Proper 15 Year A (Pentecost 10)
17 August 2014
Isaiah 56:1; 6-8; Ps. 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:10-28
St Stephen Lutheran Church
Pr. Maurice Frontz
Watch your mouth!
How many of us have said this to our children?
How many of us have heard this from our parents?
It might be heard when you let your tongue slip,
and use a word that you may not be supposed to use.
But we might also hear ‘Watch your mouth!’
when we are saying something a bit ‘saucy’ to someone with whom we are angry;
a parent, a spouse, someone who deserves more respect than we are giving them.
We may hear it from a parent when we show disrespect to others.
It is a quick and sharp reminder
that we are being overheard
and that our words matter.
In the verses immediately preceding our Gospel lesson,
the Pharisees confront Jesus,
asking why his disciples don’t wash their hands before they eat.
This might be a little confusing.
We have been taught since our childhood to wash our hands before we eat.
However, this is because we know about bacteria.
They didn’t back then.
This was a religious ritual,
a temple regulation which the Pharisees believed all Israel was to follow.
In Jesus’ refusal to tell his disciples
to follow the tradition of hand-washing,
the Pharisees perceive a direct threat to their religious influence.
And so they question Jesus, either trying to discredit him or bring them in line.
Now it may have been more expedient,
more diplomatic for Jesus to show the Pharisees some respect,
to show them that he really wasn’t a threat at all;
at least when the crowds or the Pharisees were around
to observe the tradition.
Jesus is no diplomat when it comes to the truth.
What he says, he means, and what he means, he says.
Watch your mouth! Jesus says to the Pharisees.
Not what you put into it,
food that is touched by ‘unwashed’ hands,
but what comes out of it,
words that come from unwashed hearts.
What we say reveals what we believe.
The first commandment teaches us to have one God, the true God.
The second commandment,
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,
teaches us that our speech about God
reveals whether we indeed have that one God.
Martin Luther teaches in the Small Catechism,
‘We are to fear and love God,
so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name;
but instead use that very name in every time of need
to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.’
Do we love God with our whole heart?
Watch your mouth! – it will tell you.
In the explanation to the eighth commandment,
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,
Luther teaches this:
‘We are to fear and love God,
so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors,
betray or slander them,
or destroy their reputations.
Instead we are to come to their defense,
speak well of them,
and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.’
Do we love our neighbors as ourselves?
Watch your mouth! - it will tell you.
For many people, their understanding of whether they are good or bad is,
‘I haven’t killed anyone,’
But do we speak in unrestrained anger?
‘I have not committed adultery,’
and yet have we spoken of others as sexual objects,
and with our words cheapened them?
‘I have not stolen,’
and yet do we speak enviously of the rich
and speak lovingly of our possessions
and what we will do when and if we get some money?
‘I don’t lie about other people,’
and yet do we tell tales,
dwell on other’s faults when we think no one is listening,
and talking about the failings of the famous in order to justify ourselves?
We must watch our mouths
so that we may truly obey God with everything we say.
And yet Jesus’ words are more than simple moral direction.
They point us to the wanderings of our hearts,
which our words reveal.
Our words reveal that our hands are not defiled,
but our hearts are;
that we need not be concerned with food that is touched by unwashed hands,
but with words that come from unwashed hearts.
Our words reveal us as sinners in need of God’s grace.
By watching our mouths,
we are led to confess with our mouths,
‘We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.’
And these are words that lead to faith.
For we can only confess these words
if we have heard from God’s Word, which is trustworthy,
that we needy ones have a gracious God.
The Canaanite woman has nothing;
no status as belonging to the people of God;
no status as a scrupulous keeper of the law.
And yet she cries out with truthful speech,
using words that the scrupulous Pharisees cannot and will not use:
Lord, Son of David.
I have nothing to recommend me,
I am no keeper of the law, I am not one of the people of God,
but you are God, you are gracious,
you can heal, you can help, you can save.
Exchange your fullness for my emptiness.
Exchange your greatness for my lowliness,
and do for me what I cannot do for myself.
Even a crumb of your mercy is good enough for me.
for they reveal the heart;
the faith of a mother, the faith of a foreigner,
the faith of a seeker of God.
And Jesus listens to the words of her mouth
and answers not according to her status,
but according to her faith.
The daughter is cleansed from the demon
and God now claims her heart
as he has already claimed her mother’s.
Jesus’ promise is to cast out evil,
to grant forgiveness of sin
and deliverance from eternal death
and life everlasting.
It is faith which claims God’s promise,
faith that looks not at oneself and one’s lack
but at Jesus and his mercy.
‘This woman, this unknown Canaanite woman,
not only becomes for us Gentiles the forerunner of our faith,
but her reply to Jesus teaches us how to speak..
Faith, it seems, is exemplified by our willingness to beg.’
or to pray when we ‘have time’ or when we ‘feel like it.’
We don’t think that our words, our daily words, matter.
But it is the regular worship of our lives,
the words that we speak over and over again,
that express the heart of faith.
‘Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.’
‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’
And of course, these words must not be mere ritual repetition,
but come from a heart that claims God’s promises.
And so, may God grant us the grace to ‘watch our mouths,’
to refrain from speech which lacks love for God and neighbor,
to recognize in our rash words the sin which separates us from God,
but to call out to God in every time of need,
with our words confessing our faith
to him who looks with favor upon all who seek him,
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.