Season of Creation

Mark 7:24-37

A Sermon by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

It is because she speaks. She asks and when she is denied her request she speaks again, arguing her point, her right to be heard, her longing for the healing of her daughter.

She is an outsider, a Gentile, a woman of Syrophoenician origin. We do not know her name. Her daughter has an unclean spirit and this mother, like any mother, longs for her healing. Jesus has set out from a time talking with his disciples and he is going away to the region of Tyre. He enters a house, hoping for a time of rest, not wanting anyone to know he is there. Yet he cannot escape notice, this woman driven by her longing finds him. Somehow she knows that he can free her daughter. And so she begs him to cast the demon out from her daughter.

Jesus’ reply shocks for we are so accustomed to his being always on the side of the outsider, always hearing the voice of the one who needs his healing presence. Breaking the religious rules even to heal. But he says to the woman, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ It what seems to be a highly offensive statement, Jesus seems to be saying that his ministry is to those of the Jewish faith first. It is interesting that he is not discounting his ministry extending beyond this, but he does not seem to think the time is yet here for this. The woman, driven by her love for her daughter, is not interested in Jesus’ timing. Engaging with literary skill with his imagery, she answers him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ What matters here is that the woman has won the argument. We might wonder how he looks at her, perhaps a little in awe of her perseverance. Jesus does not speak of this mother’s faith as in other healing stories, he speaks of her words. ‘For saying that,’ he says, ‘you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ Jesus does not need to see the woman’s daughter, does not need to touch her or speak with her. She does not need his presence at all. Her mother’s argument has brought her healing. This mother goes home, finds the child lying on the bed, the demon gone.

Jesus’ healing of Gentiles continues. After healing the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter, Jesus returns from the region of Tyre, and goes by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. A deaf man who had an impediment in his speech is brought to Jesus; and those who bring the man beg him to lay his hand on him. Jesus takes the deaf man aside in private, away from the crowd, and puts his fingers into his ears, and he spits and touches his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighs and says to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears are opened, his tongue is released, and he speaks plainly. Imagine the intimacy of it. The closeness. This time Jesus is physically present to the one who is in need of healing. And somehow he needs to have time with the man alone. It is as if the crowd do not understand. That when Jesus looks to heaven, the heaven that opened when he was baptised by John, the heaven that spoke his identity, God’s beloved Son, God is close. This is a moment for Jesus and the deaf man alone.

Jesus heals from his closeness to God. His sense of being loved by God. And when those who come to him have faith in his ability to bring God’s healing presence, he heals whether the one in need of healing is present or not. Sometimes he heals through the word of a mother. Sometimes through his own touch.

Every healing story has an approach. An approach to Jesus, often a cry or a word, a word spoken in desperation, a word expressed in a carefully nuanced argument as we saw in our first healing story. Sometimes a group of friends bring a person for healing. Sometimes the one who is in need cries out or touches the hem of Jesus’ garment. There is always a cry. Every healing story is an Exodus story. I often say this because it links Jesus’ healing stories to one of the founding stories of God. The freeing of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt was initiated by the cry of the Israelite slaves. God heard their cry and responded and through the ten plagues and the leadership of Moses and the parting of the red sea set them free. God responded to a cry.

And so on this first Sunday of September, when with churches across the world, we embrace a Season of Creation, a time for caring and praying for God’s beautiful creation and particularly our planet with all its frailty, we might wonder how we might pray for its healing and whether, in fact we might listen to its voice, might hear it cry. Or whether, in fact, through our prayers, we might cry on its behalf. There is little doubt that God will hear. We have only to read the first book of the bible, the creation account in Genesis Chapter 1, to hear as sun and moon, earth and seas, animals and plants fish and birds were created, God naming creation good. Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical, Laudato Si, of Jesus’ love for creation, “With moving tenderness he would remind them that each one of them is important in God’s eyes: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” … The Lord was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it attention full of fondness and wonder.”[1]

In our Cathedral this September, we will cry out to God, pray to God, on behalf of creation in two ways – through our study groups where we will engage with Elizabeth Johnson’s book Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril – and through an Ignatian style prayer which I have written as our community prayer at this time.

Elizabeth Johnson’s book is a wonderful exploration of the nature of God, God whose love for creation extends well beyond God’s love for humanity. The way the book is presented is unique in itself. The entire book is written as a conversation between the author Elizabeth and Clara. Clara, Johnson writes “With a name derived from the Latin word for clear and bright, Clara is a composite of the multitude of inquiring, insightful women and men students I have had the privilege of teaching for over half a century”. In the final chapter of the book, Clara asks why it is so difficult for us to take on the love of God for the planet and how a conversion of mind and heart to care for the planet might take place for us

Elizabeth says the following in their “conversation: “We have already discussed a major reason for this, namely, the Western philosophy that holds humans are superior to the material world which, in turn, is made for our use. The problem resides in a tyrannical anthropology. We loom so large in our own minds that we block out the others around us.”  Elizabeth proposes a series of imaginative exercises: … “small stepping stones that fitted together can move us toward conversion not only by thinking more inclusively but also by feeling kinship with other creatures. The goal is to live in the spirit of the burning bush, to see, hear, and “know” the world in a godly sense.”[2] In our study groups, we will work through these thought experiments, our hope is that we will begin to glimpse the God view of creation.

The Ignatian prayer that you have been given this morning is based on the Ignatian Examen Prayer. St Ignatius was known to say that if you have time for only one prayer each day, then pray the examen. So what is an examen? The examen is a way of looking back over our day to see where God was with us; it is sometimes called The Review of the Day. One of the great insights of Ignatian spirituality is that God is found in all things, that everything that happens has God woven into it, that everything matters. The Examen that I have written for our Cathedral community for this season of Creation, a Prayer in Nature, has like all examen prayers a number of steps. We place ourselves first of all – or we remember – a place in nature that we dearly love, a garden, the bush, beside a tree or a plant, or by the sea. And we remember that God made our place in nature and all that is there. Then we wonder how we have cared for creation this day and in the past. What things have we tried to do? After this, we wonder what is difficult about caring for creation – for us as individuals, for communities, and for the whole of humanity. Why do we find it so difficult? And when we ponder this, we wonder if we have done anything for which we are sorry. Finally, we ask God to help us remember God’s love for creation and to help us care for creation through the small things we can do.

Our Nature Examen, our way of praying for God’s healing for Creation, is a prayer that we might pray together in our community through this September Season of Creation. Our way of helping God to hear Creation’s cry for healing. Inspired to persevere, perhaps, by a mother whose words to Jesus enabled the healing of her daughter many, many years ago.

[1] LS 96, 97

[2] Elizabeth A. Johnson Creation and Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril p 198.