All Saints’ Church
July 12, 2015
Proper 10 / Year B
Amos 7:7-15 / Psalm 85:8-13 / Ephesians 1:3-14 / Mark 6:14-29
I was leading a retreat for St. Lydia’s this weekend–the church where I work the other half of my time. And the centerpiece of the whole retreat was the Road to Emmaus story, from the Gospel of Luke.
It’s just after Jesus has died, and the disciples are walking along the road. Jesus is there, too, but they don’t recognize him until he breaks bread and gives it to them. It’s a beautiful story about knowing and remembering and resurrection and eating bread and how Jesus loves us. The kind of story that makes you feel really good about the bible and church.
So I had to leave the retreat a little bit early to come here and I told everyone, sorry: I have to go preach about a beheading.
Did you listen to the gospel Deacon Jennifer just read? John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Did you know the word gospel means good news? Is this some good news? Is this the kind of story that makes you feel really good about the bible and church? Not so much.
The story is weird, not only because it’s really gruesome, but also because it’s really a flashback, which is not usual in the gospels. In fact, this is the only flashback in the whole Gospel of Mark.
In the story, Jesus has just sent out his twelve disciples to move around and meet people in their homes, to tell them about Jesus, to cast out demons, to heal them.
This new “Jesus Movement” is big enough that King Herod hears about it. People are wondering who this Jesus is–is he a prophet? Is he Elijah? And King Herod–with a guilty conscience–says no. He says: “This must be John the Baptist whom I beheaded.” And then we hear the whole gory tale about what sounds like a truly awful birthday party.
Who is Jesus? That is the question this story opens with, and I would argue, that is the main question we are all invited to answer. Who is Jesus? Is he a prophet? Is he Elijah? Is he someone we know already? Who is Jesus?
For King Herod, Jesus is his worst nightmare. Jesus is his biggest mistake come back from the dead to haunt him. Jesus is a headless John the Baptist, raised from the dead. But who is Jesus for us?
There’s an old episode of This American Life on NPR called “Kid Logic”–it’s a few different cute and funny stories mostly about how kids say the darndest things. But there’s one little tale that sticks out, told by the father of a four-year-old girl, maybe you’ve heard it:
Around Christmas time, the little girl is very curious. What is all this celebrating for? So her parents tell her about Jesus. Christmas is the celebration of his birthday and a lot of people love Jesus very much, and Jesus told everyone to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The little girl thinks that sounds very smart.
One day, the family is driving along and they pass a big crucifix on the lawn of a church. ‘Who’s THAT?’ the girl asks. And her parents stumble a bit and say, ‘Oh, that’s Jesus, too.’ They had forgotten to tell her the end of the story. “Jesus died because the things he was saying offended the people in charge, so they killed him.”
A little bit later, on Martin Luther King Day, the father takes his four year old daughter out to lunch, and she spots a picture of Dr. King on the cover of the newspaper. ‘Who’s that?’ she asks. Her father tells her he was a preacher. ‘For Jesus?’ she asks. ‘Yes!’ he says. “But he was really famous for telling people they shouldn’t care what people look like. He told people that everyone is equal.”
The girl says, ‘that’s like what Jesus said. Do unto others.’ And her father says, ‘you know what, that’s right, I never thought of it that way.’ And the girl asks her father, “Did they kill him too?”
Kid logic. Things seem so complicated to us. It seems so difficult to explain what happened to Jesus, what happened to Martin Luther King, Jr to a four-year-old. It seems so difficult to preach on a sweaty summer morning about the beheading of John the Baptist. When I would rather tell you about Jesus walking along the road. About Jesus feeding us bread. But it’s not actually that complicated.
A few weeks ago, The Episcopal Church elected a new presiding bishop, Michael Curry, who is right now the bishop of North Carolina. Michael Curry is the first African American presiding bishop the Episcopal Church has ever elected. He also is an incredibly dynamic preacher, and if you’ve never seen one of his sermons, I urge you to look one up online.
At the conclusion of General Convention last week, Bishop Curry preached a sermon called “GO! We are the Jesus Movement” and it answers our central question: “Who is Jesus?” He said:
God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to change the world, to change it from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. He came to change the world, and we have been …summoned to be disciples and followers of this Jesus and to participate in God’s work, God’s mission of changing and transforming this world. We are the Jesus Movement now.
The Jesus Movement began just before our Gospel story this morning, when Jesus sent out his disciples to teach and to heal. And it continues today. It is into this long lineage that we are all born. It is into this lineage that we are all called to act.
I wonder, if you were to put yourself into this gospel story this morning, who you would be? Would you be in the Jesus Movement, traveling around healing people, certainly not on the invite list to a King’s birthday party? Or would you maybe be hanging on to some hope of political power or social credibility, maybe hanging out by the vegetable platter at this birthday party? What would you think when you saw John the Baptist’s head come up on a platter.
I think, if I’m honest, I’ve been feeling more like a person at the party than a disciple lately. As I see instance after instance of racial violence in our country, the murder of innocent people because of their skin color, the destruction of historic black churches across the south. I’m made sick by it, but I can’t seem to get out of that cycle of expressing regret, and going back to the bar for another drink. Staying in the comfort of the King’s palace. Where are you?
In general, I would classify myself as a pretty competent person. I don’t have a lot of fears; I’m usually able to rise to the occasion. But there is one thing that truly terrifies me, for whatever reason. I’ve shared this with Father Paulikas before. I’m really afraid of preaching children’s sermons.
I’ve been thinking lately about why–I’m not afraid of preaching adult sermons! I kind of like being up here actually! But there is nothing more intimidating in the world to me than sitting on that step and trying to explain these stories to children. And trying to explain why, so many many years into the Jesus movement, things keep repeating themselves. Did they kill him too? Did they kill her too? Yes, yes.
I was talking with a friend who is a professional Sunday School teacher and she shared a resource with me about preaching for kids. Regarding today’s gospel, it says:
This story of the abuse of power and being trapped by power is hard to preach to adults and even harder to preach to kids.
So at least I’m not crazy to think that it’s hard. But I keep thinking about the kid logic of that little four year old girl. How would we tell her this Gospel story? And of course she would ask of John the Baptist, did they kill him too? And of course, the answer is yes.
I think being part of the Jesus Movement is holding ourselves accountable to this little girl; doing our work to make sure she can never again ask us, “did they kill him too?”
It’s not easy. But the good part of it is that that is what God wants for us. That is why God sent Jesus to us, and that is why Jesus DOES meet us on the road–even if we didn’t read that story this morning. Jesus breaks bread with us, and when we gather together at the table and reach out our hands, God gives us what we need to be part of this community–every single one of us, everyone of you who is sitting here this morning. It’s really not that complicated; it’s kid logic.
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