The First Amendment to our country’s Constitution says that:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
By this, you are guaranteed the freedom of religion. It also forbids Congress from restricting your religious practices.
But what if you were Charee Stanley?
Stanley was recently suspended for refusing to serve alcohol as part of her role as a flight attendant.
Of course, Stanley loved her job and strove to do it well. But when she converted to Islam one year later, not only did her faith prohibit the consumption of alcohol, she learned that it prohibited the serving of it.
Fortunately Stanley was able to work out a compromise with her employer. At the direction of the airline, Stanley coordinated with a coworker when alcohol was to be served.
However two months later, a complaint was filed by another flight attendant. According to the complaint, Stanley’s refusal to serve alcohol was a dereliction of duty. The complaint also made mention of the religious book with the funny writing that Stanley possessed and the headdress she wore while on duty.
Because of that one complaint, the airline revoked the religious accommodation to exclude Stanley from service of alcohol. It then placed her on unpaid, administrative leave and advised her that her employment may be terminated after 12 months.
All this simply because one person expressed her religious belief in the workplace. Clearly Stanley was is invoking her rights under the First Amendment. A right you and I share as Christians and Americans.
However, claiming our right to religion is not the end-goal of having great faith. Saying you believe in God doesn’t necessarily make you a person of faith.
Our readings today teach that faith goes beyond how you see yourself. In fact, faith that is kept internalized—in your head or heart—is meaningless.
As the apostle James says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?”
No it can’t. Faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Instead our readings proclaim that faith is shown by your actions, especially through compassion. Not just by what you think or feel about God.
As James says:
“You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”…If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”
In other words being the Church demands service to others. To stop looking inwardly as a congregation and to start looking outward into the community.
Being faithful means being immersed in ministry. Even if you feel like you’re out of your league as the disciples felt while feeding the 5000.
The goal of faith is less personal growth and more of being equipped to help others grow through compassion.
Look at our Gospel. Here Jesus meets a Gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin. At first, their exchange of words clearly shows the pervasive division between two cultures. And after some cajoling Jesus finally helps her. End of story.
But defending our religious rights is not the point of the Gospel. The big clue can be found in the story’s setting.
Tyre is a city 50 miles north of Israel, a part of modern Lebanon. In fact, in no other section in the Gospel will you find Jesus ministering to people outside of Israel. Nowhere except in this exchange with the Syrophonecian woman.
The story begins with Jesus going out of his way, traveling far from home, deep into unfamiliar territory, just to make himself available to serve a person in need. It illustrates the extent Jesus would go through just to help someone.
The challenge to you: will you do the same?
Of course, we know it takes faith to to step out in faith. It takes faith to believe that you are worthy enough to serve others. It takes faith to meet a stranger. It takes faith to risk love without guarantee of receiving gratitude in kind.
Let us pray for one another that we may have the courage to love one another as we love ourselves. Just as Christ loved the stranger.