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Sermon transcript for August 17, 2014

Have Mercy on Me, Lord
Matthew 15:10-28
Belmont UMC—August 17, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

If we were reading today’s Gospel text like we were reading good fiction and we came to the words, “Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon,” we would brace ourselves for what would come next. These words introduce us to a turning point and we would know that some shift in the story was about to occur. Jesus has moved into the land of Canaanites, Gentiles, outsiders. Jesus has gone where he has not gone before.

Sure enough, in this new land Jesus encounters a woman and we are given this odd and perplexing interchange in today’s lectionary reading. Smart pastors who are preaching from the lectionary today read this and decided to preach from the Genesis passage where we find a nice story of reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. But I was drawn to this passage, this passage that leaves us scratching our heads and wondering.

In this land Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman who comes to him and begs him to heal her daughter. She pleads with him to have mercy on her and her daughter. “Show me mercy!”  “Have mercy on me!” It is a prayer that is repeated throughout the Gospels. It is the prayer we pray when we cannot think of other words. It is the prayer we pray at the point of our greatest vulnerability. We sing this prayer, “Kyrie eleison!”--words found in ancient Greek language of the Bible. It is the prayer I use in the middle of the night and when my thoughts are racing and I cannot go to sleep. It becomes a breath prayer, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on _________.” I let names come to the surface of my thoughts and I say the name. Some of those names are your names, some are names I haven’t thought of for a long time and I wonder why they are given to me at 2 AM, but I know we all need the mercy of God. A Canaanite woman needs mercy!

And the woman calls Jesus, “Son of David,” the name reserved for one who is the Messiah. It is surprising throughout the Gospel stories that the Gentiles, the physically ill, the outcasts and even the demons know who Jesus is but the disciples seem clueless to his identity. He has to be impressed by her words.

But he does not answer her. She is shouting; he is silent. And the disciples want him to respond by sending her away. He responds, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He tells the disciples something like this in chapter 10, also. The sheep of Israel may be lost but they don’t act like they want to be found.

Jesus draws a line. It appears to be a line between who is in and who is out. This surprises us because we see Jesus crossing lines all the time. It surprises us because he has walked intentionally into Canaanite land and seems surprised to encounter a Canaanite. Canaanites are considered unclean outsiders.

Or maybe he draws a line because he needs a break. People have been very demanding. Everywhere he and the disciples have gone and Jesus’ reputation has preceded him, the crowds, the needy crowds show up and they can’t catch a break.

I mentor young clergy and I often say to them to set boundaries, take a day off, and seek places of Sabbath. I feel hypocritical sometimes because I’m better at saying it than I am at doing it. We need rest. We need space to recoup our energy and prepare ourselves for ministry. We need to turn off the phone and walk in the woods. We need quiet places.

But I also tell these young clergy that sometimes the phone rings and you have to go, because the needs trump your boundaries and your need for rest. When that phone call comes, most of us do not think twice about heading out the door.

Jesus draws a line but the woman is persistent. She kneels in front of him and pleads, “Lord, help me!” The woman, the outsider, the outcast, knows Jesus, and knows he can help her.

Then Jesus says what we wish he had not said, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Did he really call her a “dog?” It wasn’t unusual for Gentiles to be called dogs, but it was an insult.

She is undeterred because this is about a sick child, her sick child. I recall that Oscar winning scene in the movie, Terms of Endearment, where the character played by Shirley McClain asks for pain medication for her daughter, who is dying of cancer. She is told that it’s not time for the medication and the mother goes into a tirade so fierce the nurses give in. We do that for our children.

She responds, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” “Just a crumb then--I’ll take a crumb.”

Then something happens, something shifts. We can feel it happening, even if we don’t fully understand it. It’s the shift that happens when the compassion of God clicks into place and we begin to feel differently and see differently all that is going on around us.

Steven Covey used to tell a story to describe a paradigm shift. He was on a train heading out of New York City. A man with three small children got on the train the children were terribly unruly and they were running round bothering people. The man sat with his head down, ignoring the behavior of his children. Finally, Covey said something like, “Sir, you may want to attend to your children; they are bothering people.”

And the man said, “I’m so sorry. We just came from the hospital. My wife died suddenly today and I’m trying to take it all in.” And the man began to weep.

Steven Covey said he went from begin irritated to feeling deep compassion for the man and his children. He put his arm around the man and tried to comfort him.
Some scholars have suggested that this story represents a huge shift in Jesus’ ministry. This Canaanite woman appeals to something deep inside of him and he is pulled across the line by the compassion of God. He tells the woman, “Your faith is great.” And he heals the woman’s daughter.

This story would have been important to the early church and to those Gentiles and Canaanites and outsiders who became a part of the church. It is interesting that Matthew includes this story in a Gospel that was written for Jewish Christians. It is a clear call to erase the lines we have drawn around us. And at the end of this Gospel we hear Jesus call the disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations.

In the passage that precedes this story, Jesus reframes the boundaries of what is clean and unclean. Jesus declares that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and what comes out of the heart determines what makes one clean. What comes out this woman’s heart is faith—faith that Jesus has the power and compassion to heal all of Israel and enough to save her Gentile daughter, as well.

We draw lines around our lives whether we admit it or not. We make assumptions about who is in and who is out. We’ve watch those lines form around racial tension in Ferguson, Missouri this week. The hatred and violence soared out of control. Then one man, Captain Ron Johnson of the Highway Patrol, took off his flak jacket and helmet and crossed the line, walking into the community and was embraced by the residents there. And for a time the tensions eased and all of humanity felt a little healed.

During this season let us remember that we journey with a God who is in the business of entering new territory and breaking down boundaries and this calls us to the same work. We hear God calling us to the welcome the outsiders and offer them, not just a crumb, but a place at our table.

Hear this call to serve by Barbara Brown Taylor:
“Let go! Step out! Look a Canaanite in the eye, knock on a strange door, ask an outsider what his life is like, trespass an old boundary, enter a new relationship, push a limit, take a risk, give up playing it safe! You have nothing to lose but your life the way it has been, and there is lots more life where that came from. And if you get scared, which you will, and if you get mad, which you probably will too, remember today’s story. With Jesus as our model—and our Lord—we are called to step over the lines we have drawn for ourselves, not because we have to, and not because we ought to, or even because we want to, but because we know that it is God’s own self who waits for us on the other side.”
(The Seeds of Heaven, “Crossing the Line,” p. 67)


Petition prayer for Ferguson
written by Rev. Matt Miofsky, lead pastor at The Gathering UMC in St. Louis, MO.

Call & Response Prayer

For those who have seen their lives torn apart by violence of all kinds           
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the family of Michael Brown, his friends and his community. For all those who grieve the loss of life tragically ended.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who believe the only response to violence is more violence,
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those people of faith willing to step out and to lead in times of trouble.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who look at a situation from a distance, neglecting to get involved or too easily passing judgment.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those in positions of power who work for reconciliation and justice.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who hold places of authority but have abused that power towards unjust ends,
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the people of Ferguson and of St. Louis, city and county—north and south, east and west,
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

And for us, Lord—your body the church, that we may be agents of your reconciliation, peace and justice.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.  Amen.

 

Music Ministry

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Music Ministry Mission Statement

The music ministry of Belmont United Methodist Church strives to glorify God through music in all gatherings and presentations.
The music programs at Belmont offer opportunity for:

- Education
- Spiritual Growth
- Fellowship
- Participation in ministry
- Stewardship of gifts and talents
- Outreach

All choirs are voluntary, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate, regardless of experience. All participants strive for excellence, dignity, reverence and integrity in all musical endeavors.

For additional information regarding the Belmont Music Ministry, contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Director of Music Ministries
383-0832 ext. 29, or click on these links:

Adult choirs
Youth choirs
Children's choirs

Music News


Belmont UMC's Pipe Organ Specs

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Sermon transcript for August 10, 2014

FROM MOUNTAINTOP TO SALVATION
Romans 10:8b-13
Emilie M. Townes Dean and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society Vanderbilt Divinity School
Belmont United Methodist Church 10 August 2014

pastoral prayer

maybe you remember this game from childhood: king of the mountain—it was decidedly not the king of the mountain you find in the urban dictionary the object of my childhood game was to try to get to the top of a mound of dirt or snow and stand there yelling "i'm king of the mountain" it wasn't possible to be king for very long since every other kid on the hill was trying to take over the top position it was a rough game and it was rare that no one went home with some part of the body a bit bloody and there were always a fair amount of shattered egos when you didn't make it but many of us kept coming back some of the kids, who had some sense and were good at strategy went to the mound of dirt when the other kids weren't there and sat or stood on top in silent testimony to their good sense

i wasn't terribly successful at playing the game but i do remember how good it felt what a sense of accomplishment wafted over me when i stood or sat on top of that mound of dirt and declared myself king (and later queen) of the mountain even though no one else but God was around to see my victory and share my joy now that i've grown a bit older, i like to think that i don't play king of the mountain any more at least i don't play it the old fashioned way but if i'm really honest with myself i have to admit that there is still some of that old king-queen mentality there and i do find new ways to play that old game from time to time

I.
yes, there is a strong sense in many of us to play the role of king or queen as often as possible we expend a great deal of time and energy climbing one mountain or another in our careers, we may be in the position of having to prove ourselves constantly to co¬workers and bosses so that we don't slide or loose our place on the mountain known as work in the pressure of our work and in our own desire for security and status we may find ourselves leaving others by the wayside as we climb our partners or spouses our lovers our friends our health all these and more, suffer in our climb to success as the long hours and all too frequent preoccupation with work begin to wear them away and we hear ourselves or feel ourselves wondering if being the king or queen is really worth the price we have to pay

II.
and we are tempted into playing king of the mountain in our personal lives too often the goal of being on top of things becomes our guiding principle we think something's wrong with us when we don't have total control of ourselves and the situation we think we have to manage every aspect of our lives—perfectly we have to be
the perfect spouse
the perfect partner
the perfect lover
the perfect parent
the perfect sister
the perfect brother
the perfect son
the perfect daughter
the perfect friend
the perfect student
we drown ourselves and those around us in our drive toward being, doing, giving, and representing it all we take that old army recruiting line, “be the best you can be,” to the absurd and we lose ourselves we lose our spirit in trying to manage every aspect of our lives into perfection and heaven forbid that we should trouble others with our problems because that would be admitting that our perfection has some unpaved places or uncertainty being king or queen of the mountain means being in control and when time and circumstance prevent us from being in control we blame ourselves for being weak or unrealistic or emotional and it frightens us then, for some strange reason we think fear is not human or natural so we withdraw or we spend our time apologizing or avoiding it's hard for us when the king or queen in us faces financial trouble or substance abuse or mental illness or senseless violence or the loss of a loved one it's difficult for us to admit our brokenness and it is oh so tempting to pretend that we don't need any help from anyone or from God like the game of our youth, king of the mountain, it is dangerous to play and it tempting

III.
when we are caught in this game it will help if we remember Paul's words to the romans the word is near you, on your lips and in your heart; because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is sovereign and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved brothers and sisters, we have to be willing to be vulnerable we have to get a grip on ourselves and admit our humanness we must learn to confess our faults and our strengths to a power and presence that knew us before we were born and loves us with a fierceness that rocks us when we need to be comforted and challenges us when we need to move out of our inertia such honest confession can only come through a faith which is not content with where it is today but is ever-growing a faith that widens its boundaries and is willing to be tempted and buffeted by
new ideas
new people
new circumstances
and a new witness
for it is confession and faith to believe with our hearts and be justified to confess with our mouths and be saved it is confession and faith that leads us into new journeys of wholeness and redemption it is confession and faith that teach us about a peace a spirit a principle within a mission it is confession and faith that enables us to ask the important question what's so gosh awful special about this mountain, anyway

IV.
we have to remember again and again Jesus' own struggle against the temptations of success and control if we look at the gospel again we see that he could have chosen a much more "successful" path Jesus could have presented himself as the ultimate success story, the epitome of the model of triumph he could have been a flashy leader relying on miracles to prove his authority turning a few stones here into bread, a jug or two of water over there into wine Jesus could have opted to appear to be totally in control throwing himself dramatically off the temple tower and daring God to save him but this was not the path he chose Jesus did not come to us as a miracle worker or magician he was utterly human and wonderfully divine he knew well the struggle of living—it's rough edges and challenges as well as its happiness and joy and he consciously chose not to play king of the mountain in his ministry he chose to be prophet of the valleys one who walked and ate and lodged with those who had been kicked to the base of the hill the ones who the rest of society despised the mountain he chose to climb was a hill called Golgotha where he died the death of a common criminal, not a king or queen

V. brothers and sisters, God does not expect us to always be on top of our lives or the situation even though we often expect ourselves to be let’s live more fully into our humanness—it’s moments of the sublime, it’s times of despair celebrating the living we do in the meantime Jesus is with us wherever we are on life's mountains and perhaps he seems most near when we lose our footing and wind up with bruises and scrapes from a fall O yes, God knows our pain and comes to bind the wounds and to lift us up by God's own tender and passionate grace all we have to do...all we have to do: is accept this gift offered in love offered not by the king of the mountain, but the ruler of creation and beyond thanks be to God!

amen

 

Adult choirs

Sanctuary Choir

This is the primary choir for 10:30 a.m. Sunday worship. In addition, they present several musical programs each year and sing for other various church events. No audition is required for membership and rehearsals are every Wednesday 7:15-9:00 p.m year-round. Childcare is provided.

Belmont's Sanctuary Choir has released Song in the Night, a CD collection of worshipful music from various cultures. All selections on the recording have been performed in Belmont worship services. The CDs are $10 each, and you can place your order now by downloading and filling out the order form posted here. Please return your order form to the church office or e-mail in your order to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Bell choirs

Carillon Ringers - A group of intermediate/advanced handbell ringers with music reading abilities. They rehearse on Sunday 5:30-7:00 p.m. August-early May.

Celebration Ringers - A group of beginning/intermediate handbell ringers who rehearse on Thursdays 1:00-2:00 p.m.


   

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