Sermon for November 7, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3050 | Like Kin

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3050 | Like Kin
Jeff Broadnax

When I was 18 years old, I met someone who would change my life for the better. Here’s the catch: we couldn’t have been more different as people.  John was a white man from Great Britain; I was a black kid from Cincinnati, Ohio. He was old enough to be my father, and I played more basketball in one weekend than he had his entire life. I called July 4th Independence Day; he called it Rebellion Day. But we both loved the Proverbs and we both called Jesus, Lord.

John would regularly stand up on my behalf to tear down manmade barriers that tried to keep me from being who God destined me to be. Over the next 30 years, we would transcend cultural norms and become family despite our racial, ethnic, and generational differences.  

In America, the pandemic and political or racial tensions of recent months have made it easy to feel disconnected or fragmented from others. It’s been hard to stay connected with people close to us and even harder to connect with those who might be different. But discovering how God can help people move from fragmented to family is an important practice that we should look at more closely.

One biblical example of an outsider becoming family can be found in the book of Ruth. The story begins with the Israelite family of Elimelech and Naomi who left Judah and moved to Moab with their two sons to escape a famine. They lived there a long time; their sons grew up and decided to marry two Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth.

The relationship between Israel and Moab was complicated and broken.  Relational betrayals had left spiritual scars and historical animosity between them. These differences could have very easily created a fracture in the relationship between Naomi and her daughters-in-law.

The story takes a sad turn when the father Elimelech and the two sons become sick and die, leaving three widows and no children behind. Naomi urges the two daughters-in-law to go back to their families and remarry, and Orpah does. But Ruth insists on staying with Naomi, even leaving Moab and her family to go back to Judah with Naomi. Ruth works hard to find food for the two of them until Naomi realizes there is a distant relative named Boaz who could marry Ruth as part of Israel’s legal system to care for widows. Boaz marries Ruth, and she bears a son named Obed. Let’s read how Naomi’s friends celebrated Obed’s birth:

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.”  
Ruth 4:14-15 (NRSV)

This son was the grandfather of King David and part of the lineage of Christ.

The foreign woman Ruth was an outsider, not part of Israel’s culture or religion, but God chose to include her in Jesus’ ancestry. In a society where sons were prized, the Israelite women praised the outsider Ruth, saying that she was better “than seven sons” (v. 15). Ruth’s love for Naomi was widely recognized and appreciated, and Ruth became like kin to Naomi, regardless of their religious and cultural differences.

This example of love and kinship between two women from different cultures can instruct us today. Because God saw fit to include an outsider in Jesus’ heritage, we understand that love transcends differences.

Family isn’t just restricted to blood relatives. Because of Christ’s Divine love, we are united into one human family.

Filled with the Spirit, may you have the heart of the Father to love one another, including the outsider, and embrace our diverse representation of the imago Dei (the image of God). 

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

 

Psalm 127:1-5 · Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 · Hebrews 9:24-28 · Mark 12:38-44

The theme this week is God provides a way without shame and blame. Psalm 127, our call to worship, reminds us that God provides for us, and anxiously working, worrying, or feeling ashamed as we live and move in the world is unnecessary. God provided for Naomi and Ruth, as written in Ruth 3 and 4. By allowing a Moabite woman to be part of Jesus’ lineage, God reveals how social constructs that shame and exclude people are not the way God’s love operates in the world. Mark 12 further illustrates this when Jesus honored the widow who gave her two small coins at the temple. Our sermon text, Hebrews 9, helps us understand that God isn’t interested in shaming or blaming us for our shortcomings and our resulting feelings of separation. Instead, love handles the reality of humanity’s brokenness with grace and shows us how to do the same for each other.

How Not to Play the Shame/Blame Game

Hebrews 9:24-28 (NRSV)

There’s a trend online called “pet shaming.” It’s where people post pictures of their pets with signs confessing what they did. Some of them are funny [show photos from brain-sharper link]. The owners know that posting pictures of their pets and exposing their misdeeds won’t change their pet’s behavior or make them “good,” but they are humorous. Shame and blame don’t create real behavior change in animals, and they aren’t effective for real change in humans.

There have been actual public shaming sentences for some people in the U.S. where they have had to wear signs announcing what they did. This can range from having a fluorescent-colored license plate on their car to warn about a past driving under the influence conviction (DUI) to having to wear a large placard sign for eight hours for domestic abuse. There’s plenty of discussion about whether public shaming is an effective deterrent for crimes.

Psychologists continue to question whether shame and blame actually change behavior. Blame is a defense mechanism we’ve all used at one time or another, and shame is what tells us we are not good enough and will never be good enough. Hopefully, we have learned that “shame and blame are games that everyone loses.”

God isn’t interested in shaming or blaming, though some churches seem to disagree. God created humanity and he understands how we are made. We respond to love and kindness and shut our hearts to shame and blame. Christ’s sacrifice is evidence that we don’t have to make penance or feel ashamed of our human brokenness. Let’s read about it in Hebrews 9.

Read Hebrews 9:24-28 NRSV.

What can we notice about this passage?

First some context: This message is not to Gentiles, but to Hebrews – Jewish Christians who were being persecuted and tempted to leave Christianity and return to Judaism. Hebrews is the only New Testament book that discusses Jesus Christ as our high priest, connecting him with the Old Testament priest Melchizedek. The main purpose of the letter is to show the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:24-26 NRSV)

These verses compare and contrast Christ’s sacrifice with the Levitical high priest who entered the Holy of Holies on one day each year. The need for annual sacrifices, presented by the high priest, interposed the religious system, in this case, Judaism, as a mediator between the people and God.

The writer points out the clear superiority of Christ who “did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands” but appears in heaven and who did not have to “offer himself again and again” as the high priest had to offer sacrifices every year. This highlights Jesus as fully divine as well as fully human. No longer was there a need for anyone to be the mediator between the people and God.

Though the repetition of the annual sacrifices reminded the people of their sinfulness, it also reinforced blame and shame, and it created a “sin rut,” one that they could see no way out of. Blame and shame do not show the way out of the rut. Christ’s sacrifice, made in love, was done once, and our “repetition” of it, found in our ritual of Communion, now reminds us that love showed us the way out of the sin rut.

In verse 26, the world translated “sin” is hamartia in the singular, not plural. However, because the letter is addressed to a community, it appears that this is talking about sin in the collective sense, as if Christ’s sacrifice was intended to dismantle systems of sin that are participated in by many people collectively, either knowingly or unknowingly. God is concerned about human-made systems of oppression that create suffering for humanity.

In addition, the passage makes us think about how we still scapegoat, shame, and blame people. This is particularly true for people who differ from us – as in race, gender, belief systems, and political views, to name a few. In some respects, it’s as if we have our own “sacrificial system” that places blame on others. Christ’s sacrifice, “once for all,” means we don’t have to sacrifice each other in a negative spiral of shame and blame. Verse 26b uses the Greek perfect tense to show that not only was Christ’s sacrifice important at that moment in history, but it is still “in force” today and into eternity. It’s as if humanity is being lifted out of the sin rut of shame and blame by the arms of love in an ongoing effort.

And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28 NRSV)

These verses remind us of our mortality and impermanence, something that we often try to forget or feel as if it is something we need to apologize for. Our elder brother Jesus Christ was also mortal (fully human and fully divine), and it was his mortal humanity that made his sacrifice possible. Who better to understand our weaknesses than one who “has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)? Here we are reminded that Christ promised to return, not to deal with sin but to “save” – or usher in salvation in the form of God’s kingdom or system on earth – for those who love him. Christ’s second coming is not about sin, shame, or blame. It’s about love, a transforming love that looks forward to establishing God’s righteous rule on earth.

Application:

  • Remind yourself of your value in God’s sight, and let love transform you. When we understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit know us intimately, the good and the bad, yet love us without reservation (remember Christ’s sacrifice, “once for all”), it’s as if our “cup of love” is filled and can overflow to others. We are not known or identified by sin or sinful behavior; that is all taken care of in Christ. God sees us in our true identity—his beloved children. We participate with Jesus and through the Holy Spirit he will lead us to change; we become better people as a result of God’s love flowing in us and through us.
  • Celebrate Communion by understanding how we have been set free from the sin rut. Each time we participate in the ritual of Communion, we are reminding ourselves and each other that we are not shamed or blamed by God for our shortcomings. Instead, we are held as precious, worth the very life of Jesus Christ, “once for all.” Love has lifted us up out of the sin rut, and loving others is how we participate with Christ in helping set them free.
  • Examine yourself for ways that you still engage in patterns of shaming and blaming others. Our culture encourages us to point fingers, compare ourselves, and engage in other shaming and blaming behaviors. By remembering who we are in Christ, and by remembering others are also God’s beloved, we can express transforming love to others even in situations where holding them accountable is necessary. We remember that shame and blame don’t change people; love does.

Even though the pictures of the guilty pets we saw in the beginning were funny, shame and blame are not funny. Shame and blame are used to put others down – the opposite of what God calls us to do – and are ineffective means of getting someone to change. That is why the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reached out to humanity in loving sacrifice, “once for all,” so that we could be transformed by love and then extend that transforming love to one another. May God help us share his love and life with others through the good news that Jesus removed our shame, and there is therefore no reason to blame.

For Reference:

https://www.brain-sharper.com/social/pet-shaming-ob/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/its-the-shame-effect-judge-orders-public-humiliation-for-domestic-abusers/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/traversing-the-inner-terrain/202009/the-shame-and-blame-game

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Confessing Our Hope w/ Ted Johnston
November 7 – Proper 27
Hebrews 9:24-28 “Is It Real or Is It Memorex?”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • The Speaking of Life video talked about a deep friendship between two men who were very different from each other in a number of ways. Have you ever had a close friendship with someone who was very different from you? If so, please share how you became friends.
  • Despite long-held prejudices between Israel and Moab, Naomi and Ruth loved each other. When considering the relationship of Naomi and Ruth, have you ever thought about how unusual it was for an Israelite to accept a foreigner as kin (in this case, like a daughter)? How can different cultures learn to love each other like that?

From the Sermon

  • How does knowing that God isn’t interested in shaming or blaming you make you feel? How does knowing this affect your relationships with others?
  • How does viewing Communion as a celebration of breaking free of our “sin rut” add meaning to our participation? Rather than making you feel guilty, does it help you recognize your worth in God’s sight?

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