It seems to never fail that when religious nerds get together (these are my kind of people) and the group is made up of various denominations, the question eventually comes around. The question is “what kind are you?” This always makes me chuckle a bit. What kind of Baptist are you? What kind of Presbyterian are you? What kind of Lutheran are you? Sometimes you can tell how people feel about the denomination by the way they react to your answer. And honestly, I don’t know why it matters in the long run. Sure, we may not always agree with other denominations on things like baptism, communion, and even women clergy. But, I think we can agree on big worldly issues: feeding the hungry, working for justice, and caring for the environment. And I’ve said this before, but I really believe this: I doubt, or maybe more appropriately, I hope that God’s kingdom isn’t divided into denominations. There is no Lutheran heaven, no Methodist heaven, no Roman Catholic heaven. Today, I want to expand the question and idea of “what kind are you” from specific individual denominations and instead focus on just the general umbrella label of “Christian.” So, my beloved, what kind of Christian are you?
I wonder what is your first reaction to that question. What kind of Christian are you? As I was thinking about that this week, I thought of a few responses. What kind of Christian are you? What do you mean? What kind of Christian are you? Ummm…..Lutheran? What kind of Christian are you? Why do you want to know? And of course, doing the thing that our teachers always told us not to do: use a word to define a word. What kind of Christian are you? Well….I’m the Christian kind…you know. I want to pause and give you a moment to answer that question for yourselves. What kind of Christian are you? Now, tuck that answer away in a safe-keeping pocket in your brain.
We have two stories of healing this week. On the surface, that’s probably not surprising. After all, Jesus healed a lot of people. This was kind of his thing. If we just looked at these stories as stories of healing, we’d probably miss a lot. While the healing is important, the conversations and actions that lead up to the healings are almost more important. Everything we need to know about the first healing is told to us in some simple words. Verse 26 “now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.” Those gathered listening to this story would immediately hear and know that this woman had three strikes against her. First, she was a woman, which meant she was less than. Additionally, she approaches Jesus without a husband or other male relative, which was a no-no. Second, she was a Gentile, which meant she’s not Jewish. She would have been viewed as impure. Lastly, she was Syrophoenician. She lives outside Israel, not under Jewish law. Then, there’s the reason why she’s approaching Jesus in the first place: her daughter has a demon. This fact also further drives a wedge between her and those gathered around Jesus. This woman was a Christian with nothing else to lose.
Because she has nothing else to lose, the woman does something that was quite rare: she went toe-to-toe with Jesus. She challenged Jesus. But why wouldn’t she? If Jesus had turned her away, denied her request for the healing of her daughter, she probably would have been no worse off. When is the last time you went toe-to-toe with Jesus? When was the last time you wondered and questioned God’s mission in this world? The Syrophoenician woman knew that there would be enough on that table that it would spill over and even those seated underneath the table, even the beggars would get crumbs. Do we truly believe that God’s grace is so great that even those that don’t deserve it receive God’s grace? Do we truly believe that God’s grace is so great that even we receive God’s grace?
I wonder if we would be brave enough to be this kind of Christian. It’s scary to think about challenging God, isn’t it? Our brains and hearts may immediately jump to consequences. Usually these consequences are self-centered. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s actually pretty natural. When I think about challenging God, I think “if I do that, God won’t love me anymore.” Or I think “if I challenge God, I may not get to heaven.” Sometimes I think “if I challenge God, God will punish me or someone I love for my disobedience.” And I wonder if our faith isn’t actually weakened when we don’t question God. After all, when you start to chalk up every bad thing as “God’s plan” eventually you might snap.
I mean, let’s say you had a relative die of cancer and said “it was God’s plan.” And then your dog died and “it was God’s plan.” Perhaps then your car got stolen and “it was God’s plan.” You went bankrupt, your house burned down, and your spouse left you and it was all “God’s plan.” Wouldn’t you be the slightest bit angry with God? Our God is big enough for us to be angry with God. Our God is loving enough for us to question God. What would happen if we were the kind of Christians this Syrophoenician woman is? What if instead of rolling over and accepting life the way it is, we challenged God? When was the last time you yelled at God? When was the last time you complained to God? Our fear of not being loved is so strong that we often keep our anger to ourselves and it effects our faith. That’s not a relationship with God. God loves us no matter what. God will love us even in the times we are angry with God or challenging God.
I wonder if this world actually needs us to be the kind of Christians that challenge God. I think this world is hungry for Christians who will question Jesus and say “but isn’t there enough for even those under the table?” Prayer changes the world, friends. I really believe that. What if we were the kind of Christians who, in love for our neighbors, cried in anger to God over hunger, war, and poverty? What if we were the kind of Christians, who, in love for our neighbors, yelled at God for injustice, racism, sexism, and classism? What if, we just were the kind of Christians, out of our love for our neighbors and our belief that our God is a God of love, that we were just to frustratingly say “nope. This isn’t fair, God.” But I must caution you. When we challenge God, which we should, God may then turn around and challenge us. There is a reason Jesus had the disciples. And there is a reason God created us. If we challenge God, God will, by grace alone, give us the resources and tools we need to answer the challenge. And even if we don’t, even if we fail in doing God’s work in the world, God still moves and acts. Jesus, despite being challenged, still cured the Syophoenican woman’s daughter. Nothing stops the love of God through Christ Jesus. We aren’t that important or that powerful to stop God’s love. Believe it or not, that is good news. So, my beloved, the next time you are asked “what kind of Christian are you?” will you be brave enough and bold enough to answer “the kind that will dare to go toe-to-toe with God. The kind that will yell at God, get angry with God, and beg of God. The kind that refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer. The kind that questions God’s will. The kind whose faith is stronger because of all those things.” What kind of Christian are you?