prejudice.

Let me say that again. Jesus was healed of his prejudice. And if Jesus can have prejudice and Jesus can be healed of his prejudice. Then so … can … we.

Prejudices are likes noses. We all have them, they filter the air we breathe, and while to other people our prejudices might be as plain as the nose on our face, to us we can only truly see them if we take a good honest look in the mirror.

And yet there are moments that cause us to take that look in the mirror – if we have eyes to see. Moments that invite us to realize that the air we have been breathing has been filtered in ways that warp how we experience and impact the world. Moments that invite us into that deeply Christian practice of self-examination, confession, repentance and amendment of life.

Those moments are moments of great potential and moments of great risk. Because they invite us to listen deeply to a voice that offers us a different reality, a voice that tells us a story very different from the one we have been told and have told ourselves, maybe even from birth. Moments that invite us, like Jesus, not just to hear that voice but to be changed by it and to change the world because of it.

To take a deep breath.

Let it out.

And realize that God is right here in the space between those false divisions of the me and the you, the us and the them.

We are in the midst of a moment like this. An extended moment where we are invited to hear different voices, different and crucial experiences of truth, and hearing them to be changed by them and like Jesus be called all to our best selves, to be convicted and converted ambassadors of Christ, reconcilers and healers.

Like this Gospel story, this week started eight days ago with a mother’s wailing cry. It is a cry that has been joined in chorus by mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. It is the cry of Black St. Louis, the cry of Black America pleading and shouting “Save our children.”

It is the cry of mothers tired of taking that deep breath when their boys leave the house and not letting it out until they arrive back home. Tired of using their breath to have the conversation they all must have with their sons about how to act when a police officer is around, knowing that a misstep could leave them in handcuffs or lying in the street. Tired of having themselves and their children stopped and searched and treated like criminals in ways that I and my children never, ever have or will have to endure.

And it is a cry those of us who look like me have ignored for far too long. It is a voice that White America has been ignoring far too long.

And those who are crying, like the Canaanite woman, right now, they are planting themselves in front of this city and this nation as she did in front of Jesus with their hands up and they are saying “We will be ignored no more. You will save our children. And we will not be moved, we are not going away, and we are not shutting up until you do.”

And for White America. For those of us who look like me. This is our “What would Jesus do?” moment. And we know what Jesus would do because we have just heard what Jesus did.

What would Jesus do when a woman whom he victimized with his prejudice, when a woman he has treated like a second-class citizen … when a woman he has treated like a dog is kneeling before him and pleading for the life of her child?

How do we live as people of Christ in this moment? We do as Jesus did.

We take a deep breath.

And we let it out.

And we realize that we are walking on holy ground. We realize that this moment, painful as it is, tragic as it is, frightening as it is, is deeply sacred. We realize that God is right here standing in the breach and bridging the gap between all our us’s and all our them’s, staring at our prejudices as plain as the nose on our face and inviting us to look in the mirror at them, too. And we look at this amazing woman with great admiration, and with equal parts joy and pain, through self-examination, confession, repentance and amendment of life we find a way to say:

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Last week, I said that we were born to walk on water. That we can do impossible things. That we were born to walk on water but we have to get out of the boat. Well it’s one week later and we have a foot out of that boat now, but now it’s time to put both feet out on the water. And Jesus is showing us how to do it.

And unlike the Gospel reading, this child is not going to be healed instantly. But if all of us work together, with God’s help, she will be healed.

All of us working together, with God’s help, can close the gap of educational opportunity in St. Louis.

All of us working together, with God’s help, can mentor young black men and women in St. Louis.

All of us, working together, with God's help, can confess and remove the prejudice in our hiring practices, our investment practices and our social choices.

And yes, all of us, working together, with God’s help, can with the power of our voice and the power of our vote stand up against racial profiling in our police forces – and at the same time listen deeply to the voices of our police officers, because they have a cry as well.

Our police officers have a cry of every day going out into streets where there are ungodly numbers of guns everywhere. Trying to protect and serve in a nation that refuses to regulate guns any more than it regulates catching fish. Putting their lives on the line every day and not knowing which door they open or corner they turn is going to have them looking down a barrel or facing the emptying of a clip.

Their cry is not justification for the slaying of Michael Brown. It is not justification for racial profiling. But it is a cry all of us need to hear as well. A cry that echoes out of every squadroom lined with pictures of police officers who also ended their lives on the streets.

The police and the justice system needs to hear the cries of the people and the people need to hear the cries of the police and the justice system, and we as followers of Jesus are the ones to stand in the breach between and even as we are being convicted and converted ourselves, help everyone on every side have their Jesus moment of conviction and conversion, of truth and reconciliation. We as the church are the ones to follow the example of our friend and neighbor Pastor Rodney Francis at Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church and get the guns off our streets and away from our children.

The cry is ringing out from St. Louis around the world. The mothers are crying “Save my child,” and it is time for us to hear that cry and let it change our hearts and with changed hearts together lead this change in the world.

St. Louis, this is our moment. And we know that this is not a child that will be healed instantly. The tasks are many, the obstacles are large and the journey will be long. But we are the Body of Christ and, with God’s help, together we will get the job done.

This is the moment God is providing. And like Jesus, we can walk on water and do impossible things.

Like Jesus, we – all of us -- can at long last see and hear the woman with her hands up before us pleading for the life of her child.

Like Jesus, we – all of us -- can use this moment to examine our own role not just in the killing of Michael Brown but in the outrage that has erupted in its wake.

And like Jesus, we – all of us – can be moved and changed by seeing the deep humanity of the sister kneeling before us.

We can be brought up short

and we can take a deep breath.

and we can let it out.

And we can realize that God is right here.

And together as a changed people, as ambassadors of Christ, as ministers of truth nd reconiliation, black and white, rich and poor, city and county, standing together we can look this amazing woman in the eyes and say “Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.”

And the child will be healed.



  1. Oh, my brother. This is the sermon I went to church out in the hinterlands of Missouri, longing to hear, needing to hear. Thank you, Michael.

  2. Thank you, very thought provoking and powerful! Amy Loughran (parishioner st peters episcopal church spotswood,nj)

  3. I needed this sermon so much. Topic not mentioned at my church. Ugh.

  4. And this, kids, is how it's done. How to preach from the eye of the storm as a Caucasian, affluent, heterosexual, man of privilege to the WHOLE people of God. Bravo! Well done, thou good and faithful servant. You have proven yourself a trustworthy man of justice and compassion. Well done, indeed.

  5. Thank you for this. As the child, sister, cousin, niece, wife and friend of Black men, thank you. For recognizing what is/should be shared pain at injustices. And shared love for healing across all of our demographics. The Holy Spirit was working as I stumbled across this blog. This speaks to our shared Love of God and God's love of us.