In.J.R.R. Tolkien’s book (and movie) The Hobbit, Gandalf shows up one morning at Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit home. Bilbo wishes Gandalf a “good morning,” invites Gandalf to smoke a pipe of tobacco with him and begins to show off his gift of blowing perfect smoke rings. Gandalf is impressed. However, even as he admires Bilbo’s art, he says, “But I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”
“‘I should think so–in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,’ said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces, and blew out another even bigger smoke-ring.”
Bilbo is not the least bit interested in expanding his world to include adventures far beyond the beautiful Shire in which he lives. But the old wizard has other ideas. So within 48 hours of this morning encounter, Bilbo Baggins’ life has been turned upside down by a dozen dwarves, who quite unexpectedly show up at his door the next evening. Bilbo’s life will never be the same. As he sits, bewildered, at his own supper table, he is about to embark on the greatest adventure of his life.
In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus himself has some unexpected adventures when he leaves Galilee and goes into the Gentile area of Syro-Phoenicia. Jesus is trying to escape the crowds, to get some rest. But what happens is an encounter with a foreign woman that shifts even Jesus’ perspective and focus of his ministry.
To sum this up, Jesus’ ministry expands, and a stranger changes his mind. Lest you think this is an odd thing for the Son of God to do, we must remember that Jesus is fully divine AND fully human. The human part had to be just like you and me–otherwise, all would have been in vain. in other words, Jesus had to experience humanity in all its fullness–its ups, its downs, its ins and outs, its pain and challenges, its joys and comforts–if he was to be the fullest example of God for us.
This Sunday, we will reflect together on what it means for God to open us, like Bilbo Baggins opened his “perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle” to find new adventures. He would find, in months to come, that what Galadriel, the Fairy Queen would later tell Bilbo’s nephew Frodo was true: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
How might you and I change the course of the future with our belief in Jesus the Christ? I invite you to come to worship this Sunday–yes, on this Labor Day weekend–and think about these things with me.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1937, © restored 1996 by the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien), 4.
 Mark 7:24-37
 Ibid., 1.
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