Rev. Katherine Todd
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. 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. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
This story of the death of John the Baptist smacks of such useless tragedy.
Herod, who actually enjoys listening to John and fears him, becomes a primary agent in John’s murder. How does this even happen?
We see that things come unhinged at that fated birthday party. And perhaps there was too much wine. Or perhaps he enjoyed his step-daughter’s dance a little too much. Or perhaps he simply wanted to make a grand gesture of appreciation – never imagining the dark turn it would take.
But we see that Herod’s new wife’s vendetta against John for calling out the immorality of her new marriage to her husband’s brother,…that is what has its way.
Herod and Herodios’ daughter were convenient accessories to the crime.
And so for no just cause, John the Baptist, the prophet of God, is murdered.
Particularly tragic is the position of Herod. For it says he deeply grieved. And we know he had respect for John. And this curiosity he had at John’s teachings – the way he liked to listen to John, though he didn’t understand what he was hearing – it shows an ounce of curiosity for God. It is the type of openness that God can use to break through our barricades and meet with us.
But it only works if we pay attention and give God space in our lives to work.
But Herod piles sin upon sin, making it increasingly hard to hear God’s voice and to follow. He takes his brother’s wife as his own. And then he starts down a path of pleasing others. His new wife hates John and wants him dead, so Herod has John arrested. He promises his step-daughter anything she wants, and she asks for John’s death. And so goes this slippery slope Herod is on. One sin, leads to another, and another…
And Herod is not being true to himself. He sells his soul for whatever it is he is trying to gain. In seeking to please others, he betrays himself. That ounce of fear of God and enjoyment of the prophet, does not inform his choices, the way he lives. And when we pile sin upon sin, we numb ourselves to God. With each layer of poor decision, we further insulate ourselves from the still small voice of God.
Because what happens when we’ve made a mistake?
Quite often, if we are called out, what do we do?
Immediately our defenses go up.
We make excuses.
We talk about everything out of our control.
We blame others…
Rather than take the big or small responsibility for ourselves – for the one thing we can control – we deny our responsibility, our own small or big part.
Now, I am one of the first to see every shade of gray in a situation. Few things are only one thing. Most things are layers, some nuanced.
Where there is wrong done, usually there have been many wrongs done.
God does not hold us responsible for the actions of others.
But God does hold us responsible for our own actions, for our own reactions, for our own inactions, for our silence, for our words…
What do we do in the face of injustice?
What do we do when we, knowingly or unknowingly, have played a part in that injustice, in that wrong-doing?
When I was in Guatemala on a mission trip just following my high school graduation, I learned some of the history of that nation. The people have experienced injustice, loss, and hardship beyond what most of us can even imagine.
But what struck me and has remained with me was the story of how plantations have been buying up all the best land, the flatlands. And so residents have been increasingly displaced and pushed to the hill country. And many, many have been lost in mud-slides, because entire villages have been decimated. Story after story tells of entire villages buried, every person lost.
And that changed me.
For the first time in my life I could see a connection between our North American desire for world-wide goods produced in every season and shipped from far-off lands, and the pain and suffering experienced on a wide-scale by a people I would have never known.
That little action of purchasing bananas, what did that feed? What industry was I feeding? What practices was I supporting?
I may not approve of business practices and the high cost in lives lost, but what does my money say?
…because money speaks louder.
And so in this one example, my eyes were opened in some small way to our interconnectedness. I began to notice how one action could have far-reaching effects on people I’ll never know.
I may bemoan the tragedies I witness online or on TV, but how might I have been even unknowingly participating in the problem?
Flooding & rising sea levels…
How have I participated in the problem?
Melting Glaciers, flash floods…
The overgrowth of CO2 loving algae in the ocean blocking out sunlight and killing off other monuments to the life and well-being of the ocean, such as our coral reefs…
Who is producing CO2. Do you know anyone?
My son dreamed last night that he was on a camp field trip and the whole place was shot up, he only escaped by playing dead…
Why is a teenager in our country afraid of being killed in a mass-shooting?
Next door at Envoy, person after person has been left there, indefinitely warehoused, shelfed and forgotten…
What has become of our society that our elders and those suffering from physical and mental illnesses are being dismissed for all they cannot be and do, rather than cherished for who they are and what they can do…
We have an endangered human species in our country, the black male…
And no, there are no simple answers to the epidemic, but I ask you, when you find your blood pressure rising upon noticing one walking a neighborhood or waiting on a street corner – imagine for a moment, they are instead a white woman…how does your internal safety meter change?…
Fewer and fewer people are going into farming. Subsidies are killing competition and wiping out any hope for profits. Milk farmers are especially hard hit, with many, many of them taking their own lives… These responsible, hard-working people are looking at generations of life’s work coming to nothing and the inability to provide for their own families. What does that do to a provider…
We will disagree about what the solutions are.
We should disagree!!
As Billy Graham once said of he and his wife, “If we both agreed about everything, one of us would not be necessary!”
We need to disagree, because it’s in the dialogue, it’s in the coming together and listening to one another that our own world’s expand, and we open up to see the world from many eyes and viewpoints and places in life. We are all the richer for it!
But let us struggle.
Let us ask these hard questions.
Let us walk these uncomfortable spaces, eyes wide open, that we might discern a better way.
It is a crying shame that our children have to be afraid of dying at school.
It is a needless loss that among our own community people have died because they cannot afford the sky-rocketing costs of medical treatment in the US.
Let us resist the urge to blame. Blaming does not get us closer to a solution. And we, if all truth be known and laid bare, do not have higher ground on which to stand. None of us are without sin.
Rather, let us listen.
Let us befriend others who are asking the questions, and not just those who think like we do.
We who fear God know that our day of accountability is coming, when we will be face to face with our Maker and will be asked, why we did and did not do, why we said and did not say, why we fought and did not fight.
We who fear God know that we serve a God who weeps with those who weep. We serve a God who values human life. We serve a God who calls us to NOTICE those we do not want to see, and to treat them as we would want to be treated.
So my friends, as we go forth, may we not harden our hearts in defensiveness.
Knowingly and unknowingly, we play a part in the affairs of our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world. We play a part, big or small.
May we humble ourselves before God.
May we not be as Herod, piling sin upon sin, until our defensiveness makes us blind and deaf.
May we not be one as Herod, flirting with sin and evil, thinking we can stay one step of ahead of it, using it to our advantage…
May we not be one as Herod, fearing God but not enough to let it inform or change our actions.
Rather may we be a people who embody, Sunday-Saturday, God’s heart for this world.
May we be a people humble, asking God to open our eyes and show us our complicity in evil, that we might repent and change our ways, day by day.
It is in repentance and rest that we are saved.
And repentance was the very hope John the Baptist was calling Herod and all the people toward. For in repentance, we prepare the way for God to work and move in our lives!
It is not enough to say the right things.
We need to put our money where our mouth is, so that when the rubber hits the road, our lives are more and more and morealigning with the love and light, hope and justice of God.
And when are face to face, may we hear these words of our Lord God,
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
May we struggle and find our way together,
seeing the face of God inone another,
listening for the voice of God through one another,
repenting of our sin and complicity in evil
and asking God to direct our steps
to shape our days
to make us a part of what God is doing in the world…
Because we know in whom we have placed our trust, and that the only one who genuinely and informedly has our best interest, and the best interest of all creation, in the palms of his nail-scarred hands is our Lord and Savior.
Thanks be to God!