When we think about Thanksgiving Day, most of us think about that big, iconic feast – roast turkey and all the trimmings, and many classics of American cuisine…all harking back to the Pilgrims’ original meal, and the kind of foods they would have eaten. But I think if you ask many people what their favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is they would say “the leftovers.” And there’s nothing like a turkey sandwich that crams in as many of the original meal’s ingredients as possible.
That’s what leftovers are all about – taking ingredients that had been part of something else, combining them with a little flair and imagination, and maybe a little less ceremony, and making them into something new and delicious. The leftovers become something different than what they had originally been, but good in their own way.
Here at All Saints’ we know about a different kind of left-overs: rummage! Every year we gather things that our neighbors, relatives, friends, and we ourselves have outgrown, have moved beyond. We sort them, price them, sift through and send a few things to scrap metal, recycling, or the trash; but most of the items get organized, displayed, and offered for sale on our front lawn. I guess you could say we are not proud – putting our left-overs out for all to see. But we do it knowing that the event will have several good outcomes. There is the basic result of raising money for the life and work of All Saints’. Then there is the fact that we are helping people de-clutter their homes – we give them a place to put their stuff; and the things that we don’t sell this year will go to the Senior Center sale and the Salvation Army – a second generation of rummage. Of course, some of the people who come to the sale every year are folks who are shopping on a very limited income and they can find things they need on our front lawn. And finally – and I personally think this is the best part – the Rummage Sale takes a whole lot of left-overs and makes a party for the wider community. The tents, the people, the food all provide a festive atmosphere where people gather, meet their neighbors, talk informally. Our front lawn becomes a microcosm of all that we most value about living in this community, and what the Kingdom of God is all about. And it’s all because of left-overs!
We hear about left-overs in this morning’s Gospel, also. Jesus has taken some time out and gone to Tyre, a Gentile, Canaanite city on the Mediterranean coast. He probably needed some down time and was looking for a place where he would not be recognized easily. But that did not happen. A local woman, a Gentile, heard that he was there and sought him out, desperate because her daughter had an unclean spirit – whether it was something that was truly demonic or was what we would now call mental illness does not matter. Her daughter was ill, and the woman was pretty sure that Jesus could help her. But now we bump up against one of those exchanges that make us very uncomfortable. The woman asks for help; Jesus tells her “No” or at least “Get in line behind the Jewish people who have to come first.” And he even uses insulting language by calling her a dog. Woah! This is not the way we like to think of Jesus.
But the woman doesn’t skip a beat. She says, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." She has already come to him in faith, has bowed down at his feet, called him Sir/Master; she believes that he has the God-given power to heal her daughter, and that even the smallest amount will be sufficient for the purpose. This Syrophoenician, Gentile woman believes in left-overs. She knows that whatever God gives, through Jesus, will be enough. And that’s what happens; Jesus hears what she has to say and proclaims her daughter healed.
But something else has happened, as well. This Gentile woman, I believe, has helped Jesus come to a new stage in his awareness of his mission and ministry. His vocation as the Messiah, as God’s Anointed One, was always to have been a vocation to redeem and restore all creation, all people – beginning with the Jews, and continuing on to all the world’s people; we see that especially clearly in the latter chapters of Isaiah. The encounter between Jesus and the woman has moved up that timetable. Salvation for all is coming to fruition now, and the encounter with the Gentile woman is helping Jesus to see it. And as if to make that point, Mark tells us that Jesus then travels down the coast of Sidon, still a Canaanite area, and goes to the region of the Decapolis on the north-east side of the Sea of Galilee that was a majority Gentile area, and then gives hearing and speech to a deaf man. Whether he was Jew or Gentile, we are not told. These experiences, along with others, pushes Jesus to be more aware of the scope and nature of his mission and ministry.
Our encounters with our neighbors and friends and community members can push us to be more aware of our vocation and ministry, as well – if we let them. I think many of us, very understandably, get so focused by the needs of our own schedules, jobs, families, that we aren’t able to hear the hopes and dreams of our neighbors. That is not surprising, particularly in this week when we are scrambling to get kids back to school. But as followers of Jesus, we know that we are here for than just ourselves and our own concerns. We believe that God has put us here – in our lives, in this Church, in this community – for a purpose that extends to the well-being of those around us, and the building of the common good. For us to fulfill God’s purpose, we need to listen to God’s hopes and dreams, as voiced by our neighbors.
We may not feel we have the time or energy to devote to anyone outside our immediate circle, but remember the left-overs? God can take scraps of conversation, crumbs of time, crusts of attention and encounter, and make something whole and new and good. Our job, then, is not to throw the left-overs away. Those bits and pieces of crossing paths with others at Shop-Rite, at the doctor’s office, standing in line at Starbucks or Walgreens, or on the sidelines of rec soccer or the train platform, are the very places where we can listen for God’s purposes and hopes for us and our communities. And as we listen, our awareness of God’s good intentions can grow in us, and we can feel the Spirit nudging us to take action – even in some very small ways.
And even if we feel that we ourselves are just in bits and pieces, we can hold firmly to the knowledge that God is always making all things new – including us; that’s what redemption and salvation are all about. Jesus takes our left-overness and makes a feast for the heart and soul. And that is enough.
Let us pray.
God of your goodness, give me yourself,
For you are enough to me.
And if I ask for anything less, I shall ever be in want,
for only in you have I all. ~ Julian of Norwich
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 6, 2015