May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and with Holy Spirt; Amen.
Good Morning all.
My name is Tim Kingsley and I’m your transitional Deacon for the next year. I have been in formation for priesthood with ECMN for the past three years and I am so happy to be with you. The people I have met, the ministers that I am working with and who are mentoring me: I couldn’t ask for a better environment to grow in.
So earlier this spring, Susan sent an email to all of us to pick dates to preach this summer. And my first reaction was, what did she say? Did she say this summer? Well I picked the August 20th for my very first homily outside of the classroom, met with a homilist mentor, and began research about the Canaanite Woman. According to Barbra Brown Taylor “the Canaanite Woman is one of the hardest Gospels to preach”. ….Yay Tim!
You know what though, that’s okay. In fact all scripture should be hard to preach. If it isn’t hard, I am prone to miss the message the Holy Spirt has for me with in it.
Each time I read today’s Gospel or I talked about it with my mentors and friends, I heard new, different things. All of them were wonderful…. So my internal voice keeps saying. “Okay big guy, what are you going to say?” “Mercy” was resting on my heart: each and every time I read this passage, I heard “Lord, have Mercy on me.”
I started reflecting on a younger me, a much younger me in the Navy. After a very challenging 6 months at sea on the USS Sam Houston, a special projects submarine, it was time to pull into port for a 30 day refit in Subic Bay, Philippines. 6 months of unspent pay in the bank, 19 years old and 30 days of freedom in a tropical/juggle (we had some work to do but not much), hanging out with 9 of your closest brothers all who have 6 months of pay …….for this 19 year old, nothing good can come of that.
My rate – (primary job) in the Navy was navigation and I was assigned to a team that did special security services. So when the boat was tied up at the pier, I had a lot of time on my hands.
Being at sea for 6 months at sea, underwater with 150 men and crew and then pulling into port and being put on liberty, it’s kind of like opening the doors of school after the last bell on the last day of school. The team were my brothers: we did everything together and we were ready to blow off some steam and have some fun.
The world was our oyster and at our feet. After all why wouldn’t it be? I looked around and thought how fortunate the local people are to have a Navy and Air Force base here. We drive the economy, we give jobs, we eat in the restaurant, we drink in their bars, we rent their apartments. We are their economy. And, because we have so much economic power, we were the real law of the land: there was almost nothing we couldn’t do if we wanted to, or at least that is what we thought.
So we hit the town, and after trying many places to plant our flag, we settled into a spot in the Barrio with a view of the bay and comfortable chairs, ordered our drinks and began admiring ourselves as masters of the universe. We had a whole week before the rest of our team came in and short training began.
In the area surrounding the base and the Cities further up the coast, much of the population was very, very poor. When we were walking down the street, it was the norm to be swarmed by little children begging for money, at all hours of the day. Many of us took on a “body guard”– a child we would pay to keep the other children away, and hang out waiting to run errands for us. I recall my body guard (Ramil). He was small, about 9 -10 years old; he always seemed to get pushed around or beat up by the other kids. He probably wouldn’t be the best deterrent to the other beggars’ but I chose him anyway.
I stayed on base, so all I needed was food, while we were partying. Once or twice a day, I would give him some money, in between card games and libation. He would bring me back a Styrofoam box of ponsite and lumpia (Lo-mien and egg roll). At the end of my day, I would give him whatever change I had in my pocket. Ramil seemed to always be around when I wanted something.
A week later, the liberty ended and it was time to train. Our first training mission was a short but miserable camping trip. Get dropped off in the woods, carry a bunch of gear, climb and up and down hills , sweat, stay quiet and above all remain undetected by our target and the enemy, base security forces ( US Marines). The mission was: evade those hunting us, work our way down the coast and breach security, and penetrate the base. Pretty simple: a couple of nights with bugs, a couple nights of sweat, and a short swim in a nasty river …then back on liberty, right?
On the third day as we started to work our way into the more urban environment . On the fringes we came across a small compound of structures (sheds really). There was no formal road to the encampment, just a small traveled path cut down over time. We needed to assume that this might be a part of the exercise and approached the structures in formation and tactically.
We found a group of local people. It didn’t take long to realize they were a family and this was their home. An elderly woman, two women in their 20’s, two adolescent girls and three younger boys–all very surprised at our presence. Realizing these people weren’t Marines or part of any exercise we started to depart. I recognized one of the little boys. It was Ramil. His eyes were as big as plates, he had never seen me in anything but shorts, T shirt and flip flops—hanging out in the city…, not face paint, camouflage and guns.
Reality flooded in, I became more aware of what I was looking at.
A child, scared, with his family, in a domicile made of whatever they could get, a fire for cooking, pots and pans on a makeshift shelf; the formal part of the home was the leveled floor of dirt that was dry, surrounded by mud in all the other areas of the home.
No threat here. Without speaking we started to move out, stay on mission. We had Marines to hunt and to evade…as we left I noticed in the corner of the dry area by the pots a small stack of Styrofoam containers.
We completed our training, debriefed with the base commanders on our results prepared for another time period off. We slept well that night, to be refreshed for getting back to living the good life.
Back at our favorite place, everyone was happy to see us. We settled in; but something was missing, Ramil wasn’t there. Day two we all met up and again Ramil wasn’t there. I started to ask around about the kid, no one seemed to have seen him. “Hey Kingsley, why do you care about that kid. He’s not worth it. Get another one.” Get another one?” That didn’t sound right.
I had to do something, I couldn’t think about anything else.
After few negotiations, and some well-placed cases of scotch, a nominal quantity of government lumber seemed to make its way up to a shanty compound. Our liberty time that week was less about admiring ourselves, and more about being willing to walk a rough road to see who we could become. To do something for someone that had served us. We found Ramil, he was okay, and he was with his family. We didn’t look as scary this time; we asked permission if we could work for them. After a short time we produced a foundation elevated out of the mud, flooring, walls and a roof.
When I think of today’s Gospel, I keep hearing a story of mercy, but I can’t ignore the power that Jesus and the disciples had… Great power, significant power, the power to do and accomplish about anything; Power that is exciting, with energy to achieve any agenda or mission desired.
Power is intoxicating it feels good. It is also addicting and in some cases limiting and blinding.
Jesus takes his disciples into foreign country; it is not friendly. People are different there. They believe in different things. They meet a person, a woman, a mother, pleading for help to save the daughter she loves. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” …and Jesus doesn’t answer her…. “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us,” the disciples say …..We hear Jesus answer, explaining that he isn’t here for her, and that she is no better than a Dog. …That’s not what we expect from Jesus”
I believe that God is in all things and in all people, and that the moment that Jesus entered into a conversation with the Canaanite woman, a relationship began. A human relationship, which gave her opportunity to plead and argue that she and her child have a place; Jesus could not help but be in a relationship with her. And once in a relationship, a different reality set in. All God’s children! All God’s children regardless of belief, regardless of where they live and regardless how they live. Real people with real needs:
Jesus’ sense of mission was to the children of Israel; but in this story and he came to embrace others through an encounter with the “foreigner”. The disciples had recognized and affiliated with the power that God invested in Jesus: the power to heal, to feed thousands. The reality of this woman, and her need regardless of her heritage caused him to apply that power in a place that perhaps he hadn’t anticipated or in that moment so the disciples and whoever else is watching could see.
Jesus’ sense of mission was to the children of Israel; it came to embrace others. My sense of “mission” was initially limited to the training exercise, my job in the Navy and to myself.
I felt confident about who I was and in power that my country had in that place. I wielded that power with arrogance and it feed my ego about who I was and what I can do.
I hadn’t thought about Ramil and his family for at least 20 years; why now, why with this Gospel?
That day in the shanty, I had so much, so much power, misplaced and mis-understood power, but power none the less…….. I was embarrassed that I treated Ramil as my “body guard” and how I/we looked at the local people, they served us, and we didn’t think that they were worth much more than the pennies we gave them …… I felt so ashamed.
My encounter with Ramil and his family taught me with great power, comes great responsibility, and accountability.
Ramil never asked me for anything, nor did he ask us to work on his house. I know in many ways we did it to make ourselves feel better….that said, I know his family was thankful for our gift.
But the real good news about this experience is the mercy that was given; …given to me by a relationship with Ramil and his family [one that I didn’t ask for, one that just showed up]….one that open my eyes,…to look at myself and allowed me to see something I didn’t like, and help make clear to me what the mission really is. God’s mission of love, love of all, and in that reality came transformation… and that’s real power.
I want to close with the Prayer for the Human Family from the BCP:
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen