Seventh Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—July 15, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today’s readings are full of prophets. First, Amos, then John the Baptist, and (less directly mentioned, but still ever present) Jesus and his disciples.
So what exactly makes someone a prophet?
A prophet is a person that has communicated God and then shares God’s message with the world:
– For example, Amos saw God holding up a plumb line, showing how Israel was stacking up to God’s expectations.
– John spoke out publically against Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias.
– And Jesus and his disciples, we heard briefly about this morning, but know more from the rest of the Bible, worked to break down many societal social constructs and group boundaries as they spoke of God’s love for all and hunger for justice.
From these readings, it almost seems as if being hated and persecuted is also a requirement to be a prophet:
– Amos was run out of the Northern Kingdom of Israel back to his home in the Southern kingdom of Judea by the King and his court priest.
– John, well we all heard just a bit ago how that worked out. Herod beheaded John as his wife and daughter’s request.
– And Jesus and his disciples were also persecuted and eventually killed for God’s message.
Why do humans seem to always react to prophets this way?
I think it is because prophets are basically “divine critics.” And who likes being told that they are misbehaving or doing things wrong, not measuring up? I know I don’t.
How do you react to criticism? How do you treat people when they are fulfilling the role of prophet for you, when they remind you of God’s expectations and rules?
Are you a Herodias, quickly wishing them dead because they make you look bad to the rest of the world?
Or are you more of a Herod?
You see, the writer of Mark is not as black and white in his portrayal of the key players as are other gospel writers. In Mark, we see Herod’s shades of grey. Herod “feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.” Herod even “liked to listen to [John]” but Herod had more respect “for his oaths and for the guests.” Something in Herod recognized the divine speaking through John, but still his loyalty to the reality where he is King was stronger.
Like many of us, at various points in our lives both Herods and Herodiases, we act as if we are OF this world, instead of just being IN this world and OF God’s kingdom. Hierarchy, power, and persecution exist in the kingdom of this-worldly kings, but not in the kingdom of God. That is what God’s prophets are calling us to: peace, righteousness, and faithfulness. They are simply being God’s voice in the world, coaxing us into a different way of life, or relating to one another, so that God’s kingdom can further break into the world a little bit more, here and now.
So let me go back for a second.
Saying that God’s prophets are simply divine critics, speaking to injustice, which is the main difference between kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God, is only half the story.
God’s pronouncement of conviction never comes without a pronouncement of promise as well.
This is what we Lutherans call preaching both Law & Gospel. It is something I strive to do every week, because there are two truths in the world. The Law, which says that humans are broken and sinful, is true. But so is the Gospel, which says that God loves us always, despite our flaws. And not only that, but God loves us so much that God sent God’s only son, Jesus Christ to earth and he died so that our sins might be atoned for and we too might share in Christ’s victory over death and have eternal life.
We are “prone to wander” away from God, and from God’s vision for the world, so we need the law not only to point out what we are doing that is contrary to God, but at the same time to drive us to our knees and show us our need for God’s grace.
The two work hand in hand: Law & Gospel. Without the Law, we run the risk of thinking that we can earn salvation. And of course without the Gospel, the story is not complete, and God is simply related to us as a judge and punisher, which could not be further from the truth.
We are called to (as the Celebrate insert puts it) “witness to justice,” and that can happen in through our words and our deeds. Through God, we can do what matters, God’s work with our hands. We do advocacy and service, not in order to earn our salvation, but in response to the gifts God gives us.
As we do God’s work, the Eucharist itself functions in a prophetic way. It embodies both God’s plumb line and promise. It is at this table that we gather together and welcome even strangers, without regard for race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and ability, just as God welcomes us.
We are feed and forgiven at the table, but at the same time reminded that there are others in the world that are still hunger for the justice of God.
Sometimes we refer to communion as a foretaste of the feast to come. God’s kingdom is that feast. And God empowers us to do our part to bring about that experience of justice and peace for as many of God’s children as possible here on earth, just as God and others work to ensure that we experience it.
So we have heard the Law and the Gospel, and just like every week, during this service, we are judged and convicted, fed and forgiven, and sent out to prophesy and serve in order that God’s Kingdom might be experienced more fully by all. Amen.