We need a word to describe the experience of trying to be alone, and then meeting someone who spoils everything. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tries to be alone and discovers that it is impossible.
It’s not likely you’ve heard about the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (BMP). In fact, you’re probably reading about it for the first time right here in Homiletics Online.
What is likely, however, is that in the next few days you will read or hear about the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon not only once, but several times.
What is BMP? It’s sometimes called the “frequency illusion,” the experience of stumbling across a piece of arcane, esoteric or weird information — something you’ve never encountered — and then in subsequent days and weeks noticing this same piece of weird data again and again. And because the previous paragraph is a strange snippet of news and a hitherto unknown piece of information, you can expect the same idea to ambush you when you least expect it … tomorrow, perhaps.
Similar to the frequency illusion of BMP is the experience of leaving town for a much-needed rest and vacation — as Jesus does in today’s gospel reading — only to run smack-dab into someone you know, and worse, someone who’s very chatty and behaves as though you’re his new BFF.
There are no expressions or words to describe this annoying phenomenon, one to which we all can relate. Well … perhaps there are some words, but they can’t be used here in Homiletics.
The attempt to “get away” could even be as innocuous as trying to take a lunch break from the office. You want to be alone for 45 measly minutes with Peace and Quiet as your only companions. You need to be alone! But suddenly, you see Harold and Priscilla entering the restaurant — yes, Harold with the greasy combover and Priscilla from the mail room who always has an Eberhard No. 2 pencil nested in her bouffant. You jerk your menu to your face, but the menu is the size of a post card. Harold and Priscilla are delighted to see you and join you in your small booth without asking. As they do, your good friends Peace and Quiet vanish like — to quote Goethe — “an echo or a dream.”
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is feeling this same frustration for which there seems to be no name, although psychologist Carl Jung hints at it with the word “synchronicity” in his essay on the subject published in 1952.
Jesus is afraid that he, too, will not be able “to escape notice” (v. 24). He goes to his vacation rental in Tyre on the coast of the “Great Sea” and “entered [the] house and did not want anyone to know he was there” (v. 24).
Alas, he did not escape notice. His reputation as a healer has preceded him. He is known as somebody. The word on the street is that when all else has failed, when there’s absolutely no hope, when salvation or deliverance seems absolutely, unequivocally, positively impossible — try Jesus.
This is precisely what happens when an unnamed Gentile lady known to us through subsequent millennia as the “Syrophoenician Woman” contacts Jesus (she had “immediately heard about him,” v. 25). Her little girl, she told Jesus, had an “unclean spirit.” She either didn’t know that Jesus wanted a break from the Messiah job, or she didn’t care, because the Bible says that “she came and bowed down at his feet. … [and] begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter” (vv. 25-26).
For some reason, the woman seems to wind him up. Jesus is harsh and teachy, but in the end, he casts out the demon without even so much as visiting the girl herself.
This done, the next word in the text is “Then” (v. 31). We don’t know how much time elapses between the expulsion of the demon and the word “Then.”
What we do know is that he leaves his holiday hideout where he’d gamely tried to lay low, and heads back to Galilee. The locals must have known he was coming. “They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech” and begged Jesus to heal him (v. 32). Jesus “sighed” (v. 34) and looked upwards to the heavens. He touched the man’s ears and tongue, said, “Be opened,” and the nameless man was “immediately” healed (v. 35).
Jesus pleaded, even “ordered,” the crowds to keep quiet about all of this. But “the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it … saying ‘He has done everything well’” (vv. 36-37).
Unwanted synchronicity. Whatever the synchronicity phenomenon is, Jesus could not get away from it. He had this reputation for doing “everything well” and wherever he went, even if he tried to sneak away, people found him and told every living soul — a rapid-fire means of communication 2,000 years ago.
Jesus’ Reputation Today
“He has done everything well.” That was the word then, but the news now is that a ton of people are repulsed by what is happening in the name of Jesus and by those who wave the Christian flag loud and proud.
In fact, the authors of a new study on religion, secularism and politics published at the end of 2020 note that the number of nonreligious people in the United States is rapidly rising. Their data show that even one news story about Christians doing something stupid and offensive is enough to push an “undecided” over the edge, slipping over to an already burgeoning nonreligious and secular component of our society. One news story.
So, it’s not really a surprise that according to this study, the nonreligious or “nones” now outnumber any other religious group. They’re more numerous than Catholics. There are more nones than evangelicals. The nones do not yet outnumber all religious groups combined, but if present trends continue, it’s only a matter of time until there’s more religious nothing than there is religious something.
Jesus is hardly to blame for this unsightly situation, but his followers have a bad rep right now, and it’s going to be tough to change unless we get to work.
And it will take work. People of faith, people who love Jesus, absolutely must live and love by a higher standard than the one to which they are living and loving now.
When Jesus slipped out of sight and went to Tyre, he hoped no one would notice.
Jesus probably feels the same way today. But, drat, guess who shows up? Bad Christians! And unlike the Syrophoenician Woman, they do not bow down at his feet and beg Jesus to expel demons — which they surely should do. Instead, they beg Jesus to endorse their cause and movements.
Showing up uninvited to meet Jesus are, for example:
The good news is that many people see through the religious patina, understanding that Jesus and “Christian” are code words and brands that have zero to do with the historical Jesus himself, and the Jesus we call our risen Lord and Savior.
But you can understand that when Jesus goes to Tyre for a little rest, he’s praying that these people are not going to show up. Apparently, they didn’t. But they did during Passover, and we know how that turned out.
But some needy folks — people who needed a healing touch — did appear in Tyre and Galilee. A lady whose daughter was in distress, and a man who was deaf and dumb. And Jesus stopped what he was doing and touched them, healed them, made them whole.
If we are going to interfere with Jesus’ vacation plans, the very least we might do is to follow the Syrophoenician model and ask Jesus to expel the demons of religious nationalism; influence peddling; sectarian, political and racial hatred; provincial blindness; and self-righteous arrogance.
If we could do this, the nones of the world just might reconsider and say — as did the local crowds in ancient Galilee — “He has done everything well.”
We don’t have a word for the experience of traveling to a far location for peace and quiet, only to run into someone who insists on consuming large portions of our time.
Yet, even in this circumstance, Jesus had a reputation as being someone who did “everything well.”
This needs to be our reputation as well.
Let’s remember to state the obvious: There is no Jesus in this sorry world, unless it’s you; unless it’s us.
Let’s be Jesus people, who are willing to listen to a distraught mother, or a man out of work, or a teenager who has lost her way.
The public might not notice. So much the better. Even Jesus cautioned his friends to keep quiet.
The yeast of kindness will leaven the dough of belief, and those close enough to witness will say “everything was done well.”
—Timothy Merrill and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.
“About Christian nationalism.” christiannationalism.com. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
Campbell, David E., Geoffrey C. Layman, John C. Green. Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics. Cambridge University Press, 2020.
Kaleem, Jaweed. “Religious lobbying groups have dramatically increased in Washington: Study.” huffpost.com, Retrieved December 6, 2017.
Monahan Neil, Saeed Ahmed, “There are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are evangelicals and Catholics, a survey finds.” cnn.com, April 26, 2019. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
Nieuwhof, Carey. “3 things Christians do that non-Christians despise.” careynieuwhof.com. Retrieved March 23, 2021.
Click here to download a ZIP file of the September-October 2021 issue as Word Docs.
What Does the Text Say?
Today’s reading is a set of three brief excerpts from Proverbs 22 that give advice to the wise person on how to relate to the poor. The chapter opens with the admonition that “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (v. 1), repeating an admonition about the securing and preservation of a good reputation found elsewhere in Proverbs and other wisdom literature. Scholars have often considered Proverbs to have been written for young men being considered for royal service, so the protection of one’s reputation would be of paramount concern. Such a concern reflects the essentially conservative orientation of Proverbs (and wisdom literature generally), where there is little evidence of a “free spirit” mentality. One’s place in society and before God directly reflects the degree of one’s wisdom. Wise persons are held in esteem by others and are honored by God. Shame is for the foolish, immoral and indolent. Riches are not despised in Proverbs (cf. 22:4), but they are prioritized, and coveting them has often proved to be the undoing of otherwise sensible people. In wisdom literature in general, wealth is a sign of the prudent management of one’s affairs and a blessing from God.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
The Value of a Good Reputation. This sermon picks up only one part of the text — the part dealing with reputation. Since the text is from Proverbs, it’s a good idea to have a few proverbs ready besides the opening line in verse 1. Here are a few: “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit and lost without deserving” (Shakespeare). “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it” (Benjamin Franklin). “Your reputation is what other people think you are; your character is what you really are” (John Wooden). “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do” (Henry Ford). Why is a reputation more valuable than money? Some people don’t care what others think of them. Don’t we secretly admire those people? The text says a good reputation is to be valued above riches. But if you have riches, why does it matter what people think of you? What are the benefits of a good reputation, and what makes a reputation a good one?
What Does the Text Say?
This psalm is another of the “Songs of Ascent,” and would have been sung or employed on special occasions such as Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles and other feasts that came later. It was also particularly beloved by the pilgrims as they came upon the city. Jerusalem itself was situated on high ground, and the Zion mentioned here refers to one portion of the city that is itself imposing and virtually impregnable as a fortress, towering over valleys on three sides. The city is also more than 1,000 feet above the Dead Sea only 13 miles away. So going to Jerusalem from Jericho, the Jordan Valley or the Dead Sea involved a very steep climb. Pilgrims literally went “up” to Jerusalem. Upon arrival, they are in a good mood. They compare their God to the fortress that is Mount Zion. They praise God for God’s sense of fairness. God does good to those who are good (v. 4). Nothing could be more just than that. And God also makes sure that those who do evil are led away (v. 5).
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Character Analysis. Although this psalm deals with the safety and security of God’s people, it would be easy to link it with the theme of “reputation” mentioned above. Notice the descriptions given to the people of God in this brief psalm: “Those who trust in God,” “the righteous,” “those who are good,” “those who are upright in their hearts,” “those who turn aside to their own crooked ways” and those who are doers of evil (“evildoers”). Particularly interesting is the parallelism of verses 4 and 5. First, you have “those who are good.” This is then amplified or defined by a further qualification: “Those who are upright in their hearts.” In other words, who is a good person? Who is one with a good reputation? The one who is upright in his or her heart. Second, you have “those who turn aside to their own crooked ways.” There’s a lot to unpack in that sentence. Turn aside. Their own. Crooked. And how is this description further qualified? These people are “evildoers.” The sermon, then, becomes a study in reputation and character analysis of God’s people.
James 2:1-10, 11-13, 14-17
What Does the Text Say?
One can hardly read this passage in James without thinking of the alleged tension between James and Paul noted in Galatians 2 (see Acts 15). James’ insistence that “faith without works is dead” seems pointedly contrary to Paul’s insistence that one is “justified … through faith in Christ … [and] not by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16). The apparent tension was exacerbated and “canonized” by Luther who, wholly influenced by Paul, called James’ epistle the “straw gospel.” In fact, James and Paul complement each other well. James did not need Paul to speak his own word to the widespread social reality in which many of the “new” Christians were living out the “old” lifestyle, maintaining the social norms of a highly socially stratified culture. The description that James provides of the obsequious greeting of a rich person and the dismissive welcome of the poor person in verse 3 reflects the social customs of the age. Thus, James has direct and pointed advice: In God’s eyes, there is no distinction among people — in fact, God's priority is for the poor. This is a countercultural message, for the insistence in the NT that God shows no partiality according to rank or status is rare in non-Christian writings. It is a misreading of James to stress the supposed importance of his insistence on keeping the law. A careful reading of this passage in James suggests that the author is warning his readers not to be “caught up” in trying to fulfill every commandment, for it cannot be done. Rather, the believer is to be judged by “the law of liberty” (v. 12) which has been stated simply: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 8). The purpose of the law of liberty is to set people free to live in community and welcome everyone, having particular concern for the poor, the widow and the orphan (1:27).
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
A Matching Pair. You wouldn’t buy just one shoe, one glove, one sock or one slipper, would you? In fact, when you discover you have only one of these and not a pair, you throw the remaining one away in disgust or frustration. So too are faith and works — a matching pair. Faith without works is like macaroni without cheese, Batman without Robin, birds without the bees, a hammer without nails, a lock without the key. True, we can examine faith separately and in isolation. We can talk about it, codify it into a multivolume handsomely bound set of encyclopedic proportions, and design seminary courses to examine it from historical, grammatical and cultural perspectives. We can do all of that. But what makes our faith powerful is when the diodes of faith are linked to the battery or powerhouse of good works. Our actions are the difference between a car that looks beautiful parked on the sidewalk and a car screaming down the highway, a car in motion, in action. It’s an odd thing, but you can have good works without faith but not faith without good works. There are plenty of humanitarian, altruistic or civic reasons to do good things for others. But you cannot have a Bible-based, “I-believe-in-God-and-in-Jesus-Christ-his-Son” Christian faith without works. Good works without faith, yes; faith without good works, no. Which makes it all the worse when Christians — people of faith — have stone cold hearts that do not beat for the needy. It’s weird. It doesn’t make sense. It’s like, “Where’s the other sock?”
"Our times are in your hands." We say the words, we sing the words, but we don't hear the words. If we truly embraced them, O God, we would be forced to face the disparity between our actions and the words. Too often we meander aimlessly to do "good works" in your name irrespective of your wishes, your desires and your kingdom plans. Forgive us, O God, for our misplaced ardor. Draw us back to the secret place beneath the shadow of your wings, where you reveal your truth before those who become still and call upon your holy name. Amen.
Leader: Holy ground! We are standing on holy ground.
People: For where God is, the ground is holy.
Leader: Holy hands! God works through our hands,
People: So they are holy.
Leader: Holy words! God speaks through our words,
People: So they become holy.
Leader: Holy thoughts! God moves others through our ideas and dreams,
People: So they are holy.
Leader: Holy songs! God prays in our songs,
People: So they are holy. Therefore let us joyfully sing.
"Faith without works is dead." God, as we go forth today, let our works proclaim our faith. Let all that we do -- our work and our rest -- be to the glory of the One who has created us to bear his image. May all that we say and do point to you and be evidence of the hope that we have. We go now, in your name, to bring your hope and truth to everyone we meet this week. Amen.
Give Me the Faith Which Can Remove
The Voice of God Is Calling
Open My Eyes, That I May See
Worship and PraiseW
Christ Our Hope in Life and Death (Papa)
Lord, I Want to Be a Christian
Find Me Faithful (Walker)
WFor licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.
on Mark 7:24-37
What’s the word for the experience of wanting to get away and be alone, and then meeting someone you haven’t seen for years? Jesus went to Tyre, trying to “escape notice,” but it didn’t work. Although interrupted, he met with the needy and did “everything well.” This is the same vocation to which we are called.
Television examples of unwanted synchronicity:
Frasier. If you’re on an expensive vacation in the South Pacific, thousands of miles from the United States, the last person you want to run into is an ex-spouse. Yet this is precisely what happens to the fictional Frasier Crane, the eponymous star of “Frasier,” a long-running television sitcom. Frasier is in Bora Bora with his current inamorata, Madeline Marshall, about whom he is over-thinking and in crisis. As he muses aloud on the veranda of his finely appointed cabana, his neighbor, hearing him, leans over the bamboo partition and says, “Frasier!?”
It’s Lilith, his erstwhile colleague, ex-wife and pale and bloodless nemesis, whose very name suggests a demonic goddess, or a devilish figure in Mandaean gnostic mythology and who’s mentioned in the Bible in similar terms: “Wildcats shall meet with hyenas, goat-demons shall call to each other; there too Lilith shall repose, and find a place to rest” (Isaiah 34:14).
Yes, this is Lilith, at rest with goat-demons and hyenas. Poor Frasier. Thousands of miles from Seattle, and who does he run into? Lilith!
Poirot: In “Tragedy at Rhodes,” Agatha Christie’s urbane fussbudget of a detective, the Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, travels to the Greek island of Rhodes for holiday because his “little grey cells” are desperately in need of some rest. But of course, this is not going to happen. At his villa, a death occurs involving the poisoning of a rich, glamorous and frequently divorced woman. Poirot’s little grey cells are urgently required, and he will need to get his rest at another time.
Or consider the episode, “Peril at End House.” Now the dapper and mustachioed detective is on holiday at an exclusive resort on the Cornish coast, where he and his sidekick Hastings meet the beautiful young heiress Magdala Buckley. When the young lady confides that there have been numerous attempts on her life — a heavy-framed picture dropping on her head, a boulder falling off a cliff, a bullet piercing her hat, for example — Poirot knows that there will be no rest for the weary at his Cornish retreat.
Sometimes, we just need to stop. Stop the parade, as a long-ago song put it. Stop the procession through duties. Stop the noise. Stop the churn. Not stop forever, but stop long enough to get connected again.
Stopping isn't easy. Duties don't vanish. I have another business trip to prepare for, not to mention home duties and family needs. Other people aren't stopping at the same time. …
Stopping can feel dangerous. Stop at work, and you risk falling behind.
Stop at home, and resentments can build. Stop responding to other people's claims, and you get tagged as uninterested, callous, arrogant. Stop trying to do it all, and you discover your own limits.
Stopping can feel like failure and losing. I am convinced, for example, that we church folk just need to stop fighting about the same-old issues. We don't agree, we won't agree, we can't budge each other, all we can do is wear ourselves out for the things that truly matter. Stop the arguing, I say, even if that feels like losing. If the arguments have any merit, they will still be there when we are connected again. …
Stopping leads inescapably to moving. Stopping isn't an escape from action. Stopping is the precursor of truly making a difference with our lives.
—Tom Ehrich, On a Journey e-newsletter for October 23, 2003.
Early Hasidism developed a doctrine called “strange thoughts,” or “lascivious thoughts during prayer.” According to this teaching, one sure sign that we have attained a high level in prayer is that invariably we will be assailed by embarrassingly wicked thoughts. Our first inclination is to reject them at once, but, as everyone knows, this only gives them even greater power over our prayers. We must, counsels the Baal Shem, realize that such thoughts are in reality only rejected parts of ourselves that sense this time of great closeness to God and come out of our unconscious, yearning for redemption.
—Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Eyes Remade for Wonder: A Lawrence Kushner Reader (Jewish Lights, 1998), 75.
My rabbi gave a teaching once where he said something like, "We often think Sabbath means not working, but really it is resting from creating (which is what God did.)" This was revelatory to me because I was implicitly taught by the Christian church that Sabbath was an opportunity to "catch up" on things I don't get to do because of work, like craft projects or, of course, chores and errands. This often created a situation for me where I would get to the end of my Sabbath and feel like I didn't cross everything off my internal "list" of "catching up."
The Jewish teaching gave me a break from that and it has been lifegiving to instead arrange my life to where I have one day where absolutely nothing is expected of me, from others or from myself. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in "The Sabbath" too this idea that Sabbath is a rest from constantly trying to change things around us (what he calls something like taking dominion of our surroundings.) So this combined view of resting from creating, and resting from changing the external world, is what Sabbath means to me now.
—Autumn Dennis on Facebook, March 1, 2021.
Sleep and rest are not the same thing, although many of us incorrectly confuse the two.
We go through life thinking we’ve rested because we have gotten enough sleep — but in reality we are missing out on the other types of rest we desperately need. …
Rest should equal restoration in seven key areas of your life.
The first type of rest we need is physical rest, which can be passive or active. Passive physical rest includes sleeping and napping, while active physical rest means restorative activities such as yoga, stretching and massage therapy. …
The second type of rest is mental rest. Do you know that coworker who starts work every day with a huge cup of coffee? He’s often irritable and forgetful, and he has a difficult time concentrating on his work. When he lies down at night to sleep, he frequently struggles to turn off his brain. … The good news is you don’t have to quit your job or go on vacation to fix this. Schedule short breaks to occur every two hours throughout your workday; these breaks can remind you to slow down. You might also keep a notepad by the bed to jot down any nagging thoughts that would keep you awake.
The third type of rest we need is sensory rest. Bright lights, computer screens, background noise and multiple conversations — whether they’re in an office or on Zoom calls — can cause our senses to feel overwhelmed. This can be countered by doing something as simple as closing your eyes for a minute in the middle of the day, as well as by intentionally unplugging from electronics at the end of every day. …
The fourth type of rest is creative rest. … Creative rest reawakens the awe and wonder inside each of us. Do you recall the first time you saw the Grand Canyon, the ocean or a waterfall? Allowing yourself to take in the beauty of the outdoors — even if it’s at a local park or in your backyard — provides you with creative rest. … Turn your workspace into a place of inspiration by displaying images of places you love and works of art that speak to you. …
[The fifth type of rest is] emotional rest, which means having the time and space to freely express your feelings and cut back on people pleasing. Emotional rest also requires the courage to be authentic. An emotionally rested person can answer the question “How are you today?” with a truthful “I’m not okay” — and then go on to share some hard things that otherwise go unsaid.
If you’re in need of emotional rest, you probably have a social rest deficit, too. This occurs when we fail to differentiate between those relationships that revive us from those relationships that exhaust us. To experience more social rest, surround yourself with positive and supportive people. …
The final type of rest is spiritual rest, which is the ability to connect beyond the physical and mental and feel a deep sense of belonging, love, acceptance and purpose. To receive this, engage in something greater than yourself and add prayer, meditation or community involvement to your daily routine.
—Saundra Dalton-Smith, “The 7 types of rest that every person needs,” adapted from her TEDxAtlanta Talk, January 6, 2021.
Retrieved April 9, 2021.
Hold up a crossword puzzle from the newspaper, and admit to the children that you cannot always solve the puzzle yourself. Explain how a crossword puzzle works, and let them know that you sometimes get stumped, and have to ask a friend or family member, “What is a five-letter word for an aquatic marsupial mammal?” (Answer: yapok). Point out that these puzzles can be very tough! Then explain that the people who lived in the time of Jesus had some tough problems as well: Children had difficulties with their mental and spiritual health, and men and women were deaf and unable to speak. Ask the children if the people were able to solve these problems by themselves. No! Let the children know that they needed help, and that many of them turned to Jesus for assistance. Explain that Jesus made children well (Mark 7:24-30), and he brought hearing and speech to adults (vv. 31-37). Encourage the children to ask Jesus for help with difficulties and problems today, by praying for his guidance and assistance and healing. Let them know that Jesus is with us to help us today, just as he helped people when he performed his ministry 2,000 years ago.