A homily for the people of Northlake Lutheran Church in Kenmore, WA.
The texts are Ephesians 1:3-14 and Mark 6:14-29.
It is good to join you this morning as we gather as the living Body of Christ. Thank you Pastor Anja for inviting me and you all for welcoming me.
Indeed this is a good morning. There has been much to rejoice this last week. Last Sunday afternoon the United States Women’s Soccer Team won the FIFA Women’s World Cup. For the third time. The men have yet to win it once. On Friday New York City held a ticker-tape parade for the team. The first time in 30 years they held a victory parade for a team other than a New York professional team.
Also on Friday, a few blocks from the hospital in which I was born, South Carolina removed the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, better known as the Confederate battle flag, from the grounds of the state capital, where it had flown in some capacity since 1952. After a terrible, horrible event–the massacre of nine black women and men in a church in Charleston by a white man–reignited the call to remove the flag, the flag came down rather quickly.
That is pretty cool.
And yet, in our city this week the Duwamish people were denied recognition as a native tribe by the Department of the Interior.
And yet, across our country about half of the prisoners are housed in private for-profit prisons, which lobby the government to maintain high prison populations. Many for-profit prison contracts even have minimum population guarantees.
In our Gospel reading today, we encounter Herod recalling the execution of John the Baptizer.
Herod Antipas, the son of the King Herod of the birth stories of Jesus, had a rather tenuous hold on power. His kingdom was an occupied nation, under the control of Rome. Additionally, he had many different factions to appease within his own people.
And then there was John the Baptizer.
John went around preaching repentance and baptizing people. He made the establishment nervous. Many of them wanted him dead, including Herod’s wife, Herodias. Herodias had been married to Herod’s brother and was now married to Herod. John had preached against the marriage, that it was not okay for them to marry, so she wanted him dead.
And yet, even though he was greatly perplexed, greatly challenged, by John, Herod liked to listen to John.
And yet, despite everyone that mattered to Herod wanting John dead, Herod protected John.
Until Herod’s birthday. Like any good king, Herod threw a lavish party. This was part of how he maintained his power, for some people of importance would take not being invited to the party as a slight and others would take being invited as a major honor.
There would have been much merrymaking, drinking, singing, and joking around.
At one point Herodias’s daughter, Herod’s step-daughter, came in a danced for them.
She so pleased the party that Herod swore that he would give her whatever she asked for, even up to half of his kingdom.
Herod swore this and many things to her and to all the party. And that right there is the key. The oaths that he swore here in front of all of the party are crucial. He swore in front of all of the military leaders and the judges and the religious officials–all of the important people–that he would give her whatever she asked.
So when Herodias’ daughter came back and asked for the head of John the Baptizer on a platter, Herod recalled that he swore his oaths in front of all the important people. Even though he liked John and was grieved by this request, he followed through on his oaths and had John executed. If Herod were to back off here and spare John, then what weight would any of his oaths have? What trust would his commanders and counselors have in him if he were to back off now?
And yet, he knows it to be wrong.
And yet, he kills him anyway.
And yet, when people are saying of Jesus that Jesus is John the Baptizer resurrected, Herod thinks it must be true, for John was a great prophet to Herod.
And yet, he allowed injustice to reign and the current system to be perpetuated because it was better for him and his family.
And yet, we in this room benefit from systems which place us on the top.
And yet, we, and our elected representatives, benefit from maintaining these systems.
How often are we like Herod?
How often do we do what is needed to maintain the status quo and to perpetuate the systems that keep us on top?
How often do we even realize that this is what we are doing?
Hear, friends, the Good News!
We are the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven brought about by Jesus Christ. We are claimed, before the establishment of the universe, as beloved children of God, marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. In the abundance of grace and mercy which surpasses all possible understanding, God came into the universe in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and walked among us. God showed us the way of the Kingdom of Heaven. God showed us the way of justice. God showed us the way of peace.
God set Christ as our light, shining through the darkness.
The light of Christ shines into the darkness of our society and shows us where we are benefiting from the subjugation and disenfranchisement of others.
The light of Christ shines into the darkness of our soul and shows us our own complicity in the injustice of our society.
The light of Christ shines ahead of us as we stand up and proclaim “Enough” and work to breakdown the injustice in our society.
May we have the courage to stand up like John the Baptizer and declare “That is not right.”
May we have the courage to stand up like Martin Luther and declare “Here I Stand, I can do no other.”
May we have the courage to not let Friday’s removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State House be the end of our outrage.
May we have the courage to continue to stand up alongside our Black sisters and brothers and declare “Black Lives Matter.”
May we have the courage to live as the beloved children of God that we all are and to allow Christ to be our light, bringing justice, love, and peace to all the world.
Amen and Amen