Sunday, July 15, 2018

Pentecost 8B, 2018: Disturb us, Lord, with truth

Proper 10 Lectionary: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

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En el nombre del Dios, Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

COLLECT: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…

This prayer is linked with a lectionary that ties Old Testament and New Testament prophets into one unifying story. And I have to tell you, I love the stories of the prophets in Scripture! To me the prophets are like artists, painting doorways to the truth with the brushstrokes of their prophecies. Like other forms of art, it often takes some education to fully appreciate their work; and many never do, because their work is revelatory of truth the world often doesn’t want to know.

In today’s gospel, Mark tells us that King Herod is aware of Jesus’ reputation and believes he is the prophet, John the Baptist, raised to life again somehow. Then the gospel writer offers us a flashback on why this bothers Herod.

The story of Herod’s murder of John the Baptist, which falls in the midst of the stories of the successful mission work of the disciples, is all about John having the grace and power to do what he was meant to do and the system of power which responds like a bully, using its power and privilege to squelch the truth and have its own way.

This story also demonstrates so well that earthly power and privilege are illusions; and when the illusion fails, you realize that you are left with nothing, as Herod did when he was removed ignominiously from power and exiled into oblivion shortly after he helped murder Jesus. All the luxuries, the power and wealth, the success, and the membership in their elite circles, which had seemed so supremely important, ultimately led them to desolation of life and spirit.

But God, who loves us with steadfast love, knows that these things are to humans like pills are to an addict. They are a lie and they lead us to death. They trick us into believing that we are satisfied and happy even as they destroy our relationships with God and one another.

They cause us to lose sight of the suffering of our needy sisters and brothers –those who are hungry, homeless, abused, infirm, and alone – because we are too focused on ourselves and what we think we need/want/deserve. They also lead us into error, tricking us into believing that we are the source of our success, our wealth, and our happiness; and therefore, that we have earned all we enjoy.

Detaching from these things, which we must do, is a lot like detoxing from an addiction – it’s painful at first. The body and mind fight against it. We cling to the lie which is preferable to the truth that is coming into view –the truth that in their absence, all that’s left is emptiness, nothingness. It feels like desolation. And, in fact, it is desolation, blessed desolation: complete emptiness, the utter destruction of a false reality we had constructed for ourselves.

It is only in that complete emptiness, in the stark, cold, darkness of the tomb, that the people of God (then and now) stripped of our illusions of power and self sufficiency, can discover what is truly important – what is true at all – that we live because of God’s loving choice, and that we live this life most fully in the unifying presence of God.

God’s unifying love is so powerful that even the Herods and Herodiases of the world are unified to us within it. As the author of the epistle to the Ephesians says the plan of God was “set forth in Christ… a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him… in heaven and… on earth.”

This is not just New Testament thinking. This is as it has always been, as the psalmist confirms: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that it in it, the world and all who dwell therein.” (24:1) All things, all people are created of God and made one in God’s love.

The plan of God set forth in Christ, to gather up all things in Christ, helps us to remember that if we do anything good it’s because the grace of God has been lavished upon us, compelling us to do our part in Christ’s continuing work of the redemption of the world.

If we do anything good, it’s because the Spirit of God lives in us and touches the world through our grateful hearts and willing hands. If we do anything good, it’s because we have “heard the word of truth,” believed it, and surrendered ourselves and our lives to it. Therefore, we will discern carefully together what we ought to do, what God is calling us to do right now, and we will do it, no matter the cost.

Lots of people think they know God’s truth. People have fought wars over this throughout human history… still do. But we can only know God’s truth by surrendering to the Spirit in prayer. When we do that, we realize God’s truth is quite different from the truth that had been motivating us.

Then we live that truth – God’s truth. Like John the Baptist, we’ll keep telling our Herods that what they are doing isn’t lawful. Sometimes it works and the Herods of the world repent. I think of the recent change in the government’s approach to the separated immigrant families.

Which brings up another point important for followers of Christ to remember: when enough voices gather to speak the truth, the holders of earthly power can be persuaded – at least sometimes – and so it’s always worth the try.

This was affirmed in our own recently concluded General Convention. For example, ahead of this convention, people in the church were asked to send in their stories of sexual harassment and exploitation by persons in the church.

According to an article by the Episcopal News Service: “The special committee, sometimes dubbed the “MeToo Committee,” proposed more than two dozen resolutions…” to convention, including:

• D016 creates a Task Force on Women, Truth and Reconciliation to help the church “engage in truth-telling, confession, and reconciliation…”
• D021 removes from the materials that clergy file with the Office of Transition Ministry any reference to gender or current compensation, since statistics show women in the church are paid less than men of comparable experience….
• D046 continues reauthorizing the expansive-language rites in the Enriching Our Worship series and calls on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to create principles to use in developing additional expansive-language liturgical texts.
• D067 encourages the use of inclusive and expansive language for God and humanity…

A side note: while the road may have seemed a bit lonely these last decades, it is clear, yet again, that St. David’s has demonstrated grace and power to live the truth it knows on this issue, and now the church is catching up. Good job!

Other resolutions to note in this regard:

• A178 calls for a halt to inhumane and unjust immigration policies that are harmful to migrant women, parents and children.
• D017 calls for policies that reduce sexual harassment, assault and exploitation in the workplace.
• D031 encourages clergy and congregations to educate themselves on resources to combat and deal with domestic violence.
• D032 advocates for equal access to quality health care regardless of gender.

We are the prophets of truth today - God’s truth, not a truth of our own devising – and no matter how the parties of power (even in churches) may work to stop or punish us, we must keep serving God and neighbor by speaking and living God’s truth. It’s a risk worth taking… like John the Baptist did… like Jesus did.

I close with a prayer from Sir Francis Drake:

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.


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