Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus left there and departed for the district of Tyre and Sidon. It happened that a Canaanite woman living in that area came and cried out to Jesus, “Heir to the House of David, have pity on me! My daughter is horribly demon-possessed.”
Jesus gave her no word of response. The disciples came up and repeatedly said to him, “Please get rid of her! She keeps calling after us.”
Finally Jesus turned to the woman and said, “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”
She then prostrated herself before him with the plea, “Help me, Rabbi!”
He answered, “But it isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
“True, Rabbi,” she replied, “but even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.”
Jesus then said in reply, “Woman, you have great faith! Your wish will come to pass.” At that very moment her daughter was healed.


For the past few weeks, I have been praying a fervent prayer–
God, let the opportunity arise for me to preach about Barbie. Please. Amen.
And now, dear friends, that moment has arrived. The first of many, probably.

We encounter Barbie as she is about to walk out onto the beach
where Ken and Barbie and Ken and Ken and Ken and Barbie
are all “beaching.” Not surfing, not swimming– beaching.
She goes to take off her shoes and something happens that breaks her world:
her heels touch the ground. She has flat feet.
That’s just one of the many symptoms she has that indicate that
her world is different. Something fundamentally has changed about Barbieland.
And she doesn’t want ANYTHING to change–
she has the dreamiest house, the cutest car, the best friends–
nothing is supposed to change.
That is the whole point of Barbieland– it’s perfect. No changes allowed.
Especially cellulite.

And as a real human watching this movie,
even though Barbieland does actually look amazing,
I started to feel pity for Barbie really early on.
Honey: life is change.

When I was in chaplaincy training, one of the most compelling
concepts about good care for people
was noticing their tolerance for change. All change is grief.
It was my job to notice how that grief showed up.
If I walked into a hospital room, and the family was there,
I could tell pretty instantly whether they were open to being cared for.
Being receptive to someone changing the status quo,
shifting the dynamic, is having a low need for homeostasis–
that impulse to constantly regulate so that things don’t change.

I took this idea into Tom’s and my relationship and we included it in our wedding vows–
a commitment that we would have a low need for homeostasis,
that we wanted our relationships to shift and change us,
we wanted our home and our family to be open.
Which is probably why we’ve said yes to hosting so many people this summer.
We committed at the beginning of things to aspire to be people who welcome change
because we believe it is the natural, good way of things.

Sci-fi novelist and afro-futurist Octavia Butler once wrote:

All that you touch
You Change.
All that you Change
Changes you.
The only lasting truth
Is Change.
Is Change.

In my clearest, most grounded moments, I am faithful to that God.

And the Canaanite woman is too,
in a way that, it seems, Jesus is not.
Jesus, at the beginning of this exchange,
is towing the traditional line of his people:
that the Israelites are God’s chosen ones.
That blessing and favor and healing are for them.
That his presence and ministry are reserved for them.

And I understand it, we can understand it,
this impulse for the circle to be drawn around the Israelites
in a desperation for protection and belonging
because if we remember to read these texts
as a collection of stories to inspire and hearten the oppressed–
we remember that, for a people oppressed,
God is for us
is a powerful statement of rebellion and dignity
in world that is continually against them.

But in the hands of dominant culture, or in the hands of those who oppress
intentionally or unintentionally–
God is for us
becomes exclusivist and violent.
I will be curious to hear the theology of Christian supremacy, Christian nationalism
that emerge at the Republican debates.
This language– God bless America– uttered by politicians on both sides of the aisle–
take their cues from the Jesus of this story.

And the alternative, a universalism that has emerged over the past 100 years
among us good progressive Christian type people–
that God is for everyone and all paths lead up the same mountain–
isn’t so much better.
Public theologian Damon Garcia writes that
If in one scenario you’re right and everyone else is wrong,
and in the other scenario everyone is right in their own way,
then in both scenarios you’re always right, and therefore have nothing to learn from others because you already have everything figured out.

What is the alternative? The alternative is this story.
Over the course of this short exchange,
the Canaanite woman– a woman certainly outside of Jesus’ circle,
religiously, culturally, racially,
changes his heart and his mind about the nature of the circle to begin with.

Even the dogs get the children’s leftovers.

The vision for reconciliation and repair is always expanding to become more inclusive.
And even that word inclusive–
as a community we decided over a year ago that we’re not super interested
in “including” people in what we’re doing already
so much as we want to be about
being changed continually by our relationships.
We sing May the Circle be unbroken every week, and I love that song,
because protection and belonging are vital, especially on our hardest days,
when we feel so acutely that the systems were not always designed for us,
and yet the circle needs to be porous, it needs to break and be made again,
it needs to have gaps where people can come and go
and where relationship can change us always.
God is change.

This is the realization of Jennifer and I in a good conversation last week
about this LGBTQ+ spirituality circle that is slowly slowly slowly coming into being…
we realized that the queer folx who call Storydwelling home
have found a space, more or less, to bring any pain or woundedness they have
from churches past. They are in the circle. The circle expanded and broken and breathed
so that we who are here have found belonging together.
This space is designed for us.

So: what we are talking about when we talk about accompaniment for
queer folx whose spiritual pain is so close to the surface
is listening to the stories of people we haven’t met yet.
Letting the circle be a breathing, porous organism
that changes because of relationship.
So we are going to do that: listen– widely– this coming year.
I have thought for many years of God as relationship
so God must must must be change, too.

That is the movement of all life finding its way to survive, yes?
Certain species of woodpecker have evolved to adapt to wildfire–
they eat grubs only out of freshly burned trees.
There are small mouse-like marsupials that have evolved to shelter in in a sleep-like state
as wildfire flames pass overhead.
And there are the mothers and parents who adapt out of desperate love for their children–
shifting the environments around them, shifting their whole lives–
because Life wants to live, so it must change.
God is change.

Which is such good news–
for the animals and plants surviving these wildfires,
for those, especially queer folx, for whom churches and systems have not been designed,
for mothers protecting their children,
and yes for Barbies living in Barbieland where everything is perfect but it isn’t true.

God is change, is very very good news for the parts of our stories
where the pain is close to the surface.
It will not always hurt like this– on the land, in parenting, in the quest for belonging.
The winds will shift
and we will redraw our circles
for the sake of more voices, more delight, more justice.

May it be so.