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December 2021

Fearless

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

Fearless, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

Edited and formatted for publication by J. E. Tucker, MPH
December 12, 2021

 

The Gospel According to Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)1

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin[a] engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The LORD is with you.”  29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus[b]. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the LORD will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

 

The faith of the young Mary is virtually unmatched in the Biblical witness—save for her son, Jesus, of course.

Sure, [some were] healed with amazing faith and many who came to strong faith in time. And we might give Noah some credit: he obeyed God and participated in a renewed population on earth. But Noah was much older than Mary; the flood destroyed the bad guys, and he had an ark. Mary, [on the other hand,] mainly had her faith and would have to live to see her son killed. No one else [was reported having been] conceived by the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35). Sure, John [the Baptizer] had it (faith, that is), but Jesus was conceived by it or took on His humanity by it. And no one else gave birth to the savior of the world while still so young.

Just consider for a moment how many other people had been visited upon—either by God or God’s messengers—to give them a charge, to call them to participate. And then think [about] how many of them balked or even tried to avoid the call in one way or another.

Sarah, when she learned of the promise of pregnancy in her old age, well… she laughed at the idea, perhaps finding it ridiculous (Gen. 18:12). Moses didn’t feel qualified to do what God had asked him to do. Jonah tried to run away from God. Sure, some of the disciples dropped everything to follow Jesus, but they also wrestled with doubt when the rubber met the road later.

But Mary, when she is visited by the angel Gabriel (Lk. 1:26) and learns the most amazing news, believes—she has faith. Scholars make much fuss over the comparisons between Zechariah and Mary, but one thing to highlight is that the elder priest (i.e., Zechariah), with access to the Holy Place[c] in the Temple—literally right next to the presence of God (Ex. 26:33-34; Ex. 25:8)—when he receives God’s word through the angel, he doubts and asks for a sign. Mary, well… she is quite young; is not yet married and is of no status of any importance. She has no access to a place of importance, either. And despite this, the angel comes to her, and it is she who responds with faith, not Zechariah.

When the angel speaks, Mary is not troubled because of doubt. Rather, she is unsure of what to make of such an unusual greeting. How would you react if an angel came and greeted you like royalty, noting your favored status with God? We [must] remind ourselves that Mary did not have a highborn status. She would have had no reason to expect such a greeting.

Perhaps the biggest news any human being had ever been delivered was shared there, in Nazareth, to a young [woman] named Mary. She learned that, while of no special status herself, her son would be of great importance, perhaps beyond what she could imagine at that moment—but we might give her the benefit of the doubt.

After sharing all the amazing things which will soon happen to her and her son, the angel informs Mary that Elizabeth, her older relative, will also [bare] a child despite Elizabeth’s known history of [infertility]. [By] sharing this bit of nearly equally stunning family news, the angel is continually building the case for the ceaseless wonders God can achieve. Nothing limits what God can do. As the angel says: “no word from God will ever fail.” (Lk. 1:37)

And now, if this were a movie, the camera would shift directly to Mary as the audience anxiously waits for her response, her reaction. We’ve heard from Gabriel and the great case the angel has made. And we recall all those cautious and uncertain responses from those who had their doubts. But what we have from Mary is something quite different. As beautiful as it is bold, the words of Mary’s witness come to us; “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Lk. 1:38)

Mary is fearless and she believes. She trusts in the word given to her by God’s angel. Mary is shockingly able to not only grasp the richness of the angel’s message but also able to take responsibility and action in the moment. She not only trusts the angel, but Mary also trusts God and God’s promise for all that is yet to come in the life of her son.

Friends, while Mary would have had ample reason for alarm, she trusted God and was fearless. She [was] a truly great example to us of the picture of faith, where we find encouragement to not only talk the talk but most importantly to walk the walk. As you live into this Advent season, may you be reminded of Mary’s fearless action, for God invites us, each one of us, to participate. May we do so with faith and love for God and all God’s people. Amen.

 

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.

 

[a] Debated. Cf. Isaiah 7:14: ‘almâh (הָֽעַלְמָ֗ה); strictly, “a young woman of marrying age.” Běthûlâh (בְּתוּלָה) would be more consistent with Luke’s and Matthew’s parthenos (παρθένος).

[b] Gk.:  Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous); Heb.: יֵשׁוּעַ (Y’shua).

[c] Lk. 1:10 puts Zechariah amid the daily incense offering. The altar of incense was located within the Holy Place—the section of the Second Temple immediately preceding the Holiest of Holies.

Endless

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

Endless, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. E. Tucker, MPH

December 19, 2021

 

The Book of Isaiah 9:2-7 (NRSV)1

2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority[a] rests upon his shoulders; and he[b] is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

 

 

Haven’t we all experienced times felt [would] never end? Maybe there is the pained smile of surviving a business dinner that never seems to provide an appropriate time for you to bail out. Or the times you’ve felt so bad that you just want the day to end; for tomorrow’s promise to eclipse the suffering of today. Or perhaps you have worked hard your whole life for this one chance, this one opportunity, only to see the small window close: crushing your aspirations and dreams, along with your heart.

Friends, there are—without a doubt—many experiences we survive which seem to have no end in sight; they can quite often cast a shroud over our deepest hopes, plans—over the things we hold most dear. And, without attempting a false apples-to-apples comparison, can’t we see just how much of this associates “endlessness” with the negative, painful experiences of our lives? We might think, hey, why do only the awful things feel like they have no end? Why not have the joyful, fulfilling things easily feel so everlasting in our daily lives?

Indeed, what kid [doesn’t] wish [that] playing with a favorite toy [will] last forever? What child ever wants to leave a best friend’s [or] Grandma and Grandpa’s house? What adult wants their hard-earned vacation to end? Who [would] possibly want to witness the end of the love they have received? If I may be so bold, I’d hazard a guess that we don’t. We don’t want the love… the beauty in our lives to end. And, without a doubt, we do want the bad things—the injustice, the prejudice, anger, divisiveness, the danger—to end. Lord! have mercy. God [certainly] knows how much we want these bad things to end… Christ! have mercy. If not for ourselves, at least for someone else, maybe even for someone who may desperately need it more than we do. Lord! have mercy.

But this is us. These are the wants, longings, and desires of people. Flawed as we may be, each one of us has the hope that we matter; that what we do and who we are all will have mattered when all is said and done. Sure, we [understand] that toward one another we [often] behave poorly. We can hurt each other’s feelings [or] neglect one another. We can harbor deep resentment, implicit bias, or outwardly expressed hatred. We can even gather to oppress one another—not just once, but for generations, nearly to the point beyond memory.

Oh boy, how we’ve messed it up. I’ve messed up. You’ve messed up. The yous and mes of a decade, century, a millennium ago…we’ve all messed up, and in the process messed it up. With the Bible as our witness, we’ve been at this brokenness thing a long time.

You see, we want our joys, our fun time, to rein over the joys, even the [very] freedom, of others. Somehow, we come to think that only our positive experiences should be endless. And it’s so easy to deny it, to look the other way, to keep our heads down and duck when the messiness [and] problems of the world fly toward us.

But you know what? When we duck, that nonsense doesn’t just go away. No, it hits someone else straight in the face. Maybe they thought you’d be a real friend; that you’d warn them about the brokenness; that you’d even be brave enough to walk alongside them—if not taking the full brunt of it, at least providing some sort of shelter [or] some sanctuary for them. And why shouldn’t they expect that?

Friends, when we forget the problems of the beginning, we don’t easily remember them later. Buried in the hearts of those long since dead, the sins of brokenness go back to [the] first [book][c] of Hebrew scripture, when we thought we knew better than God. Tricked by the serpent? (See Gen. 3.) Possibly. But we sometimes lie to ourselves, don’t we? Maybe we want to be tricked, so we don’t have to feel the guilt of shamelessly neglecting our responsibility; we pull the wool over our own eyes.

In today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah,[d] we are met with one of what is largely considered to be the strongest references to the foretelling of Jesus [of Nazareth] as [the Jewish] messiah. Fans of Handel’s beloved Messiah will recall how the oratorio includes a well-known movement on this passage: “For unto us a child is born.” In his commentary on Isaiah,2 biblical scholar, [academic], author, [and United Church of Christ pastor] the Rev. Walter Brueggemann, Th.D., Ph.D., invites us to see in this passage a great Davidic newness. In the Church, we may not always see this passage through [its original, Israelite lens], so it may be helpful to be reminded of a few things here. (1) Isaiah is directing this passage to Judah—the southern people of what had become a divided kingdom. The “darkness” of Judah was the failure and injustice of the rule of Ahab. Thus, (2) the “great light” points to a new time when peace and justice would reign. Many[e] find that this passage refers to the future King Hezekiah. While this may point to Hezekiah, Brueggemann indicates that the passage need not be limited in connection to the great king alone. Instead, we witness that God, “through a human Davidic king, will create a wondrous new possibility for Judah that is unqualified and unconditional.”

While at the beginning we see mainly God as actor and creator of Judah’s newness, near the end of this passage we learn that “a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority[f] rests upon his shoulders.” A new king is to sit on David’s throne, “and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” [To Christians] this indicates Hezekiah [as well as] in Jesus the Christ [later].

It also speaks to our present, where we may bear witness to God’s call for renewal. “…Even…rehearing with reference to Jesus is not exclusive. Alongside that, we may entertain many rehearings in which new human agents enact the light that shines in the darkness.” (From Brueggemann’s commentary cited below.)

Friends, while we do feel that brokenness will be endless (and that feeling is valid!), Isaiah reminds us that this is not something that is forever. God’s love and zeal to bring about good are as eternal as God. What does it mean to believe in God’s endless peace which only God can achieve? Well, for me it is a reminder that God works through people to achieve these ends. “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.” (Is. 9:7) The only thing that is endless here is the peace for the throne and kingdom. Note: not a peace that we want [made] of whatever we want—and certainly not a false peace that brokenness paints prettily. Rather, the endless peace which God achieves [by] those charged with the task [of bringing it]. It is sacrifice; it is hard! But the difficulty is not endless, [and they who are called will not be abandoned.] This true peace—this endless peace—will be established and upheld “with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Is. 9:7)

Sisters and brothers, bad things and bad times will end. They do not stand a chance [against] God. [Yet] we are not off the hook: God calls us to keep working; to keep working for tomorrow. May we follow the King; for someday, on God’s timing, that tomorrow will be always.

 

May it be so. Amen.

 

 

 

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
  2. Brueggemann W. Isaiah 1-39. Westminster John Knox Press; 1998.

 

[a] Heb., misrah (government).

[b] The child is the future King Hezekiah, according to both Rashi and ibn Ezra in their commentaries on the Tanakh.

[c] That is, Bereshit; more commonly known as Genesis.

[d] Heb. translit., Yeshayahu (יְשַׁעְיָהוּ‎).

[e] E.g., Rashi and Ibn Ezra above.

[f] Lit., government.

To give our lives

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church 

To give our lives, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. Tucker, MPH

October 17, 2021

 

Isaiah 53:4-6 (NRSV)1 

4Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

 

I’m not going to preach about what you think I will this week. Or, that is, I will not preach about it in the way you may expect me to.

Earlier this past week, I received a notification on my phone. Normally, I just take a glance at things like this. Detroit Lions score. State politics updates. A note telling me that I’m almost over my data limit (hey, I’m cheap!). But this one was different. Now, I suspect that many of you received it as well. It [read]: starting Oct. 24, 2021, you must dial the area code for all calls. This change supports 988 as the new 3-digit code to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.[a]

Wow, I thought to myself. For our phones to look different each year is one thing, but here we are changing how numbers are dialed, for millions of people.

Now, some of you may think, so what? no big deal. We’ve been nearly dialing with area codes anyway, for quite some time.

But what’s so different about this is the reason for the change.

The simple fact is that suicide has grown to become such a rising problem that it is broadly considered a national public health issue.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers some sobering facts: suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Americans aged 10–34 and the tenth leading cause of death overall in the U.S. The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% since 1999, [and roughly] 46% of those who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition. While nearly half of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows that 90% experienced symptoms. [Just under 5%] of all adults, 18.8% of high school students, and 46.8% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students have serious thoughts of suicide each year. Transgender adults are nearly twelve times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, and suicide is the leading cause of death for people held in local jails.

[Most] people may not be comfortable addressing the topic of mental health—let alone suicide—seeing it all as taboo, perhaps especially in the Church.

But you know what? It is being talked about in churches. Mainline, denominational, [and] nondenominational. Conservative. Liberal. Historic. Church plant, and anything in between. And I think that this is good; talking about it. I wish I could take credit for the saying, but someone once said to me: isn’t it funny how we avoid hard topics in church in hopes of them not impacting us, or wishing they’d go away? Isn’t the Church the very first place hard things should be discussed, with love, understanding, and courageous faith?

In our passage from the Gospel according to Mark this morning, James and John ask Jesus to do something amazing for them. They ask that he grant them to sit, one at his right hand and one at his left, in his glory (Mk 10:35-37). In response, Jesus communicates to them how while they may be able to follow in some of his footsteps, that’s not how it works in knowing where people go at the end (Mk 10:38-40). Hard as it must have been for James and John to understand, Jesus shows how God prepares that place for people. It is not for them to worry about or to work for themselves.

Of course, this whole thing makes the other disciples mad at James and John (Mk 10:41). Who did they think they were, trying to get special treatment; to take such a prominent place above everyone else?

Jesus uses this as a teaching moment, showing that while others may try to be top dog over everyone, this isn’t the way things play out for them: “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43b-45).

Where James and John are too focused on their desire for stature, Jesus tells them they’re off base. He came to serve, not to be a big shot. He also came to give up his own life so that others would be forgiven and free.

And yet, true as this is, we wonder, how can it be that even though we have been forgiven, we still so often do not feel free? Strong as our faith may be in Jesus, we continue to experience life in the throes of mental illness. Why feel so incredibly bad all the time? Why have thoughts of hurting ourselves, or hurting ourselves? Why is it that even though the Son of Man has served us and freed us do we continue to fall into deep darkness, into the spiral of suicidal ideation? After, all we’re not trying to take the top spot. We may barely expect to make it beyond the halfway mark. Why would Jesus have died for our sakes when we continue to feel like dying ourselves?

And, friends, we know that this applies to folks both inside and outside the Church.

For years, people with mental illness have been marginalized and cast away, hidden out of the light of day, and locked into the darkness of night. And I’ll switch to “we” here because this issue addresses so many of us and our families. We have been treated as abnormal, as less than human, and demon-possessed. Those who have all too often taken the upper hand have not been merciful. They have not served us. They have barely attempted to understand us. Those who claim to have power and influence have kept us from being served, have tried to stamp us out, like an inconvenient insect crawling on the floor.

Friends, it has only been recently that mental illness has been approached with a broader sense of understanding and care. I once served as a music therapist at a Queens-based day treatment center for adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness. At that time, there were many sisters and brothers in the program who had come from Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. In the early 1970s, investigative reporting found scandalous problems at Willowbrook, including abuse, neglect, and overcrowding, to name a few. After leaving Willowbrook, many of my friends in music class exhibited institutionalized behaviors from their time at Willowbrook. Screaming, violent, and abusive sexual behavior were all a part of being institutionalized. I even had a friend in class who was institutionalized simply for the fact that he was blind and spoke Spanish. Friends, I wish I could tell you that such abuse of beautiful people ceased many years ago, but I know that what I just described to you was only a couple of decades ago.

Of course, I do not intend to equate developmental disability with mental illness. Nor do I mean to suggest that all mentally ill are suicidal. And I also am not suggesting that all suicide is the result of mental illness. It’s just that, while so much has been finally brought to light about development disability and mental illness, we know there’s a long way to go in understanding and blessing one another. As for suicide, however, it largely remains a heartbreaking mystery, encased in stigma, denial, and shame.

Much of these negative views take their root from perhaps well-tended people referring to the Bible. While always a great place to start, the Bible, we well know, can be read in ways that reveal the desire of the reader as opposed to the text. And so people would cite examples from the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17) among other cherry-picked passages to highlight a perceived condemnation from God toward those who have completed suicide. Some may say that suicide is an unforgivable sin because one cannot repent of the act.

While many of us have been led to believe certain harsh things about how the Bible addresses suicide, and I respect the diversity of thought, it may come as a bit of a surprise to see what careful, self-exploration of scripture may yield on the traumatizing, heartbreaking problem of suicide.

In a 2005 study [titled] Suicides and suicide ideation in the Bible, [German psychiatrist Horst J.] Koch, M.D., Ph.D., M.F.P.M., D.C.P.S.A., shows how he aimed to “summarize all data on suicidal behavior reported in the Bible and to discuss basic implications for medical ethical positions. All books of the Jerusalem Bible, including the Apocrypha, accepted in the Catholic canon, were searched for all cases of suicide, attempted suicide, and suicidal ideation clearly identifiable as such. The Bible including the Apocrypha reports about 10 completed suicides and 11 cases of suicide attempts or ideation. The Bible considers human life as a divine gift but suicide per se is neither condemned nor approved. Those suffering from suicidal thoughts are treated with respect and support is offered. Theological teaching on suicide was influenced for centuries by the biased negative opinion of the early fathers of the church and scholastic savants, but these opinions are not substantiated by a thorough reading of the Bible.”2

Writing in Christianity Today [in 2000], Lewis Smedes, B.D., Th.D., offered the following:  “the Bible does not seem to condemn suicide. There are, I think, six accounts of suicide in the Bible, the most notorious being those of King Saul (1 Samuel 31:2-5) and Judas (Matthew 27:3-5). Others are Abimelech (Judges 9:50-54), Samson (Judges 16:23-31), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), and Zimri (1 Kings 16:15-20). As far as I can tell, none of the six is explicitly condemned for taking his life. Some say that suicide cannot be forgiven because the person who did it could not have repented to doing it. But all of us commit sins that we are too spiritually cloddish to recognize for the sins they are. And we all die with sins not named and repented of.”

Aside from the inspiration from the scripture text, my phone notification, our stewardship theme, Together in Jesus, and September being Suicide Prevention Month, I should share my own experience with suicide. There has been a suicide in my own family. When I was a boy, my best friend’s dad committed suicide. Years later, as young adults, that friend committed suicide. Now, maybe you have stories of your own, or even stirrings or struggle in your own heart. Friends, there is hope.

Sisters and brothers, neither you, nor I, nor anyone make nor is making the case that suicide is good. No one would suggest such a thing and the pain and trauma it brings to those who remain behind. Suicide is a horrific and dreadful thing. And yet, friends…and yet, it is a thing, for now, at least. And we know it has been around for thousands of years. Rather than condone, dismiss, or deny its existence, it is my prayer that we walk side by side together, as we seek love and understanding. I pray that the acknowledgment of God’s ever-present, undeterred blessing be upon any who suffer from suicide, attempts, or ideation, including the family and friends who surround us.

Though James and John are bent on claiming their spot in the good seats, Jesus reminds them and us that we are not called to seek good for ourselves but rather to do good and be good for others. For Jesus is that Son of Man who gave his life as a ransom for the many. And we, through all our challenges, are the many. And for all these painful challenges, we have the words which [the author of the epistle] gave us in Romans 8:38-39: “for I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thank you, Jesus. For we are all together in you. AMEN.

 

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
  2. Koch H. Suicides and suicide ideation in the Bible: an empirical survey. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 2005;112(3):167-172. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0447.2005.00567.x

 

[a] If you or someone you love are/is contemplating suicide or suffering from suicidal ideation, please see the Lifeline for help.

Loving through loss

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church 

Loving through loss, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. Tucker, MPH
October 31, 2021

 

Of the many challenging things that this time of pandemic has brought us, perhaps the most painful and difficult to accept is loss. We have all experienced it in one form or another: be it the loss of togetherness; of work, school, income, or safety; or the loss of life. [Of] course, all loss takes a toll on us. We might wonder if it matters whether we have experienced one form of loss [versus] another. After all, every loss impacts us. All loss leads to grief and pain. Yet some losses can leave us destitute, falling to the depths of despair. And yes, folks, this is true even of people in the Church just as it is in other faith traditions. We all feel pain when struck.

In our passage from the Book of Ruth,1 we pick up seemingly right where the previous book[a] left off. We often do not picture Ruth being placed so close to the Pentateuch—the five books attributed to the prophet Moishe—in the Hebrew Bible, but it does, in fact, immediately follow the Book of Judges.

[Of] course, all you Bible fans will recall that for many years Israel didn’t have a king. It wouldn’t be until Saul that a king reigned in Israel (1 Sam.). [Later, a] young David would go on not only to defeat the giant Goliath but to be [anointed] the second king of Israel [by the prophet Samuel]. (1 Sam. 16:12-13) At the end of the Book of Ruth (Ruth 4:13-17), we learn that David was Ruth’s great-grandson, thus connecting Ruth with arguably the greatest king of Israel.

Yet Judges depicts a time without kings. Ruth, too, is set in a time with no kings. But while Judges shows us so much violence and lawlessness in response to the same, the Book of Ruth shows us only virtuous and honorable responses to the problems [they] faced. And these problems were not small. When there was a famine in Judah, Elimelech went to Moab with his wife Naomi and sons Mahlon and Chilion (Ruth 1:1). Interestingly, the name Elimelech (אֱלִימֶלֶךְ) means “God [or my God] is king,” while Mahlon (מַחְלוֹן) and Chilion (כִּלְיוֹן) mean “sickness” and “destruction” or “wasting,” respectively.  

We soon learn that Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, died in Moab and that her sons married Orpah and Ruth who were both from Moab, where they now lived for a decade (Ruth 1:4). Tragically, [the author writes that both] Mahlon and Chilion have died, leaving Orpah and Ruth to be widows (Ruth 1:5). Having already lost her husband, Naomi now loses her two sons.

Hearing that conditions had changed in Judah, Naomi headed there with Orpah and Ruth (Ruth 1:6). At some point on the way, Naomi’s conscience kicked in and she told her daughters-in-law to just go back to Moab where they could find another husband (Ruth 1:8). It was useless to go on with her, she thought. What could she do? She couldn’t have any more sons who would then grow into future husbands (Ruth 1:11). It didn’t even seem likely that she could remarry again, anyway (Ruth 1:12). It would just be herself, a lonely, grieving widow, whose children had all passed, too. Perhaps Naomi felt that the only good thing left she could do was to release Orpah and Ruth so that maybe at least they’d be happy.

And haven’t we felt that way, too? So down that the only thing [to do is] attempt to push those around [us] toward something happier in hopes that [we] might not drag them down with [us].

This is what loss can feel like.

When we have suffered through tragedy, we are not the same on the other side. Sometimes we wish we could go back—wouldn’t it be great if things could be “normal” again?  Other times, we just go ahead anyway, steeling ourselves for the journey [back] to where we came from—perhaps with no small amount of denial rolling around in the back of our head.

No doubt—we’ve experienced loss in our lives, both as individuals and as a group. Along with previously mentioned losses, we might add ones that have had a broader impact like the present COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid crisis, mass shootings, [and] the tragic attacks of 9/11—all of which have a greater impact, contributing to the pain of loss felt by millions of people.

One of the other challenges of loss is that while we may feel a loss of the past, we can also internalize the sense of a lost future. We might think, how can I go on? And yet, before we too quickly dismiss ourselves here, I believe it is important to name what’s behind this question. If we were to fully ask this question, it may sound more like this: How can I go on without him? Or how can I go on, knowing that my job is gone? Or even, how can I go on when I feel this bad?

Perhaps more important is who we ask these questions to. Are we pondering this in our mind, asking a therapist or loved one, or are we asking this question of God? Healthy as the former ones may be, if we bring hard questions like this to God, well… it becomes more of a prayer, and prayer reminds us of God; and God has heard all of our cries, and He has loved us through all of them, through all pain, suffering, and loss.

“Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I were even to have a husband tonight and also give birth to sons, would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is much more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has come out against me.”

When first [hearing her] words, we’d probably think that Orpah and Ruth will just agree with Naomi and go back to Moab. But they don’t—or at least one of them doesn’t.

“And they raised their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” (Ruth 1:14-15)

There is no doubt that Orpah has grieved as much as the others. We can picture her as she kisses her mother-in-law for the last time, tears streaming down her face. Who knows where Orpah ends up; Scripture is silent. We doknow that she felt loss and that she departed from those who loved her, and traveled a long distance home to Moab, seemingly alone. It can be easy to dismiss Orpah in this story, but maybe she represents that part of us that wants to abandon our grief, to try [to] flee from it, hoping it will go away.

But the book is called the Book of Ruth for a reason, right?

Through all the suffering and loss that had been experienced, you would think that Ruth might have just tagged along with Orpah, heading back to Moab where she would have familiar surroundings and perhaps be able to reconnect with family and friends, or even find a new husband. Denial or not, this may have made sense for her, but Ruth didn’t choose that path. Where Orpah grievingly departed, Ruth held tight and stayed. She gave up any of the other options. She passed seeing familiar faces or finding new love back in Moab. Instead, she dug deep inside and found the strength of her heart to remain, to remain by Naomi’s side. Ruth’s love for Naomi carried through both their losses.

It is often said that love is stronger than death, and certainly we see this by God’s love for His people throughout the Bible. But what is especially interesting here, and how we witness that selfless love in human beings; how we love one another through all loss.

When we read to the end of the Book of Ruth, we see that God works through Ruth [by] establishing a family line that stretches [from] David [to] Jesus [of Nazareth]. And God does this even though Ruth was a Moabite and not an Israelite. God works through all kinds of experiences and backgrounds, often making connections and building upon situations or people that we might least expect.

Just as He does with love, brokenness, humility, hard-heartedness, and outright defiance, God also works through loss, binding the hearts of those who mourn together in relationship.

The prophets come to mind. Though they can all too easily be misquoted and mischaracterized, the prophets do not serve as messengers of doom. Rather, they painfully communicate the deep desire God has to be in relationship with His people; in essence, His love for them. Just as a parent becomes so deeply vexed by the misbehavior of their children, God longs for us to get our act together, for our return. Writing of the pathos of the prophets, Hebrew scholar, [rabbi,] and activist [Rabbi] Abraham Joshua Heschel, PhD, speaks to the suffering at the crux of a prophet’s empathy.2 A mouthpiece of God’s word, the prophet feels the pain of God, when His people go astray, spurning His love. Prophets, being people themselves, also feel the great distress experienced in the hearts of the people to whom they are called to serve. In short, the prophets love through loss.

But perhaps our greatest example of this comes in our relationship with Jesus [the] Christ. As fully human and fully divine, Jesus is placed in a wholly unique situation. While in his humanity, Jesus feels love and bears the burden of our grief and loss. In his divinity, Jesus experiences our loss for a time that is far beyond our reckoning—arguably up through the end of time. Yet, we must remember the cross. Jesus loves us so much, through all our joy, our problems, and the loss we’ve experienced, that he suffered the cross on our behalf. As followers of Jesus, we are unified by the Spirit he sends, united as one body.

And we are together in experiencing our losses, as well, aren’t we? We also witness the pain and suffering of one another, praying for, comforting, advocating for, fighting for, and being present to each other through our loss. Sometimes we do this willingly, other times with a bit of a lazy sense of obligation. We are relatively calm, doing what we find to be our duty; we might also boil over with indignant anger, with a burning commitment to love and to bless those who have been wronged in their loss.

It doesn’t always take much, friends: send a card to the spouse who has made that first entry back to the home where love laughed louder just a short time ago. Make a glass-of-wine-and-Zoom call to a friend after they’ve lost a job. Listen—just listen to someone who has lost a lot and who fears that only the worst lays ahead in a dim future.

Friends, these may seem like dark pictures, and perhaps they are. But loss is real, and we all experience it. Likely, more so now, during this exhausting, drawn-out time of the pandemic. And you see, though there is darkness and pain and all manner of distressing loss, we are not alone in it. We are never alone. The naming of our pain, important as it may be, pales in comparison to the love which joins us, and which remains with us through it.

Sisters and brothers, in the Scriptures we witness countless examples of how our great God loves us through loss. This is certainly the case that we see with the abiding, sacrificial love that Ruth gives to Naomi.

Taking our cue from Ruth, may we boldly accept the call to love one another through our losses. Let us never forget the One who loved us unto death, that all things be made new; for by his great love, a love which surpasses all things, even death, the greatest loss, will die.

We ask for these blessings and guidance in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
  2. Heschel A. The Prophets: 2 Volumes in 1. Tyndale House Publishers; 2007.

 

[a] Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) and Shofetim (Judges) in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, respectively.

Like those who dream

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

Like those who dream, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. Tucker, MPH
November 21, 2021

 

Psalm 26 (NRSV)1

1Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.

2Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.

3For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.

4I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;

5I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.

6I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD,

7singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.

8O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

9Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty,

10those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.

11But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.

12My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.

 

 

What is a dream? Typically, it is something that [happens] while we are asleep, where pictures, scenarios, and even music combine in unique and wildly unexpected ways, perhaps from our subconscious.

Now if you ask Google, believe it or not, the first item listed isn’t even a definition; it’s a 22-year-old American gamer, YouTuber, and Twitch streamer who creates content [on] Minecraft. Not sure why that is important? Dream has 4.4 million followers on Twitter and 27.2 million subscribers on YouTube. And while this may not speak much to any of us not connected to these social media platforms, I should point out that Dream has an estimated net worth of between $13.67 and $19.14 million. It’s also worth highlighting that surveys have shown that there are tons of people who like Dream; there are also tons who don’t. So, living “the dream” isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

After you scroll past the gamer business, you eventually find a dictionary definition of the word “dream”; it’s not even on the landing page. Merriam-Webster defines dream as a series of thoughts, visions, or feelings that happen during sleep. It lists two other definitions: an idea or vision that is created in your imagination and that is not real. And, something that you have wanted very much to do, be, or have for a long time.

You may have had a bad dream and wake to blame it on last night’s dinner. Or perhaps you have dreamed something up and that curtain really isn’t a ghost. But we’ve all experienced things like that, and after all, they’re fleeting in the end.

The third one, however, [is] something that really rolls around inside us, gaining steam as the years go by right up until the time we stick the landing: you nearly cry as you look upon the published version of your first book.

Big or small, dreams mean something. They mean something to us, to our family and friends, to those whom we deeply love, and they mean something to God as well.

Psalm 126[1] is one of the Songs of Ascents, or songs for pilgrims on their journey. Travels in those ancient times could be perilous. One misplaced step would send you tumbling down the edge of the path, not only to injury but to a place without doctors. And there were thieves along the way, and the elements, including the scorching heat of the desert sun. Pilgrims would have no shortage of things to pray about. These Songs of Ascents, these psalms, would have given great comfort to the anxious heart on pilgrimage.

In Psalm 126, the psalmist essentially prays a prayer of thanksgiving. But thanksgiving for what? Or to whom?

While some translations render the opening verse as, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion.” (E.g., the NRSV or ESV.1,2) Others say, “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion.” (E.g., the NASB.3) Either way, we see already who the main actor is: God. So it is God who does something here.

Scholars have suggested that the “return” referred to here is the return of captives previously exiled to Babylon. This would mean the psalm voices praise to God for having delivered the people of Zion (i.e., the Israelites), returning them, as the fortune of Zion.

When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting; Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; We are joyful.

Our mouth, note, not my mouth, not even our mouths, but our mouth was filled with laughter. The Psalmist shows us that it is not a response of one person or of a group of individuals, but rather, it is a response from many united as one: our mouth.

A united people, formerly exiled and lands far away from home, have been returned by God, and these people are happy about it. They’re so happy they laugh, shout joyfully, and rather than keep it to themselves, they “said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; We are joyful.

As if just having arrived from a collective kidnapping, the people of God share the news of their deliverance to many beyond their own group, they share the good news to the nations. Yet why? Why do we think they might have done so? Shouldn’t they be careful and keep a low profile? They wouldn’t want to attract any unwanted attention, certainly, they didn’t want to go back to Babylon. And yet, despite all this, they do share the good news of their deliverance. The people of God tell of the Lord’s greatness far and wide, they say they’re happy, and they don’t seem concerned or worried in the least.

But now we come to the challenging part. Though the first verse of this Psalm appears to state a response in connection to an act already accomplished by God, v. 4 seems to confuse that discernment a bit.

Restore our fortunes, Lord, As the streams in the South.

Now, this sounds like the Psalmist, the praying pilgrim, is speaking of an event, a deliverance, yet to come.

The streams of the South, or of the Negev, as some translations have, recall the image of a parched, cracking, dry soil found in the summertime desert. Though that may not be all that difficult to picture, something that doesn’t necessarily come as easily to mind is that “stream” referred to by the Psalmist. Much like we see a river or stream dry up in the summer heat, Israel and many of the other surrounding nations would have what is called a wadi, where water flows in cooler months but yet is gone in the rising heat of summer. In fact, I’ve seen and even swam in a wadi myself, when I had a brief experience in the Sultanate of Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, where it may surprise you to learn there are churches—Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches, all within Muslim-majority monarchies. The waters of a wadi almost look unreal, like a dream, as they shimmer in bright blues and greens nestled into the cracked, rugged terrain, which was otherwise not particularly easy to navigate. But there was this wadi, a beautiful gift for those who thirst and long for safe passage amid treacherous surroundings.

I suppose that we can grasp onto what the Psalmist has painted for us in connecting the petitioning pray for deliverance and restoration to that which quenches thirst, provides great comfort, and promises safety as well as true cleansing.

Perhaps the first part of this Psalm isn’t really about something that has happened anyway. Maybe it’s more like remembering the beauty of something even before it has taken place, like when you can hardly contain your excitement in remembering all the gifts you asked for on Christmas. It could be expected joy, but not just any kind, rather, the expected joy which comes in knowing that the one you placed your trust in is gonna come through. Big time.

Restore our fortunes, Lord, As the streams in the South. Those who sow in tears shall harvest with joyful shouting. One who goes here and there weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

And here’s our Harvest Sunday.

In his book The Case for the Psalms, scholar, author, and former Anglican bishop, The Right Rev. N.T. Wright, D.D, writes of the 126th Psalm, “Seedtime and harvest are themselves […] one of the central ways in which we stand at the corner between the matter of the old world, sown in sorrow and fear, and the matter of the new, reaped in triumph and joy. […] Seedtime and harvest, like day and night, are built into the present creation as signposts, indications that the God who made the world has new purposes yet to be unveiled.”4

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Friends, there are so many things which we may dream about in this life. Whether we are awake or not is no matter. We may dream of such relatively mundane things like fun vacations, and being done with a test, or we may dream of soul-stirring things like being accepted for who we are, having a place to sleep the night or a country to live in, a job, safety, or that deep longing for God to show us and guide us on the next steps on an unknown, uncertain future. God hears our prayer and knows how to deliver us, but God also knows how to aim us after we’ve been restored. May this Thanksgiving not only be about the gratitude we have for all we have received but also about the exciting anticipation of the opportunities we [must] bless those around us.

All glory to God in Christ. AMEN.

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
  2. Crossway. The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version). Crossway Bibles; 2016.
  3. Lockman Foundation. New American Standard Bible. 2020th ed. Zondervan; 2021.
  4. Wright N. The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. 2nd ed. HarperOne; 2016.

 

[1] That’s right; not Psalm 26 as above!

Last place

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

Last place, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. Tucker, MPH
September 26, 2021

Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV)1

30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

It’s the beginning of the school year, and after making it through the first couple weeks of classes, you feel a sense of relief that you are getting the hang of things. The rest and the fun of summertime have now come and gone. So you are especially excited to be with all of your school friends as you gather outside to play a game. Everyone’s gathering to play touch football. It’s beautiful weather outside, all your good pals are there with you, and the day seems not so bad, even if summer is over.

Then team captains are selected and teams begin to be assembled. You wait, patiently at first, as the captains make their way through the line of kids waiting to be picked. As you see certain obvious big-shots picked before you, well, you don’t pay it much mind, at first; after all, some of them are awesome at this game. So you just wait patiently as the captains continue to pick others, making their way through another round of kids that might still be a little better than you at the game. You think to yourself, Ah, so what. No big deal. I’d probably pick them before me, too, if I were captain. Round three comes and goes, and you’re still not picked. You begin to get a bit nervous. I am going to get picked, right? Everybody will eventually be on one of these teams, won’t they?

The captains make their way through the third round, and the next, and the next one, and so on, until finally, you notice, it is only you and one other kid left standing to be picked for a team. A little perturbed that it’s taken this long for one of the captains to see your potential, you begin to doubt your abilities. You become a little sad and feel a bit rejected. Am I actually going to be picked last? you think. Well, the first captain saves your reputation for the moment and picks you next—second-to-last—just ahead of the poor soul who now gets the rap of being picked dead last. Good grief! you say to yourself. That was a close one. I was almost last, and if I was last, I’d be the laughingstock of the whole school. You don’t think so much about the kid who was picked last. In fact, you try to erase that part from your memory, instead of focusing now on how you can do better in the game. If you’re better, maybe you’ll get picked sooner next time.

Or this…

You’re having a great year at your job. Boss is psyched that your division is doing well. Not only have you met your goals, but you have actually surpassed them, in fact, you blew them to smithereens! With your annual review coming up soon, you think to yourself how great it will be to have had such a good year when it comes time to discuss your raise. The boss is going to be pleased and should have no problem giving me that raise we held off on last year, you think. So you are caught quite off-guard when during your weekly division meeting, you learn that the company at large has suffered a huge drop in market share. Your boss tells you and your colleagues, “Sorry team, but it looks like our optimism may have been misplaced; despite all your hard work, which I appreciate, we’re no longer in the top tier in our market. We’ve experienced some pretty severe losses due to the closing of our branches out west, and as a result, well, we’ve sunk way, way down in the rankings.” You are shocked. You can hardly believe your ears. Did the boss just say that? How could rankings be so low when you’ve done such a good job this year? Not only you, but all of your team, you’ve all worked so hard, and business seemed booming.

And then, you remember… you’re pending review…. the talk about your raise.

Well, like the kid who just avoided it by the skin-of-the-teeth, our blindsided business employee here was shocked about being last. No one wants to come in last place. No one wants to be picked last, to be the laughingstock at school. No one wants to have their company, their job, and their future drop down or come in last in the rankings. It is safe to suggest that no human being really wants to be last at, well, anything. With the exception, of course, being, the last to suffer, right? Not one of us wants to be the first to suffer or to struggle in life. Society seems to cultivate and even perpetuate this way of thinking. We can, at times, seem almost to be programmed to think this way, like we’re always supposed to aim for being first in line, the best, the strongest, smartest, richest, most powerful, most attractive, most healthy, longest living, and the one with the longest-lasting legacy… Well, we might consider what this view serves, or rather perhaps, who it serves? Does it serve God? Does it reflect what we know of the teachings of Jesus? Do we feel the Spirit calling us to this way of living in the world, the world the Lord God has created?

In today’s [lesson from the Gospel according to] Mark, we find Jesus’s disciples stumped yet again by his teachings. Jesus tells them a second time that he must suffer, saying “…the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mk. 9:31) The disciples do not understand this teaching of Jesus (Mk. 9:32). They are also too afraid to ask Jesus what it means. They remain silent on the subject.

Yet, when the disciples and Jesus come to Capernaum, Jesus asks them, “what were you arguing about on the road?” (Mk. 9:33) Perhaps shocked that he knew what they were up to, the disciples maintain their silence, saying nothing to answer his question (Mk. 9:34). The writer then [writes] that the disciples had argued about who was the greatest among them. After sitting down, Jesus makes his knowledge of their discussion clear as he calls the disciples and says to them, “anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mk. 9:35)

Since the culture in the days of Jesus’s earthly ministry was different from our own, we cannot assume that the disciples would have received this statement from Jesus in the way we would. At this time in the Roman Empire, status reigned supreme. Society was hierarchical; it was crystal clear who was at the top: the leaders, the bosses of the town. It was also quite clear who was at the bottom of the ladder: the powerless, those picked last, the least influential members of society. At first, we might think this is not very different from the world today, but we have to remind ourselves of developments that we may take for granted in today’s world, including voting rights, property rights, and the ability to operate as equal, or at least closer to equal members of society in this country. The same can be said for people living in much of the rest of the world, though certainly not everywhere. This is not to suggest that our country or others have everything right, that we’ve perfected freedom and liberty. But rather, the point is to highlight how none of these rights were common to the ancient world under the Roman Empire, which is when Jesus and the disciples were living. At that time, to suggest that one’s status be compromised was to propose a significant and irreversible threat to one’s reputation and, by extension, one’s very livelihood. So then, the disciples’ arguing about status among themselves was not exactly like the kid from our story, who was worried about being picked last on the team. Nor was it like the business employee who must suffer through an economic downturn, which after all, might only be for the short-term. Instead, this argument of the disciples was more like people arguing who would be the true heir to a kingdom. This was no egalitarian or freedom-loving society we’re talking about here. The society of the disciples encompassed extremes in disparity – there was no middle class, but there were many, many members of society categorically suppressed as well as many who were enslaved, with nearly no hope of positive change.

Jesus’s challenge to the disciples, that the first must be last, and the servant of all, flips the Roman worldview on its head. Forget about your favored status in society, it says, instead, know that God calls you to serve God’s people, not rule over them as the world suggests. As if this would not be enough, Jesus continues in his discussion with the Twelve. After taking a child and placing the child among them, Jesus takes the child in his arms, and says to the disciples, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the One who sent me.” (Mk. 9:36-37)

Again, before jumping to any conclusions, we should consider what this might have meant in Jesus’s day. When we look at it this way, we find that, under the Roman Empire, children were considered low members of the household. As such, they were not important members of Roman society as adults were. This is quite a contrast to the way we view children in the [United States of] America and around the world today. Not only is there love, understanding, and teaching of children, but we generally take great pains to see that our children are granted opportunities to learn and to grow, to cultivate their talents and abilities, to blossom, and to thrive in our society. Quite different from the view of children in Roman times.

With this in mind, we revisit Jesus’s statement. When the disciples welcome children in Jesus’s name they [also] welcome God the Father as well. Jesus is saying something radical here. He’s not speaking to an [21st-century] audience who loves and cares for their children’s every need, taking them to band practice, soccer, helping them with homework, and making sure they not only dream of their future but also helping them create and navigate that future safely and successfully. No, in this story, in Roman times, Jesus is telling the disciples that they must lower themselves; way, way, way down must their status go, to the point of not just associating with the lowest of society, but also to welcome them in his name; to grant them the status which the LORD commands. Again, Jesus calls the disciples to follow God’s will over the ways of the world.

So, what does it look like for us to live into God’s word today? What is Jesus calling us to do about this in our own lives? How do we become last? How do we become servants; servants not just of those around us whom we already know and love, but also, how do we become servants to all, as Jesus calls us to be?

Although our times may be different than the days of the disciples, this teaching is nearly as challenging to follow today as ever. Must we sacrifice much of our personal belongings to heed Jesus’s call to be last? Is it about giving away? Is it about doing, doing more to help serve those around us and those far from us? Is it about second-guessing what we think our priorities should be in this world? If we’re aiming for first place, we might ask ourselves if God is always at the center of how we go about getting to first place. Indeed, maybe we are being called to think of not only how we aim, but also why we are aiming for something, to begin with. Are we trying to give glory to God? Are we considering others as Jesus calls us to? How are we led to our goals? By ambition, or by the Holy Spirit?

All our trophies will one day turn to dust. Our worldly status will not be transferable to what comes next. No matter how we might desire to climb to the top, to reach first place, Jesus reminds us to think of God and what God has to say about all of this. Jesus calls us to love one another. Jesus put others before him. Through his death on the cross, [Jesus] has placed us all before him. He was last so that we may be first. We do not settle on being in last place because of our weakness or our lack of ability. We are called to be last so that through Jesus and with the Holy Spirit, we glorify God, and all may be first in God’s kingdom.

May it be so. AMEN.

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.

Circle of love

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

Circle of love, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. Tucker, MPH
 September 19, 2021

 

Numbers 21:4-9 (NRSV)1

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

 

When you throw the boomerang out it curves around and makes its way back to you, just where it started. In our families, we are children, teens, and then adults; perhaps we marry and raise children of our own, and in time, we pass on all that we have learned to the next generation. And the circle turns round again.

In the Gospel [according to] John, in the amazing, treasured passage from the third chapter (Jn. 3:17-21), what we see is a picture of how much God loves us and how much God desires for us to love and to return to God.

This beautiful picture of God’s love is a bit like a circle: all begins with God as the source, and by God’s great love, all ends with God, according to God’s infinite compassion and grace.

First, even at the very beginning, God loves. God makes all things, including us, and God loves us, God’s creation. And God loves us so much that God wants us to be with God, to live according to God’s will and God’s ways. Throughout the Bible, we witness how God continually reaches out to God’s people. Whenever they may be seen to try to go it alone, or to think they’ve got better plans, well, God intervenes and calls them back. And God’s main thrust here is not one of anger, or judgment, or of a desire to cause harm. No, much to the contrary, the main thrust of God’s action throughout the [scriptures] is that God continually pursues God’s people, desiring their return to faithfulness. Interestingly, note this is not sameness, or the absence of change, but rather, faithfulness, which may be discerned by God in ways that are relevant to any time in which God’s people live.

God goes to great lengths to deliver God’s people; be it from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, from the brokenness of tyrannical kings, or from the idol of praising themselves, God continues to reach out to God’s people by God’s great love and mercy. And we witness this most supremely in the testimony of John when he shows how God sent God’s one and only son, Jesus the Christ, to accomplish our ultimate return to God’s embrace. [With] Jesus, nothing comes between us and our loving God.

God loves, and God gives. God gives us Jesus for our hearts to be restored to God. By the gift of faith in our hearts, we believe in Jesus, and inherit eternal life in God’s kingdom. And amazingly, the Bible shows time and time again how God does not discriminate between God’s people. Sisters and brothers from all backgrounds and walks of life receive the call to serve. In today’s passage, we witness how Jesus responds to the inquiry of Nicodemus, a Pharisee (Jn. 3:1). While we might give Nicodemus a hard time about being so undercover in the way he approaches Jesus, we must acknowledge that he was indeed a Pharisee. God gave Jesus to children, to those suffering from illness and being ostracized, so many of whom were likely kept on the margins of society in that time. Women receive the gift and are even present at the resurrection.

And yet, while all of these received the gift of Jesus during his earthly ministry, many more did in the years following his resurrection and ascension. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s gift of love was granted to the Gentiles, causing a stir among the [early] Jewish Christians. Again, God calls us to faithfulness, not sameness. Stephen, among the first called deacons in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 6:5), Stephen was called to share the gift of Jesus in stunning ways to the people, so much so that he drew attention to himself. Leaders of the day were not pleased by Stephen’s teachings or behavior, but he lived out his call extending from the gift God gave to him.

Perhaps among the most surprising of those to receive God’s gift of love in Jesus the Christ is the Apostle Paul [of Tarsus]. Many will remember that before he came to faith in Jesus, Paul was among those who persecuted early Christians. Just imagine that after his conversion, Paul would go on to plant many churches in a time when travel was difficult and be guided by the Spirit to write a great deal of the [Second] Testament, all of which, it should be noted, comes in the form of correspondence to new churches.

God loves, and God gives that we may believe. Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Savior became human and dwelled among us. His earthly ministry came as loving, teaching, healing, guiding, and leading us to salvation, according to God’s plan.

In our passage this morning, the writer of John’s gospel reminds us that Jesus was not sent to condemn, but rather to save the world (Jn. 3:17). Again, the main thrust of God’s action is that of love, giving, and as we witness by the Gospel when God expresses God’s love and gives, God’s people are restored by faith: they believe. Yet in Jesus, we are not simply returned to one of many paths; by Jesus the Christ, we are restored to the path of God’s righteousness. You see, it is God who remains as God. We, however, change, adapt, and are relevant to the times in which God has blessed us to be in, and so our charge is not to dig in our heels and demand the old ways, the sameness of “this is how we always have done things.” Instead, our charge is to change to remain faithful. When we take a bird’s eye view of the Bible, what we see is that God is continually loving, giving, and calling God’s people to faith, all the while including and welcoming those who may be seen as different or on the outside by the world. Scripture shows us, Jesus shows us that we are called to be relevant. Faithfulness will look different today in 2021 than it did in the 1980s, 1950s, 1800s, the time of the Separatist pilgrims, Reformation, and even the early Church. Sure, our prayers, sacraments, music, and teachings may continue to take root in scripture. But does our service still look the same as in the churches Paul wrote to? Indeed, we need look no further than our pilgrim forebears, when they left the conformity of the Church of England, they were most certainly making a change if even to return to a Christian life they found to be more soundly rooted in the Bible.

Now rounding the bend of that circle, we have the beautiful, good news of the Gospel. God loves, God gives Jesus so that we may believe, and by our belief, we are restored to wholeness, completeness in and with the God who has always loved us, always called us home.

Friends, in this blessed circle of love, we are called to do as our great God shows us through Jesus: we are called to love, to give, to believe, and to be restored.

So how can we inhabit this circle of love today? What kind of choices can we make to love, give, believe, and be restored?

Well, the writers of John’s gospel show us that Jesus did not come to condemn, but that he came to save. And while we certainly can see that Jesus is operating on a level way beyond our abilities, maybe we can focus on this circle of love. Maybe we can be inspired to include and to welcome people in the ways the Father had done and in how Jesus in his humanity had done. And let’s remember that these were radical ways of inclusion. God the Father sent God’s prophet Jonah to preach to the Ninevites and they changed course even though Jonah didn’t like it. Jesus spent time among people on the margins of society, healing them, yes, but also simply being with them. Jesus was even present to a criminal dying on the cross next to him, not just listening to him, but including, welcoming him into the coming kingdom (Lk. 23:43). Friends, it may be that among the very last things Jesus did before dying on the cross was to include someone who was perhaps the most outcast and written off by the broader culture. So, Jesus’s coming to save did not center on big shots, those with power, or condescending elites. It centered on those the world did not.

If we take it from there, how can we, as a church and as individuals, love and give in ways that include those on the margins? Aside from pointing towards and worshipping God, it’s the primary action of Jesus, so perhaps it’s also the primary action of the church around the world.

Sisters and brothers, I believe it is no mistake that what we’ve gleaned from this famous passage of the fourth Gospel also speaks to the “Greatest Commandment” shared by Jesus himself in the Gospel according to Matthew. When asked by an expert in the Law—that is, Halakha—to try to trip him up, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (See the Shema in Deut. 6:5.) This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37)

May the daily life of our faith be rooted in God’s call to love, give, believe, and be restored. By our love of God and one another, we participate in the circle of love, a circle that includes all people.

May it be so. AMEN.

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.

 

Who are we really; whose are we really?

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

Who are we really; whose are we really? by the Rev. Joel Boyd

(Edited and formatted for publication by J. Tucker, MPH)

September 12, 2021

Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)1

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

 Here’s a question we don’t often ask ourselves: what does it mean to be a person? It’s fun to imagine we’re a roaring lion, a hopping frog, or even a fire-breathing dragon. We might yet think about being alive and what that means—what being alive is all about. This can be a bit complicated—especially nowadays—when we pretend to be robots, Star Wars droids, Siri, or Alexa; all of which may seem about as close to being alive as they can without actually being alive. Yes—we can imagine all these things. But how about being a person: what do we think about that?

After all, being a person is what we’re all about. We’re people, you and I [sic]. On one level, we have the things which make us tick. We have our muscles, bones, organs, and like the Scarecrow and Tin Man a brain and a heart; we have these physical things. But we also have internal things, like our thoughts, our feelings, our fears, hopes, and dreams. We have our faith. You might say that all of these add up to make us who we are—that a person is what happens when you combine the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. That sounds about right, doesn’t it? But close as it may be, something is missing here. As people, we don’t live completely alone. We don’t live solely on deserted islands—though it is fun to consider what we’d bring if we were. We don’t live in outer space or a vacuum. And while the challenges of a pandemic may seem to suggest otherwise, we are social beings; we not only long for relationships, but I also believe that we need them.

Being a person means living in community. Scripture shows us a great deal about what it looks like to live together, and how we can be better for one another, and better for God.

But our “community” is more than simply those we grow up with, our close family and friends. It is also our city, our country, the culture around us. So many things vie for our attention, trying to secure our support, that it can be difficult to count them.

So, what does the world around us say we are?

Well, for one, it can judge us. The world can say we are not pretty enough, too lazy, or not up to snuff in our career or schoolwork. It can judge our illness or ability, suggesting that our knee surgery precludes any further athletic activity, that our depression is not real, or that it is something to “get over.” The world can also imply things about status. The images of the glamorous pop star on social media and obscene salaries of top-tier sports pros when provocatively flaunted daily imply that wealth is something that has value and that it is to be desired.

On another level, the broader culture can try to adopt us, claiming us to be who it wants us to be, whether it be pawns in a political game, scapegoats for a systemic failure at the top of the chain, or even siding with the bully at school for fear of being on the receiving end of the deal. The world can claim our loyalties just as it can throw us under the bus. We might find ourselves shouting false claims about the “other” group only to find that we are the victims of the same mob mentality soon.

And yet, not all false claims to our identity are borne of ill will. Sometimes the world says who we are because it just doesn’t understand the truth about us.

In the Gospel [according to] Mark, we learn that those around Jesus said he was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. No doubt any of these were among the greats of Scripture. It’d be an honor to be associated with the likes of such prophetic figures in the Bible. And yet, this is what the people around Jesus said about him, in a way, a bit of who the world thought he was, and by extension what he was about. But as Mark [tells] us (Mk. 8:29), Jesus then turned to Peter, asking him, “But who do you say I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

It’s interesting to think about why Jesus didn’t want his disciples to say anything about his being the Messiah— [messías in Greek and ha Mashiach in Hebrew]— ‘the anointed one.’ While he didn’t want it revealed then, certainly people knew it later, especially when he rose out of the tomb after dying on the cross. So, we might wonder: does this show us that it’s not just about knowing who you are, that somehow, it’s also about the timing of revealing your identity? Well, no, I don’t think so. I agree with scholars when they say that Jesus’s identity as the Messiah was not revealed too early because it would’ve hastened the arrest and crucifixion, all of which were to happen on God’s timing, not on the world’s timing. Perhaps you see something else here, but for me, this speaks to the way the Bible both shows that we have a God-given identity which is important and blessed, but also that it is not up to everyone else to control who you are or when you live into who you have been beautifully made to be, all of that takes place on God’s timing. In other words, it’s not about what the world thinks we are or how it tries to control our identity. Rather, it is about how God has made us and has given us purpose.

So maybe we feel that we’re excellent at guitar or that we’re not so hot at accounting. Maybe we feel that we’ve always longed to get straight As at school because that’s what Mom got, but no matter what we do, we can’t quite get there. Still, perhaps we even feel that we are gifted for fixing cars; that we have the skills to help families get their vehicles back on the road so they can go about their own lives. After all, that’s got to count for something, right?

And all of these do count for something. Count for what is the big question. So, we ask, who do we belong to? Whose are we? You see, cause if we don’t know our roots, then we likely don’t know where we started, making it a bit challenging to know where we’re going.

Do we belong to the lust for wealth? If so, all our energy may be directed towards that. Do we belong to the world of excelling, if so, we may find ourselves exhaustively trying to be better, but better than what? Do we belong to the world’s definition of us? Are we the limited stereotypes they judge us to be?

If we see ourselves as belonging to the world, we’ll soon find that we place our faith in the world, and that will shape who we are and who we’ll become.

After telling them to be quiet about his being the Messiah, Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man [ben- ‘adam, in the Tanakh (e.g., Daniel 7:13)] must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mk. 8:31-33)

Jesus knew who he was, and he knew whose he was. He even knew when he would live into the most challenging aspects of His calling. When his friend Peter tried to take him to task over this negative outlook, implying that surely this couldn’t be true, that there’s no way this could be who Jesus was and that it was his job to prevent it, well… Jesus chastised Peter. While Peter, as well-intended as he must’ve been, tried to define Jesus’s identity, Jesus himself pushed back, resisting the attempt of the world to lay claim to what only God has blessed.

Sisters and brothers, while we most certainly can see how Jesus’s status as the only Son of God places his identity and purpose in a category truly beyond our comprehension, I hope that today we can at least take a cue from his example. For Jesus spoke to his disciples and the crowd alike, “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mk. 8:34-38)

Friends, you are blessed to be who God made you be. I pray that you may love me for who I am, just as I will love you for who you are. In[sic] Christ, we witness the calling to be his people, that with all we are we may give glory to God. May the Spirit show us the road and guide us on it. AMEN.

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.

 

Even more loudly

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church 

Even more loudly, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. Tucker, MPH

October 24, 2021

The Book of Jeremiah 31:7-9 (NRSV)1

7For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.” 8See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. 9With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

Have you ever been to a concert where the music is so loud you can’t even hear yourself let alone your friend excitedly shouting right next to you? I had a silly experience with a cousin of mine a while back which was similar. We met at a pub and caught up on things going on in our lives. After about thirty minutes or so, music started picking up in the background. Not long after, the music got louder; so loud that eventually I became [like] that person at the sold-out stadium show screaming across the table to my cousin, the whole time with him leaning in more and more, trying fruitlessly to hear anything I said. A bit exasperated, I looked up at the stage and found, to my surprise, one guy with his acoustic guitar. I couldn’t believe he’d been so loud. But he was.

As I’m sure most are already aware, I’m a musician myself, as is my wife, and these fine people right behind me here, and several of you as well. While I’ve attended no small [number] of loud concerts myself, I do not in any way mean to suggest that music is always loud or to degrade it in any way. Music is one of the most beautiful things we have; both in the church and anywhere else.

This aside, what I do mean to suggest is that not being heard is a real thing. It happens to us. Try as we may, we just can’t get through. And sure, many times it may be about our not being audibly, literally heard, it is often the case that we are not acknowledged; that we are not understood or not known. It’s not all by accident either, is it? Sometimes we are not heard, ignored, or worse yet: we have something taken from us, or erased from memory, both our memory and the world’s. It has often been said that all the sins referred to in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:2-17 & Deut. 5:6-21) represent one form of theft or another (stealing life, the respect owed to parents, the truth, or God’s glory, for example).

In today’s passage, the Markan author paints a vivid picture (the end of Mk. 10). After having spent time in Jericho, Jesus leaves. He is [neither] alone nor with only his closest companions (i.e., his disciples). Jesus leaves Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd (Mk. 10:46), meaning that there were many people to witness events that happened along the way.

Sitting by the side of the road, we find the blind beggar named Bartimaeus (Mk. 10:46). It is worth pointing out that this is the only appearance of the name Bartimaeus in the Bible. The Lukan writer tells a similar story about an anonymous blind beggar (Lk. 18:35). We might wonder why [the author] didn’t include the name Bartimaeus. At the end of our passage in Mark, Bartimaeus regains his sight and follows Jesus (Mk. 10:52). In [the Lukan gospel], however, [the blind beggar] is healed, follows Jesus, but also praises God, and the people who witnessed all this praise[d] God, too (Lk. 18:43).

The name Bartimaeus means “Son of Timaeus.” (a) Scholars have suggested that the Markan original audience may have associated the name Timaeus with the praise of sight which appears in Plato’s dialogue2 of the same name. But is sight always about seeing with our eye, we might ask ourselves?

It has been suggested by some biblical scholars that the cloak which Bartimaeus had would have, at that time, typically been used to keep him warm in the cold, provide something to sleep on at night, and may even have been laid out before him as a way of receiving anything he would beg for during the day. If this all does apply to this story of Bartimaeus, then just imagine the faces of all those around him when he jumped up and cast away his cloak to go to Jesus. What those witnesses would have seen is a blind beggar throwing away all that he had, his warmth, bed, and even his means of income, all to come to Jesus. And friends, Bartimaeus does all this before Jesus heals him, not after. He gives up that which is most precious to him just to get to Jesus.

[The author] then shows us that Jesus is open to what Bartimaeus asks of him: the blind beggar, this person who threw all he had away just to get to Jesus, Bartimaeus, asks Jesus, “My teacher, let me see again.” (Mk. 10:51b) Now, this last bit is worth digging into. As we see here, the NRSV reads “let me see again.” Well, the NIV reads,“Rabbi, I want to see,” and the NASB,4 the most literal word-for-word English translation of the original languages, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” Now at first, these various translations may appear to be saying essentially the same thing. But looking at the original Greek shows us how the word ἀναβλέψω can, in some cases, mean simply “to gain sight,” or, “to be able to see.” When the first portion of that Greek word is emphasized, however, this renders as “to regain sight,” meaning that this blind beggar pleads with Jesus to restore the sight that he once had.

While this may initially seem to be like splitting hairs, the idea of regaining that which was lost does cast this passage in a different light, both for [the author’s] original, first-century [hearers] and for us, his twenty-first-century readers.

Picture an individual or group of people who no longer have that which they used to have, and not just some fleeting, insignificant thing, but imagine them having lost something of great importance to them. Maybe they lost it because they got sick or didn’t have enough money. Perhaps this thing was lost because they no longer had the strength to fight for it, or that others stole it from them, that it had been taken. Just think how meaningful, how life-altering it would be for that person, that group, to have suddenly been given back that great thing, that long-missed piece-of-my-heart thing, which they just now received again. It’s as if they had been made anew, granted a new opportunity, or even that they had been made whole again, after so many years of being made to feel empty, broken, forced to wander, wondering where they’d end up, yet not having a clue as to where or when they’d arrive.

Maybe you have your own mental pictures. As for me, I think of our many friends or even groups of people in Christ that long for the return of that which has been taken from them, be it safety, be it dignity, welcome, hospitality, or understanding; be it freedom, be it liberty, be it land.

This week, I received my copy of the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament.Aside from the fact that this just came out at the end of August, one of the things that struck me was that it wasn’t until just now that we have a translation of scripture from English-speaking Native American sisters and brothers. The Bible, as we know, has always been translated in some way or another, given its original Hebrew, Aramaic, and koine Greek languages. Not only does translation make scripture accessible, but it also allows a people, an accent, a voice, to be heard. Amazing, isn’t it, that we only now have a translation of the New Testament from a First Nations perspective? After all, members of First Nations communities have long experienced the theft of their language and land, they have also witnessed the silencing of their voice as people. I thank our indigenous sisters and brothers for the gift of their voice in this translation, even if it is not in a language that is native to their various, diverse communities.

So, we certainly can understand why Bartimaeus called out to and ran towards Jesus, but we might wonder why it was important that Jesus stopped to listen to Bartimaeus. Remember that Jesus was on the road, traveling, with not only his best friends but a large crowd as well.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” called out Bartimaeus (Mk. 10:47).  Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” (Mk. 10:48-49)

Though Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus, we do not read anything of Jesus’ response the first time. Instead, we witness how many people told Bartimaeus to be quiet. Course, we do not know if any of the disciples were among them, just as we do not know Jesus’s response at first. Did Jesus hear Bartimaeus? Maybe he did and simply held off responding; perhaps, knowing how this would all turn out, that folks around him would be bound to get it wrong and try to keep the beggar out, to silence Bartimaeus. Maybe he did; maybe he didn’t—the author is silent on the topic. But we do know that Jesus reacted to the second cry from Bartimaeus. Jesus stands still, first. Then he says to call Bartimaeus to him.

After being shushed by those around him, Bartimaeus cries out even more loudly for Jesus. He is undeterred. Whether Jesus hears him at first or not, we do not know, but Bartimaeus kicks it up a few notches to be heard, for his needs to be heard, that he may finally get the healing he most deeply needs.

So throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” (Mk. 10:50-51)

He asks a lot of Jesus, doesn’t he, this Bartimaeus? Yet he appears to be quite confident he’ll receive what he’s asking for. Remember how he knew who Jesus was when Jesus was on the road and that he called out to Jesus for help. We might consider that Bartimaeus already had a faith in Jesus that was quite strong, and all before even meeting Jesus.

Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. (Mk. 10:52)

Jesus didn’t only hear Bartimaeus. He listened to him. A blind beggar though he was, Bartimaeus knew in his heart what had been taken from him, and so he brought it all before Jesus, perhaps believing that Jesus would answer his prayer, longshot as it was.

And Mark shows us that Jesus did hear Bartimaeus’s prayer—that he did heal him. While Bartimaeus had to loudly project his needs over contemptuous shushing of others, we know that Jesus did hear, and he did bless one in need. We might say that where Bartimaeus called out even more loudly, Jesus listened even more closely.

In what ways are we called to listen even more closely to those in need, to those crying out for help? What might our intentional listening lead us to? What form of action may we take to truly hear and bless our sisters and brothers in need? Indeed, how might we acknowledge our call to listen to the call of others?

I’ll close with a reading of verses 51-52 as we have it in the First Nations Version. Here you’ll note that Jesus is referred to using the name Creator-Sets-Free.

“What do you want from me?” Creator-Sets-Free said to him. “Wisdomkeeper,” he answered, “make me see again!” “Be on your way,” he said to him, “Your trust in me has made you whole again.” Right then and there his eyes were opened! So, he began to follow after Creator-Sets-Free as they continued on their way down the road.

May God bless us all to be instruments of God’s peace, that we acknowledge our call to listen and love even more, always remembering that we are bound together in Creator-Sets-Free. AMEN.

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
  2. Plato. The Timaeus of Plato. (Archer-Hind R, ed.). MacMillan and Co.; 1888.
  3. Biblica Inc. The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. 4th ed. Zondervan; 2011.
  4. Lockman Foundation. New American Standard Bible. 2020th ed. Zondervan; 2021.
  5. Wildman T. First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament. (Belindo B, Brunoe G, Campbell G, et al., eds.). InterVarsity Press; 2021.

 

(a) The name is an Aramaic-Greek hybrid. “Bar-” (בַּר), meaning “son (of)” and “Tímaios” (Τίμαιος), the given name of his father (assumedly named Tímaios).