Friends, here’s a goodie from our 2015 archive !- Ed.
Revised Common Lectionary Reflection , 7th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
July 15, 2018 (and July 12, 2015)
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. Mark 6:17-18
I am willing to bet that very few of us have been in danger of being killed as a result of telling the truth and/or for our faithful Christian witness. I’m also willing to bet that for preachers the epistle lesson and Amos’ plumb line are sounding pretty appealing right about now. But maybe, just maybe, given recent national and world events, it’s about time we took a closer look at the potentially high cost of being truthful.
After all, martyrdom and dying for one’s faith is not a foreign concept in our world. This year alone, a number of Ethiopian and Coptic Christians, along with Muslims and journalists and other folks have lost their heads at the hands of the radical Islamic terrorist group known as ISIS, of the Islamic State. And in South Carolina, nine Christians at a Bible study were killed simply because of the color of their skin after extending hospitality and an open door to a stranger. We don’t like to think of such events as the norm, but according to Pope Francis, quoted in the July 2014 issue of The Christian Post, “There are more witnesses, more martyrs in the Church today than there were in the first centuries.”
Of course, chances are still slim that any one of us reading these words will be called to die for our faith, but I wonder…will we be called to speak the truth in love to our neighbor, our fellow Christian, or a church leader? Will we be willing to take the risk, suffer whatever cost, and be true to our Lord?
Just what is the cost of our discipleship? We may not literally lose our heads, but we may need to take a stronger stand, endure some shame or ridicule, be willing to step out courageously, and be willing to be truth-tellers.
Do the names Phillip and Daniel Berrigan, Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Shane Claiborne, Clementa C. Pinckney, Jim Wallis, Oscar Romero, Walter Rauschenbusch, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Fry, Jim Wallis, or Katherine Hayhoe ring a bell? These are a few Christians who have taken difficult stands for their faith, who have spoken bravely in the face of injustice. All have faced criticism, ridicule and scorn, and some of them have even faced imprisonment or death for their faith. Because of their risky, truthful witness the world is much better off. These are only a few names. You can probably think of more.
Would you protest and risk imprisonment? Would you write an op-ed piece that might irk some of your congregants? Would you take a stand on an issue that ran counter to popular opinion if you truly believe it is an issue of justice and love of neighbor? Would you have marched at Selma back in 1965? Will you speak on behalf of today’s voiceless? Or would you and will you instead sit silently by in comfort, avoiding risk, eschewing conflict, and doing nothing to rock the proverbial boat?
I ask myself these questions sometimes. What would I be willing to risk? What can I afford to lose? Am I able to lose my life to save it?
Dear preacher, this is a tough passage to preach because John’s beheading at the capricious and conniving behest of a female child and Jesus’ crucifixion in the shadow of Empire are our models for what it means to be truth-tellers. This story refuses any sugar-coating and propels us into the bare light of our fear and insecurity. As Bonhoeffer reminds us, there is indeed a cost to discipleship. We’d better be truth-tellers and talk about it. For us, there may be risk, but there’s greater risk in our silence — and much more to lose in the long run.
Last week we heard the hard truth about prophets in their hometown. Now we have Amos being asked to leave Judah and take his prophecy roadshow somewhere else, and we have John the Baptist literally losing his head for speaking the truth. Maybe in this day and age, the hard truth is to find our voices as people of God. How can we learn to speak for justice, sing for hope, and work for peace in our contexts? Could you include an activity such as Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters this week or writing notes of condolence and support to Mother Emanuel AME Church or plan to address a pressing local issue in your context? Could you include a litany for finding voice to speak the truth in love regardless of the cost? Could you sing a hymn like “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters”?
What film might you show to your youth group about having the courage to stand up for what you believe? Consider films like Selma, Romero, Hotel Rwanda, The Long Walk Home, or the documentary Ordinary Radicals. Invite youth to explore what risks they might or might not be willing to take for the sake of the gospel and for love of neighbor. Invite youth to explore the website for Common Prayer from Shane Claiborne and friends.
This week’s psalm offers wonderful imagery for use with children. What does it mean for steadfast love to meet righteousness or for righteousness and peace to kiss? Or how do we illustrate righteousness looking down from the sky and faithfulness springing up from the ground like a sunflower? Help the children work out a pantomime for this psalm that is a prayer for help and an expression of confidence in God’s ability to respond. Perhaps in teaching the children to pray the psalms and be playful with them, you will also help the adults in the congregation make important connections. End with a simple prayer.
Photos: Keith Bacongo, Randy OHC, and Wystan, Creative Commons. Thanks!)