Fifth Sunday in Pentecost

Fifth Sunday in Pentecost Year B
July 12, 2009
St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church
Pastor Anita C. Hill

Lectionary:   Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

Children’s Sermon: Plumb Line  (Amos 7:7-15)

Speaking Truth to Power

The Gospel according to Mark.

I almost decided not to read this lectionary’s assigned Gospel for today.
But there are times when we have to remember evil so that it won’t happen again.

Mark 6:14-29 is read.

Somewhere in there is Good News of the Gospel.  Thanks be to God.

You may be seated.

Grace and peace to God, our Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our gospel lesson may have come from Marks’ writings, but it is seriously missing the “good news.” This is a terrible text. As you just heard, I question whether it should be a part of the lectionary cycle of readings for worship.

From this account the bible should be rated XXX. This story is about pride, intrigue, illicit affairs, adultery, dancing girls, grudges, retribution, saving face, power run amok, and someone losing their head. Herod’s birthday celebration is the occasion for death and a head on a platter. It’s a story of speaking truth to power. It is a story about evil and corruption. This is a story meant for the big screen. It brings to mind movies like the God Father, Breaking the Waves, Mississippi Burning, Silkwood, and Ghandi.

If the Death of John the Baptist must be read, it should always be paired with the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Mark 6:30-44), a familiar story that immediately follows it. I encourage you to go to your bible to read both stories this afternoon.

Mark’s writing uses an economy of words. He is a very careful writer and placed these side by side for a reason. One speaks of a banquet of death in a lavish place, the end of a birthday party with a select group of high officials invited. The other story speaks of the banquet of life in the desert, where the lowly crowd is amazingly fed. One fits the realm of Grimm’s Fairy Tales; the other works as spiritual reading.  In one, we search in vain for good news; in the other, it’s all good news of Jesus.[i]

What can we possibly take away from this story, to use in our own lives? To understand it better, we need to go to other readings assigned for today. Each week, the lessons share a common theme, or similar message.

Our first reading this morning is from the prophet Amos; it provides the pattern. Amos, like John the Baptist, was called to deliver God’s message. Neither had a message that was popular with the people in charge. Amos proclaims God’s displeasure and raises a plumb line of justice for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the weak and the lowly ones. John the Baptist tells King Herod it is not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife.

Both messages are proclamations of God’s displeasure, which angered the kings toward whom the messages were directed. Amos and John the Baptist both had to deal with the consequences of preaching God’s message to unwilling ears: Amos was told to leave and never return; John was imprisoned and beheaded. But both delivered God’s message and refused to back down in the face of adversity and threats.

Delivering prophesies to evil kings and being exiled or beheaded for our trouble is not something that’s likely to happen to any of us. But we are also called to name evil when we see it. Doing so means we have to face down our fears about our worthiness to speak in the halls of power, and our anxieties about what others, including friends and family, may think or say about us.

Members of our community spoke for us in Washington regarding the necessity of health care reform so that everyone has access to good health care. They held up the plumb line of justice for those who are sick and without resources. As Pastor Keith said last week:

The health care conversation also pointed us to our struggles with race.  The people most ignored and underserved by our broken health care system are not simply the oldest and youngest, but especially the oldest and youngest people of color, and most especially women of color, and those of undocumented status.  There is a system of racial separation, racial intolerance, racial abuse that is so familiar in our country that too many of us don’t see it until we know its victims.[ii]

Our country has a long history of African Americans speaking truth to power in the face of injustice: Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Law Professor Anita Hill, and Rodney King in the midst of the Los Angeles riots. There are many more who spoke truth to power through their actions, sit-ins, walks, and boycotts. Who do we know who will tell us the truth about the effects of racism now? Who are our friends? Neighbors? Co-workers?

Yesterday, members of our community attended an Isaiah gathering with Dr. jon powell of the Kirwan Institute. Dr. powell brings a helpful perspective to the questions we face as individuals, communities, and culturally regarding racism. We were introduced to the term “structural racialization,” which broadly describes the ways in which racism is embedded in the very fabric of our society, particularly in our institutions – like education, banks, the military,y and more. We at St. Paul-Reformation have a long heritage of welcoming those society would have us name “other,” and are proud of the St. Paul Lutheran church’s bold step to welcome black members in 1953.

We’ve got work to do now to learn together about how very insidious racism is when embedded in the fabric of our societal institutions. We need to open our eyes, to listen to those who live and speak the painful truth of racism today.

The things God asks us to do are not always easy. They are not always enjoyable. And they may not make us particularly popular. Serving God can be a difficult, even perilous task.

I thank God that the assigned reading from Ephesians has something that the other two passages do not – the up side. We have the grace of God. We have redemption through Jesus’ life; through Christ’s death and resurrection. We are forgiven all our sins. Though we can’t always see it from where we stand, we are a part of God’s work to unite and include, to serve and to speak truth, and to bring about justice.[iii]

Racism, more specifically, “structural racialization” must be addressed. Our country’s wealth was built on the backs of slaves. Racialization and racism are woven in the very fabric of our economic system. It is a part of the widening gap between haves and have-nots. Our institutions, our consumerist economy, our country’s continual warring, and corporate economic power and greed must be addressed. It hasn’t been easy in the past. It won’t be easy now. We are called both to name it in the halls of power, to address the effects of racism on our own lives and the lives of our neighbors. We must do all we can to rebuild the structures that divide us until the plumb line of justice marks new beginnings.

We need to address the lack of opportunity in many communities of color. It’s time we recall lynching as a personal and cultural evil we must not forget. Remembering the lynchings that happened in Duluth, Minnesota is part of that painful story. Racism was not and is not geographically contained in our country. It’s everywhere.

Herod was in direct conflict with the kingdom of God, love of God, and love for neighbors that is the core truth in the Christian gospel. That gospel has socio-political as well as personal implications, as does it’s call to us to name and change racism.

We should never forget that Herod ordered John the Baptist to be executed in order to advance his political image. The execution of John the Baptist was a political murder of a political prisoner whose social justice gospel offended part of Herod’s constituency.

It’s not Jesus story to be in the banquet halls of the power elite. Jesus serves the banquet where people gather in Christ’s name. Christ’s banquet is open to every person of every race, rank, stature, or differentiation. Christ is the truth teller, who speaks to the power of God on our behalf. We are called to live reconciled with all humanity.
Christ has reconciled us to God,
and freed us to speak truth to power,
Christ emboldens us to remember and to resist evil so that it won’t happen again,
and to live according to God’s plumb line of justice. That’s the good news of the Gospel. Thanks be to God. Amen


[i] The Rev. Dr. Barbara K. Lundblad, Day 1; July 12, 2009;
[ii] The Rev. Keith H. Olstad, St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, July 5, 2009.
[iii] ELCA Faith Lens, July 12, 2009