The Gospel reading for today is Matthew 15: 21-28 (Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8 also)
This weekend the Yankees play the Red Sox but they also played last weekend too.
The Yankees and Red Sox have a long and historic rivalry with each other.
They have not only battled in the box score, but also battled like in a boxing ring.
Tensions were always high when they played each other and sometimes players even brawled on the field, much to the delight of the rabid fans on both sides.

So the story line last week, was about how that rivalry has tempered and toned down.
Yankee and Red Sox fans are not as hostile towards the other team like years ago.
And to tell you the truth,…. many fans kind of miss that loathing of the other side.

Hatred in sports can be innocent enough and, in fact, can even help motivate players.
That ‘us against them’ idea can be used to get players to perform better than normal.
And it juices the fans so that their rooting become more a sign of support for the team.

But sports, where heated rivalries are not going to cause much harm, are not like life.
In life, that hostility and hatred towards other groups can get very ugly.
And yet, we can tend to want to create that ‘us vs. them’ attitude towards others.
It happens among all people, in all countries, within all races and religions, etc.

It also was true in Jesus’ day and today’s Gospel lesson speaks to that very thing.
The Canaanite woman who approached Jesus was someone he was supposed to hate
His culture and the practice of his religion said that he should avoid and shun her type.

It’s an interesting story because Jesus probably went to Gentile territory to find rest.
He wanted to avoid the Jewish crowds who knew him and sought his help.
Jesus and the apostles probably figured he could go there unnoticed and be left alone.

And yet, the word of his ministry and miracles had spread even to those regions.
So a Gentile woman, in great need for her afflicted daughter, comes up to him for help.
But Jesus at first seems to reject her as his disciples tell him to shoo her away.
Jesus says to her that his ministry is for the Israelites and then comes the insult.
"It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”, Jesus says to her.
Meaning that his help and God’s love was for the likes of people such as her.

When I first read that verse years ago I said ‘This can’t be something Jesus said!’
Did Jesus really mean to call the Gentiles (and this woman in particular) “dogs”?
I don’t think so for a couple reasons.

One is that this runs contrary to ever other thing Jesus said and did in his ministry.
He had been in other Gentile regions and ministered to Gentiles at numerous times.
Secondly, he did end up tending to the woman’s needs when he saw her strong faith.
And faith was what Jesus cared about most and what he was always looking for.

So, when he called Gentiles “dogs” it’s entirely possible he was mocking what would have been the common derisive term and expected response to her.
He was maybe (tongue in cheek) belittling what his disciples would expect him to say.

I think Jesus was actually using the situation as a teaching moment.
To show his disciples, and the woman (and other Gentiles), this simple truth of God.
That God’s love is for ALL people and that we should love all people regardless. 
Regardless of what group, race, religion, or region of the world they are part of.

Disparaging others who are different does more than create rivalries; it stirs up hostility.
That kind of tribal thinking creates a suspicious attitude that first wants to avoid others.
We see that with people like the quaint Amish who shun any infiltration from outsiders.
We see it with the Hasidic Jews in places like Lakewood where same thing happens.

But it can get worse than just sects shunning people like Jesus’ disciples wanted.
It can lead to outright hatred or wanting to remove, or even exterminate another group.

Recently we’ve seen the fringe white supremacists, KKK, and neo-Nazi publicly appear.
Please don’t tell me who started or participated in the violence last weekend at UVA.
God doesn’t nearly care as much about who started or did violence,….as much as He cares about who is advocating and fostering outright prejudice and hate.

So I think God is pleased most public leaders have unequivocally denounced them.
And it’s good if we do so too wherever we are or whoever we’re with.
But to be in concert with and truly following Jesus Christ means more than that.

So, as we said, first we can denounce hatred wherever it is and whoever we are with.
First and foremost especially with these hate groups;.…but don’t stop there.
We can also quote Jesus to say all hate is wrong; to even hate hateful people is wrong.

Secondly, we can reflect on our own human nature that tends to huddle into groups.
Its within each of our hearts to want to separate from and criticize or disparage others.
That then becomes a slippery slope from racist jokes on down that hill into hell.

And thirdly, we can do like Jesus did when he defied group hatred.
He didn’t defy it with protests but with acts of kindness towards victims of hatred.
Jesus socialized with despicable prostitutes, ate with hated tax collectors, touched the shunned lepers and lunatics, and went and ministered to Gentile “dogs”.

So that is our assignment for myself and for you from this sermon.
To somehow, or some way, show kindness to a person or group not of your own.
Smile or say hello to a black stranger, a Mexican worker, or any person of color.
Send a check to Jewish Anti Defamation League or a struggling non-Lutheran church. 
Show acts of kindness to someone other than from your own religion or kind of people.
Because, like the Canaanite woman who called to Jesus, they need to know we care.

Jesus told us God will never hate us and he wants us to know that God always cares.
But he also set an example for us to show others we don’t hate and care for them.