Rev. Beth Anderson
Bermuda Hundred UMC
July 15, 2012
Friday, our family attended the James River District Welcome Picnic in Yale, Virginia at Sharon UMC with the other pastors and their families. It was a great opportunity to begin meeting others on the district. A few of us were talking about the texts for this Sunday and no one except for myself and one other pastor were willing to preach on this text—John the Baptist --- losing his head. J
We usually only hear about John the Baptist at the beginning of the year – around January when we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.
We think of John the Baptist at Advent as we remember Mary and Elizabeth pregnant at the same time.
We read passages in December proclaiming the prophesies of John –remembering that he is the one who will prepare the way for our Lord. [i]
We remember Zechariah unable to speak until John is named after his birth.
John’s birth, life, and death—prepare the way for Jesus Christ our Savior.
We hear a lot about the John and Jesus before and at the time of their births and then we do not hear much about them until they are adults.
When we catch up to John– he now lives in the desert, he wears clothing made of camel hair, and he eats locust and wild honey.
John is not typical.
John doesn’t have a couple kids and spend his evenings at the kitchen table worried about a mortgage.
He’s living in a cave down by the Jordan River and dining on insects…
John doesn’t negotiate business deals, answer to supervisors, or work with a team to build something or agree on a decision.
John calls it like it is.
When all kinds of people came from Jerusalem to be baptized and were repenting and confessing their sins
The Pharisees and Sadducees also came (a reflection of the wide of appeal of John’s renewal movement…)
Yet when John saw them he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance . Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”[ii]
Yeah- John is a prophet. Not a diplomat.
He doesn’t mince words—John wasn’t going to let them be okay with simply saying, “Hey--we’re children of Abraham—so… we’re good.”
He was going to speak up- when he had to …and even when he didn’t have to.
He was going to talk about hard things—sin, repentance, justice, compassion, holiness.
John would use his voice—he would cry out in the wilderness.
He would use his voice- even if it shook.
And he was spirited.
He leapt in Elizabeth’s belly when Mary came to visit and he has been lively ever since.
Lively that is…. Until we slam into today’s text.
Mark’s Gospel is full of immediacy –and things kind of hit us with a shock—
That’s how we hear the news that the man who baptized most of Jerusalem and Jesus himself is now--- dead.
We hear the news – at the beginning of the text----almost nonchalantly:
“King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead.”
The first time you read through it – you’ve got to take a double take.
—Did Mark’s Gospel just say John the Baptist was dead?
When did that happen? Did I miss something?
Then, you get the fullness of the story as a flashback—you hear about Herod, Herodias, and her daughter (Herod’s step-daughter) also named Herodias… who danced.
If you’re not careful it’s easy to get lost in what’s happening in this dangerous soap opera of a story…
We get more backstory-- Herod wanted to marry his brother Philip’s wife—AND John spoke out against it.
“John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brothers’ wife.”
Herodias (the wife) didn’t like hearing this—and she had a grudge against John- in fact this wasn’t just a grudge- she wanted to kill him.
But Herod— feared John—Herod knew John was “righteous and holy” and Herod protected him. – (perhaps from Herodias…. )
Whenever Herod heard John—the Gospel tells us that “he was greatly perplexed”…. “and yet he liked to listen to him.”
John was speaking the truth to him—it was probably hard to hear—yet he was drawn to hear it—it perplexed him.
There is something alluring about the truth.
When we hear it – it may sting, it may trouble us, it may challenge us—but no matter what—we can’t shake it.
John the Baptist was serious about pointing people to Jesus and to His Word—
As we keep reading through the Gospels we come Jesus saying,
“ If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [iii]
Herod- a wealthy man- with a huge banquet- food, drink, power
—was not free.
He stayed chained doing what all others wanted of him—he feared losing what seemed like real power—so for as long as he could, he protected John the Baptist- when that seemed like the politically safe maneuver.
But when sitting in a crowded banquet room—all eyes watching--- he feared Herodias and the pressure of the guests all around—and stayed locked to the security of earthly power.
Herod was consistently inconsistent—going with whatever won him the most popularity at the time
Yet, John the Baptist never wavered.
He risked everything and it lost him everything.
He pointed to Jesus- the truth, the kingdom, our Savior
He prepared the way for Jesus—
Both would lay down their lives for the Truth.
And Jesus, who came baptizing with the power and fire of the Holy Spirit would die and rise.
Jesus Christ came and prepared the way for all us
—to have everlasting resurrection lives.
They risked it all for us to have it all.
Risk is scary. It’s putting yourself on the line.
It’s standing up and using your voice
—when you don’t have to, but you choose to.
My mother taught me a lot about this.
She was a teacher in Prince Edward County Schools in the mid 70’s through 80’s.
Prince Edward County when ordered on May 1, 1959 to integrate its schools, chose instead to close the entire public school system.
Private schools were created for white students as a protest to integration and no provision was made for educating the county’s black children. This system remained until 1964, when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed Virginia's tuition grants to private education.[iv]
Yet, during the time my mother worked there- she was the only white female teacher in her school.
She encountered death threats and slashed tires.
My sisters and I were called names.
Our family was known.
We lived on a farm in Pamplin and attended Charlotte County Schools.
We were the first to be picked up and the last to be dropped up because the bus driver, my friend Kia’s father lived up the hill from us.
Kia was my best friend.
I’ll never forget the day a bully on our bus---- I don’t remember his name—
He was a really tall big guy with flaming red hair.
He had slew of brothers all with the same bright red hair.
Our bus had Elementary, Middle, and High School kids all on the same bus.
I was in 1st grade and my sister Caroline was in 6th.
He pushed my sister and knocked off her glasses. He was about to step on them laughing as he pushed her back.
He stood over her calling our family names.
I slid out of my seat and came between them.
My scrawny but tall for my age 6 year old self said,
“HEY – you can’t talk to my sister that way!
You sit down and be quiet and you learn to be nice!”
I didn’t even realize what I was doing! I just did it because he was wrong!
Everyone became still.
He sat down.
I picked up Care’s glasses and slid next to Kia
----and then I started to shake.
She put her arm around me and we rode home in silence.
I knew to do that because of my Mom.
My Mom and I had lots of conversations about why things were the way they were and why people acted the way they did.
Usually all she could say was – “there is not a reason why –they’re just wrong and that’s not how we’re supposed to be. You be different. Stand up and use your voice.”
Sometimes we’re taking risk and we don’t even know we’re taking risk, until its over—and we’re shaking….
Sometimes we’re taking a risk and our voice shakes, but we still must speak.
Risk is defined by the one taking the risk.
When you’re wearing camel hair in the desert eating bugs—risk is telling a powerful king how wrong he is.
When you’re the Son of God- risk is knowing that the world will hate you—and crucify you.
When you’re me and you…. risk very well may look differently than it did for John the Baptist.
We’re not called to be John the Baptist.
Isaiah didn’t say we would be the one to prepare the way for the Lord.
But the Lord, our Savior Jesus
has prepared the way for each of us.
Risk looks different depending on your circumstances.
It was one thing to live in Detroit
-when we were young, just married, out of college
-and gangs burnt down our garage
-and drug deals happened a block away
-and we didn’t have any children.
Would we do that now?
I don’t really know – to be sure. I really don’t.
I only know that- that’s not where God has called us right now.
What I do know is
that I’m right where God wants me.
I know that – for any of us… the risk taking for our ministry is
to look at who we are and where we are and discern:
what does God call NOW?
How do you know what risks God is calling you to take?
You pray. And pray. And pray.
You listen to God.
You read God’s word for the Truth—
--it will hold you accountable and it will set you free.
And you remember the wisdom theologian Frederick Buechner shares,
“There are many different voices calling you
to many different places.
The place where God calls you is where your
deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
So---Where----- How is the world hungry for your gifts?
Go there- Do that--take Risks!