July 15, 2018: Proper 10B (English)

Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost: Mark 6:14-29 and Amos 7:7-15
Zion Lutheran Church, July 15th, 2018
Pastor Anke Deibler

Grace be to you and peace from God our father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Prophet Amos has a vision: God is standing amongst the people of Israel holding up a plumb line. A plumb line is a piece of string with a weight at the bottom that masons hold next to a wall to see if it is straight and true. Now God is holding such a plumb line in the midst of his people to see if they are straight and true in their faithfulness.

This vision is an announcement of divine judgment. In all his pronouncements until this point, Amos has laid out in how many ways the people fail the will of God: they exploit the poor while the rich live a life of leisure and luxury; they can’t wait for holy days to be over so they go about their business and can make more money; the priests don’t preach the word of God truthfully; the local leaders have corrupted the justice system; everyone is complacent and self-indulgent and doesn’t care about their neighbor, especially about their poor neighbor.

Now, here is God with his plumb line, measuring the people and finding them crooked. “God is not happy with you,” Amos says. “There will be judgment. There will be a price to pay.” Amos has the courage of faith to call the leaders of religion and politics out for their crooked ways.

John the Baptist does the same in our gospel reading. He is accusing King Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias of breaking God’s law with their marriage. Here is some background on this.

Queen Herodias was the granddaughter of Herod the great, King od Judah. She was first married to her uncle, Herod Philip, and they had the daughter Salome we meet today. Later she divorced him and married Herod Antipas, the Herod in today’s story, who divorced his wife in order to marry Herodias, his nice.

It was this marriage that John the Baptist publicly criticized. Women divorcing their husbands was not allowed. But what was really forbidden was for a woman to marry first one brother and then the other while the first brother was still alive. That was seen as both incest and adultery. A big no-no. John calls them out for this. John is God’s plumb line openly pronouncing the royal couple as crooked.

Turns out, they are even more crooked than John thought. This story we are hearing today is terrible from beginning to end. Let’s look at some of the sins that make up this sad tale.

Herodias is annoyed by John’s preaching. He is hitting a nerve. What does she do? She has the prophet arrested and put in jail. Reminds me of many other prophets throughout the ages who have spoken God’s truth to power and have paid dearly for it, like Amos getting kicked out of the country in today’s reading, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop Oscar Romero and so many others being killed.

Herodias uses her own daughter to manipulate her husband into doing her will. She is taking advantage of her daughter’s youth and dancing skills to get what she wants. How often have I seen kids being exploited by their parents or forced to fulfill the parents’ desires! I have seen kids driven to sports, to music, to academic achievement by overzealous parents who have their own agenda.

Here is a mother sending her teenaged daughter to dance enticingly before her stepfather. Most mothers do their best to protect their daughters from a step-fathers lusting eyes. Not this woman. She does the opposite: putting her daughter right in front of her step-father and a group of his buddies to show off her charms. This is terrible. What must this do to her daughter’s psyche?

Even more shocking, what must it have done to Salome’s psyche to carry the head of John the Baptist on a platter? This is truly horrible. But Herodias doesn’t see how she damages her child; she sees only her own goals.

It came to that because King Herod Antipas was so excited by the girl’s dancing. She turned him on so much that he promised her whatever she wanted, even half his kingdom. This is a stupid promise. He made it in a moment of thoughtless excitement. Maybe he was a bit drunk, too. But he made the promise in front of all of his guests, and so he could not back out without losing face.

One stupid promise, and it leads to death. How much tragedy is befalling innocent people because those in power have made rash and stupid promises or decisions, and then don’t want to admit their error, but instead double down?

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary visited Sarajevo in 1914, he planned a parade in an open car through town. Secret service agents advised him to change the route because of rumors of assassins. Franz Ferdinand said the route was set and they weren’t changing anything, and he was shot to death, and the First World War broke out, with terrible loss and pain for millions of people. Stupid.

I wonder how many stupid laws and policies could be avoided today if politicians had the courage to admit mistakes and reverse course.

Talking about today: If God were standing in this nation today holding up his plumb line, what would the verdict be? If John the Baptist were to preach today, what transgressions against God’s law would he address? Where is the crookedness that today’s prophets should call out?

There is a boundary between church and state that is really important. The government shall not interfere with church life, and the church shall not get enmeshed in politics. This is really important.

However, the church is still called to be today’s prophetic voice. We cannot and should not get involved in party politics. However, we do need to be the neutral observers that call out either party when it is offending God’s laws. Like Amos challenged crooked leaders and his king, like John the Baptist challenged the royal house of his time, so are we called to speak up for God’s will.

For example, when families of immigrants were being arrested at the southern border and small children were being separated from their parents and shipped across the nation, the church spoke up. On the bulletin board you can see a letter signed by many church leaders of our nation, including our presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, calling out this policy as being in violation of God’s will. No matter which party we support, separating little kids from parents is wrong. All God’s people can agree to that.

There are other issues that the Bible is very clear on, where God’s plumb line would reveal crookedness. The Bible is very clear that we are to care for the poor and feed the hungry. Yet in our nation, one in five children is food insecure, meaning one in five children does not always know where the next meal will come from. That this is happening in our rich nation is embarrassing.

The Bible is very clear on its call to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. We have not done so well with strangers. I am not just talking about the issues at the border, but the overall suspicion of and animosity against foreigners. People from this church have experienced this kind of prejudice when they came to this country. I have heard some rather hurtful remarks about being German. Can you imagine what it must be like for people with brown or black skin? We as the church are called to say something about the treatment of foreigners. Independent from their legal issues, they deserve respect as God’s children.

I could go on. I would love to talk about the biblical call to care for the sick and wonder why this rich nation cannot find a way to make health care available to all citizens. I would love to talk about God’s love for this planet and ponder the many ways in which we damage this earth. But enough. You get the point.

We are called to speak up. We are called to be God’s voice. We are called to make faith relevant in our society. We are called to be like Amos and John, and to call out sin and corruption and injustice. This might be tough on us; Amos was kicked out and John was beheaded. Why would we do it anyway?

First of all, because God calls us to do it. Simple as that.

Second, because it makes us feel less overwhelmed and impotent. Being able to do something by speaking out empowers us.

Third, because of love. Speaking up for those who have no voice shows our love for God by loving our neighbor.

Fourth, by speaking out, we transform the world into the place God wants it to be. Everyone is better off when we take care of the poor, respect foreigners, maintain equal justice, live in such a way so others can live. That is not just making God happy, it makes God’s people happy, including us. Imagine what our city would be like with no poverty, no injustice, no hatred sparking violence, no garbage in the streets or floating in the harbor. Wouldn’t you want to live in that kind of city?

That’s what God wants for us and for our neighbors. To get there, we have to speak up for God’s will. Talk about this at church, at work, wherever you meet people. Write letters to the editor. Contact your senators and representatives. Vote. Be informed and speak up from the perspective of the gospel, and you will fulfill your calling as a modern-day prophet.

I will close with a verse from today’s psalm:

“Truly, your salvation is very near to those who fear you,
that your glory may dwell in our land.”

Let us fear God and be his prophets, so that God’s glory may dwell in our land. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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