Mission Devotional - October 19, 2016

Opening Prayer: O gracious and loving God, you work everywhere reconciling, loving, and healing your people and your creation. In your Son and through the power of your Holy Spirit, you invite each of us to join you in your work. We, young and old, lay and ordained, ask you to form us more and more in your image and likeness, through our prayer and worship of you and through the study of your scripture, that our eyes will be fully opened to your mission in the world. Then, God, into our communities, our nation, and the world, send us to serve with Christ, taking risks to give life and hope to all people and all of your creation. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. - The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

Scripture: Matthew 15:21-28

Journal: What is your mission? Who and what is God calling you to these days? How will you tell the difference between the things and the people that he has called you to and the things and the people that are a distraction to what he's called you to? Is there a "Canaanite woman" that you need to give your attention to this day?

Reflection: We hear a lot these days about our need to be missional. "The church is only really the church when it is on mission," the experts say. And they are so right. But what in the world does that mean? What is it supposed to look like? Well, Jesus gives us a wonderful picture - albeit rather odd - right here in Matthew 15. And if we can get past our initial resistance to the image he's using, and really hear what he is trying to say, I think it has a lot to teach us.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Tyre and Sidon when a Canaanite woman approached them, begging for mercy for her demon-oppressed daughter. But, we are told, Jesus did not answer her a word. Interesting. That's not a side of Jesus that we are used to seeing. Why in the world would he hear this desperate cry and say absolutely nothing? Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Jesus knew his mission. And knowing your mission has a lot to do with knowing not only what you have been called to do, but knowing who you have been called to do it to. Jesus did not let needs and demands and agendas and expectations determine his course, but only the voice and will of his Father. So he stayed true to his mission: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." And this woman was a definitely not one of Israel's lost sheep, but a Canaanite.

The Canaanites were one of the peoples that inhabited the Promised Land before the Israelites finally arrived from their forty year pilgrimage in the wilderness. The Canaanites were notorious enemies of God's chosen people, constantly worshipping and serving their own gods rather than the God of Israel. So God commanded the Israelites, because of his deep love for them (his chosen people and his treasured possession), to drive all of the Canaanites out of the Promised Land, lest they remain in the land and infect the children of Israel with their defiant mindset and detestable practices. God wanted the hearts of his people to remain pure and holy, fully belonging to him in every way (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). So naturally the disciples, like all true Israelites, tell Jesus to send this Canaanite woman away.

That's where it really gets interesting, because then she comes and kneels before Jesus, begging for his help. And when she does so, Jesus makes an incredibly interesting statement: "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." Now if we can get past the fact that it appears like Jesus is calling her a dog, we can see the amazing quality of what he is saying. I was called to the lost sheep of Israel. They are the ones I came to proclaim the good news to. Your day will come. The Father has a plan for that as well, and I will fully trust his plan. But for me, right now, my mission is to the lost sheep of Israel. And if I allow myself to get diverted or distracted from what the Father has sent me to do and to be, it would be like taking the bread right out of the mouths of the very ones I have been called to. I mean, none of us would ever do that to our own children, right? But that is what Jesus says we're doing when we know our mission and allow something or someone to distract or divert us from that mission. When we are not being about what God has called us to be about, we are disobedient.

One day a good friend of mine was innocently asked by someone in our church if he would consider teaching Sunday School for a group of Middle School students. And before the request was fully out of his mouth my friend had already replied with a quick and firm no. "Well, don't you even want to pray about it?" the man asked. To which my friend replied, "I've been praying about that all of my life. Let me tell you what God has told me I am to be about." And he went on to list a number of things that God had clearly communicated to him that he was to be about - his mission, if you will. Then he went on to say, "If I said yes to your request, I would be disobedient to what God has called me to be about." In essence, that's what Jesus seems to be saying here, but the story does not end there.

"Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table," the woman replies. And what a beautiful reply it is. "I'm not asking for the children's bread," says the woman, "I realize that you were sent for them. All I'm asking is for a few of the crumbs that might fall off the table. That will not cost you (or them) anything, as far as your mission and direction is concerned." She understood mission. And Jesus fully realized that she understood mission. In fact, he was moved with compassion. "Then Jesus answered her, 'O woman, great is your faith! Be it done to you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed instantly."

So, it seems, not only do we need to be clear and focused on what our mission is, we also need to be open when someone or something outside of those parameters comes along that is in need of our touch or our help. We must live in that creative tension between being focused and being open. Which means we must be depend on God to show us the way. We must constantly be seeking the heart and the voice of God on a regular basis, to guide us in all we do.

Prayer for the church, for others, for myself

Michael and Kim Essenburg are serving at Okinawa Christian School (OCS), a school for missionary children and children of business and professional people that is located in Okinawa, Japan. Pray today for the Essenburgs as they travel to the U.S. to visit with Kim's mother whose health is declining.

Family Promise of Knoxville serves families that come into their program "situationally" homeless – something has happened in their lives (job loss, medical conditions, financial problems, or other tough circumstances) to cause them to be homeless. It is not a choice they have made consciously or easily. This organization has created an interfaith network involving 16 "host" congregations and 26 "support" congregations. Pray for the homeless families that Family Promise will reach this month.

Closing Prayer: What Thou wilt, when Thou wilt, how Thou wilt. This is the cry of my heart, O God. - John Newton