SCRIPTURE LESSON: Mark 7: 24-30

Next Sunday we will not be meeting online. Instead, we will be gathering for worship in the streets of Grand Junction. There we will bear witness to the truth that God loves us all, no matter whom we love or how.

Next Sunday we will march in the Colorado West Pride Parade behind our big Community Spirit Church banner, joined by friends we have invited as well as some new friends from the Methodist Church in Cedaredge. We will march down Main Street at noon next Sunday with smiles as bright as the sun, with hearts as open as the western skies, with spirits of solidarity reaching in every direction.

Those who are not marching will participate from the sidewalk lining the parade route. You’ll wave us on, affirming the witness we have come from Montrose to proclaim: that God is only and always love and that this love wins—not fear, not hate, not indifference, not any limited and limiting human will.

And after the parade, instead of doing what we have done every other year, instead of heading back to our cars to find lunch or drive home, this year we will stay for the lively activities that follow.

For the first time in our history of participating in Pride, we will have a booth set up so that we can engage with others. We will have small stones to decorate, a colorfully decorated door to graffiti and take selfies in front of. We’ll have giveaways of water and Hershey’s hugs and Amazon gift cards. And we can thank the Rocky Mountain Conference for underwriting these expressions of our love and affirmation.

By our presence after the parade, by our actions in the hours that follow our march down Main, we will wordlessly bless those who come our way, some of whom have been hurt, even harmed, by our homophobic society and by churches unable to love as Jesus loved.

We are going to Grand Junction to bear witness to the Good News. We are going in order to stand in solidarity with those on the margins. We are going that together we might be an answer to that line in Jesus’ prayer that asks “on earth as it is in heaven.”

But more than all this, we are going to Grand Junction to learn. To learn by stepping outside of our usual orbits. To learn by putting ourselves in the presence of those whose lives and stories are different than our own by varying degrees. To learn by risking being made a little or even a lot uncomfortable by those we encounter, people who because of the occasion, will feel free to be fully themselves—and safe—in public for a few brief hours.

Not to offend but to underscore, let me repeat myself. We are going to Grand Junction to bear witness to love. We are going to be of healing service. But more importantly, we are going to Grand Junction to learn. And to be changed for the better by what we learn—about ourselves, others, and the Jesus who goes with us to Grand Junction.

When we go to Grand Junction next week, Jesus’ spirit and story will accompany us. The spirit and story of the one sent by God, the one who drew the circle wide.

The one who welcomed those who had been shunned.

The one who loved those whom society insisted were unlovable.

The one who lived, died, and rose again so that we might see that faith is best expressed not in purity but in compassion, that faith responds to the brokenness of the world not simply with acts of charity but with the reordering that comes only through justice seeking.

When we go to Grand Junction next Sunday, let us be intentional about carrying Jesus with us. Even, especially the Jesus we encounter today. The teacher who needed to be schooled. The rabbi who almost refused to learn.
Both Mark’s gospel and Matthew’s tell the story of the day Jesus was approached by a most unlikely but imminently qualified teacher, a Gentile mother.

It’s this Jesus we need with us next Sunday. It’s this Jesus who aches to be invited along. It’s this Jesus who is praying today that we will be open next Sunday to the learning we can do when we land in Grand Junction.

Next Sunday, we will be doing what Jesus did when he crossed over into Gentile territory. We will be leaving the familiar and stepping into territory that may well feel foreign and possibly even strange. We will step for a few hours into a land where the language is different than the one we regularly speak. Where the way people dress and conduct themselves is not what we’re used to on any given day in Montrose.

And like Jesus that day he crossed over into Tyre, even as we go with the noblest of aims, we may well find ourselves bumping up against biases we didn’t know we had, judgments we didn’t realize we carried, perspectives we might have failed to notice before.

And like Jesus in our lesson today, we may struggle a little, maybe even a more than a little. This is what happens when we cross any kind of border or boundary line. This is what happens when we’re with people who are different than we are.

Even Jesus struggled to come to terms with differences. Even he had a moment where his cultural and religious conditioning overtook him and colored his clear-sightedness. After all, his people had long seen the Gentiles as dirty dogs, as unclean and unworthy, as outsiders to God’s special love for Israel.

For just a moment, a moment when time seemed to stand still, Jesus saw the woman before him not through the eyes of love but through the eyes of his world, through his people’s ancient and well-honed biases.

When that happened, and it did, what saved Jesus wasn’t isn’t his own good self. When Jesus told the Gentile mother that it wasn’t right to give dogs food that was meant for children, when Jesus said what anyone in his world would have said, what saved him, what called him back from the brink, wasn’t his own conscience or spiritual instincts.

No, what saved Jesus was his teacher, the Gentile mother. She saw that even though Jesus was Jewish, he was a gift God intended for everyone, even her kind. If it was true her people were dogs, even they deserved some of the crumbs that fell from Israel’s table. Even they were worthy of a few morsels of the spiritual nourishment Jesus was so liberally sharing.

A natural born teacher, the Gentile woman schooled Jesus. And Jesus came through, he saw the truth in her lesson. And as a result, the woman’s ailing daughter was healed.

Jesus returned home a different man than he’d been when he crossed over into Tyre and encountered a quick-witted, courageous teacher. His vision of himself was greater, as was his sense of calling. Because he was open to learning, because he was humble enough to grow in his thinking, Jesus and his ministry were more gracious and spacious than before.

I pray this for us, as well next week. Even as we go to Grand Junction already clear that the LGBTQ community is worthy of love, even as we view ourselves as allies and advocates, I hope we come home changed by our experience.

Anyone and everyone we encounter next Sunday has the potential to be like that Gentile mother.

If we are willing, anyone involved with Pride will have the power to educate us, to open up our thinking, to draw us into a deeper understanding of who God has called us to be, and into a fuller sense of what God is inviting us to do.

I pray that when we head home next Sunday our hearts are full to overflowing.

But more than this I pray that we return to Montrose even more like Jesus than we already are, more like the one who, because he was willing to be educated by an unlikely teacher, continued on in his ministry with a keener, more expansive sense of himself and his calling.

Why? Because this is what it means to follow Jesus—that we be willing to learn again and again how much more spacious God’s love is than we previously understood. And that we let God’s unlikeliest teachers teach us.

Will you pray with me?

Be with us, O God, as we step into new territory next Sunday.
Grant us your grace. Be with us, O God, as we bump shoulders with those whose lives may differ a little or a lot from our own.
Grant us your grace.

Be with us, O God, as we learn lessons we cannot learn anywhere else.
Grant us your grace.

Be with us, O God, as we head home to be of service in this place and time.
Grant us your grace.

Be with us, O God, as we grow as followers of the One who himself had occasion to learn who he was and how he was to serve.

All this we pray in his beautiful and humble name. Amen.