An Extra Commentary

The following link will take you to another blog, this one authored exclusively by Bubba #2, John Fairless (who maintains sole responsibility for its content and opinions.) Just so happens that the whole Chick-Fil-A/gay marriage thing got me stirred up a bit this week, so here are a few conclusions from a Southerner and Baptist preacher who has always had a lot of respect for Truett Cathy and his company.

“A Game of Chicken”

Year B — Proper 13 (The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for August 5, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a
Two phrases from this poignant story resonate with me: “You are the man” and “I have sinned.” Boil it all down, and you have all one really needs to know about the gravity of sin and its resolution.

David is outraged and moved by the story of the defenseless lamb. Alas, it is always much easier for us to see sin in the lives of someone else; our own shortfalls are arguably “not so bad.” But, Nathan’s accusation is straight up and to the point. “You know you did it, David.”

When confronted with our sin, we can aver, justify, minimize, shift the blame or use any number of other strategies to avoid owning up. In the end, not a one of them will avail our need for cleansing and righteousness. There is only one way through to forgiveness — confession. “I did it; I was wrong.” 

The cost for sin is great; confession does not take that away. But it does make restoration possible — it opens the door for hope from despair.

Psalm 51:1-12
The textual notes tell us that this is written by David after he has been confronted by Nathan about his sin with Bathsheba. The language speaks for itself; the depth of agony, sorrow, and penitence are as palpable here as any place in the scripture.

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

Can you imagine that response to a miracle? The Israelites have been dreaming of bread and “fleshpots” back in Egypt, and Moses tells them God will send them food the next morning. “Just look for it when you open your tentflap and step out.”

So, they do — and they may have been a little underwhelmed at first. “What’s that?” Kind of like children confronted with a plate of spinach or stewed carrots, perhaps. 

We aren’t always immediately thrilled with God’s answers to our prayers, are we? Sometimes, it takes some time to get acclimated and to catch up with the wisdom of what God is doing. Manna may not have been a four-course meal, but it sure did get them through some tough times in the wilderness!

God tends to come through in the clutch, even if it’s not the way we would have done it ourselves.

Psalm 78:23-29
The psalm text calls God’s manna from heaven, “the bread of angels.” Probably a little poetic license here — we don’t literally know if this is what angels eat for breakfast every morning.

But it is the symbol of abundance and provision. Good enough for angels, good enough for you and me!

Ephesians 4:1-16
The Apostle reminds us that we are definitely all very different parts of the same body. No two of us perform exactly the same functions (or see “eye to eye” on all things, necessarily!) But, we all definitely need each other in order to perform most effectively.

Besides, there is a powerful argument presented here for finding unity in the midst of our considerable diversity: we all share one hope, one calling, one one Lord, one faith, one baptism (even if I use more water than you do!) — there is one God who looks parentally upon each of us. 

We are a family, after all, and though we may fuss and fight like one — in the end, we are here to stick up for one another, as well.

John 6:24-35    
People are always hungry.

Things were no different for Jesus; after a couple of “feeding the five thousand” episodes, there are those who find themselves standing in line, coming back for more. He is hard-pressed to keep up with the demand, as he evidently did not come into the world “to save the people from their hunger.”

He tries really hard to point them to the bread of heaven — not exactly the same thing as the manna they had all heard about (see above) — and promises that their spiritual hunger and thirst will definitely be satisfied if they believe in him.

“Fine, but we’re still hungry here, Jesus. What are you going to do about that?”

As we will see in next week’s lesson, Jesus will tell them that eating his flesh is the answer– but he doesn’t get many takers.

Ministry sure is hard.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Have you ever seen the old Abbot and Costello comedy routine, “Who’s on first?” (You can see the YouTube version here.) It’s a conversation about a baseball team whose players have names like WHO, WHAT and I DON’T KNOW. The dialog goes like this:
Lou: “Who’s on first?’
Bud: “Yes, WHO’s on first.”
Lou: “That’s what I want to know, who’s on first?”
Bud: “Exactly, WHO’s on first.”
Lou (exasperated): “That’s what I want to know. What’s the fella’s name on first?”
Bud: “No, no. WHAT’s on second, WHO’s on first.”
Lou: (pulling hair and glaring): “Let’s try something different. Who’s on third?”
Bud: “No, no, no. WHO’s on first. I DON’T KNOW’s on third.”
Lou (yelling): If you don’t know, who does?”
Bud: “Yes WHO knows, he’s the captain.”
And so it goes for several minutes.
I think of “Who’s on first?” frequently when I read the Gospel of John because it is full of stories about Jesus talking at cross purposes with people.
The woman at the well and water, Nicodemus and being born again, Pontius Pilate and what it means to be a king, etc.
And now, today’s dialogue about signs and bread and Moses and God and what must we do and it’s all a gift.
This recurring theme talking at cross-purposes high-lights John’s basic theme; we are separated from God and Jesus has come into the world to heal that separation.
In his book, The Deeper Life, Yale professor of Philosophy Louis Dupre meditates upon Michelangelo’s painting of the creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Adam is stretched out on the ground, dazed and confused, one arm, one finger reaching out toward an old and slightly wild looking God, who stretches out his arm, one finger almost touching Adam’s finger.
Dupre says that our entire life is lived in that tiny space between God’s finger and Adam’s hand.
It reminds us that we are separated from our source and that religion is a quest to reconnect to God.
The problem is, we don’t know how. We try to be good enough, or smart enough, or spiritual enough, and none of it really works. None of it works because it is based on us; on our talent, or our ability, or our intelligence, or our persistence. And none of it works. The only thing that will work is the grace of God.
Jesus says, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the son of man will GIVE you” And the people respond, “Uh, what must we DO?”
What part of gift don’t we understand? Jesus said, “I’ll give it to you.” And they said, “What do we have to do?” “Who’s on first?” “That’s right, WHO’s on first.”
Jesus tries again. “This is the work OF GOD. (God’s work; not our work) that you believe in him that God sent. Again, it’s a gift. God does the doing, the sending.
People: “Uh, that’s nice. Give us a sign. Something concrete. Something we can sink our teeth into. Like Moses. He gave us Manna. Something like that.”
Jesus almost laughs at them, “Moses didn’t give you bread. God gave you that bread, that manna. And God is doing it again. God has sent the rue, the living bread from heaven.”
The people, “Now you’re talking. Give us that bread.” Still, they’re thinking food for the belly, not food for the soul.
Then Jesus makes it as plain as he can. “I am that manna. I am the living bread from heaven.”
Jesus is the one who fills up that tiny space between God’s finger and Adam’s hand.
And what sign does Jesus give? He has already given signs of a compassionate presence with us in the midst of the difficulty and pain of our lives: the feeding of the 5000 and the healing of the sick and suffering.
In 1967, Doug Nichols went to India as a social justice missionary. He worked to dig wells and improve agriculture. While there, Doug got malaria and entered a sanitarium. Though he was not then a missionary, Doug was a Christian and he had brought along some pamphlets and some copies of the Gospel of John in the local language, which he did not speak. During his recovery, Doug tried to give away his literature. Everyone politely refused to take it.
For several nights, Doug woke up at 2:00 AM with a hacking cough. One morning he noticed an old man across the aisle trying to get out of the bed. He tried and tried and then would give up in defeat and fall back into the bed weeping.
The next morning Doug realized why the man was trying to get out of bed. He had messed himself and the stench was awful. The other patients yelled at and insulted the old man. Angry nurses complained bitterly as they cleaned up the mess. The old man curled up into a ball and wept.
That night Doug again woke up coughing. He saw the old man sit up on the side of the bed and try to stand. And again he failed and fell back into the bed. In what he did next, Doug admits no purity of motives. He just didn’t think he could stand the smell again.
He got up, and went over to the old man, picked him up out of the bed and carried him to the toilet. There he held him under the arms while the man took care of himself. Then he took him back to bed and went to bed himself.
The next day Doug was awakened by another patient giving him a cup of tea and picking up one of his pamphlets. Throughout the day other people came by his bed and asked for a piece of literature.
Doug was mystified by all this until a pastor friend who knew the local language came to visit and had a conversation with some of Doug’s fellow patients in nearby beds. They told the pastor that they took the material because they wanted to learn what vision of God would motivate someone to do something like that for another person. (Many sources: one in particular Harold J. Sala, in the Christianity Today blog MEN OF INTEGRITY – Oct. 26, 2000)
Jesus Christ has come to us in the hospital ward of our souls, come to us midst of our confusion and doubt, some to take care of us in the midst of our inability to tend to ourselves.
Jesus Christ has come to us with one sign, the sign of love and compassion, the sign of tender mercy and gentle healing.
Jesus Christ has come to us in the sign of the cross, where with one hand stretched out to God and the other stretched out to us, he fills up that tiny space that separates us from God and from each other.
“Who’s on first?” We are. First on God’s mind, first in God’s heart, first in line to take up our own cross and follow Christ into the world as a sign of God’s never-ending love and compassion.
Amen and amen.

Year B — Proper 12 (the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for July 29, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Boy, oh, boy! What can we say about King David and his wandering eyes?

There are any number of approaches possible for preaching this text; certainly, “be sure your sins will find you out” is a tried and true message. The futility of trying to “hide from God” (a la the story of the Fall in the garden of Eden) might be another. Seeing if you can find somebody else to take the fall for you (“go on down to your house, Uriah, and ‘wash your feet’ –[wink, wink]”) is another fool’s errand.

I am struck by the depth of the desperation that ensued as David sought any remedy other than honest confession for his sin. Those in the recovery community learn — at a price, to be sure — that every offense is only made right by an act of atonement. Responsibility must be accepted and amends must be made.

You can’t send Joab to do your dirty work for you.

Psalm 14
I recently re-watched Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien (all three movies — it was a holiday!) When I read this psalm, I get a visual image of the “all-seeing eye” of Sauron flashing in my mind. 

(Of course, you can Google it and find an image — or you can just go here.)

I’m not certain that this is what the psalmist had in mind with his line, “The Lord looks down from heaven…” — but there is something to be said for the pervasiveness and thoroughness of God’s vision when it comes to considering the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

2 Kings 4:42-44
The Hebrew Bible version of loaves and fishes: loaves of barley and fresh ears of corn (well, at least of grain — what else other than corn comes in ears?)

At any rate, Elisha’s miracle — based on a word from the Lord — foreshadows the trust that Christ would call forth from his disciples on the hillside. Little is enough — and more than enough! — when God is in the mix.

Psalm 145:10-18
This is one of the most encouraging psalm texts in scripture — and that’s saying a lot! Both God’s words and actions are intended for good (v.13.) God is near to “all who call” on God. Truly.

Ephesians 3:14-21
Love, strength, grace, glory, riches — Ephesians is filled with these “power” phrases, available as Christ dwells in the hearts of believers. Indeed, in the fullness of God’s good intention — its height, depth, and breadth — there is very little that God cannot accomplish. Certainly, more than we can imagine (if not always exactly what we have imagined!)

John 6:1-21    
No rest for the weary — and, on this occasion, no food, either.

John’s telling has Jesus slyly testing the disciples. They are excellent foils for his plans to illustrate what faith in God looks and acts like. Jesus works with very little (compare the relative bounty in Elisha’s story, above) but leads the disciples to see that God provides not just enough — but much more than they ever could have imagined (see Ephesians, above.)

For the disciples, it’s personal. When the lesson has ended, they each have their own basket to carry away — a reminder of God’s sufficiency in the time of need.

The second episode, with Jesus walking on water in the midst of a storm (and transporting not only the disciples, but their boat, to safety with Mr. Scott-like efficiency) illustrates even further how little we need fear when God is the strength of our lives.

It’s tough in the midst of our own storms — admittedly. But let the words of Christ dwell richly in us: “It is I; do not be afraid.”

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I was recently invited to preach for a “Homecoming” at a former parish, Friedens Lutheran Church in Gibsonville, NC. I have to confess that I said yes partly out of ego and partly out of a desire for some good North Carolina home cooking at the after service “covered dish dinner,” (what Midwest Lutherans call a “hot dish.”) When it comes to congregational dinners, rural and small town Lutherans in North and South Carolina are much more southern than they are Lutheran.

We’re talking about fried chicken and country ham biscuits and pork barbecue and fresh boiled corn and creamed potatoes and field peas and cornbread and greens and squash and thick tomatoes the color of blood and sliced as thick as a hockey puck. And cakes and pies and fruit cobblers and . . . oh my; my cholesterol just went up a few points writing that Faulknerian sentence. (Oh yeah, the iced tea; thick and brown and cold and sweet enough to rot your teeth,)

There is something about a good church dinner that reminds us of what the Kingdom of God is supposed to be like. Everybody’s there, even the ones who aren’t there very often, or who don’t like the pastor, or who are at odds with others in the church about this, that or the other thing that is of vital importance right at this moment, but which will be forgotten in a year or two.

In the face of the “Fellowship Meal” in the “Fellowship Hall”; all of that seems to fade away and there we are together, sampling each other’s food and admiring each other’s children and asking after each other’s health and listening to each other’s stories and enjoying each other’s company.

In the southern evangelical churches of my youth, we didn’t really have Feasts or Festivals in the liturgical calendar sense, just Christmas and Easter really. But we had “Feast Days” anyway. We found many opportunities to celebrate with a feast. Homecoming with “dinner on the grounds;” numerous family reunions, held at the church after service and everyone invited (and would have come anyway, since we were all related by marriage or something); the first Sunday night of a revival, the last night of Vacation Bible School, etc. etc.

We knew instinctively that eating together in that way was something the church was supposed to do. And we knew that it was about more than food, it was about more than good fellowship and camaraderie and community spirit. Deep in an unarticulated part of our souls, we knew it was about God, and about growing in God’s grace and about growing as the Body of Christ, and about remembering that we were more than just some folk who liked to get together to sing hymns and listen to sermons; we were God’s children gathered around God’s table. We are a people of the feast.

This connection between God and community and feasting is reflected in several of our scripture lessons for today. In Second Kings we read a story about Elisha and the feeding of a hundred men with a limited amount of food. It is a parallel story to the feeding of the 5000, even down to there being a collection of leftovers.
Psalm 145:15-16 reminds us that, “The eyes of all look to thee, and thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest thy hand, thou satisfiest the desire of every living thing.”(RSV)
There are many things going on in the Gospel lesson, but one of the important ones is a reminder that God is a god of abundance and blessing, a god who calls upon God’s people to be a community of abundance and blessing as well.
For a few years I travelled the country as a church consultant, working with churches from Seattle to Savannah, from Northern New England to Southern California. They were also across the board denominationally; from high church Episcopalians to low church Quakers. There was one thing all those congregations had in common; they liked to eat together. The real differences between them were not matters of geography or liturgy or theology. Their differences had to do with who was invited to eat with them. The churches who vigorously pursued opening the feast to everyone, especially those who took the feast outside the walls into the community, were healthy churches. The congregations who were mostly interested in eating with each other, and who only grudgingly allowed others a seat at the table, were dying a slow death.
Our calling today is to open our hearts, open our doors, open our tables. Invite one and all to join the feast of God’s goodness. And when we are afraid that what we have is too little, we must remember the little boy and offer up what we have, trusting God’s abundance and blessing
to make it enough.
Amen and amen.

Year B — Proper 11 (The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for July 22, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Not every idea that we have for ministry or for “God’s glory” is necessarily a good idea — at least for the moment. There is something significant about waiting and working on God’s timetable.

David’s motivation for the temple project was most likely very sincere. But, God urged David to wait on that project. God just wanted David to do what God had set before him: be the king, lead the people. 

Unfortunately, David — like so many of us — had a very short attention span when it came to listening deeply and waiting patiently for the will of God. We tire of the plain old day-to-day tasks of ministry and long for something more exciting, something grander. 

Soon, David will “find” an object for his attention and energy — in the form of Bathsheba, another man’s wife. We stray from the path God sets for us at great peril, my friends.

Psalm 89:20-37

What an incredible word of God’s faithfulness to us, in spite of our actual and potential unfaithfulness!

God plans in advance to remain faithful to God’s own covenant promises. We may (and certainly do) stray from God’s commandments, and that always has a cost (vv. 31-32.) But, God does not give up on us (vv. 33-34) — God determines to continue the work of building our lives and making God’s righteousness known throughout the earth. 

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Not every leader among the people of God is a good and faithful leader. This fact is sad, but true. There are “flocks” that have been hurt by unfaithful shepherds — just as there are faithful shepherds that have been injured by their flocks — but that’s another story.

Wherever there has been hurt in the lives of God’s people, God is present to bring healing and restoration. (v. 3) God is the God who makes it right. (v.6)

Psalm 23

God is the restorer of our souls — when we are physically depleted, God guides us to the place of rest (green pastures.) When we are spiritually and emotionally drained, God allows us to drink deeply from the  still waters of God’s own compassion.

Ephesians 2:11-22

This passage forms part of Paul’s clear vision for God’s work in building all the people of the earth into a “new humanity.” Begun in the covenant promises given to Israel, that work is now moving toward completion through the life of Jesus Christ. 

There is one Spirit, Paul says, that grants us all access to the Father. As the Spirit completes the work of fashioning our lives into a temple, we look forward to the time when God will dwell with God’s people — all of them, without division or hostility. (v. 14)

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Compassion costs.

The apostles return from their mission work excited, but a bit exhausted, as well. They have seen and felt the power of God made manifest through their lives. Many, many others have been “blessed” by God as a result of their faithful ministry. Jesus tells them that they have earned a respite — a little rest.

But, alas, there is very little rest for the weary in ministry, it seems. There is almost nowhere that Jesus and the guys can go that there are not needy people waiting on them, hoping for a touch of the Christ. 

Where will the crowds gather in our lives — hoping to be touched by Christ through us? Careful, it’s costly!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“He Had Compassion”

I used to love watching the TV Show Evening Shade. It starred Burt Reynolds as a small town football coach in Arkansas. One night the coach’s two small children were leaning out the upstairs window, looking at the stars.

Boy: I’m glad I’ve got you guys. It sure would be lonely without you.
Girl: Remember Sunday School.
Boy: Remember Sunday School? What do you mean by that? Oh, yeah. You mean how God is always here so we’re never alone.
Girl: Yeah, that’s what I mean.
Boy: Well, I know that’s right, but sometimes I just need somebody with some skin on ’em.

I think most of us know how he feels. The world can be a difficult and dangerous and lonely place. And as comforting as it is to believe in a God in Heaven who loves us and cares about us and has a plan for our lives; sometimes you just need somebody to talk to who will talk back.

That’s why people flocked to Jesus. Sure there were those who had heard about his miracles and just wanted to see a good show. And there were those who were there just because everybody else was there. 

It’s like the Friday night high school football in the small-town south. When my son was in the band I used to sit in the stands and listen to women talk about church and teen-agers talk about who’s dating whom.  One night the Methodist preacher told me where to sit. He said, “This is the section for the football fans. The other people are just here because everybody else in town is here.”

So there were the thrill seekers and the crowd seekers, but there were also the God seekers, those who had heard about Jesus; had heard about his words and his actions and had come to catch a glimpse of the Holy.

Jesus and the apostles had been really busy and really needed a break. So Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

They were going on retreat, on vacation, on holiday.

But it was not to be. By the time they got where they were going, a crowd had gathered.

Jesus looked at them and weighed his own and his companions’ weariness against something he saw in the faces turned up at him, something in the crowd’s eyes. 

What was it that swayed Jesus to give up the plan to rest? I think he looked at them and saw their hunger.  Not a hunger for food, but a hunger for companionship, a hunger for community, a hunger for love, a hunger for God.

Verse 34 says, “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Compassion literally means “to feel with.” Jesus felt compassion for them because he had felt what they were feeling. 

After Jesus’ Baptism, the Spirit drove him into the Wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. 
There he learned what it feels like to be abandoned, deserted, alone in the universe.  He also learned what one does and does not need in a time like that.

One of his temptations was to feed the world by turning stone into bread. There in the wilderness, Jesus realized that fixing every human hurt was not to be his mission. People didn’t need a Superman jumping to their rescue. People needed to know that God was in the world with them, not off in heaven above and beyond them. People needed to know that God cared, and that God wanted them to care, and to act with caring as well. 

So, there in the desert, Jesus came to a momentous decision; he would purposely withhold his power, restrain himself.  Throughout his ministry opportunities for healings came to Jesus, but he didn’t go looking for them. Every time he worked a miracle it happened because of those three little words;  he had compassion.

It’s interesting to me how many people don’t believe that; don’t believe that God is love, that God is forgiving and kind and merciful.  Too many people in the world believe that God is anxious to send us all to Hell, that God has plans to send holy warriors to earth in to wipe out the evil doers in a grand final battle. And if you don’t think a lot of people believe that, check out the popularity of the Left Behind series of novels.

That he had compassion is the most important thing we can say about Jesus, and about God. In the midst of a world in which everyone is afraid of their own shadows, and, if they believe in God at all they believe God to be either remote and uncaring, or cruel and vindictive; we in the church have been called to witness to the fact that he had compassion.

Sisters and brothers, we live today in a world full of fear and war. We are afraid of rising gas prices, we are afraid of failing health care systems, we are afraid of immigration and disease and forest fires and drought and drugs, and, and, and . . .

It has been a long time since I have seen this country, and indeed the world, so depressed and sad and frightened and on edge about the future. And into this bog of sadness and sorrow, we the church are called to imitate our Lord and find ways to break into the cycle of fear and violence with words and acts of hope and assurance, words and acts of compassion and healing.

Now, that is a mighty tall order isn’t it? What can one little church do? What can one little Christian do? In the face of all this hurt and pain, who am I? 

Those must have been the sorts of questions a little Albanian nun asked herself over 50 years ago when she found herself in Calcutta, one of the worst and most hopeless places in the world. And what she decided to do was to do what Jesus did in our story, she had compassion on the ones right in front of her. She dealt with the need she was given and did what she could.

She began to pick up the dying beggars off the streets of Calcutta and to give them a decent place to die. That was it. She washed their wounds and their bottoms, she cleaned their sheets and their latrines. She fed them, and bathed them and turned them on their pallets when no one else would touch them. She had compassion, one dying person at a time.

We are called to have compassion, to preach compassion, to teach compassion, to live compassion. We are called to break whatever rules and taboos and cultural barriers necessary to let the world know God is not harsh, God is not out to get them, God is not punishing them for their sins, God is love, God is steadfast, everlasting, never-ending love. 
God is reaching out into the midst of our fear of death with an offer of life, of life eternal.

He had compassion. Jesus had compassion then, and God has compassion now. Open up your hearts and let God love you.  Open up your arms and show God’s love to the world. 


Year B — Proper 10 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for July 15, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
The reading, as assigned, feels a little disorienting, in that there is a three-month break in the action between verse 5 and verse 12. The quizzical and tragic incident involving Uzzah — who was probably just doing what he thought was best — is omitted, as is the aforementioned 90-day hiatus of the ark in the house of Obed-edom, as David was “afraid of the Lord.”

But, once it became clear that the ark was a source of blessing and not of curse (as long as you kept your hands off of it,) David proceeds with the processional. And, I mean, proceed he does! 

The former shepherd boy does the Holy City Hoedown, as it were, and his wife — Michal, Saul’s daughter — is ashamed of him. (Maybe she was still ticked off that David had won her in the Goliath contest…who knows?)

Whatever the source of her bitterness, it didn’t serve her well; she remains barren for the rest of her life, a symbol in Israel of the withdrawal of God’s blessing. (But you don’t get that part of the story in today’s reading, either — look to v. 23)

Worth noting: the blessing by David of God’s people took a very tangible form. He distributed food to every household. Might be a good reminder for us of just how the blessing of God is intended for every one of God’s people, everywhere.

Psalm 24
A fitting psalm for the processional. Lift the gates, open the doors; the celebration is for the LORD, who is strong and mighty. As we learned from David’s earlier encounter with Goliath, “the battle is the Lord’s.” 

Amos 7:7-15
To whom are we ultimately accountable for our lives? Against whom are we measured? Ever and always, it is God’s measurement (judgment) that counts. God’s will is the rule of life.

Psalm 85:8-13
When we are quiet long enough to hear God speak, what we will often hear is God’s message of peace. Love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace — these are “the good” that God desires to give.

Ephesians 1:3-14
We are, indeed, blessed with a number of “spiritual blessings” in Christ:

  • we are chosen before the foundation of the world (God works way ahead of the curve!)
  • we were destined to be adopted into God’s family
  • grace is freely bestowed on us, as are redemption and forgiveness
  • we have an inheritance (who wouldn’t like to get one of those?)
  • we have heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and we live for Christ’s glory
  • we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit — a “down payment” of sorts on the life we will live forever with God

Mark 6:14-29
Some days, it just doesn’t pay to be a preacher!

John has famously and steadfastly proclaimed the message from God: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” For Herod, that repentance involved not marrying his brother’s wife — but, he just couldn’t help himself!

While Herod is uncomfortable with John, he also respects him and is intrigued by him. But, with his blood all riled up after watching his niece/daughter dancing after dinner, Herod pretty much traps himself into killing a man he really wanted to protect. 

Rather than let his pride suffer (not to mention the hell he would have to pay for refusing his wife,) Herod lops off John’s head and serves it up on a platter.

Oh, be careful little mouth what you say!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Figuring out what led up to the events in today’s gospel lesson is like trying to follow the story line of a soap opera. It can get a little confusing.

King Herod here is not the same King Herod who was around when Jesus was born. That was his Daddy, Herod the Great. This is Herod Antipas. 

He was, by all accounts, not much of a man or a ruler. And this royal family’s bedding and marrying habits were unconventional and messy to say the least. It really was a soap opera.

Herod Antipas had married his brother’s wife. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except that his brother was still living and Herod forced him to divorce Herodias so he could marry her.

And the daughter who does the dancing? Jewish historian Josephus tells us her name was Salome. She was the Herod’s niece and his wife’s daughter and she ended up marrying his brother, her uncle. Sounds like a bad redneck joke, doesn’t it? 

Into the midst of this came John the Baptist. He surveyed the whole mess and called Herod out on issues of morality and leadership. He pointed out to Herod where he had failed to be a good leader to the people, both politically and in his personal life. 

Herod’s reaction is interesting. On the one hand, he has John arrested and put in jail; but on the other he protects John from his wife’s revenge. She is really angry and wants John dead, but, for now, Herod is a more afraid of John then he is his wife.

As the text says,” . . . for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.” (verse 20)

What if he is Elijah? What if Herod does need to repent? What if God is displeased with the way Herod is leading his life?

Herod is a perplexed seeker, a dabbler in the mysteries of God. He believes just enough to keep him awake at night but not enough to change his way of living.

All too often, we too are like Herod. We keep holy things hidden away in the basement of our lives. We’re not willing to throw them out, but we’re not really sure what to do with them. We live our lives without paying much attention to the holy, to the call of God on our lives, because we are perplexed as to how taking that stuff seriously might challenge us to be different.

And truth be told, most of us are happy with the way we are and don’t want to change; if we really wanted to, we would.

Look at Amos and King Jeroboam in our first lesson. Amos spoke the truth and nobody wanted to hear it. So the priest told Amos to go way, and then, in verse 13 said this, “never again prophecy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the temple of the kingdom.”

We all have to be careful on this point; it is God’s house, it is God’s sanctuary, it is God’s temple, it is God’s church. It’s not our church, it’s not the pastor’s church, it’s not the bishop’s church, it’s not the ELCA’s church; it is God’s Church.

When pastors are ordained and then later when they are installed in various ministries, they are asked to promise to preach and teach according to the scriptures and the theological tradition of the church. And the congregation is asked to hold them to that promise and to question them when it’s not clear they’re doing that.

But we are also to remember it is not the preacher’s calling to “tickle our ears” with pleasant things we want to hear; it is her calling to rightly divide the word of truth and challenge us to grow in our faith and godly actions.

Ellenita Zimmerman was a missionary in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan; and then the long time organist, choir director, and church worker at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Nashville, Tennessee. Her son Ted is professor of New Testament at the Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong. Ellenita and I worked together for several years and she told me often that her definition of the Gospel was this: “God loves you just the way you are. And God loves you too much to let you stay that way.”

Both the Bible and the preacher have been sent to us from God to constantly remind us of those two basic truths. And like Herod and Jeroboam, we often doubt God’s love and resist being changed.

And the Good News is God will not give up on us. God will continue to send messengers of love into our midst to perplex us and challenge us and ultimately transform us into the image of Christ.

Amen and amen.