Sermon: Blessed

October 3, 2021
World Communion Sunday


Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Mark 102-16

by Eric Anderson

There’s always one. You know the one. He’s just a little “off,” or she’s not quite “the thing,” or they’re different. Right. That’s it. They’re different.

There was an ‘amakihi that was different. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you the difference if I tried, although I’ll try anyway. Some of the other ‘amakihi thought his beak didn’t have the right curve. Some of the other ‘amakihi thought his belly feathers weren’t quite yellow enough. To be fair, I should note that some of the other ‘amakihi thought they were too yellow. Everyone was agreed that his claws were too big except for the ones who thought they were too small. And oh, the way he carried his tail feathers! Too high, or was it too low, anyway it was just… different.

Just different.

Most of the other ‘amakihi thought they treated him… OK. Relatively few teased him outright, although those few were pretty mean about it. They’d warn him away with a few calls if he approached, then get in his face, and even peck at him until he flew away. It was only a few of the other birds that did this, yes, just a few – but no other birds ever intervened. Nobody ever helped him out.

Then the bully birds would laugh. Oh, yes, they’d laugh, and they’d call him names about the color of his feathers or the curve of his beak, and they’d laugh. Worst of all, other ‘amakiihi would laugh with them.

As you might guess, he spent a lot of time being angry and sad and depressed.

His father found him crying one day and was wise enough not to say anything for a while. He just let the tears flow. “Come fly with me,” he said.

The two of them circled up into the sky until they could see the forests and the lava fields stretching out below, with the mountain peaks visible and the ocean stretching away to the horizon. The forest seemed enormous to the tiny bird.

“In all this forest,” said his father, “you are the only ‘amakihi like you. You are the only bird like you. You are the only creature like you.”

“That’s the problem,” said the son. “I’m different.”

“So is everyone else,” said the father. “Most of what makes us different are things we can’t change: the shape of beaks, the color of feathers. What makes us special are the things we can change: how we make our way in the world, how we take care of those we love, how many we love, how well we care for them.”

“What does that mean?” asked his son.

“I’m glad you’re different from those who bully you,” said his father. “I don’t want you to be like them at all. Even though it’s harder, I hope you’ll always be an ‘amakihi who cares.”

In our readings these last few weeks in chapter nine of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been raising the bar for our behavior as his followers. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” “Whoever welcomes one such child in my names welcomes me.” “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” Well. That’s pretty harsh.

And today, we’ve got Jesus’ thinking about divorce. “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you… Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Isn’t it odd that it’s this one that sticks like a bone in our throats? Isn’t it odd that it’s this one we make into a law and enforce it rigidly? Isn’t it odd that it’s this one that divides families, societies, faith communities, and governments? Isn’t it odd that divorce is one of things that becomes unforgivable?

Well, it’s got human sexuality in it, and if you hadn’t noticed this before, people get very strange when sexuality comes around. That’s true of the New Testament itself. Luis Menendez-Antuna observes in his essay at Working Preacher that first century Christianity thought a lot and differently about marriage and divorce. Mark’s version is the strictest. Matthew added a qualification, and Luke skipped the prohibition of divorce entirely. The apostle Paul thought it permissible to divorce an unbeliever, but clearly favored celibacy over marriage as appropriately life for Christians. “To induce a monolithic moral code from the text,” writes Dr. Menendez-Antuna, “not only speaks against the pain of others but it also further betrays the plurality of views within the canon.”

It also ignores the context within Mark’s Gospel. Doesn’t it seem odd that Jesus’ scathing words about divorce would be followed, not quickly but immediately, by one of our favorite stories, “let the children come to me”? In other places in the gospel, Mark would use some sort of transition to show that he’d moved from one topic to another. But there’s no transition between Jesus talking about divorce and Jesus welcoming the children. To Mark, these were part of the same story, the same topic, the same ethical and theological point.

For most first century women and children, marriage was the foundation of security. Marriage meant shelter, sustenance, safety. As Philip Ruge-Jones writes at Working Preacher, “Given the way divorce worked in the ancient world (and often still today), certain people were disproportionately hurt in a divorce, most likely women and the children they cared for… In part, at least, Jesus’ commandment against divorce continues the theme of caring for those who are most vulnerable.”

I can reach back to last week’s sermon title: it’s Still the Child. It’s still about the Children of God. It’s about those completely dependent on others for their survival that Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”

A lot of ink and electrons have gone into research into contemporary divorce in America. About the only thing that commentators share is a conviction that there are too many divorces and that this reflects some defect in our society.

I look at it and say, “You know, that’s a lot of pain. That’s a lot of hurting people. That’s a lot of vulnerable people. That’s a lot of Children of God.”

Is divorce a good thing? No – and yes. Jesus was right. There’s a lot of human hardness of heart out there. Extreme hardness of heart makes some marriages into settings for physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse, and then divorce becomes a vital means of escape. A few marriages end by mutual consent – it’s just not working. You know, some things just don’t work in life. And a lot of divorces cause a lot of pain to at least one of the spouses as those marriages come to end.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” The children: Vulnerable. Dependent. Hurt. With people, well-meaning and not so well-meaning, trying to keep them away from Jesus. Jesus saying in frustration, “Let the little children come to me.”

What happened to those children? Jesus blessed them.

What happens to us, we children, married, single, divorced, widowed, in relationships of every shape and kind? What are we, when we reach out to Jesus?

We are blessed.

Amen.

Watch the Recorded Sermon

The sermon as prepared is different from the sermon as recorded, partially because we were having technical problems, but mostly because Pastor Eric can’t keep from making changes as he goes.

The image is Jesus Blessing the Children by an unknown artist – Found in The Story of the Bible for Young People (1910), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59289200.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on October 3, 2021

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