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Nevertheless, She Persisted

 
 

When I first read the gospel text for this morning I remembered this scene on Capital Hill: a conflict between Elizabeth Warren and Mitch McConnell.
During the confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions in the Senate, Warren spoke against his confirmation citing the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s objection to Sessions and started to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King claiming Sessions attempted to obstruct the voting rights of African Americans when he was a federal judge.
The person presiding at the time interrupted her and cited Senate Rule XIX, which essentially says one is not supposed to disparage another member of the Senate, but Warren objected and continued.
Then Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell objected. A vote was taken, along party lines and she was silenced.
After the vote McConnell said: “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
This last sentence has become a meme, and it became a meme because it expressed and revealed some things.
First, it expressed a subtle kind of misogyny. I doubt very much that McConnell would have responded in the same way to a man.
Amongst many in our culture there is still a belief that women should not be too outspoken or pushy, like Hillary Clinton.
Second, it revealed that Rules of the Senate are archaic, hierarchical and patriarchal. Why should the majority party have all the power? The power to stop any legislation. The power to avoid a vote on a Supreme Court nominee.
I see a system that invites corruption and abuse and what is needed is for Senators to cross the boundary and to be persistent – nevertheless.
The gospel text for this Sunday, the story of the Syrophoenician Woman is a story of a woman who persisted.
Let’s set the scene according to Mark:
Jesus and his disciples have grown a little weary. This story is proceeded in Mark by a long discourse on unclean hands. Jesus and his disciples are not following the letter of the Law.
In order to get a break they cross over into Gentile territory = symbolic. Jewish culture distinguishes between the Holy Land and not the Holy Land. Not the Holy Land is polluted by materialism. It is unclean territory and Jesus is brazen even to go there.
But fame catches up with Jesus, even in Gentile territory
A woman, who is of mixed ethnic background – not a good thing – accosts Jesus and bows at his feet, which was a grievous affront – like Senate Rule XIX!
The woman is desperate – her daughter is unwell and she wants Jesus to heal her.
In her book Women and Jesus in Mark: a Japanese Perspective, Hisako Kunikawa asserts that like Japanese culture, Jewish culture was one of Honor and Shame.
Men seek honor- recognition as upright persons by following cultural rules and staying in one’s place.
Academic wording: “Honor culture is a highly formal system that determined to whom and how one could speak and interact, regulated social roles and transactions, and circumscribed mobility within the system.”
(Did you know that the US Senate was an Honor/Shame system? And that essentially what McConnell was doing was trying to shame Warren)
By bowing before Jesus, something only a Jewish man had the right to do, the Syropoenician woman causes Jesus to “lose face” which for the Jews, was serious business.
Jesus would have had the right to punish her right then and there. Doing anything other would have caused him to be shamed more.
This woman was severely unclean – She was not only a Gentile but one of mixed race. And she was a woman. Good Jews should have nothing to do with her.
Jesus’ response? From the Message:
Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first
If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.
“Children” refers to the people of Israel while “dogs” refers to Gentiles.
I always thought this was a mean thing for Jesus to say. Jews first and then Gentiles? And to refer to her as a dog?
But to do so was culturally acceptable… even mild. He could have responded in a far more callous way.
The woman’s response is clever – She answers as if they were in a rhetorical competition – a political debate. And her response was better than Jesus’.
Another interesting detail is that Jews did not keep dogs as pets while Gentiles did.
To her it was OK to be considered a dog because dogs were a part of the household, like they generally are in our culture.
In other words, she says from her culture he just said that she is accepted…. And suddenly a boundary is crossed.
Recognizing this Jesus verbally affirms that she is accepted and that her daughter is now healed.
She persisted and she crossed a boundary which prefigures Mark’s community crossing the boundary between Jews and Gentiles.

The story isn’t about her faith but her persistence. And rather than being a story about healing, it is more a story of inclusion.
We do not live in an Honor and Shame culture. As a matter of fact, in our culture there are many who feel no shame at all. People of prominence are who have a great deal of responsibility
We do not live in an Honor and Shame culture. But we have plenty of boundaries that Jesus would cross’
During the Civil Rights Movement many barriers were crossed, and bridges traversed.
The young men who sat at the coffee counter at Woolworth’s.
The brave students who went to school in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Rosa Parks sitting at the front of the bus
The movement for voter’s rights
Boycotts, sit-ins, and freedom rides
The first African American on the Supreme Court in Thurgood Marshall
And let’s not forget Jackie Robinson!
Today boundaries are cross in Black Lives Matter. And I believe Jesus would take a knee at NFL games. Anyone feeling like buying Nike products?
Barriers are been brought down in the MeToo movement as well. No longer will sexual harassment be tolerated. No longer will the hidden rule be, we just don’t talk about that.
In our Church, we really crossed a boundary when we elected a lesbian bishop in Karen Oliveto who now serves in Denver.
In The Way Forward other boundaries and bridges may await us. And we must persist, nevertheless.…
We must break down the barrier that divides us at the Mexican border. Did you read that American citizens who are Hispanic and live near the border are being denied passports? The reason given is, their birth certificates aren’t genuine.
Maybe Barak Obama can give them advice on this one
Same-Sex Marriage was a significant boundary to cross and I think we need to persist and challenge other gender identity barriers.
I am tired of the social pressure placed on boys to be strong, invulnerable and in control. It’s a recipe that creates bullies.
I also think we need to continue to press the barriers in the Senate. We need more women and people of color.
I dream of being able to cross the boundary of Evangelical/Progressive Christians. How can we break down our language barriers and enter into dialogue?
In our own personal and spiritual lives there can also be barriers to be crossed.
The decision to get out of an abusive relationship. Taking a fearful step into the future by going back to school. Getting married, having children, adopting children. Feeling challenged to volunteer somewhere. Reaching out to neighbors. The day we returned from Washington, DC there was a casserole on our doorstep.
The Honor/Shame culture of the Jews of Jesus day had tight and strict boundaries and the Syrophoecian woman crossed the room, bowed down and essentially said, “My daughter is dying and I don’t care about the boundaries”
She was desperate to save her child

Jesus’ first response was the culturally accepted response which was, Jews first!
And here may be the most exhilarating party of the story. By persisting as she did the woman shocked Jesus into being who he was. Shocked him out of being culturally acceptable. To become who he was called to be. A breaker of boundaries that oppressed and silenced people.
We are desperate today as well. We too must reach out beyond the barriers that divide us with persistence and courage.
A boundary that we have crossed is the old cultural assumption that politics and religion should never mix and that they should be separated – absolutely.
I have known since seminary that this belief is unbiblical and false that Jesus was political. He couldn’t be a boundary breaker and not be political.
The truth is, whenever two or three are gathered there is politics. And if we shut out politics from faith it becomes only about personal salvation, regardless of relationships…
Even regardless of love.
That’s right…. Love is political.
Marriage is political too.
And the US Congress and Senate need marriage counseling!
Before my father was a professor he was a pastor. When I was born he was serving as the Assistant Pastor at the Presbyterian Church in Alameda, California.
Legend is that in the very early 60’s Martin Luther King visited Oakland, California and my father sat on the same dais.
When I told this to Kenneth, nothing I have ever done in my life could compare. He told all of his friends and became hugely popular.
My father was active in the Civil Rights Movement but frustrated because there were people in his church who did not support it. So he was criticized and told religion and politics should never mix.
I think it is one reason he went on to become a professor. History has its lessons – and they are personal.
Last Wednesday at our last demonstration in the Town Center against the better judgment of myself and others, I decided to approach the man who accosted us. Who aggressively spouted Alex Jones sound bites.
I asked him if he was Christian – yes, he said. What does that mean to you? That Jesus died for my sins.
Who is Jesus to you?
Would Jesus limit immigration – no
Would Jesus call people names – no
Would Jesus bully people –no
After going on like this a little while he finally said, can we keep Jesus out of this?

NO

Pastor James Clarke
Nevertheless, She Persisted. The Sermon for Sunday, September 9, 2018. Scripture: 1 Samuel 8:1-18 and Mark 3:27

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