Love Unbound

Love Unbound

Sermon by Rev. Adrienne Berry-Burton

Preached on 12/21/2014 at Old Cambridge Baptist Church

Scripture: Mathew 1.15-25; 2.13-15

Responsive Reading Based on Luke 1 and 2

Matthew 1.20b “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,

for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus,

for he will save his people from their sins.”

24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did

as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,

25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;

and he named him Jesus, (NRSV).

And Joseph, a righteous man, believed the angel and did what was commanded of him.

Joseph had had some plans.   He had been working his plan. He had chosen just the right trees to cut down, and each tree had been sawn into planks to be nailed together in just the right form to fulfill his architectural design. It was a good design with a firm foundation. The room he had been preparing at his father and mother's house would be good. Joseph was sure that when he finished that room, when he got done preparing a place for his beloved Mary at his father and mother's house, not only would his father Jacob and his mother approve, Mary would approve too. He was in love with Mary and wanted everything to be just right. Even in the midst of an occupied, repressed life made difficult by another nation's abusive power, love and marriage and babies continued to happen. Hope for the future happened. Joseph's life was happening in spite of the daily political difficulties.

But, he'd notice a change in his beloved Mary. He'd notice that she didn't look like his innocent, flat bellied Mary.  

I imagine it broke his heart and he may have tasted the bitterness of rage for what he thought was a broken promise. I can imagine him wanting to blame somebody, to find the co-offender.

But Mary had claimed a conversation with a divine, sent-from-heaven angel.

She had claimed that mighty Gabriel had come to see her and

that the seed growing in her womb had been planted through a miracle by the Holy Spirit.

All the things he loved about her were now looking like detriments. He loved how she knew her own history as a descendant of Aaron, Miriam and Moses. He loved how she seemed so spiritually connected to God. She was like Hannah, the mother of Samuel, at the temple sometimes, thoroughly enraptured. But now she was talking spiritual craziness. He went to sleep, still in love, but ready to let her go.

In his sleep, when he had finally stopped complaining and raging about this broken piece in his plans, in his broken peace, with his broken heart, God sent an angel to have a little talk with Joseph. And with that talk, in the midnight hour, everything was made right. It all changed.

Joseph's heart was mended. His mind was set right. His inner peace returned refreshed and renewed. And he was alright. The light of love in his eyes was turned back on.

Joseph was more than alright. He became a man with a holy mission. He would be Mary's man, her husband, her midwife, though he hadn't planned on that one, her co-builder in a long awaited prophecy - the birth of the Messiah. Joseph got ready to be Mary's husband and Jesus' earthly father. Joseph was a righteous man who was already in love with God when he fell in love with Mary. He was already a brave and powerful man when he set about making plans to get married. When the national environment and the neighborhood are under the constant threat of destruction, it can be difficult to live a full life. Joseph's reality had the unpredictable violence of the Romans and the power-greedy family of the Jewish-but-Roman-appointed, unrighteous Herod. That kind of pressure can make you just want to hide, or give up, or be filled with constant rage. Joseph was living in spite of the difficulty.

Joseph chose to believe God. Joseph chose to believe the angel. Joseph chose to believe Mary. Joseph chose to be a builder by stepping into the promise of the future that angel Gabriel reminded him could be. And Joseph chose to love that son, that yet-unborn seed of God, who was not his own. Joseph chose to serve with a love that was unbound. Joseph chose to love Jesus with a love that was not bound by expected boundaries of marriage covenants and blood ties. Joseph bravely loved out-of-the-box of expected cultural norms for the high holy promise of becoming a co-builder with Mary and with God.

We need co-builders who are willing to be like Joseph, hearing God's charge to love beyond the expected boundaries of marriage covenants and blood ties.

We also need co-builders who are the future Marys and Josephs with their birth children, who hear God's charge to love every child like precious gold. Every child should feel like precious gold in their parents' eyes. God commanded the men and women in Moses' time to teach the children about God the Creator, to retell the stories of mercy and rescue from the enemies. God had shown in every generation how precious God saw the children by never leaving the children behind when the Beloveds of God moved or when the blessings were sent.

We are living in a time when the statistics tell a hard story. Nationally, 30% of all children live in single family households where the father is not present.

Now, I was a single parent with an inconsistent parenting partner. (It has taken me years to figure out how to say that.) Their father loves them. He does absolutely love his children, but, his care was inconsistent. Even in our situation it is possible to have children who grow up and achieve goodness. My children have done well.

The first, my eldest son, is an educator, a godfather to five, and a wonderful uncle who is married with his first child. I love how attentive he is with his wife. I love watching him carry his baby like a football. I love watching that little girl make her daddy smile. The second is a former educator, back in school to become a physical therapist, with an eye on medical school. She is married with 5 children and a mentor to many. She is a good aunt. The third is career Navy, a world traveler, philosopher and theologian, godfather to two and a wonderful uncle. The fourth is a second year medical student, an intentional mentor to several and a wonderful aunt.

It is possible to grow up in a single parent home and succeed against the odds, but, I will tell you that I had help. I had help from good women and men who chose to love unbound, to intentionally love my children like they were their own children and grandchildren. Our family is great on both sides, but, it was so very good to have all those people as partners in their wellbeing. They chose to be my partners in raising my Beloved Babies with hope and love and respect and positive expectations.

We need Josephs who are committed to loving their Marys and the children who are and are not their biological seed with a soul deep, divinely ordained command to live a yes of the heart.

The Joseph Yes isn't a gender thing. It's a heart thing. Anyone can be a committed Joseph. Yet, I must say I get excited when I see a young man with his children. I get even more excited when they don't look like an under-paid babysitter, annoyed with the duties and the time commitment of parenting.         I get excited when I hear the evidence of financial sacrifice now because they are building the future with hope and love and respect and positive expectations.

I've raised my sons with an expectation that they will be good men, and good spouses, and wonderful parents. I expected positive results.

Yeah for the men who choose to adopt; who choose to be parents to children who may not be related to them by blood ties, and raise them with hope and love and respect and positive expectations. Every child's life matters! Every child deserves parents who love boldly and build futures with hope and the strength of joy filled love.

Joseph, with Mary, said , "Yes." Joseph was a co-builder.

Joseph sacrificed his plan and moved with God, the God he loved, into a new vision of the future. Joseph sacrificed his plan for a new plan and moved with Mary who sacrificed her plan to say "Lord, here am I, servant of the Lord," (Luke 2).  ~"Yes, Lord, here I am." Joseph sacrificed his plan for God's plan and became a co-builder with Mary of a baby boy's safety net and a world's future. It was love unbound that became the strength of the future, a future with hope!

We have a model for this kind of parenthood. God our Creator showed us what sacrificial parenthood looks like. At Christmas time we get very focused on the gift giving. When actually, God the Creator chose to sacrifice having Jesus, their son, in heaven with them. God sacrificed for our good when God sent Jesus into the earth to show us how to live, love, forgive and worship. God has shown us parenthood at its best. God gave us a future with hope and love and respect and positive expectations. God has great expectations for us. The expectation of good results was so strong that God sacrificed having Jesus in heaven and sent him here.

Now and then God let's you see the results of sacrificial love and intentional parenting. I did a funeral on Saturday for a woman named Betty Ruth Jones. She was an amazing parent and grandparent who gave her all for her child, her grandchildren and anyone else who came within reach with a need. I'd met her when their family moved to Lynn. I knew her daughter Connie and Connie's children. At some point in their pre-teen and teen years I looked at Louis, Manny, LeQuisha and Charlia and thought , "Oh, boy!" They were having some trouble in the growing up process and I thought,  "I need to work with them and help them be the best I know they can be ," and I did.

But life has shifts and changes and I lost track of them. It's been more than ten years since I saw them last. There were two miracles this past week. One miracle is called Facebook. Through Facebook Connie found me through another mutual friend Patricia. We're not friends on Facebook. That friend reached out to me on her behalf. The other miracle is that I checked my Faceboook account. I have been known to be away so long that Facebook welcomes back. Yeah God for miracles! So we were able to connect.

I am sorry that Mrs. Jones died, but, I am so happy that I got to witness the now grown Charlia, Louis and Manny. I was afforded the opportunity to see these three grown adults be wonderful, taking care of their mother and each other. They are each now wonderful adults who are committed parents themselves raising beautiful children. I am so happy that God let me see who they are now and have some joy knowing that I had a little bit to do with how they have turned out; that my nurturing of the best in them has had something to do with the good that they are today. It was sad occasion, but, a moment filled with joy for me as I witnessed them being wonderful.

Let us each be co-builders along with God so each generation is nourished with hope and love and respect and positive expectations. Let us each love boldly with an unbound love, a God kind of love, a Jesus kind of love, with joy filled strength from the Holy Spirit!


  • The Rev. Cody J. Sanders