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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

I Have Heard of Your Faithfulness and Your Love, part 1
(This sermon was delivered at Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church on August 20, 2006)

It is a blessing to be here today. I always feel the weight of my task when I step into this pulpit and remember who is usually standing here, and I remember how you have welcomed me into this family as one of your own.

Over the past year, some of you have probably wondered at times where I have been. You have seen Everly and my children, but you don’t see much of me. Well I have not been “sleeping in” on Sundays. And I have not started a new career as an itinerant firebrand preacher, hopping from church to church. I have been being a professor, traveling to do research.

Many of you heard that I had received grant funding and was allowed to take a sabbatical for the 2005-2006 academic year. My approach to research involved selecting a diverse sample of churches and church-related ministries which were doing an exemplary job of being involved in their communities, neighborhoods, towns, or cities, and even some working on a national and international scale, bringing transformation through their service.

The idea for this research began to grow back in the year 2000 when I started reading about the Voice of Calvary Church in Jackson, MS, about its ministries, and its leaders, in particular a couple named John and Vera Mae Perkins. So this year I have been visiting church and ministry leaders across the country, interviewing them about their work, how they understand the Bible and theology, and how they teach others to see the work of the church as they see it.

It has been an enriching year, filled with both the frustrations of trying to learn to work with the budget and finance systems of the university as well as the joys of conversing with people whose lives and work are often inspiring. Yesterday I started back to teaching after a year of doing other things. Now I must try to make the most of what I have learned, bringing it into my classroom teaching. It also means I will not be gone as often on weekends, since I’m teaching three courses every Saturday.

I’ve been telling you about this just now for a couple of reasons. The first one is that I wanted you to know that I have not been just skipping out or drifting away from Mt. Level. The second reason is that this passage speaks to the reasons for my research. In verse 15, the apostle says to the church people in and around Ephesus, “I have heard of your faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints.” Well, that is how I went about contacting people to interview last year. I had heard of their faithfulness and love, so I wanted to know how they came to be such beacons of the gospel. And I say thanks to the Wabash Center in Indiana, who sent me the funds to travel, and to Shaw University, who let me have the time to do it.

In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul has been hearing some news about their churches, and it prompted him to write about some things on his mind. He has heard of their faithfulness to Jesus.

Digression on faithfulness. Some of you may be looking at your Bibles and saying to yourselves, “My translation says ‘faith in the Lord Jesus,’ but he keeps saying ‘faithfulness.’ I wonder what translation he is using.” I’ll have to admit that I am using the Broadway Non-Standard Version. And it is a non-standard version because there are some problems in going from Greek to English that are only recently being noticed and acknowledged by scholars, theologians, and church leaders.

The word “faith” had a richer range of meanings in late middle English of the era of King James’s translation committee of the early 1600s. We can still find the residue of this richness in the language of contracts and agreements. We talk about a “good faith agreement.” That would be an agreement that we can count on someone to stand by. A good faith agreement means not only that each party trusts the other one to carry through on the agreement. It also means that each party has pledged to be faithful, to show fidelity, to the other party. It is a pledge of faithfulness.

When there is a negotiation going on in law or contracts, all parties of the negotiation are expected to be saying what they mean and meaning what they say. That is called bargaining “in good faith.” When someone seems to be pretending or “posing” in a negotiation, things break down. They are said to be negotiating “in bad faith.” Good faith negotiation is a promise to be faithful. Bad faith negotiation means people are being untrustworthy, leading to unfaithfulness.

Our everyday use of the word “faith” has really lost that kind of understanding. It’s a long story to explain why, but in my study it is related to the corruption of moral convictions in a culture which praised the God of Jesus Christ while enslaving God’s children from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and wherever else they could be found. It involved praising the virtues of freedom while enslaving and abusing the bodies of millions. By my reading of the news about working conditions in factories that bring us our shirts, shoes, pants, dresses, computers, toys, auto parts, and more, it still has not ended. But I’m not going to develop that idea today.

What I’m trying to explain is that there have been some changes in language in the modern era, the historical period Cornel West has at times called the era of European World Domination. Those changes reflect a conceptual separation of the mind from the body as if the mind is higher and greater, almost disconnected from the body. In the culture of the modern Western world, sometimes called modernity, we claim to respect human rights and the dignity of the person at the same time that we calculate people’s value in terms of dollars.

Companies use language as a pretense of dignifying their workers, calling minimum-wage employees “associates,” “partners,” and “team members” when they are by all appearances common laborers who have little or no job security who could easily be laid off when jobs are shipped overseas to sweatshops. But again, I can’t go down that path today. The mental gift of an elevated title is supposed to make them stop thinking about the bills they can’t pay and the illness for which they can’t afford to get treatment. The mind is given priority over the body in this kind of language. People are pushed to try to think themselves out of the real conditions in which their bodies exist and suffer.

So what does that have to do with translating “faith” and “faithfulness?” The word “faith” has more and more come to mean, in our use of it, something we do with our minds, but not necessarily with our whole selves, with our bodies, too. We say the word “believe,” which comes from a medieval word for making a mutual commitment to serve and protect one another, but for us it means mostly a thought that we have about someone or something. “I believe,” for us, means, “I think it powerfully or with strong feeling.” But it usually stays a mental act for us. “Faith,” in our way of talking, is about something inward, not about what we do.

Now I know I’m stating this strongly to make my point, but if you look at what most church people say and do in relation to the words “faith” and “believe,” which are the ways English Bibles usually translate the Greek noun pistis or the Greek verb pisteuo, then I think you will see what I mean. “Faith,” for people in our modern culture, is something we do in our heads or our hearts and not with our legs, hands, wallets, or possessions.

So the Broadway Non-Standard Version of the Bible is my experiment with substituting one less common English translation of a Greek word for the more common one. It is an attempt to practice thinking in a way that makes note of a difference between modern English and ancient Greek or even Hebrew. Our English language has two different nouns, “faith” and “faithfulness,” and two different verbs, “believe” and “be faithful.” One Greek word or one Hebrew word encompasses the meaning of both--just one noun says both, and just one verb says both. So I’m trying to awaken myself, and others, to what is missing when we read these English translations. So if it says “faith,” I’m going to try substituting “faithful.” If it says “believe,” I’m going to try substituting “be faithful.”

One additional reason for using the word faithful here in Ephesians chapter 1 has to do with reading the whole passage in context. We can’t just lift a few words or a verse out of the Bible and assume it will stand alone and convey its truest sense. If we look to the very first verse of the letter to the Ephesians, the translators of the King James Version and other more recent versions refer to the “saints that are in Ephesus and the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Now it does not mean that just because faithful shows up in one verse I have to change to it in another verse. But it does give some indication that the faithfulness of the people in the churches around and in Ephesus is what Paul is talking about as he starts this letter.

That was a long digression, but it is key to understanding the rest of what I want to say. Paul had heard some things. Here many years later, I’m not the same as the great Apostle, but I had also heard some things. God has blessed me with the opportunity to go investigate what I have heard and to learn from it.

[I'll post the rest of this sermon tomorrow.]

8 comments:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I especially appreciate your reconnecting faith and faithfulness.

Mike Broadway said...

On August 29, Telika McCoy wrote:

I am enlightened by the literary analysis of the words faith, faithfulness, and believe in this sermon. I admit that I have thought that the presence of faith is possible without action because there are sundry of ways faith exist in human understanding. For example, my mundane faith in the green signal light prompts me to travel through it with no worries. I don’t doubt its mechanical capabilities. This sermon seems to assert, however, that there is no true faith without sincere positive, action to accompany it. I suppose if my foot pressed the gas (action) with intent to survive (faith),then this theory is mirrored in my practical, worldly example. Faith in God should prompt believers to positive action for the benefit of others.

Mike Broadway said...

On August 29, Gloria Williams wrote:

This sermon has wonderful illustrations of churches translating faith into faithfulness through advocating political change and establishing outreach ministries that promote social change.

In reflection upon my life and the life of most of the people I know, our faithfulness was developed out of necessity. Our faith walk translated and refined into faithfulness by our past and present trials. The issues we are battling today may not be the same issues of the past, yet they are relative. Our enemy is the same and the weapons of our warfare are the same.

I have many outreach missions within my church in which I am active but, there are others like myself who are addressing the same issues within our own context. We are battling homelessness, drug abuse, health disparities, inadequate medical coverage and insufficient economical support for the elderly and the feeling of marginality in our youth which are relative to the political, social, economical and religious constructed disparities past and present. We know God as a faithful God and a deliverer. He has been the only reliable help that we know. So our walk has been and still is a walk of faithfulness.

Gloria Williams

Mike Broadway said...

On August 29, Mollie Boyd wrote:

MollieBoyd said...
This was a great article about faith. If we have faith in God we can overcome all of life's situations. To have faith is to have hope. to have faith is to beleive that God will do what he say he will do and his words are true. To have faith is to trust God. To have faith is to believe in the power of God and to beleive that we are led by the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus did die for our sins and he got up. Faith will take us to all of the places that God intended and faith will allow us to live out God's purpose for our lives. God is love, faith and power. If we love Him, we will trust Him. Thank You Dr. Broadway for this sermon. I was truly inspired. Mollie Boyd

6:14 PM

Mike Broadway said...

On August 29, Shani Smart wrote:

As Christians, we can become guilty of overspiritualizing and thus failing to deal with or address the present realities and problems that face us. In doing this we fail to remember that God wills to use us to do his work. We forget,as mentioned in your sermon, that He has given us the power and authority over the enemy. In Luke 10:19, Jesus tells some of his disciples, "Behold I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you." Pastor Youngblood was a good illustration and a testimony to this. Some would have just waited and relied on God as if He was to miracuously resolve the problem. However, he excercised the authority and the wisdom given to him by God. And he addressed the present reality. I really enjoyed this sermon. It was an eye opener and reminder that God has given us the power and the wisdom. But it is up to us to excercise it in carrying out His will.

Mike Broadway said...

On August 29, Deborah Obie wrote:

This sermon was enlightening and inspiring. I have read this prayer of Paul's in Ephesians almost every time I study. I use this prayer to be able to understand what I am reading and receive revelation knowledge in God's Word and to know my position in Christ. Upon reading this sermon I have received a new revelation of this text. I could see faith as a mental process,but now there must be some action in order for this prayer to become faithfulness. There had to be an impartation of God's Spirit on the church so we could share His redemption power with the world. Faith becomes faithfulness when we minister to the poor, blind, broken hearted and brused.

Shani Smart said...

Gloria,

In reading the different outreach missions within your church, I saw what I felt were excellent examples of promoting social and political changes in today's society. Something we as a body have been empowered as noted in the sermon to address. In Paul's letter to the church of Ephesus, he reminds us that our war is not against flesh and blood but against authorities, powers of this dark world and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. As I read your response I was pleased because these are issues that we as a church face. And that we have been empowered to deal with. However, we must be faithful and exercise the power that God has given us and address the "realities" before us. I enjoyed reading your response.

Shani

Mike Broadway said...

On September 4, Gloria Williams wrote:

Hi Debra,

Your comment and Dr. Broadway’s current discussion item incited another thought in which we need to consider if we are to maximize the effectiveness of our faithfulness, which are our spiritual gifts. Dr. Broadway shared with us the difficulties he experienced while fixing and replacing his plumbing fixtures and he shared the satisfaction he felt once he completed the job. What came to my mind are the spiritual gifts Paul spoke about in, 1 Corinthians 12:4-5 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit. There are different service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. We can be the most effective in our outreach ministries if we operate in the gifts that god has given to each of us.

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