7 Pentecost—Proper 10-B
July 12, 2015
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Do you find what we just did a bit odd? We heard the story of how John the Baptizer was beheaded by the petty tyrant Herod Antipas, not because he wanted to do it, but because he didn’t want to appear weak in front of his drunken party guests.
Then we said: The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you Lord Christ. Really? The story of this ruthless, meaningless beheading is good news for which we should praise Jesus Christ?
Our news the past year has been full of stories of innocent men being beheaded. Should we also praise Jesus Christ for those too?
Don’t such stories, in fact, cause us distress and make us doubt the good news of the arrival of the Kingdom of God that Jesus announces? What kind of Kingdom, what kind of king, allows such horrific things to happen?
An obvious answer is “a weak one”: A weak kingdom, with a weak King, to let a fool like Herod Antipas execute one of the giants of God.
This is the same distress the Church in Ephesus is feeling when they hear that their great friend and father in Christ, Paul of Tarsus, is in a Roman prison.
How can this be?
Paul is worried about them, so he writes “I pray therefore that you do not lose heart over my sufferings for you….” 3:13
It’s easy to be a Christian when we have our health, wealth, and happiness. It’s not hard to imagine that the reason my life is going so well is because I’ve chosen the right God who protects me.
But it is not so easy when the unthinkable happens. I wonder what the Christians in Greece are going through as they see the collapse of their financial well-being.
We have wondered what the members of Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston are going through after the white supremacist gunned down pastor and people at a Bible Study.
And we wonder what will we do when the report from the doctor examining our children comes back positive which means something negative.
What we will be wondering is this: Will our faith in Jesus Christ carry us through the tragedies or will our faith evaporate like the morning dew in July?
What Paul wants us to see is that this is the wrong question: it’s not a question of the strength of our faith—which is always human, weak, and frail. No, it is a question of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
Is Jesus Christ going to be with us when suffering hits and our faith craters?
It’s not a question of who we are. The central question is who is Jesus Christ.
Is he a moral scold sent to tell us to stop sinning or else there will be hell to pay?
Is he one of the sages of self-help who tells quaint stories about how to navigate life without getting lost or capsizing, but who offer little help when we do?
Or is he who Paul says he is in the beginning of the epistle this morning: He writes:
In Christ God has chosen us before the foundation of the world…to be his forgiven children, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and given every spiritual blessing….
If we were chosen in Christ before we were even born then we know that when tragedy comes, as it always does, we are held fast by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ who has loves us from before time and forever.
Imagine a newborn who is loved into existence by her parents. When the child is learning to walk one parent holds the child up and points her toward the other parent with hands extended several feet away. Of course the first parent follows the child as she starts to walk just as the other is ready to leap out and pick up the child should she stumble. Both are offering encouragement and blessing, whether the child walks or not.
This is an image of Triune God: the Father loving us into existence and then pointing us toward God the Son, who is our template and goal. Both are ready to catch us, with the Holy Spirit holding us every step of the way, filling us with encouragement, blessing, healing and forgiveness.
And, of course the “us” Paul is talking about is not just me and you and few other like-minded folks who happen to hold the right ideas of God in our heads, but the whole human race.
Humanity is the “us” chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. In Christ we are one in the New Humanity which is Christ. See Ephesians 4:24
Our faith is not in our faith, but in the faithfulness of Triune God who loves us from beginning to end.
But between Alpha and Omega Paul knows there is the mystery of darkness that causes suffering in all of us.
Therefore he says,
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true…” Ephesians 5:8
He says, “Put on the whole armor of God…,” which means to live as if your life is not a closed system, but a God system.
There is a wonderful new movie called “Inside Out” put out by Disney Pixar—which means it is a cartoon but it is not just for kids.
It presents the ordinary story of an eleven year old girl who moves with her family from a happy, suburban existence in Minnesota to a harder urban one in San Francisco: she now has no friends in school, no teammates on a hockey team, and parents who are as overwhelmed by the move as she is.
What makes this movie different, however, is the real action isn’t outside, in the interaction of people and events, but inside the head of its characters, most specifically inside the head of the young girl: for inside, at a control center in the brain sit five emotions running the show: joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. They are the driving force as they react to what happens to her.
The girl’s life on the outside comes undone when sadness and joy fall out of the control center and all she has left to guide her are fear, anger, and disgust, who are not up to the task.
Of course what we can add to the movie is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What happens when our Inner Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust believe that they too have been chosen by God in Christ?
This is precisely what Paul prays for: He writes, “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
Stephanie is attending a Richard Rohr conference in New Mexico and she texted me during registration that almost everyone attending is in the second half of life. I wrote back: “When we are young we want to talk about what we will do for God, but after numerous failures take us into the second half of life we need to hear what God has done and is doing for us in Christ. Only this is good news.”
This ordinary parish is an outpost of the kingdom of Christ. Our job is not to make salvation happen; but to participate in what God is already doing.
Christ has set the table so we participate in the meal. Christ has suffered with the world, so we sit with the hurting. Christ is putting the world to rights, so we work for justice through non-violence.
We are an outpost of the kingdom, and even in the face of tragedy and suffering we live as Christ lives—as if everyone is chosen by God from the foundation of the world.