Last Sunday was the last time that Pam and I were scheduled to lead the Sunday afternoon worship at the Manor. I am sure that we will be back as we have offered to cover Fr. Jacobsen when he is away. It was my turn to give the homily. As I sat and researched and then drafted and edited the text, I realized that my homily style had developed in response to the congregation at the service. The homily may be shorter than a traditional sermon and may reflect on a single thought from scripture, but that did not mean that it could not challenge, or even make the listeners a little uncomfortable.
Homily given at St. Paul’s Manor, San Diego, Sunday 12th July 2015
Proper 5 Year B RCL Track 1
Today’s Gospel reading, the reading that we have just heard is the reading that no one likes to think about. Let’s be honest, it is a story that is tragic, petty, full of hate, full of revenge and quite gruesome as well.
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.
Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was a Jew but he was also an officer of the Roman Empire. His personal life was complex. He had married his brother’s wife, whilst his brother was still alive. A definite no-no in those times. But he was in charge of the region and so he could get away with it. The only problem was, was this man called John the Baptist, a wild man, always preaching, always leading the way for the one who would come after him. John the Baptist called Herod out, told him that his marriage was wrong. Herod couldn’t let him just carry on like that even if he was drawn, maybe because of his Jewish roots, to the message that John the Baptist was preaching. The solution was to jail John. That way he could silence him in public but not actually kill him. Herod was intrigued by John but also frightened by what he stood for. Herod’s wife Herodias on the other hand just outright hated John the Baptist for the trouble he had caused.
So in the story we come to the party. And it sounded like it was a great party. A birthday banquet, full of food and drank and dancing. And there was his daughter the star of the show, working the dance floor, making everyone happy. Like any proud father, at a party, probably with a few too many drinks inside of him he makes a grand gesture to his daughter. Choose whatever you want – even half the kingdom, ask and it’s yours. The daughter do not know what to say, what to ask for, so she runs to her mother. Her mother is still full of hate for John the Baptist and so tells her daughter to ask for his life, his head on the plate.
When Herod hears this, he is shocked, he does not want to kill John the Baptist – secretly he quite likes his preaching. He wants him silenced in public but not killed. But what can he do to stop it? He is a high ranking officer of the Roman Empire, who lived by his word. If he refused his daughters request, his men would lose trust in him. Whenever he said that he would do something in the future, no one would trust that he would carry through. What was he to do? What choice did he have? Being an officer of the Roman Empire was more important than being true to his Jewish heritage. He had no choice. It was off with John the Baptist’s head.
What did this achieve? Maybe temporary validation of his empire status. Maybe his wife got some closure to her hatred of John. I’m not sure about his daughter?, Maybe she got her mother’s approval and favor. But long lasting achievements? If anything it only served to heighten awareness of Christ. John the Baptist was dead, but the one who came after him was growing in his ministry. Right after today’s gospel we have the story of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus sustaining life, as opposed to Herod killing life. Jesus feeding the many as opposed to Herod entertaining the few. The contrast could not be greater.
But Herod had no choice, he did what he had to do. He did what the empire and society expected him to do. Herod had no choice. Or did he? Herod could have heard the request for John the Baptist’s head and said no. Refused to kill him without just and legal cause. He could have stood up to his daughter, his wife, his fellow officers and the expectations of those around him and of the society that he was part of. Standing up to them may have caused him some problems, it may have led to people question his authority but had he stood up to them and refused to issue the death sentence then he would have known that he had the authority of God on his side. He could have chosen to listen and obey his faith rather than blindly following the traditions and expectations of the society in which he lived in.
And there we have the link to you and to me. To our life today. In many ways we are living the party. The party that does not fully care for the vulnerable members of our society, forcing them to live on the streets. The party that supports widespread and institutionalized racism in our nation. The party that makes gun ownership so easy. The party that leaves our veterans without the support that they need. The party that values someone’s life upon their material worth. The party where equality for all is a bad word.
Maybe some of those party descriptions make you a little uncomfortable. But today our gospel reading is uncomfortable.
So then we are left with the question. Do we want to be like Herod and go with the flow, save our face, sacrifice our beliefs when we know the truth that is deep in our heart? Or are we going to be Christ like, disciple like, and stand up for the poor, the vulnerable and those in need of our protection. Are we going to be Christians who value the worth of every human being? Are we going to be Christian’s that are prepared to be unpopular if needed, at odds with society but strong in the knowledge that we have the authority of the God behind us?
I hope so, that is my prayer for myself and for each and every one of us. May we be known through the love of Christ and not through the admiration of society.
Each week Pam and I have been leading the afternoon service at St. Paul’s Manor as part of our theological field placement. We alternate between officiating and delivering the homily. This week it was my turn to give the homily. I had a nice homily planned based on David and Goliath and then on Wednesday the tragic events surrounding the shooting of nine African-American people attending a bible study in Charleston, South Carolina stopped me in my tracks. I felt uncomfortable with the homily I had written and felt called to talk about the events. Late Saturday night I sat down and started over, writing from the heart.
Homily given at St. Paul’s Manor, San Diego, Sunday 21st June 2015
Proper 7 RCL Year B
1 Samuel 17: 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
Across the nation today, many pastors, ministers and preachers will be trying to make sense of another mass loss of life that occurred in the week before. In Charleston, South Carolina this week, nine lives were taken from members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who were attending a bible study. Emanuel is a historic church that was and is known for its activism and work for making the local community, the church and our nation a better place. From all that we know, from what the police have reported and from what survivors have told us, this is a hate crime. An act of hatred, hatred of African-American people.
We have been in this position before.
We have struggled to find the right words too many times.
Bishop Mathes in his letter to the people of the diocese this week wrote
“African-Americans in this country are in poverty because of racism. African-Americans are disproportionately in prison (our modern slavery) because of racism. African-Americans are being killed because of racism. Look at the statistics. Look at the history.“
As Christians we must do something. We must act to transform the lives of our brothers and sisters who are suffering due to racism.
For those of us who use the Baptismal Covenant as part of our faith we promise “to respect the dignity of every human being,” If we are to mean what we promise than we must act.
Many of us are stricken by fear. Fear that as individuals we cannot do anything. Fear that we are a little shepherd boy with no armor sent to battle the massive giant who is protected by a thick and glorious suit of armor. But that fear should not hold us back.
The lectionary today gives us the story of David and Goliath. David was indeed that little shepherd boy but he was also the shepherd boy who had faith in God.
But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears;………. The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you!”
We know how the rest of the reading goes. Goliath baits David, and David uses the tools he had from his everyday life and defeated the giant against everyone’s expectations. David had faith, faith to overcome his fear. I’m sure that he was scared, who would not be. But he had seen how the Lord had protected him before and he had the faith that the Lord his God would protect him in the task ahead.
Compare that to the disciples in our Gospel reading. They were full of fear, fear that the great windstorm that was crashing waves over and into the boat would sink the ship. In their fear, they ran to the Lord and woke him up. The Lord said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He then questioned the disciples “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
How much better that we be like David the Shepherd boy than the disciples? But if we can’t then let us learn from the disciples, that even in our greatest fear Jesus will not let us down.
So we come back to our need to act. Our need to do something to break down racism in our country. I do not have a perfect answer for you. However we must look at the gun laws in our country. There have been too many deaths to let things stay as they are. We must do everything that we can to turn our social justice rhetoric and activism into concrete actions that allow our African-American brothers and sisters to live a life that is equal to all people of this nation.
How do we do that? What can we do? You and me? We can support all of those things I just said but there is something else that we can do. Importantly we have the power of forgiveness and love to fight racism and injustice whenever we see it.
You may say to me that showing love and forgiveness to a person who is being racist to whatever extent is extremely hard, if not impossible, it is indeed like sending David out to fight Goliath. I know it is hard and something that many people will struggle with, but I want to share with you one of the most powerful images from this past week.
At Dylann Roof’s court bond hearing on Friday, relatives of his victims were allowed to address him via a video link. Nadine Collier, a daughter of Ethel Lance, one of Roof’s victims, said the following to him at the hearing.
“I just want everybody to know, to you, I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again, I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
The story of David and Goliath was retold this week.
We can make a difference if we confront racism whenever we come across it.
We confront, we forgive and we show Christ’s love.
I know that it is hard, especially when we are hurting and the pain caused by someone else is as raw as the pain people are feeling now. But as Christians we are called to act.
We confront, we forgive and we show Christ’s love.
Today the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church reopened and continued the hard work of doing something. The name Emanuel means “God is with us”.
My prayer for us today is that as brothers and sisters in Christ that we will act to break down racism in our time. As brothers and sisters in Christ that we will raise up those who have been downtrodden. As brothers and sisters in Christ that we will act in faith starting with sharing the gospel of love and forgiveness to all, respecting the dignity of every human being.