July 15, 2012 Dcn. Rick Littlejohn guest preacher
OPENING PRAYER:: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. ( Psalm 19: 14 )
Standing up and speaking against a wrong that has been committed is usually a lonely, difficult and dangerous act. Referring to today’s gospel reading, John, the Baptist publicly spoke out about the incestuous wrong that Herod Antipas had committed. Herod seduced his own brother’s wife Herodias while in Rome visiting his brother and convinced her to leave her husband, marry Herod and return with him to his residence in Tiberias of Galilee. Although King Herod was not a Jew, John was not hesitant to tell Herod that he had broken the Law of GOD. ( Lev. 18: 16, 20:21) You cannot marry your brother’s wife while your brother is still alive. The motion picture rendition of the event has John, The Baptist standing on a small hill shouting at the top of his lungs this very law from the book of Leviticus as King Herod and Herodias past by on a slave held hand carrier. The movie is “Jesus of Nazareth” directed by Franco Zefferilli. I highly recommend this movie as a good scriptural based visual account of Jesus’life and ministry. In this event the speaking out in truth for the law cost John, the Baptist his life.
As a Christian we are like “A salmon swimming up stream against the current of the rest of society swimming down stream. “When you choose to speak out publicly about a wrong you are still that salmon swimming up stream, but now as you approach the water falls, you now have to avoid the big bears just waiting for you to jump high enough so they can grab you in their powerful jaws and eat you. That is the fate of the person who is called by GOD to speak out when “ one of His little ones is being hurt” Jesus said, ‘If you hurt one of my little ones, you hurt me .” ( Matthew 18: 6 ) .
I would like to tell you a story about such an occasion of speaking out for the truth and defending one of Christ’s defenseless children. This story is true, but I have left out the names and identification of the agency.
A young woman came into church one Sunday with her boyfriend. They seemed like a typical young couple searching for a church that would nourish them with the Gospel message and fellowship. As time went on, we found out that the boyfriend was abusive to the woman and she was forced to leave their living situation. The woman found herself with out any way of financial support her. Finally after all other avenues were exhausted; she felt her only choice was to apply for social services. Her first visit to the social services department was a terrible experience. She was treated very rudely and disrespectfully by the case worker she had been assigned. The next visit to the case worker, the woman was accompanied by her parish clergy so that the clergy person could make sure that she was treated correctly. This appointment went much better. It is amazing what a small piece of white plastic can do when worn by one of GOD’s ordained minor employees.
However the story does not end here. The difficulties for the woman with the social services continued. It was obvious that there was an atmosphere of degradation happening. As the clergy spoke with the higher administrative people in this area, it seemed that an attitude pattern was forming here. It seemed that the SOP ( standard operating procedures) for this agency over many years was that a person who applied for social service benefits was considered as a “ second class citizen “ and treating them with disrespect and rudeness had been allowed for many years. As the clergy person soon found out, no matter where he went in this organization, very little help was offered when the subject of treating social services clients poorly was discussed. The search for help for this woman went from the case worker, to the next level supervisor, to the director of Social services, to the District attorney’s office for she was a victim of physical abuse, and finally to the County Administrator . After two meetings with the County Administrator and the then acting director of Social Services, the clergy person found out that this was an attitude they had and were trying to eliminate. But, It did not appear that they were very successful in this endeavor. The last meeting with the above county officials, the woman , the clergy person was to say at the least NOT very pleasant or friendly. The woman was immediately attacked by these two officials accusing her of the same things that they had done. At that point, the clergy person lost his cool and told them exactly what he thought of them. Of course that was the end of the meeting. As the clergy person was walking out the door, he went “ eye – to – eyeball “ with the county administrator. If looks could kill, what mess where would have been!
However, things did change. The woman was assigned a new case worker who was very willing to help with the dire situation the poor woman was in. As a post script, as it turned out this woman was awarded Social Security Disability because of the damage that her past experiences of tremendous physical, mental and sexual abuse had done to permanently damage this woman.
One of the alternative readings for today’s scriptures is a reading form the Prophet Amos 7: 7 – 15. God shows the prophet, Amos a plumb line that He is holding in His hand. God has used this plumb line and found King Jeroboam of Israel very crooked and out of line with reality, and particularly regarding Israel’s relationship to GOD. Jeroboam sends Amaziah, the priest of Bethel to tell Amos to stop this negative and destructive prophesy against Israel and go to another country to prophesy. Other wise “GET OUT OF MY FACE” Amos tells Amaziah that he is not an important person, he is a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. Never the less, God has called him from his flock and instructed Amos to go to King Jeraboam and Israel and declare his sin and eventual destruction. Again like John, the Baptist we have another prophet, AMOS, publicly denouncing at King for the sin that he has committed.When a person has committed a terrible and heinous crime as Herod Antipas had done by beheading John, The Baptist, his crime tends to HAUNT Him the for the rest of his life. Herod knew what he had done was wrong to marry his brother’s wife and kill a man he knew was a Holy man. Like King Jeroboam, he could not stand to listen to a prophet tell him about his sin so the prophet was silenced. Herodias took advantage of Herod’s drunken state at the banquet and shrewdly manipulated Herod into to a corner where in order to “ save face “ he was forced to kill John, the Baptist because of his incestuous feelings for Herodias’s daughter Salome. The drama in king Herod’s court would make the soap program “ The Young and The Restless” look like a Saturday morning children’s cartoon show.
In conclusion, I would like to read to you a commentary by my favorite theologian, Mr. William Barclay. Mr. Barclay was a world-renowned Scottish New Testament interpreter and a Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University Of Glasgow in Scotland.
John the Baptizer stands revealed before us. He stands as the man of courage. He was a child of the desert and of the wide open spaces, and to imprison him in the dark dungeons of Machaerus (King Harod’s summer house) must have been the last refinement of torture. But John preferred death to falsehood. He lived for the truth and he died for it. The man who brings to men the voice of God acts as a conscience. Many a man would silence his conscience if he could, and therefore the man who speaks for God must always take his life and his fortune in his hands.
My friends in Christ, we have discussed only two examples of the cost that one must be willing to risk in order to speak the truth when a wrong must be addressed. There are many other examples that I am sure you know of. The question is what are we willing to sacrifice in order to tell the truth or attempt to right a wrong. I certainly hope none of us has to face the type of decision that John, The Baptist had to deal with. Whether or not we are willing to forfeit our lives to stand up for the truth and for those who have been wronged. That is a very heavy load to bear. In the end, it is nothing that we can do alone. This is where our faith in Jesus Christ comes into play.
The last benediction in Morning Prayer rite II is a wonderful way of placing your faith in God to tackle any task that the Lord presents us with.
“Glory to GOD whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to Him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. “