Sermon 7-15- 18
Grace to you and peace from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
There is a theme happening in our last two readings from Mark … and that theme is power. What is power, who has it, where does it come from, and how does it get used.
Last week we talked about trips, and in the adventures of Jesus, we heard how he took a trip to his hometown… and how he could do almost no deeds of power there. Thanks to unbelief of the people Jesus’ grew up with, it seemed like all his power just got sucked right out of him. But when Jesus gave power to his disciples, and sent them out two by two, THEY were able to do what JESUS could not. They healed the sick and proclaimed the gospel of repentance …and it turned out AWESOME! The disciples doing deeds of power in Jesus name, and they are getting RESULTS!! But these results make the people who had political and religious power very, very nervous.
Imagine an episode of House of Cards – have any of you ever seen the show? Back room deals, closed-door discussions, people socially maneuvering, manipulating others and bending the truth to get what they want, using whatever means necessary... The ENDS always justify the MEANS…if in the END, YOU end up the one with the power. And power always seems to be in such short supply. At least, power that is based here in the world. And those who seem to operate outside of those rules, who don’t “play” the game, like John the Baptist, become easy targets.
John the Baptist, if you remember, is Jesus’ forerunner. At the very beginning of Mark, the prophet Isaiah announces his arrival…. He writes: “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord!’.” Then – POOF- there he was! Proclaiming a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, he was basically a homeless man wearing camel skins and eating whatever he could find – bugs and honey. And, unexpectedly, he was a HUGE hit with the people, baptizing left and right, making the people with political and religious powers very nervous… sound familiar?
They became even more worried when John told the people that there was someone coming after him… MORE powerful than John. And this person will baptize with the Holy Spirit!
And sure enough, after John – POOF! - Jesus arrived, showing a kind of power that humanity had never seen: healing women and children, casting out demons, calming storms … doing deeds of power yet hanging out with powerless people.
Born to a powerless ethnic group in a backwater town as far as you could get from the shining political power center of the empire, Jesus revealed to the world a new kind of power - a power that did not come from brute force, or intimidation, or violence, or injustice, or discrimination, or bullying, or manipulation. This is not human power. This is God’s power. And God’s kind of power doesn’t play by human rules.
See, it was all coming true, just as John said. And that make King Herod – the local guy with the power - very nervous, indeed. Not only was John the Baptist getting a huge following, but he was also saying some pretty bad things about him. Herod was already hanging onto his power by a fingernail. So, he threw John in jail – and you heard the rest of what happened to John.
This traumatic little story is actually a flashback. John the Baptist has already been arrested and killed by Herod by the time Jesus sent out his disciples last week. But John’s execution haunted Herod, which must be why Herod believed in the most absurd thing – that John, whom he had killed must be alive again. He’s baaaaaaack…. or at least that is what he feared. What else could be the explanation? And that thought scared him to his very core.
Because John was SUPPOSED to be an example – an example of what happens to you when you speak truth to power. THIS (head chopping motion) is what happens to you when you call out the leaders, behaviors, and cherished institutions in this world, those that are built on racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, hate, fear, ignorance, and apathy. Most of the time, if you speak truth to power, you will not get a trophy or metal or pat on the back. You will not win any popularity contexts. There will be consequences.
Now, you might not get thrown in jail and lose your head like John. But you might lose friends, lose face, be labeled as “easily offended” (or as a “delicate snowflake”) by your friends or family, or otherwise get thrown under the bus. So, the power of the world would advise you to “keep quiet, don’t make a fuss, keep your head down, or you WILL lose IT.” (Again, the head chop motion) Lay low, or face the alternative.
The true alternative to their claim to power in actuality scares the powerful half to death. John knew, and Jesus knew, and we know that God’s power, Jesus’ power, the power of the disciples did not come from this world, from King Herod or the Romans or any Caesar.
And likewise, OUR power does not come from what others have to say about our worth – from having big houses or cars or jobs or our kids’ accomplishments or putting on the best face of “having it all together.” OUR power comes from CHRIST. The one who carried on John’s work, speaking truth to power, and showing the world power through God’s truth.
This truth is, as Paul writes, that our power comes from being chosen and beloved by God, adopted as God’s children, sharing in the never-ending inheritance of Jesus. This inheritance of being forgiven of our sins, healed of our brokenness, and redeemed from clenched jaws of death. We don’t earn it. We are just part of it… We are part of God’s Family… as siblings in the family of God… sharing in this abundant life together, because of Jesus.
We all know that Herod was wrong about Jesus. John had not come back from the dead, as some thought. But at the same time, Herod was also right about Jesus… just a little too soon. John would not rise again after his death (at least, not until we all do at the last day). But Jesus did rise again. That, I think, is the nugget of good news to be found in terrible little story.
Jesus also spoke truth to power. And the powers-that-be came after him. They murdered him too, like John before him, in another terrible and humiliating way. The powerful killed Jesus, and his body was laid in a borrowed tomb. But he did not stay buried. Three days later his tomb stood empty.
And someday, OUR tombs will be empty too. Someday, death and the grave will no longer have power over us either. At the last, we too will be raised with Christ in power and glory.
Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. We still live in a world ruled by King Herods and Ceasars and Herodiases and innocent children who get stuck making difficult decisions, shouldered forever with the legacy of their parents’ sins. We still live in a world where the consequences of speaking truth to power range from losing Facebook friends to losing your life.
We hope and long for the coming day of God’s reign, where the power of God makes the world a place of equality, justice, compassion, and enough for all.
Until that day, between now and then, we have the promise of God’s love to go with us along our way, no matter what happens. During our week of VBS, our theme verse was also a quote from the Prophet Isaiah: God tells us: “When you go through the waters, I will be with you.” When we feel powerless, this is a promise we can cling to, that will give us comfort no matter what happens. And because of this promise, we can’t say it any better than one of our VBS songs:
I will hold on to you and the promises that you make, ‘Cuz it is well with my soul, no matter what comes my way.”
This is the ASL sign for “anything,” which the kids used as they sang this song. Anything can happen. But our power comes from the promise that God is with us “no matter what comes my way.” Thanks be to God. Amen.