“Looking Back Looking Ahead”
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
Typically, in our Gospel texts we see someone coming to entrap Jesus or questioning his authority. But what we see today is Jesus asking his followers a question, “who do you say that I am?” There have probably been thousands of books written on this simple question. Peter jumps in with the right answer, “You are Messiah.” We all know this is a loaded term for Peter — Messiah coming remove Rome. Yet that is not what Jesus meant in this moment. We have all heard the idea that “If you want to see God laugh tell God your plans,” instead in this case Peter “tells God his plans and God turns his back and calls him the devil.” In Peter’s defense this view was a deeply ensconced view, one in which people spent centuries mixing Scripture with their hopes, dreams, and understanding of God into a mold of their own image. Their faith had become wrapped up with their nationality and God was breaking that mold.
Peter answers this question correctly but fails to understand the lesson. Jesus explains if you want to truly follow him, you must take up your cross, if you work to save your life you will lose it and if lose your life for Jesus you will save it. The word here to “lose” doesn’t just mean to displace something but instead to permanently be separated form something. The idea is that the actions that guide our purposes in life, if they are not of God then we need to disconnect from them in order to reconnect to God. But there is also another meaning of the word lose here and it works on another level, it also means “to ruin” something. For Peter, Jesus “ruined” his idea of Messiah with his talk of suffering and death. Jesus invites Peter and all of us to ruin our own lives according to the patterns of this world. Jesus invites us to go against those things that disconnect us from God. 
Like most of us I have done plenty of reflecting this week on the events of September 11, 2001. Most of us can recall where we were on that day. This was the fall of my Senior Year in college, and I was walking to a 9 a.m. class when a friend told me the class was canceled because of something that happened in New York. I remember it was really hard to get information, websites weren’t great, we didn’t have smart phones, and our dorms didn’t have cable. I remember packing into the student lounge with lots of people and watching everything unfold on the news. But the thing I really remember the most about that day was just someone spontaneously leading a group outside and the massive prayer circle that formed on our baseball field. For me this tragedy in some ways felt like a book end. My freshman year of college the Columbine massacre unfolded, showing us our classrooms were no longer safe, and now this showing us as a nation we were no longer safe.
It has been a sobering reminder watching all the coverage this last week, reading peoples experiences, listening to podcasts, and once again entering into our national grief. I once heard someone describe grief as being dropped on a mountain with broken bones — some of us will heal and get down that mountain in time, others of us will get down but walk with a permanent limp, and others of us will stay on that mountain.
As I have reflected on these events, the question I keep wrestling with is have we learned the right lessons twenty years later?
Have we lived up to the sacrifices so many made that day? This week I heard so many stories of heart wrenching sacrifice, the story of Joseph Pfeifer a battalion chief who sent his own brother Kevin and hundreds of other fire fighters up the North tower never to see them again. Or as former President Bush described it yesterday, “the 33 passengers and 7 crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected by fate. In a sense, they stood in for us all.” “The terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people. Facing an impossible circumstance, they comforted their loved ones by phone, and braced each other for action.” Or the sacrifice of the members of our military and their families who have given so much over the last twenty years. Have we as a people lived up to those sacrifices?
Have we pulled together as a nation? One of the videos that caught my eye this week was the video of Congress singing “God Bless America.”  It is a deeply moving clip as the song seems to spontaneously bubble up. Watching this now, one has to wonder could this spontaneous moment even happen today? Do we have that same sense of unity now? Can we pull together as a nation to work for the betterment of all people? Former Secretary of Health John W. Gardner, speaking in 1995, said it this way, “If we are to repair the citizen’s disastrous loss of civic faith, citizen involvement is essential and must have a sense of ownership. They must feel they are listened to, that they will have their say, and that they are respected.” Can we pull together as a nation?
Twenty years later, we are in place few would have predicted and we are wrestling with unexpected problems and issues. Yet we are all are called to mutually sacrifice for one another, to look for the great good, and as Jesus said it, ruin our lives for others so that we might find life.
 Selected remarks by John W. Gardner at leadership USA session November 18,1995.
“Wanderings and Healings”
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
We encounter two interesting stories in this week’s lectionary. The story of the Syrophoenician woman and the story of the healing of a beggar are fascinating pieces of scripture. It is important to remember the story from last week as you may remember Jesus had been ambushed by the Pharisees, and they debated what makes someone unclean; Jesus says that it is what comes out of our heart that defiles the heart. As he is recovering from this interaction, Jesus moves onto a new region, a Gentile region, and he has this interaction with this woman. She is a Greek or a gentile woman, so she is outside the house of Israel. Jesus is pretty harsh with her. Interpreters that have looked at this interaction over the years struggled with the way Jesus is portrayed in this exchange. They have really ended up interpreting this passage in a few different ways. The first is the idea that something is lost in translation, that in the Greek it is more like Jesus is calling her a “puppy” rather than a dog. That he is including everyone in a household scene with family and pets gathered around a table, and in our English translations we are missing the nuance of the scene. The second interpretation is the Devil’s advocate interpretation. That the disciples are with Jesus in this moment and Jesus is allowing himself to look mean and foolish to reinforce the idea that the gospel is not just meant for the Jews, and the gospel is expanded to everyone. The third interpretation is what I like to call “Cranky Jesus”. Jesus was simply tired and wanted to be left alone and that is the state in which this woman meets Jesus. It is kind of like in the Hebrew scriptures when we see God change God’s mind or God suddenly change the course of action.
The other major question scholars wrestle with in interpreting this passage is the social location of woman in the story. Many of us when we read this text assume Jesus is in the position of authority, that this is a woman who crept into the home and tried to get Jesus’ attention out of sheer desperation. She may have even been a widow or someone from lower economic status. In this case Jesus’ words sound even harsher. But there is also an alternate reading of this story. That this woman is actually a power broker in Tyre, one of the economic and political elites. It may be that instead of sneaking in she boldly walked into the room and, accustomed to her place of privilege, demanded her daughter be healed. This is a modern day equivalent of “Karen” asking to see the manager. Once scholar read Jesus’ words as “First, let the poor people in Jewish rural areas be satisfied. For it is not good to take the poor people’s food and throw it to the rich Gentiles in cities.” That this exchange is actually an act of resistance. However you read this exchange, what you are left with is a woman boldly claiming the grace and mercy be extended to her as well.
Or just maybe though what we are actually seeing is Jesus himself realizing something truly wonderful and choosing to live out these values. If we truly do a close read of this text, we see Jesus teaching a value last week; the value of inclusion. A now Jesus is facing a real-life situation where he needs to apply the value he just taught. So, Jesus does a deep dive healing a woman who is persistently advocating for her daughter but is outside the Covenant, and healing a beggar along the road who is also outside the covenant. What we see from Christ is the best way to do the will of God is through inclusion and this week we see that principle lived out through personal application. 
At the heart of it this passage is an invitation into a better way of life, God’s way of life. That we are invited into an expansive gospel. Not a gospel that places arbitrary barriers in front of people. A gospel that no matter who we are, how others see us, knows that Christ is welcoming us into the family of God.
The lectionary then moves on to Jesus’ encounter with a deaf-mute Gentile. Jesus does not turn him away, in fact his healing is striking in its intimacy and touch. Jesus is zealously proclaiming this expansive gospel. I wanted to close with this poem from Malcome Guite it is based off this lectionary reading. As Jesus opens the ears and mouth of the man he uses an Aramic word “Ephphatha” “be Opened”. These stories are a call to the church asking us how we need to be opened.
Be opened. Oh if only we might be!
Speak to a heart that’s closed in on itself:
‘Be opened and the truth will set you free’,
Speak to a world imprisoned in its wealth:
‘Be opened! Learn to learn from poverty’,
Speak to a church that closes and excludes,
And makes rejection its own litany:
‘Be opened, opened to the multitudes
For whom I died but whom you have dismissed
Be opened, opened, opened,’ how you sigh
And still we do not hear you. We have missed
Both cry and crisis, we make no reply.
Take us aside, for we are deaf and dumb
Spit on us Lord and touch each tongue-tied tongue.
 Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 298). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.