A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church,

Little Rock, Ark., on July 3, 2011.

Zechariah 9:9-12; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

What is your favorite pet peeve? I would allow for testimonies, but it would probably just turn into a gripe session, so we’ll refrain. Besides, we don’t have the time. So, if it’s all right with you, I’ll share two or three of mine. After all, I do have several pet peeves.

During my morning walks – about two miles – through a mixed neighborhood of residential homes and apartments, as well as commercial businesses, I see what slobs some people can be. They simply define the word inconsiderate. They think nothing of getting a burger at a local fast-food establishment, eat it in their car, and then toss the sack and other related packaging out the window into someone’s yard or on to the street.

As many of you know, our daughter Emily and her boys have been with us. Wednesday morning Alex, our oldest grandson, accompanied me on my walk, and at one point commented to me about the broken beer bottle on the sidewalk in front of one of the homes on St. Charles. Since it had happened a few days earlier, I too had noticed it on my previous excursions through the neighborhood. When he asked me why someone would do that, I could only think to respond that there are some people who think the world revolves around them and they can do whatever they want to do.

Litter, and those who produce it, are one of my pet peeves.

A couple of Wednesday nights ago, I vented about another thing that irritates me. It has to do with current expressions or comments that you start to hear on a regular basis, things that add absolutely nothing positive to our public discourse, but are said by a lot of different people in a lot of different places to the point that they become quite common. Fortunately, one of those things has appeared to go by the wayside. Remember a few years ago when it was in vogue that someone would tell you something and then follow it by asking, “You know what I’m saying?”

Yes, I know what you’re saying. Do you think I’m dumb or something? I’m glad we don’t hear that one much anymore.

Well, there’s one going around now that you will hear especially when someone in the world of perspiring arts (that’s sports, by the way) is being interviewed. The statement is, “At the end of the day.”

In Saturday’s paper, Maria Sharapova, after advancing to the finals of Wimbledon, was quoted as saying, “Obviously a bit part of my life is tennis, but at the end of the day I’m not going to be playing for my whole life.” Huh? What in the world does that mean?

In one interview, Cam Newton, late of Auburn University, used the expression over and over. “At the end of the day.” What day? Yesterday, tomorrow? “At the end of the day.” Ooh, that one really gets on my nerves.

Do you have pet peeves? Let me share one more with you, one that has a bit of a story behind it. When we lived in Nashville, Tennessee in the late 70’s and early 80’s, my friend Richard Smith, then the pastor of the Glendale Baptist Church, and I would play golf together. We tried to do it once a week, if possible. If I hit a shot that was okay, but not very pleasing to me, and Richard would say, “Nice shot,” I would often respond by saying, “Well, it wasn’t as good as it looked.” I could count on Richard responding the same way just about every time. He’d say, “Hyde, I hate to hear a grown man cry with a loaf of bread under his arm.” Richard was originally from Meridian, Mississippi, so I assume that’s a “Missippi” expression.

And that’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Not “Missippi” expressions (my daddy’s from “Missippi”), but hearing people complain when they’ve got a loaf of bread under their arm. That’s the pet peeve.

You see it in the newspaper every day, in the Arkansas section where they display the various letters to the editor…. people complaining about this, complaining about that… about the economy, the person in the White House or Governor’s Mansion, Congress or City Council. Complain, complain, complain.

There was one letter in Wednesday morning’s paper, however, that put all the other complaining letters in perspective. It was written by a person of Chinese ancestry who told of recently returning to his homeland to visit his mother. Because of his affiliation with a particular religious order that is under suspicion by the Chinese government, while in China he received a late-night visit from government officials and was told that if he persisted in his practice of this particular form of faith, it would place himself and his family in jeopardy, and he would not be able to visit them again.

How would you like to live in a country like that? Where thugs come to see you late at night and threaten the welfare of your family? Where you’re not given the opportunity to practice your faith as you choose? Where freedoms are not available to you; yes, even the freedom to complain, complain, complain. Instead, we are privileged to be citizens of a nation that affords us the freedom to follow the religious dictates of our own choosing, without government intervention. Yet, we spend much of our time crying while there is a loaf of bread under our arm.

One pastor tells of arriving at his new church, and upon meeting one of his new parishioners, was told her life story. It seems that within a period of two years her husband died, her son was incarcerated for drug possession, and her daughter committed suicide. Obviously, when all this happened, the woman was disconsolate, drowning in her grief and despairing of her empty, painful future.

She went to see her pastor, the predecessor of the one telling this story, and he told her this: “Thank God every day, even and especially when you scarcely find a reason to do so.”

“Thank God every day…” What in the world did she have to be thankful for?

She admitted there were many days when she couldn’t manage to thank God for anything, but she summoned the courage to try, and in time her gratitude became a daily practice. She found it to be a source of real strength, and of hope, and eventually even joy. “Thank God every day…”1 Giving thanks is acknowledging the loaf of bread under your arm.

If there was anybody who had no right to thank God for anything, it was this prophet Zechariah, from whom we read a few moments ago. And the people to whom he was addressing himself, they weren’t exactly in a celebratory mood either. They found themselves “mired in the desolate aftermath of exile.”2 They have returned home to find their beloved Israel in rubble, in decay and disorder. If you recall the images of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or have seen the pictures of Japan following the earthquake and resultant tsunami, then you get a sense of what it might have been like. Except, it wasn’t natural disaster that had caused their homes to be destroyed, it was the military might of the Persians.

Yet, the prophet says to his people…

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he…

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! At least you’re now home, no longer exiled in a foreign land, made to leave your homes and go to a place that is not your own. You have been returned, as desolate as it may seem to be to you right now. Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! You’ve got a loaf of bread under your arm.”

Centuries later, a man named Jesus encountered the kind of people who write complaining letters to the editor, or maybe even throw trash out the window. They are like children, he says, who are sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to one another,

“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

we wailed, and you did not mourn.”

Jesus is identifying these kinds of people as those who are never happy, never appreciative, never willing to listen to a new voice, even if that voice is coming from God.

Complainers, that’s what they are, and because they do not have it in their hearts to rejoice at the redeeming presence of God in their lives, they are missing God embodied in the Nazarene who has come to them. But what does Jesus do? He uses it as an opportunity to thank God for giving him those who have followed him, and who, often despite their inability to understand him, continue to walk with him anyway.

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…”

Rejoice. That’s what Jesus is saying. Rejoice.

A thoughtful friend of ours, a member of this church, several years ago gave us a framed plaque that reads simply, “REJOICE.” It is hung next to the door of our kitchen that leads to the hallway, right above the light switch. Too often I do not pay attention to it when I turn the kitchen light on or off. But I need to, for it is the message of the prophet. It is also at the heart of scripture, that no matter how terrible we may feel life is treating us, there is always cause for rejoicing. If we look hard enough, we will always find that loaf of bread under our arm.

A number of you are aware that my brother Steve is a pastor in Virginia, just outside the Washington Beltway. What you may not know is that he is also a consultant to the company that produces the Memorial Day and Fourth of July concerts on the west lawn of our nation’s Capitol Building. He’s done this for the better part of twenty years.

The Memorial Day concert is generally somber, filled with stories told by veterans and the sacrifices they have made in the wars in which our armed forces have been engaged. That program, Steve once told me, is like a remembrance, a memorial service. The Fourth of July concert, is more like a party, he said, replete with celebration and fireworks lighting up the D.C. sky. If you’ve ever watched these programs – they’re on PBS – then you have seen the contrast between the two yourself. In fact, you might want to tune in tomorrow night.

Well, “The Capitol Fourth,” as the Independence Day celebration is called, would not be possible without those who are remembered on Memorial Day, those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. You can’t have one without the other, and that has been true since our nation was founded.

Zechariah may have been thinking along the same lines. The prophet uses a phrase that, upon first reading, might slip your notice.  He is speaking for God when he says, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”

Prisoners of hope. Did you catch it, or did it go right over your head? I admit, the first time I read it, I didn’t make note of it either. Prisoners of hope.

We are imprisoned by many things. Our inability – or lack of desire – to be grateful for the life of freedom we enjoy… our thinking that the world revolves around us… our believing that there is nothing more for us to do in terms of making our world better or our faith more obvious… our willingness to stand back and let the other guy do it, whatever “it” is.

But if we are going to be imprisoned by anything, let it be by hope. Not hope in the past tense, as in “we had hoped.” Hope in the present and future tense, hope in the promise that God is not through with us just yet, hope in the belief that we have so much, despite our personal circumstances, for which to rejoice.

So when you leave this place today, out into that hot July sun, and you ask yourself what you’re going to do with the remainder of this day and tomorrow, our nation’s birthday, consider that loaf of bread under your arm. And then ask God to give you the opportunity to share some of your bread with others. It will give you all the reason in the world to rejoice.

Lord, too often we get so caught up in our personal needs, we find little room or time for rejoicing in your marvelous grace. May this day find us with a new spirit, one that encourages us to give you thanks in all things. Through Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.

Notes

            1Brian Hiortdahl, “Living By the Word,” The Christian Century, June 28, 2011, p. 20.

            2Ibid.

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