Sermon for July 11, 2021 Seventh after Pentecost “Perplexed”
That John the Baptizer was in the cross-hairs of the political and religious leaders is to understate the obvious. Though John is portrayed as poorly dressed, locust and honey eating wild man (the show ‘The Chosen’ uses creepy John) he has done his time alone with God, sifting through his motives, strengths and weaknesses and emerges as the herald and harbinger of Jesus.
The Gospel story is a hard one to hear at anytime let alone in this summer time of rest and taking it easy. I am not going into all the ego/religious/political and social challenges of the day but rather try and step back and take a longer view of the story and what it may offer in our day.
This story is recorded in Matthew and Mark. Emmerson Powery has done some interesting work in comparing this story in both Mark and Matthew. ‘In Matthew, Herod feared the people, who considered John to be a prophet (Matthew 14:5). In Mark, Herod feared John himself, considering him a “righteous and holy man”. Herod, in Mark, “protected” John (6:20) until the request came for his head. In Matthew, Herod wanted him killed (Matthew 14:5). Even after his agreement to fulfill his oath, Herod “deeply grieved” in Mark’s account (6:26). This word, “deeply grieved, sadness”), was used only here and to describe Jesus’ feelings in Gethsemane.’
It is no surprise that the Gospel authors viewed the same story with differing views. Still happens today. Multiple witnesses to the same event will recall the event through their set of biases, life experiences and perceptions.
So as we step back from this story we witness that life then and now has moments of challenge, joy and agony. When we are asked ‘who is Jesus?’ we all have our views. For some Jesus is about rules and obligations, for others breaking out of well established norms, for others a path to love, for others a radical, for others a person of no consequence.
It seems we are constantly re-imagining who Jesus is for us in our time and context. What I do know that as a follower of Jesus I have learned that it is not all about rainbows and butterfly kisses. Yes there will be moments of peace and joy beyond imagining but also we are not immune to the tragedies of life. It also means that as a follower I am aware of and even given glimpses of a plan that includes me… and is way more then me. That even in the joy or sorrow there is one who will laugh and weep with me and us.
The mission of Jesus was and is to change hearts for good. That has always meant that the holders of power and ego are challenged. In Jesus day the Romans ruled with might and impunity. Over the millennium the rulers have changed and for vast expanses of time the church was the bearer of rule and even set the rules. The church as we now know it is at risk of being even more irrelevant. For too long we have operated with the ‘we are right, God says so’ mentality and that has gotten us into trouble. We are on the verge of a new reformation and like before it will be a challenge. As John the Baptizer was the herald of the Messiah in his day so too is he the herald of the Good News of Jesus in ours minus the trappings of 2000 years of orthodoxy.
The message of Jesus in the 21st century is once again seeking a voice, seeking followers who are interested in heart, spirit and awe. Who have the courage to dare hope and live toward a more inclusive and loving understanding of the teachings of Jesus. That is not going to be easy since yet again we are up against a system based on law and ego, of not wanting to relinquish power and resisting dismantling that power that power for the greater good. The road will be bumpy but we know that with hope and spirit and truth the message will be received by hearts and minds that are opening to new ways of seeing and being.