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Join the Dance: A Homily for Proper 20

By Sr. Doreen, SSJD

Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11: 1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: 21-28

Today there is a very interfaith thread set out in the Propers as a challenge for us – a call to a deeper understanding of God as shared by all the peoples of the world, regardless of their religion, faith or ethnic background.   

This thread wanders through each of the readings, and while I may refer to the readings what really sparked my attention and prodded my reflections was the psalm:  psalm 67

Psalm 67

Lynn Bauman in his translation of this psalm says:  “It can be considered an international hymn of praise because it calls upon all the nations and peoples of the earth to enter into the worship of God … this is an anthem that could be said by a human being from any part of the world.” 

It brought to mind for me Teilhard de Chardin’s beautiful Hymn of the Universe, much of that beautiful mystical outpouring of love has been lost to me for I have not returned to read it for many years, but the title has remained with me, and continues to be a source of reflection.  Today, in our own time this psalm becomes an important beacon of hope – a hymn of praise from the Earth – from all the people, all the creatures, all my neighbours around the world.  This is true no matter what that person’s faith tradition and background – it is an interfaith longing, praise, cry :  “O God have mercy upon us and bless us … restore us back to life again.  May you be the song that makes us glad … may every nation sing with joy”.

This psalm carries within it that universal longing for which Psalm 85 cries out for:  Mercy (love) and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other.  Then, O then, will love and truth hold hands and righteousness and peace kiss each other when all nations and peoples of the world join in this international – interfaith hymn of praise.

There is no ‘we’ ‘they’ mentality in this psalm … it moves us to an understanding of God that is shared by all peoples of the world.

The challenge, I believe, for us as contemporary people today is not simply to pray for ourselves, or narrowly for those around us who are dear to us, or who belong to the same faith tradition (be it Christian or more narrowly Anglican) but to give voice for the whole earth.  To see God as the same God for all people, for the whole earth and all that is in it.

It encourages us to become an instrument of praise through which the whole creation speaks.  It offers a challenge to us to begin to see ourselves as instruments through which those without voice can enter with praise in presence of God.

It is a psalm that offers us an opportunity to move towards a new fullness – a new vision of the future of the world.  It gives each of us the challenging opportunity to reflect upon our own vision of the future of the world.

There is often a wide gap between the vision of beauty held out for the world, and the experience of pain and ugliness we find within it.  Those who pray hold these two regions together, and will not let them fall apart.  We pray for the voiceless and for those who have lost hope that such a future might ever exist.  It faces us, As Joan Chittister wrote in her book “For Everything A Season” with the task of creative responsibility.   She goes on to say “We are not asked to do more than we can.  We are not asked to be someone else.  We are simply asked to be ourselves and to do something in our own time that has value.  We are asked to profit the world by our existence.  We are allowed to be unique; we are not allowed to be useless”.

Before we start to  moan and groan about our lot in the world, our discontent and desire for more – or better even – when we start to moan and groan, because it is inevitable that we will do just that – this is the psalm that reminds us to look farther and deeper than our own back yard.  It is a psalm that challenges us – responsibility for the world starts here, with you and with me.  And it is for all people.  “O God have mercy upon us and bless us  …. Restore us back to life again  … may you be the song that makes us glad … may every nation sing with joy”

OT Isaiah 56 1, 6-8 

Echoes this universal call.  Maintain justice, and do what is right  … Guard my common good:  do what is right and do it in the right way… my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.  It portrays God as one who gathers people together, a God for all people, the same God for all people, an all inclusive God

Epistle Romans 11: 1-2, 29-32

Again the Epistle echoes the same theme – as God may be merciful to all.  Just as I am – accepted just as we are God holds out gifts and the calling of God to everyone.  In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that God can personally open the door and welcome us back in.  in the Message translation of these verses, there is an exclamation following this thought – “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom?”  A God for all people, the same God for all people, an all inclusive God.

Gospel Mat 15: 21 – 28

Again there is an echo of the same theme.  The gospel healing of the women:    Woman: Master, Help me … Jesus: it is not right that I should take the bread out of the mouths of children and throw it to the dogs … Woman: you are right, Master, but even the dogs get the scraps that fall from the master’s table. 

In the Gospel passage the woman never gives up – she gains because she refused to quit trying.  Sometimes it means trying different ways of doing what must be done,  of keeping on working together, of learning how to live with differences.  Today’s message is a counter-cultural message – it is on common effort and universal gain, not on simple self-fulfillment and personal gain. This is the glue that holds together the vision God has for the world and the world as we sadly experience it today:  the gap – we like the woman in this gospel story, must refuse to give up.  It is a call to the spirituality of co-creation together, that everything that is, is holy and that the hands of all of us are called to consecrate it to the service of God for the good of each other – for all our neighbours around the world.  It is God’s invitation to us to become co-creators with God, a God for all people, the same God for all people, an all inclusive God.

Lynn Bauman’s translation of psalm 67 (A Hymn of praise from the earth):

O God have mercy upon us and bless us with the light streaming from your face.
And so that here on earth we know and walk your ways, restore us back to health again.
May every person, every creature, become an instrument of praise to you,
And may you be the song that makes us glad, and every nation sings with joy.

For your pure justice reigns and rules, and guiding all with equal hand
May every creature, every person, then, be an instrument of praise,
And earth itself abound with a fullness yet unknown, as  you alone become our God, for everyone.
Your blessings fill us full, and cover us and earth with awe from edge to edge.

Joan Chittister’s words re-echo for me what the psalm is calling out to be heard:

She writes:  “Life is a growing thing going from seed to sapling, from pillar to post, hither and yon, forwards and backwards but always, always towards its purpose, the shaping of the self into a person of quality, compassion and joy.  For that to happen, every smallest segment must be faced and cannot be fled.  Life is not controllable, it is only doable. … therefore the keeping of the beat of life, the getting to the marrow of each of its measures, all of its elements is what the dance of life is really all about.”

The Propers for today called loudly to me, created an uncomfortableness I have carried with me for a while to rise to the surface – what do we mean when we pray for unity?  Why just Christian unity?  Surely it is important that members of the same family (called Christians) get along – that respect for differences, no competition, no jealousy, no self-righteous thoughts of my way being the best way … an end to all the pettiness and the contentment to rejoice with each other and learn from each other and to celebrate our diversity in unity – that the world can see our love and respect for each other – that we give them the gift of trying to live together with all our differences.  But what about interfaith unity?  What does the world need today when we think about unity?  If it is prayer for unity, what should we be praying for?  It seems important to me, more important now than ever before, that we learn to walk together with deeper understandings of each other in this world.  Regardless of our faith traditions, our ethic origins, our colour … whatever it is about each of us that makes us different to someone else – that we keep on reaching out, we keep on trying to live together in respect and friendship with each other.

There is a universal longing for that which Psalm 85 cries out for:  Mercy (or Love) and truth have met together, Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.  This is a longing that resonates in the hearts of all of us, regardless of our faith tradition or religion.

This dance is for all of us – whatever our faith tradition – a dance with the God for all people.

May your blessings God fill us full, and cover us and the earth with awe from edge to edge.