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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville
Dr. Todd B. Jones
September 9, 2012

Where Jesus Will Take You
Isaiah 35:4-7
Mark 7:24-37

In 2009, at the end of the sabbatical you so graciously granted, our last place to go was Istanbul, that city that spans two continents, Asia and Europe, separated by the Bosphorus.  For me, the highlight of this great city was our visit to Hagia Sophia, the largest church in the world when it was built in Constantinople, but since 1453, a church that had been turned into a mosque, and then into a national museum.  For reasons I could never put into words, it is one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring places I have ever seen.  Even the presence of minarets and the trappings of Islamic worship cannot hide or erase the sad, beautiful, powerful Christian witness that this grand lady still bears, seven centuries after it ceased to be a place of Christian worship.  As Connie and I were leaving Hagia Sophia, a street vendor held up a picture of one of the powerful mosaics with Christ at the center of it and said, “Don’t you want to take a little Jesus home with you, sir?” I smiled and thought, “What a curious thing for him to say!” We don’t take “a little Jesus” with us; no, Jesus’ love takes us places.  Jesus takes us places we never imagined we could go, if we are willing to follow. 

And as we pause today to mark the beginning of the ministry of Catherine Foster, as she is installed today as Associate Pastor for Young Adult Ministry, this seemed to me to be a fitting and appropriate place to start.  Ministry in Jesus’ name, Christian ministry, the ministry Jesus calls us all to take up, is all about following Jesus, about going where Jesus leads.  And Jesus has a way of taking you places, and shaping and reshaping your life, in ways you never could have imagined or envisioned.  And that to me remains the utter adventure, the delight, of being a Christian!  Jesus says, “Follow me,” and we never know where answering that summons will lead us.

This morning in Mark, Jesus encounters a desperate woman, a Syrophoenician, we are told, which means a Gentile.  This woman is an outsider to Jesus’ Jewish world, and Jesus is outside of His own country in Tyre, when this woman approached Jesus and bowed down at His feet.  It never occurred to me before in preaching on this text, or its counterpart in Matthew 15, where she is called rather anachronistically, a “Canaanite-woman,” even though the Canaanites have not existed for centuries, that this woman is likely a young adult.  She is a young mother desperate for Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter.  And she will not let anything deter her from getting the help she believes Jesus can give. 

Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  Jesus is speaking parabolically to her, and suggesting that He cannot help her because He has been called by God to shepherd “the lost sheep of Israel,” or to serve and feed the children of God, His own chosen Jewish people.

And this desperate young mother gets the parable!  And she is not in the least offended or put off by the fact that Jesus has just referred to her own people as “dogs.” This was what Jews often called the Gentile people who lived all around them.  No matter how you try to tidy it up, Jesus still refers to this woman and her people as “dogs.” And she quickly replies, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus is so moved by her faith in Him, and by her understanding of Jesus’ own mission and ministry, that He sends her home, assuring her that because of her response (and her faith), her daughter has been healed.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Woman, great is your faith!” Jim Edwards’ book on Mark’s Gospel suggests that this was an important moment of understanding for Jesus, and this woman and her faith may have served as a key teacher for Jesus.

I love the suggestion that Jesus kept learning of what it meant to follow His heavenly Father.  Some may think it is blasphemous to suggest that this desperate young mother taught Jesus something, but I do not think so.  I have been a full-time Christian minister for thirty-two years, and I am still learning from the wisdom and the faith of those I am called to lead and to serve.  Jim Edwards writes of this woman, this young-adult-seeker-after-Jesus, “She appears to understand the purpose of Israel’s Messiah better than (anyone in) Israel does.  Her pluck and persistence are a testimony to her trust in the sufficiency and surplus of Jesus.”  I love this woman, and I think Jesus loves her as well, and loved her faith and insight!

Part of why our Associate Pastor Nominating Committee, chaired by Jon Bechtel, which included four young adults from our church family, was led to extend a call to Catherine was because of the incredible warmth and energy and joy she brings to life.  We sensed in her from the start the radiance of her faith.  And to succeed in her role of creating a more vibrant and inclusive young adult ministry in our church, she will need both “pluck and persistence.” She has some of each! But even more, she will need to “trust in the sufficiency and surplus of Jesus.”

You all know this, but our decision to create a position for Young Adult Ministry is born of our own awareness that this is something we need to do better than we are currently doing it.  Young adults, especially those between the ages of twenty to thirty, are the least-churched demographic in America in every study done of church-going behavior.  So this is a huge calling we have laid upon Catherine, one she cannot possibly do by herself, without the support of our whole church family.  But we have sensed in her a capacity to create community, to welcome and to invite and to embrace young adults, singles, couples and young families more fully into the life of our congregation.   But the only way she will succeed in creating a welcome space and place in our church for more and more young adults is by taking a page from this Gentile woman, and “trusting in the sufficiency and surplus of Jesus.” That is the only way any of us can succeed in fulfilling whatever our own calling may be.

I love what those people said who witnessed Jesus’ healing of the deaf man who had a speech impediment, as most people with hearing loss do.  This particular healing could not be more different than the one before it!  Jesus never sees or touches the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman.  God heals her with only Jesus’ word.  In this instance, though, Jesus takes the deaf man aside from the crowd, puts His fingers into his ears, spits and touches his tongue, and looking up to heaven, sighs deeply and cries out in Aramaic, “Be opened!” He then bids those who witness this miracle to “tell no one.” “But the more He ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” I love that line!  Would that we develop that kind of zeal for Jesus and for our own wonderful church family!

“They were astounded beyond measure,” we are told.  And they say, “He has done everything well….”  Or, as the King James Version puts it, “Jesus doeth all things well!”

That is the kind of unbridled awe and enthusiasm we need as a church, and the kind I surely sense in Catherine.  With it, there is no telling where Jesus will take us!


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