Monthly Archives

November 2021

Unlimited

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

Unlimited, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

November 28, 2021

 

The Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 1: 57-66 (RSV):

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. 58 And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechari′ah after his father, 60 but his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your kindred is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all marveled. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. 

 

Do you ever get really excited about an idea and get so pumped up about it that you somehow completely forget that you don’t know how to do it? I have. And do. All the time.

There’s the time I thought I could fix the garage door opener, no problem. What I neglected to see was that, aside from having bought a couple of new parts that’d seem to do the trick, I had no idea what I was doing. And so the garage door was rendered useless for weeks until we could get a professional to repair it.

Then there was the time I thought I could trim off a portion of a downstairs door in order to make it fit a doorway which, for a reason unbeknownst to me, was slightly off by an odd measurement. Seeing the tools – saw, level, tape measure, pencil, sander – I figured, sure, I could do this. But my relative certainty quickly disintegrated down to I’m-pretty-sure-I- wrecked-it as I looked at the hacked side of the door which was supposed to make it “fit.” Heidi was not amused.

And neither should she have been. What had I been thinking? What was I even doing, trying projects like these? Fix minor things here and there around the house, no problem. But with these jobs? No, with these I met my match. I ran aground. I painfully witnessed my ego melt as I could finally see what appeared to have been invisible before: these things were beyond my abilities. I was limited.

But hey, let’s not just throw me under the bus. How about everyone else? Aren’t we all limited in one way or another? Yeah, of course we are.

Have you ever said to yourself, “Hey, I’m in pretty good shape. I think I’ll just sprint this last leg of my run.” Or, “the TV’s not working. What if I just go on ahead here and remove this chip that’s sticking out and oh! – what is that wire doing there!”? Maybe you’ve even thought, “so what, the exam’s tomorrow. Whatever. I’ll just pull an all-nighter and then knock that test

outta the park tomorrow at 8am”?

You see, aside from busting our collective chops, what I’m getting at here is that we’re all limited. In one way or another, there are things we can do and things we cannot, or perhaps things we cannot do well, or, things we probably just shouldn’t do.

And this is not about being negative, is it? No, I don’t think so. In fact, it can be very helpful, and safe, for us to know our limits. It also has a way of highlighting what are our strengths and underlining where we may have areas which can be improved.

None of us are perfect. And the Bible canon knows that and it tells us that, too, even pointing out how our being gifted in different areas from one another is a part of our identity as the Church; it’s part of how we bless one another.

 

In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul writes, “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

We, not one of us, are perfect. Course, we may delude ourselves as much as we want, but in the end, we will bear witness to our own limitations. But this is us.

In our passage from Luke this morning, we are reconnected with the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Earlier in the Gospel, we had learned that Zechariah was a priest and Elizabeth, his wife, was of Aaron’s lineage. They were unable to bear children because Elizabeth was infertile. We also see that they were older.

Soon, we read that Zechariah is met by an angel who tells him that he and Elizabeth will have a son and that they shall call him John. Blinded by fear and unable to grasp these stunning words of the angel, Zechariah questions the angel Gabriel, who then explains the purpose of this visit and also that, due to his perhaps sudden, uncharacteristic disbelief, he was a priest after all, well, Zechariah would not be able to speak until the prophecy comes true.

Then after this, Zechariah is, in fact, mute, and so he looks curious to those at the temple who know something is up, and then Elizabeth, though old and previously thought to be infertile, becomes pregnant; all just as Gabriel had said would happen.

After having spoken to the fore-coming birth of Jesus, and Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth, Luke returns back to Zechariah and Elizabeth, who now have a son.

It is worth mentioning here, that for a woman to have been infertile in this period would have been something that was seen as disgraceful or shameful in the eyes of the local community. Fertility was something which was praised; so when Elizabeth was blessed with a child it was a reversal in which God raised up Elizabeth and Zechariah to an esteem which was prominent. This is why others saw this event as an expression of God’s mercy and rejoiced with Elizabeth. They saw it as God raising up those who the world tried to keep low; something, we know, God tends to like doing.

Another thing which was typical at this time was for a newborn boy to be circumcised on the 8th day after being born. This was customary. It was also the case that a child was named on the 8th day as opposed to receiving a name at birth. This would be the case with the baby Jesus and was here the case with John.

Regardless of what we may think of it now, it was also a time where the father made the final decision about a child’s name. It was also common tradition for sons to be named after grandfathers and also fathers. This is all the more important as we witness yet another reversal made by God.

‘On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.”’

Provoked to love

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Christian Church

Provoked to love, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

November 14, 2021

 

One afternoon, when school had let out, he walked out the back way and tossed his laptop in a bag.

Now with those buddies by the path through the woods;

He approached them as they snickered about something; half covering their mouths, half not – due to laughter.

Alone, she walked toward the path where he stood. Already having a bad day, she hung her head low and avoided eye contact.

That morning at breakfast she learned that her had mom lost her job; meaning that the two of them – she and her mom – would have to stay at the motel for at least a week while her younger brothers went over to her aunt’s house. Like I said: bad day. And though she had mentioned it to friends at class (and though he’d clearly overheard it), he still chose to pass the info on to his friends – almost as if he couldn’t help it. He just caved to their expectations of dragging others through the mud.

He’d been behaving this way for seven years, more or less; ever since his older brother was killed in Afghanistan. At first, he just couldn’t face the reality that his brother was gone. He got so mad – punching things around the house. Things never went his way; never seemed to get better. And so, he latched on to her.

Though first he was attracted to her, soon enough he began to obsess about her: following her around, viewing every post on social media, even taking pictures of her. Creepy, sure – but not actually criminal.

It wasn’t until homecoming that year that things blew up.

All nervous, with dry mouth and sweaty hands, he got up the gumption to ask her out to the dance. There was a pregnant pause which hung in the air – between when he spoke and when tears fell from her eyes as she laughed at the joke a friend had just then been telling her. Upon noticing him standing there with that deer-in-the-headlights look, she said, “I’m sorry, did you just say something?” Even more anxious and sweaty than before, he went pale as he croaked out the question again, barely travelling beyond the wasteland of his desert-parched mouth.

She looked him straight in the eye. He turned bright scarlet with embarrassment. Raising an eyebrow, in front of God and everybody in that lunchroom, she said, “aren’t you the loser who keeps stalking me? Leave me alone you creep or I’ll call the police!”

As soon as she said it, she regretted it. With the rise of laughter and aw, snaps! she thought, what a terrible thing to say, even if it was true. Sure, he was acting like a real creep, but she knew he had lost his brother in the war, and, not that that explained anything, and what would her grandmother think of her behavior? All those years of going to Sunday school and singing/praying at church service. Her grandmother had taught her better than that. Jesus had taught her better than that. Why would she do something hurtful like that after all she’d learned about forgiveness and understanding? So she tried to smooth it over, saying “You know I didn’t mean to….” But there was not much point in continuing. He’d run off.

That had been then. This was now: the spring. Ever since the new year, she had thought and prayed about her remark and how she felt shame over it. In that time, he had spent more and more hours with people that were more disrespectful, rude, obnoxious, belligerent, and, to be quite plain, more dangerous, than he ever was. This was his crew now. They had become his friends. Normally, he’d just go along with their shenanigans, just roll with it. But this time was different.

You see, as dimwitted as these friends were, not only were they aware that he’d long had a crush on her and been turned down, they remembered how she called him out and cut him down in front of everybody. As he was in their tribe now, well, they figured they’d use this opportunity to deliver some payback, never mind that he’d been creepy and weird himself since the beginning.

On that day, when he approached his friends back by the path near the woods, he felt his Chromebook shift around in his bag, hitting him at kind of a weird, uncomfortable angle. As he grabbed it to shift it over, he remembered that day when he was shot down in front of the whole school. He remembered how embarrassed he was, how angry he was at her then. Hearing them squeal with the kind of laughter only an off-color joke can cause, he gave fist bumps to his friends and took a spot leaning on the broken fence.

Then she came out the door. Heading the same way he had done, it became clear that she was now walking towards them, towards him. Then they leaned into his ear, “here she comes, your little sweetheart. Don’t worry, man. We’re gonna get back at her for what she did to you. You’re gonna love this.” Nerves on edge, he asks them what this thing is, what plan do they have. Somehow, they all bend in over him, sayingall kinds of awful, hurtful things about what they’re gonna do. But the first thing, is this. They pull up a Chromebook another bag and flip it around. He looks at it, and for some reason, the first thing he sees is the icon in the top right showing that it is his account. Scratching his head, he looks again and sees a video containing photos of her with insulting captions added above. They pressed ENTER and music starts: a terrible mashup of music and images ensue, all culminating in something that is so inappropriate and hurtful that it should not see the light of day, never mind the entire social media world.

As she approaches, he can tell she has a more coolly-reserved-yet-not-that-all- unfriendly look about her. Kicking himself for how he acted to her all that time before, he forgives her in his heart. Even though it had been tortuous to live those few months as the school laughingstock, he knew, in some way, that he deserved it to a degree. And anyway, the more he thought of it, he was over it. More important, he felt, was how to tell her he was sorry, with no small hope of his getting a second chance.

Seeing him up ahead, she immediately thought, “oh no, I don’t want to deal with this right now. Today has been awful. Ugh.” But then, as she got closer, she caught his eye as he pushed his hands into his jeans and leaned back on the old fence. His look said “I forgive you. Do you forgive me?” Thinking how ridiculous the whole situation had been, and also now feeling a bit bad about tearing him down publicly, she caught his eye and returned the thought with a bit of a smile.

You’d think that everything was reconciled, and all was going to be fine, until his friends jumped in. Somehow forgetting what they were up to, he quickly turned back to them, yelling, “No. You can’t do that!”

Completely stunned, they looked at him in shock as he smashed the Chromebook on the ground. Giving her a start, she jumped back a bit, looking at him. “I’m so sorry for what I did, how I behaved to you all that time. I was going through some stuff. My brother just passed and I guess I didn’t process it the best way. These guys behind me, they cause trouble sure, and they were just about to send out some bad stuff, that’s why I smashed it over there. So, yeah, they can cause trouble, but you know what, they were actually trying to make me feel better, believe it or not. I realize that doesn’t explain their behavior or mine. But I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

He waited there, listening close for what she would say. But she didn’t speak, not for a moment yet. After letting his words sink in, she remembered what her grandmother used to tell her about how someone always gets people to do something; either they inspire folks to do good things, or they showcase the bad things and call other people to bad things. She did remember the Bible from what she learned in the church. She knew about encouraging love and about focusing on Jesus. So she did what she remembered. She accepted his apology and then asked for his forgiveness, which he gave.

It’s amazing, now, because after all these years, they became inseparable, going through college together, moving to new places. And they got married. Such an awesome wedding. And those friends, the bullies, they all came. That day back then changed everything, including them.

(edited for format by J. Tucker)