This blog post is featured in a chronological series “The Dog Days of Summer – Biblical Figures Feel the Heat.” Blogs are intended to offer an outlet for reflection beyond Sunday morning.
July 5, 2015
Delivered by Rev. Rachel Landers Vaagenes
Texts: Mark 6:14-29 and Revelation 3:14-22
John the Baptist is our fourth subject in our “Dog-Days of Summer: Biblical figures feel the heat.”
John was a prophet on the outskirts of Judah, and his manner, appearance, and behavior all signaled that John was not playing by the rules of the established order. Herod had imprisoned John because of his critique of Herod’s marrying his own sister-in-law.
And so the stage is set for the final day of the life of John the Baptist. In almost Shakespearian style the scene plays out: an illegitimate marriage, a raucous celebration, a niece’s pleasurable dance, an outrageous promise, an opportunity seized. Suddenly the power of this king is very much called into question. Herod gives way, while John stands firm.
2000 years later, Lloyd Olsen lopped off the head of a chicken for dinner. Yet the rooster continued to live in defiance of the loss of what we would consider essential: his head. It turns out that there isn’t much brain required to keep something alive.
And so here we are presented with two stories of beheadings: John and Mike. John, who died, Mike, who survived. What can they teach us about ourselves?
Are we John? Are we those who put our faith hope and trust in God? Willing to risk everything, even our lives in service to the radical eternal love of Jesus Christ? Or are we Mike? Alive but not living? Unfortunately, like Mike, the church too, is able to survive without its head.
Who are we? What work are we meant to do? Before we can advance, there is a great stumbling block in our way. And though it is large, it is not easily seen. We have become blind—not to our sins, for they are apparent enough—but to our sinfulness. A sin is a thing that is to some extent external from us. It is something we possibly do or participate in. but “Sinful” is something we are: internal and part of our identity.
When we ask about our mission, be it service or witness or worship, we cannot start with this or that program or outcome. We must start with Jesus. Then—only then—will we be able to discern God’s will for us. Our identity as a church and as individuals is wrapped up in our understanding of who God is: a God who calls sinners back to freedom.
This means getting comfortable with recognizing, confessing, and repenting of sin. And that means we need to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable.
In Revelation, the church in Laodicea says, “I am rich, I have prospered, I need nothing.” But hear the words of the messenger of God: “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” They have forgotten how much they were in need of salvation.
But Christ remembers. We are not forgotten. We are sinners called by God; loved, and tasked with sharing that unconditional love with the whole world. This is not a comfortable, safe love. It is a risky, vulnerable love. It is a love that was carried all the way to the cross. It is in this love that we are known.
John the Baptist knew who he was, and with Christ as his head he had no fear of losing his own.
We can survive as a comfortable church, or we can reclaim Christ as our head. This weekend as we mark the 239th year of independence of our country, let us be a church worthy of the freedom to worship God. What do we have to lose? And what is that compared to all that we have to gain?
To God be the glory, now and forever. Amen.