Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pentecost 6 - Year B

Back in May, National Bishop Susan Johnson and a group of other national church leaders flew up to Ft.McMurray to take a look at the oil sands. She was part of the Kairos delegation (Kairos being the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, an umbrella organization for various church groups to engage social issues from a gospel perspective. Good Shepherd is a member of Kairos. Corrine Jerke is our representative) that went to see first hand what was happening in northern Alberta.

According to the Kairos website, they went “To explore the theological, social, and ethical implications of fossil fuel extraction in the Athabasca tar sands. To listen, discuss and learn more about the Alberta tar sands projects and their impacts on all involved communities: society at large, workers, Indigenous peoples and communities, and the environment.

“The delegation’s week-long tour included meetings with church and community members, Indigenous peoples, civil society groups, government and industry representatives” (

You might have seen the article about their trip in the Lethbridge Herald. And you might have read the letters to the editor the week following their visit up north.

One letter, specifically, was from someone VERY upset at church leaders sticking their noses where he believed they didn’t belong. He was angry that the churches were getting involved in social issue, instead of just sticking to our mandate of “preaching the gospel”and teaching the things of God.

I found it interesting that the writer, himself, had written letters to the editor condemning abortion and same-sex marriage, is if those issues weren’t social issues.

But it wasn’t just from angry Albertans who thought that church leaders should stick to saving souls. The Globe and Mail printed a whole slew of letters condemning our church leaders for meddling in the economy, sticking their noses where the writers believed, didn't belong. You can't mix the two worlds.

They said that Christians and other religious groups should just stick to the spiritual stuff, and leave the social, political, and economic stuff to those who know what they’re doing. Because we all know that our social, political, and economic machinery is chugging away just fine.

I would imagine Herod would have been one of those angry letter writers. It's easy to hate Herod. He doesn't even try to make himself palatable. Herod's the corrupt, powerful, figurehead king. And he's seems okay with that.

But Herod's wife has the real power. The Lady MacBeth of first century palestine, whispering her evil demands into her husband's ear, is not afraid to use the her daughter's burgeoning sexuality to get what she wants.

And Mark seems to revel in telling this story. He clearly has no love for Herod and his wife and, like any tabloid journalist, he gives you all the juicy details. Like a tell-all writer, he doesn't spare his subjects the indignity of exposure, but allows them to wallow in their shame. Mark loves it when the rich, beautiful, and powerful behave badly. And he can't wait to tell you about it.

When Mark tells this awful story he doesn't hold anything back. The rich and corrupt implode in public view, an innocent man gets killed, a victim of the king's lust.

If family background is any clue as to as person's later behaviour, then this apple didn't fall far from the Herod family tree. We meet Herod's dad a few days after Christmas when he massacred all the first born males of Bethlehem because he read in the bible that a king would be born in that city, a king who would rule over God's people. This is who Herod was. So we shouldn't be surprised when he acts so violently.

Herod had been listening to John’s preaching, and for a time, Herod was riveted, hanging on John’s every word. Just as long as John stuck to things of God, Herod was happy. Even pleased with John’s preaching.

But then John stuck his nose where it didn’t belong. John decided to hold Herod to the laws that Herod was supposed to uphold. Herod, part-Jew part-Gentile, only obeyed the Jewish laws that were politically expedient. He ignored those that weren’t. And marrying his brother’s wife may have been politically astute, since Herodius came from a powerful royal family from a neighbouring empire.

So, this wasn't a case of Herod leaving his wife for his soulmate. He wasn't hiking the Appalachian Trail and finding himself in Argentina. This was a political marriage designed to consolidate power in the region. Herod didn’t really care about his Jewishness. He was only interested in keeping his power.

But John’s preaching became more and more of a threat, reminding Herod that Jews at that time gave their allegiance only to those who upheld Jewish law. John’s objections were not some religiously driven moralism from some backwoods preacher obsessed with sex. John’s objections were political. He demanded that Herod take his Jewishness seriously if Herod was going to be king over Judea.

And because John stuck his nose where it didn’t belong, he lost his whole head.

If you look closely, you'll see that what happened between Herod and John was a struggle of empire, one kingdom battling another. The kingdom of Herod, with its lust for power and pleasure and the kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice, truth, mercy, and love. And, for a time, it looked like Herod's kingdom beat out God's kingdom as John's head was paraded on a platter.

But where Herod saw John's defeat, I think God's people saw victory. Not the kind of victory that removes tyrants from their thrones, but the kind of victory that exposes them for who they really are. Herod lost power when he took John's head. He lost power when he used violence against those who said what everyone else was thinking. As soon as Herod raised the sword above John's head, Herod lost the battle. And John won.

I think the same thing is being played out in Iran after their so-called “election” last month. Each time a protestor is killed by the army or police, Ahmadinejad loses. His power is diminished. He may have the authority of his office but he has no real power. Neda, the young protestor killed on the street by the police, has more power than the president.

It was that way with John. And with Jesus. That'w the way God seems to work. God's ultimate victory was Jesus dying a horrible death, forgiving his enemies, promising paradise to a thief. Jesus' execution by the state was an exercise in worldly authority. Jesus' death on the cross was an exercise in power. Jesus' resurrection validated that power.

It's hard to wrap our heads around that isn't it? I know it is for me. I think of it like parenting. What's a more powerful way to discipline kids? To yell at them? To hit them? Or to speak to them in love? When I yell at my kids I know that it's usually more about MY ANGER, MY NEED for CONTROL, than about THEIR DISOBEDIENCE.

My yelling only hurts them. My loud voice may get them to bed on time. But our relationship diminishes as the level of my voice rises. I may use my parental authority, but I lose my power.

God is more interested in how we love each other and the world, than in how strong we become. We heard Paul say last week that God's power is made perfect in weakness. I think this is what Paul was talking about. Love is weakness in the world's eyes. But in God's eyes, it is the strongest force there is.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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