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Belmont United Methodist Church in Belmont Massachusetts

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Look on the Sunny Side - Rev. Wimmer - September 6, 2009 - Proverbs 22.1-2,8-9,22-23; James 2.1-17; Mark 7.24-37


Look on the Sunny Side
September 6, 2009

When I got the news this week that I would have to begin treatment for Glaucoma even though it is still inconclusive that I actually have glaucoma or am just a very high risk for getting it, I told my wife about it and she exclaimed how lucky I was that they had caught this before any damage to the optic nerve could happen. I have to tell you that that was not what I was thinking about it. I was thinking how unlucky I was to have to be treated for glaucoma. As usual my wife was looking on the sunny side and she is right. She usually is.

Personally I have always been one to respect reality thinking that the so-called sunny side was often as not just a denial or avoidance of reality. It turns out though that the sunny side is even more real than the reality I see with my eyes or experience in the flesh or know from the material world and its sorry history. It is a reality that is born of faith, that comes from God, that abides in our hearts and souls as a light, unseen most often but no less bright and shining. Indeed it is the light that enables us to see light, to see the unseen. It is the unseen reality of the heart and of the spirit that makes all the difference for us. In the end I think we will find, that the sunny side, if you will, is not just a nice bonus to make us feel better when we need it, but is what will get us through the night.

There's a dark and troubled side of life
There's a bright and a sunny side, too
Though we meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

When you look for the sunny side, you find it everywhere. When you don't, it may still find you unawares and surprise you with joy but it is better to look for it because the looking itself can be illuminating. This is one thing I am learning. Oh I know you would think that by now someone who has been around as long as I have would already know all I need to know about these things but some days I feel like I am only just beginning to see the light.

I am, for example still often astonished by what is revealed in the holy scriptures even though I may have seen the words many times before. In this strange and uncomfortable description of Jesus' encounter with the Gentile woman we instinctively recoil at what appears to be a rather harsh treatment of someone in trouble unlike what we have always understood about how Jesus behaved. In fact if we remember the story from the beginning we may recall that God chose Israel. We don't know why God had to choose a particular people to do what God wants done but this is how the story goes. As Buechner explained it, As soon as God decided to take a hand in history, he had to start somewhere. Over the years we are not even sure what it means to be chosen by God. Does it mean special privilege or does it mean terrible responsibility. Is it a blessing or a burden or both?

In any case, the reference to the children who should be fed first is to Israel. It is not the first time the idea that Jesus has come to a particular people for a particular purpose. He is after all (or so we believe now) the Messiah. No one else was expecting the Messiah. As far as I can tell the Gentiles, for example, were not expecting anything much to happen except perhaps that the Romans would continue to rule their world. Of course it is hard to speak for the Gentiles when you consider that gentile did not describe so much who you were but who you were not. The Bible dictionary (I looked it up) defines an Gentile as anyone who was not an Israelite or as we tend to speak in these days, anyone who was not Jewish. No one seems to know for certain what Jesus himself thought about this but it was his followers who later quite famously incorporated with much controversy and difficulty Gentiles and Jews into the Christian movement which eventually became the Church.

The distinction between Jew and Gentile also was related to the tension between universalism and particularism. Was God's care for everyone or just some? It is interesting I think that this debate continues but with different players. Who is in and who is out of God's grace? Oddly enough it is this uncomfortable text in Mark that sheds light and provides a view from the sunny side.

I really think we have this text before us not so much for what Jesus is supposed to have said but for how the Gentile woman responds. Jesus' words (though strange in his mouth) simply represent the common understanding of the reality of the day and of most days - of the way things are - that there are distinctions to be made between people and whether we like it or not this is just reality so deal with it. But the words put in the mouth of the woman (who by the way was there without a husband and with a child meaning she was widowed and in serious need of help) are the words of someone who is not ignorant of the story (or more particularly of the scriptures) for her words suggest that she is familiar with the idea that because of God's choice (she does not question God's choices) but because of God's gracious choice of a people an abundant overflowing of grace must result (in the words of the scripture itself) in all the nations being blessed. (By the way the word gentile is derived from the Latin word for nation. In other words God did not choose a particular people in order that only they would be blessed but so that all would be blessed. Now if this is not a brilliant case of looking on the sunny side I do not know what is and I believe that this is what Jesus sees in her response. He sees that she sees.

And this is where it gets more personal. Like the woman in the story we cannot fight God's choice, God's election of a people. Most of us, I expect, are descendants of the Gentiles. We are not the chosen ones but the unchosen that by God's grace have been included in the abundance anyway. Why? Not because we have any claim on God or because God must be fair to all but because God is merciful. We are the woman begging for the crumbs. Looking on the sunny side we see God's mercy on all God's creation and we find ourselves grateful for being included in the healing work of God in Christ. Being truly grateful and humble, our eyes are open to see. Seeing, we see.

There are other glimpses of the sunny side in the readings today if we are looking for them. In Proverbs we learn that generosity is blessed and anyone who has tried generosity knows that the blessing of generosity is abundance. The more we give, the more we have. James reminds us that generosity is more than just about material possessions it is also a characteristic of the sunny side to be merciful rather than judgmental. This is as true in the small things of every day life in community as it is in the larger things that appear to write our history. Looking on the sunny side means looking for the best in everything. It is a trusting in God's love and grace, of course, that there is redemption possible for all of us. It is, in a word, faith and it becomes a way of life, an attitude if you will, from the practice of looking on the sunny side. It does not or should not mean an ignoring of the not so sunny side which is still as real as ever but it is our hope, our only hope, I believe, for overcoming what we need to overcome.

There is a lot more in the words of the scriptures for this day but I will have to let them speak for themselves I guess. For me it is enough to know if I look on the sunny side I will see just how blessed I am and that there is hope for us, a hope that encompasses our failures and all the pain of humankind since the very beginning as well as our victories and all the love that has ever been loved since the beginning of time, a hope that will take us far if we dare to go.

Let us greet with a song of hope each day
Though the moment be cloudy or fair
Let us trust in our savior always
To keep us every one in his care

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we'll keep on the sunny side of life

(The song "Look on the Sunny Side" is from the Carter Family.)
Proverbs 22.1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2:1-17; and Mark 7.24-37


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Belmont United Methodist Church is a Certified Welcoming Congregation


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