Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Life Prevails

I am a couple weeks late- but here is my sermon from a couple weeks ago for those who were interested... It is a bit long for the screen (and perhaps the ear too?- I'll work on that!)

I preached this the week before the theater shootings here in my home city.... It turned out to be timely to address how we respond to horrible events...

In this light I have a couple questions to reflect on:
Do we tend to 'bury the body' too quickly in our culture?
Have we moved through this horrible event and onto the fun of the olympics and the division and vitriol of political shouting too quickly?
What does it look like to move onto feeding the hungry? 
Is what we seem to move onto in our culture the life that God calls us to after a tragedy?

I hope you'll return to these questions after reading :)

Here goes:

Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised fro m the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Well- what an exciting text we have today!  This is a story we all remember. In the middle of gospel stories of feeding people, performing miracles, giving sight to the blind- we find a gruesome tale of jealousy and beheading! 
This difficult text is especially poignant to me today- at this point in my journey and in this place together as a church. As conflicted as I was when I saw that this was the lectionary text for my first sermon with you all-- the more I sat with it the more I came to appreciate it.
Let me explain.
Marks Gospel moves quickly- the most compact of the four gospels- this one is full of non-stop action. It is best read as a whole- from start to finish. While I won’t do that today- you’re welcome- I do want to catch us up to speed a bit.
Mark introduces John in the first chapter, verse three.
John is the one. The messenger who prepares the way for Jesus. The one who makes the path straight. Appearing in the wilderness, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness- John draws the first crowds.
John baptizes and speaks truth. He is a non-traditional kind of guy- marches to the beat of his own drummer. He stands out as different than most who speak with authority- he is different.
He wears that camel tunic and a leather belt- he lives in the woods and eats bugs... 
And he claims that it is not he- but the one who will come next- that the people should be excited about. 
He baptizes with water- but the one they should be preparing for will baptize with the Spirit.
John baptizes Jesus and then disappears from the story with a quick passing note of his arrest.
Life goes on in typical Mark fashion-- we fly through the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as disciples are gathered, people are healed, miracles are performed, parables are taught, sermons are preached. At this point, nearly halfway through the gospel, Jesus gets organized, rounds up the disciples, and sends them out two by two. 
And this is where we are.
In similar fashion, I meet this text as a new minister, fresh out of seminary- rosy-eyed, optimistic- ready to take on the world. I have glimpsed the power of this message, and I’m ready to share what I’ve learned- to live what I’ve been studying!
This beautiful church- this amazing congregation who I’ve slowly been getting to know... Have seen miracles- have seen life- this congregation has been here for more than a hundred years living this gospel story... and again-- we are at this point- sent.
We are rounded up. organized. empowered.  As Daphne preached last week- we are called to leave the center of the raft and move to the edge- We are sent.
And then this passage comes to us this morning!
In the middle of healing and miracles we are blindsided with jealousy and beheading.
Our story today is a familiar story- not only because it is a memorable Bible story- but because it is a story we see played out around us everyday on the news, on TV drama- in our own lives.
In Mark Chapter 6 v. 14 we enter the scene- we meet Herod. 
This Herod is a complex character- He hears of the events going on around his corner of the Roman Empire- healing and miracles- and wonders who is exerting this kind of power. Perhaps he is threatened- he is certainly worried. He connects Jesus-this person who is going around healing and performing miracles- to John the one whom he had beheaded.
Herod flashes back to the events-- the conflict he struggled with and the choices he made.
Herod had arrested John for speaking out against the unlawful nature of his recent marriage to his Brother’s wife, Herodias. While Herod suspected a prophetic presence in John, John was ultimately arrested for speaking truth to power. 
As John sits in prison, Herod has a big birthday party with all of his friends, officers and diplomats, - all of those with political power and prestige are gathered together eating and drinking.. Herodias’ daughter brings entertainment to the party and performs such a moving a dance that it inspires Herod to offer her anything she wants- Even half of his kingdom. 
The young girl, unsure how to respond, consults her mother- who- still filled with bitterness and anger over the judgement she received for her unlawful marriage- requests the head of John the Baptizer...
the girl returns to Herod and makes the request--
I want the head on John the Baptist--- on a platter.
Herod- conflicted- feeling the pressure of the public promise he just made her, and the eyes of the gathered guests- orders his guards to deliver the head.
John is found in the prison- his head is severed, and the bloody mess is delivered - on a platter- to the girl and to her mother.
Is this what we are being prepared for? 
We were just called and sent- ready for mission- sent with nothing -not even two tunics- told to proclaim that all should repent-  anoint the sick and feed the hungry...
And then this?? 
John- the one Mark began with- the messenger who has been sent to prepare the way... is caught up in a soap-opera-style-drama and ends up with his bloody head on a platter... 
Is this what we are to become? the main dish?
Bombarded by a 24/7 news cycle that tells story after story of corruption and violence -Life can seem to be a bit of a bloody mess. We can become disenchanted and overwhelmed. While extreme stories of beheading- be it John the Baptist, or the latest victim of terror and exploitation- can seem disconnected from the pain and drama of our own lives--
We don’t have to look far to experience jealousy, revenge, corruption and hatred.
This is the world we live in.
This is the world we are sent into to live in ministry- as a community of followers of Christ.
How did the Disciples respond to this news? 
Imagine it- newly organized and sent, they get word of the beheading of their friend- their mentor- the one who is paving the path-  ...
They get word that John’s head is in Herod’s court and his body lay, lifeless, headless, is the prison grounds. How do they respond?
in Verse 29, Mark tells us that, when the disciples heard, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
They do not seek revenge. They do not form a coup. They do not run in fear. They do not- as Christian Piatt named in his blog this week (click here to read Christian's blog) say, “well, everything happens for a reason.” or “It’s ok, he is in a better place.”, or “God needed another angel in heaven, so He called him home.”
Rather, in line with traditional Jewish ritual, the disciples go to the prison, gather the body, wash it, and anoint it with oils and spices, wrap it in cloth, and lay it in a tomb.
After all this they go to Jesus- tell him of the events- of all they have done and taught. Jesus invites them to rest-- but they soon find that there is no time for rest.
The crowds are already gathered- people are running ahead to meet this person they have heard about-- a beheading cannot stop the momentum of what has begun.
There are people who are hungry and sick and in need of healing.
In the face of death- even John’s death- Jesus and the disciples faithfully and courageously continue on bringing life and justice and mercy.
It is no mystery that this path is difficult.
As I have cautiously taken step after step into this path of leadership in ministry I have been warned repeatedly of the difficulties.
We know the statistics- we know the obstacles we face as a church. We know that churches can be grounds for pain and brokenness... We especially know that as we embark on new mission, as this congregation experiences growth and change- as we are sent out into the community, and in to the world- we will face unforeseen challenges.
It is no mystery that we will deal with drama. Pain. Jealousy. Betrayal. Revenge. Death. This is a part of being in the human family- it is certainly part of being a church family. It is a part of being sent into the world disciples. 
However... when you are sent-- when you feel called- 
when you see yourself, and your community of faith as connected to this bigger story- 
the story of God’s love for all of humanity- 
of God’s longing for life and wholeness for all of creation-- 
when you know in your bones that this is what you are made to do... 
when you look around you and see the signs of God’s grace- 
you keep on moving- even in the face of death.
John’s story cries out from the wilderness... prepares the way of the Lord. 
John spoke truth to power... and while this cost him his life .....  his life lives on as Jesus, and the Disciples, and the church, persistently act out truth to power.
In the face of injustice-- the voice that lives on is the one that keeps on bringing healing, justice and grace!
This is the power that overcomes death. This is the path that is prepared. 
John’s death does not preview Jesus’ death, rather the life that transcends is a sign of the life that will endure- even in the face of crucifixion. 
In the midst of drama- Revenge- Death.  the healing must go on. 
The people are gathered.
We must pay our respects, bury the body. and feed the hungry

This is what we are called to do. 
This is the truth that speaks loudest to power. 
As we meet drama, injustice and death- May we reach in to the source that sustains us. 
As we meet obstacles- May we remember that we are a part of this big story- God’s story.
And this is a story of life and grace and healing- even in the face of death.
May our actions- bringing healing, grace, and life-  be the truth that prevails. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow!!!! Isn't that a word in due season? A preparatory word!!!!! The daughter of the pastor I'm going to intern with this fall was in the third row of the theater...I posted their stories on FB last night. He preached (as he always does) a few days later...The congregation sang "Happy Birthday" to one of the congregants...No. I don't think we move on too quickly. I don't think that life and death are mutually exclusive. But we do go into denial mode...and THAT does happen too quickly. Best to keep all of it front and center, in balance. Great sermon Amanda..WOW! Here you go!!!!! Way to begin your "official" ministry in the church!