FIRST READING Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
1Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. 6And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant — 7these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” 8The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
PSALM Psalm 67
1May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. 2Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations. 3Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. 4Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth. 5Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. 6The earth has brought forth her increase; may God, our own God, give us his blessing. 7May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.
SECOND READING Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32
1I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2aGod has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. 13Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 28As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
GOSPEL Matthew 15:21-28
21Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
I bet if I were to ask if anyone knows any Italian words or phrases, very few would raise their hands. However, when you think about it, many of us know at least a few words. Words like Rigatoni, marinara, al dente, alfredo, pasta and grande. Now if I were to ask if anyone spoke Spanish, chances are good that more than a couple of people would raise their hands. All of us know at least a few words from the Spanish language; words like taco, tortilla, con carne, burrito, quesadilla, Rio Grande, El Paso and of course with this bunch, margarita. Because of our diverse culture, the melting pot as our forefathers imagined, we adopt a good many words from other languages without changing them. Now considering the fact that we are multi-lingual, I think we need to expand this foreign language vocabulary even further. I believe there are certain Greek and Hebrew words every Christian should know.
Now, I’m certain, many of you know some Greek already: words like Feta and baklava. We’re also familiar with words like Logos which means word, Christos or Christ, Kyrios, which means Lord or master, koinonia which means community, agape which of course means love and maranatha, which is both Greek and Aramaic and means our Lord comes, or is coming. As for Hebrew, several words are also familiar to us, Torah or Law, Yahweh which is technically the tetragrammaton, YHVH, and is untranslatable, but we use it as one of the names for God and of course. amen, so be it. But this morning I’d like to introduce you to two more Hebrew words that I believe every Christian should know: mishpat and tzedekah. Mishpat means “justice” and Tzedekah means “righteousness.” These two words are frequently used in both the Old and New Testaments, but how often do we really think about them? Both these words came together in an incident I read about recently.
One day an eleven-year-old boy, Thane, and his parents were driving back from a newly opened skate-park that Thane had decided to call his new home. Thane was regaling his parents with all the stories about the spectacular and embarrassingly inept moves, various kids had been displaying. After several excited moments of conversation, suddenly Thane became very quiet. Then, after a momentary pause, Thane looked at his dad quite seriously and asked, “I’m not a poser, am I, Dad?” Your see, being bad or being good, having great skills or just getting started as a beginner, didn’t matter as much to Thane, as much as whether someone else saw his performance as genuine. To him, his identity as a skateboarding, rollerblading kid, the worst thing he could imagine was being perceived as a “poser.” As you know, a poser is someone who attempts to be something he or she is not. Strutting trendy stances, faking great moves – this is posing.
You see, you can have the best board, the best trucks and all the other paraphernalia for skating, but if you never doing anything but sit around and looking good – this is posing. Thane didn’t mind the fact that he wasn’t as skilled as Tony Hawk, his concern was that no one would ever think he was just a poser. For those who may not know the name Tony Hawk, you can think of him as the Michael Jordan of extreme sports. The truth is, if we dare to admit it, most of us have acted as posers most of our lives.
Skate-park sincerity aside, adolescence is a prime-time for posing – trying to fit in, trying to stand out; trying to act grown-up when we think we should, trying to act like we don’t care when we actually do. And the posing we learn so well in high school and college can follow us into our adult lives and careers. Nobody really knows how they get to be a grown-up – we all just keep posing at it, until one day the pose is all we have left.
Anyone who’s ever had a doctor or nurse place a tiny, completely helpless infant into their unprepared arms, knows intimately what it means to be a poser. Parents pose at knowing what they’re doing, knowing what they’re talking about, knowing what they should do next, knowing when they should be tough and when they should be tender. We pose at parenthood until it too becomes our natural posture. Our kids seem to believe we’re real parents, so, why shouldn’t we?
Anyone trying to work their way up, around, through or beyond their career, knows about being a poser. Most of the time, we get ahead by going ahead, by diving in headlong, by keeping our head up. What we lack in pure experience we can always make up for in poser-experience. Look, sound, and act like you know what you’re doing and lo and behold, people assume you do. We learn that by putting on layer upon layer of posed persona and camouflaged character, may help us get through a lot of life’s hoops. The problem is, if we’re not careful, we end up with a big hollow center instead of an essential spiritual self. The superficial poses we strike can’t take much pressure. When there’s no structural stability inside, our multi-layered baklava shell cracks and we crumble when too many outside forces push in on us.
This life requires us to wear many hats, to be many things, to take on many challenges and assume many responsibilities. But if we’re to successfully hold it all together, to hold ourselves together, we need to have an inner support, a central unending ramrod of strength and stability. It’s this inner support that holds us up and keeps us straight. It’s this support that is the real self, beyond any and all poses we may strike. The problem is, we need help and that help can only come from loving and serving God.
In today’s Old Testament reading, the prophet Isaiah reveals the two basic elements that make up the inner core, the essential character, of all those who have experienced the redeeming grace of God in their lives. Justice and righteousness – mishpat and tzedekah – these are the spiritual steel that runs through the center of the soul, of all those in a grace-filled relationship with God. When we have these as an unshakable spiritual interior, the exterior can be remarkably variable.
According to Isaiah the exterior can as easily be a eunuch as a patriarch, a foreigner as an Israelite. And with this solid interior, no one needs to worry about striking a fanciful or faked up pose – so long as we love God and follow His commands, He will supply the interior guide of mishpat (justice) and tzedekah (righteousness) which will keep the center of our being straight and unshaken.
John Moriarty is one of Ireland’s leading scholars of Celtic spirituality and folklore. Moriarty tells a parable that’s found in various forms in a variety of cultures. In the Celtic version, a collector of shellfish finds himself marooned one night on a rock. When the tide came in, dolphins gathered at the rock in the darkness and, shedding their skins, revealed themselves as beautiful human beings. Before dawn they all returned to the sea. But the shell collector, hiding in the darkness, took one of the skins, leaving one of the women without her dolphin-self. The two quickly become friends, and she follows him home and marries him. All goes normally until one day she’s making bread. Suddenly a drop of dolphin oil falls from the ceiling on to the kitchen table. The smell brings her back to another sense of herself. She searches and finds the skin hidden in the rafters, puts it on and returns to the ocean.
The point of this story is to remind us how hints of the eternal show themselves in the midst of ordinary life. We live immersed in our everyday lives. But this “dailyness” isn’t our destiny. As followers of Jesus, we know our true identity. We know where our true and ultimate home is and we know our true self. The question is, how can we be faithful to our two homes – our earthly home and our desired eternal home? Where are the dolphin drops that recall us to what is eternal and true?
What are the dolphin drops that fall into our life and remind us of our true identity as disciples who live lives of mishpat and tzedekah, lives of justice and righteousness? In today’s Isaiah text, one of the marks of a faithful, righteous foreigner is that they keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it (56:6). As those who keep the Third Commandment, as ones who keep the Sabbath holy, and as ones who remember the day God set aside as a day of rest, the Sabbath is one of those shimmering dolphin drops that plops right down in our lap each and every week. Keeping the Sabbath holy doesn’t mean we simply follow, without thinking, all the rules that have been appropriated to this day to add human layers of holiness to these twenty-four hours.
Wrangling over whether light switches can be flipped on or off, a big no-no among Orthodox Jews or whether or not we go out to eat, thus forcing others to work, doesn’t alter or impinge on the essential sanctity of a Sabbath day, or even just a Sabbath moment. Keeping the Sabbath holy means we set this day apart, treat it different, that we do things different from the other days of the week. This is what the word holy means, to set apart or treat differently. The Sabbath is a day to honor and worship God and for rest.
Luther tells us in the Small Catechism, that to keep the Sabbath holy, first and foremost, we‘re to fear and love God so that we do not despise His Word, that being Jesus and God’s written word, and the preaching of it. We’re to acknowledge all these as holy and gratefully hear and learn from them. Keeping the Sabbath holy also means, according to Isaiah, that we recognize and remain faithful to the practice of justice and righteousness that a Sabbath brings into this world.
The dolphin drops of Sabbath-keeping, means adopting behaviors that are consistent with God’s intention when He set aside the seventh day as holy. It means treating it as a day of worship, of learning God’s word and resting as well as practicing the mishpat and tzedekah that God intended for the world. We profane God’s Sabbath, not so much when we watch a NASCAR race or go to a football game after attending church services. We profane God’s Sabbath when we fail to hear and learn God’s word and will for our lives and fail to live lives of mishpat and tzedekah all through the week. We profane the Sabbath when on Tuesday we deal unjustly with a coworker, or on Thursday we turn our head and pretend not to see the homeless man huddled in the alley. Keeping the lessons of the Sabbath during the week, reveals our center of mishpat and tzedekah. Anytime we profane the Sabbath, our action reveals the hollowed-out interior of a real poser. And Isaiah goes even further.
At the beginning of verse 6, the prophet tells us plainly who it is that will be brought to God’s Holy Mountain. As foreigners, as those who have been grafted into the true vine, that is Jesus, we’re the ones who have been joined to the Lord to minister to Him. And to be a true disciple, we’re to obey the Lord our God and hold fast to His covenant. In 1 John 5:3 the apostle writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” And Matthew records Jesus as saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
What God has done here through Isaiah is boil down His expectations for us as His children; His children who will live with Him on His “holy Mountain.” We’re to “love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind” (Matt. 22:37.) By doing so we put God first in our lives and are able to keep the first and Second Commandments. Next, we’re to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (V. 39.) By loving our neighbors as ourselves, we’ll easily keep Commandments 4-10. For if we truly love others, justice and righteousness will automatically come. Finally, Isaiah tells us to keep the Sabbath and not to profane it. We do this by following God’s example of resting, of not despising and learning God’s word and will for our lives.
The writer of Hebrews gives us direction that Luther used to develop his teaching. Do “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day [the return of Jesus] draw near (Heb. 10:25.) Honoring the Sabbath isn’t about following rules established by humans, it’s about learning God’s will for our lives and about understanding and appreciating just how much God has done for us in Jesus.
So, what are the dolphin drops that fall into your life – those things that remind us to look up and take notice of who we really are, of what we really stand for, of who we really serve and of what is our true self? Dolphin drops or reminders don’t have to be dramatic to catch our attention and remind us of what’s important. Isaiah called all God’s faithful to join with the foreigner in God’s house of prayer. And the very notion that we’re called by God to communicate with Him in prayer is an everyday miracle. In communion and conversation with the Divine, we feel the justice and righteousness, the love and power, the otherness and the intimacy, of God’s presence.
Our daily challenge is to be open to the dolphin drops, the reminders, of who and what we are and of what we’re called to do as we live our lives in anticipation of dwelling with God, for all eternity, on His Holy Mountain. When we do this, we’ll have a much easier time loving God and our neighbor and in doing so, keeping God’s 10 Commandments. Then, mishpat and tzedekah, God’s justice and righteousness, will flow from our lives and into the world around us.