2 Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b - 19
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Mark 6: 14-29
Sometimes prophets come in very strange disguises. Some come in clothing made of camel’s hair and eat bugs and honey and some can even come in silk shirts and eat caviar and drink schnapps.
In September of 1939 the army of Nazi Germany invaded Poland and within weeks the world was again at war. As the German war machine advanced so did the implementation of the so-called ‘final solution’: the extermination of Europe’s Jewish population. In the end 6,000 000 people died. What I find quite amazing is that many countries (even Germany’s enemies) were almost just as racist and refused to admit Jewish immigrants who were fleeing the Nazi terror.
However, by the end of the war a brash, womanizing and hard-drinking member of the Nazi Party was credited with almost singlehandedly saving the lives of over 1,000 Jewish people. He began his venture with a simple desire to make money, and lots of it. His plan was to take a bankrupt enamel works business and made it profitable. He did this largely with Jewish labour and Jewish money. As he witnessed the brutality and capriciousness of the SS officers something changed within his heart and soul.
His kindness amidst a sea of unbelievable brutality and indifference and his willingness to hire people with no skills whatsoever eventually won him the trust of his work force. Everyone knew that one had a much greater chance of survival if you worked for Oskar Schindler. Toward the end of the war he assembled a list of people for his new munitions factory who would otherwise most certainly have been sent to the gas chambers. He even went to Auschwitz and bought and bribed back several train cars of people who had been sent there through a supposed clerical error. By the end of the war he had spent his entire fortune to ensure the survival of those thousand or so people. The movie “Schindler’s List” is Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the story which seems almost too good to be true - too fantastic to believe. Yet, it seems that it is indeed true and over 8,000 people are descended from the so-called Schindlerjuden.
I am told that he is the only member of the Nazi Party who has been officially recognized as a “Righteous Among the Gentiles” for his work combatting the horror of Hitler’s ‘final solution’. It doesn’t seem like a great deal to have saved a thousand when 6 million died but in the words of Itzhak Stem, his factory’s accountant, “there will be generations because of you”. His life stands as a testimony to the saying, “the only thing necessary for evil to exist is for good people to do nothing”. His life, more than his words or his sermons stand as a testimony to those who are faces with an incredible choice.
While he was certainly no saint, his methods were perhaps the only way such a work could be accomplished in the time and place in which he found himself.
Unlike John the Baptizer, who lost his head because he made no bones about telling the King that he was going against the laws of God to take his brother’s wife as his own, Oskar Schindler kept up the pretense of befriending the enemy so that he could enact a much greater good.
In an era when kings could do pretty much whatever they pleased, without what we might call “legal repercussions”, John, like other prophets before him, spoke of a higher authority to which everyone was subject and from which no one was immune.
In the first reading for this Sunday we heard about an episode in the life of King David. I’m sure we all know another story about David, the one about his adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his generals, Uriah, the Hittite. The role of the prophet in that story is also very important.
The prophet I this case was named Nathan and he called David to account when a) David’s adultery with Bathsheba resulted in her becoming pregnant; b) and when an attempt to cover it up had failed, and c) had Uriah set up and killed in battle and married Bathsheba himself.
No doubt it was a risky thing for Nathan to do, but that’s what the biblical prophet is called to do, no matter the consequences.
Herod’s first mistake was to take his brother’s wife as his own. The family relationships among the various Herods and their wives was already very complicated with close relatives marrying each other all over the place. Herod probably did not like it when John came and told him that it WAS wrong and he had John put in prison. He was not about to be told what to do, but like David, HE KNEW JOHN WAS RIGHT.
Prison would probably have been where he stayed were it not for the hatred harboured by Herodias, the woman in question. It is thought that she agreed to this change in husbands because of the political, social and economic advantages that being married to a much more powerful man would have given her. She apparently had acquired the cruel streak of the Herod family as well.
His second mistake was the rash promise he made in front of his powerful friends. Keep in mind that Herod owed his power to Rome, so as king, he was little more than a puppet with a tenuous hold on power, wealth and prestige. His promise: “anything you want, my dear”.
Now what would a step-dad think a girl would want? Perhaps she would want some expensive jewellery, or some new clothing, or a servant of her own, or a trip to an exotic place. Maybe a new pony! That’s all she could possibly want. We don’t know how old this girl was but when my niece was younger her idea of an ideal existence was that she could stay up as long as she wanted and not have to go to school.
What he didn’t count on was her consulting with her mother. The request was a horrible one. Kill the prophet of God and to make sure, bring his head to Momma on a plate. (Gulp) There would be no more uncomfortable encounters to disturb their married life and her luxury.
Herod was in a tight spot for when you have made such a promise in front of your friends you had better ante up - or have a good reason not to.
You know, I can see it on one of those afternoon talk shows. You know, the ones where the people on two sides of a dispute have to be kept apart by burly men in muscle shirts! A colleague who used to be the minister in Guysborough NS, the Rev Evelyn McLachlan, can can just picture Herodias and her daughter an episode of Dr. Phil ... "so, you decided to sleep with your brother-in-law and then have your daughter dance for him and then have a prophet killed and then received his head on a platter ...” and to finish off with the classic “Dr Phill line, “ how's that workin' for ya Herodias?"
The truth is, “IT DOESN’T WORK” ! In the end the Herod family was displaced in the political machinations of those more powerful and they are remembered for their cruelty and their turning their backs on the faitha dn ethics of their people.
So in these two stories we are reminded of the choice we all face: the choice to conform to the ‘times’ or the choice to confront those who are not living according to the ways of life and truth and justice.
As we sit here on this (hot) July afternoon our minds no doubt go back to those who were a part of this community in years gone by, and whose remains lie in the cemetery outside these windows. We recall their faith amidst adversity; their sacrifices in building this church and maintaining it when there were so many needs in their own homes and farms. Many of you can recall when the doors were opened to regular worshippers and a new student came every summer to learn the tricks of the trade of ministry and often a few basics of farming and carpentry as well. I know some of those ministers.
Those days are gone and the methods of training for ministry have changed. Rural communities have fewer people and with reliable cars and paved roads the distances don’t seem as great as they once did. These doors are now open only for this service, yet this building stands as a testimony to a the faithfulness of those who built this community and the faith which sustained them through thick and thin.
Back then, most everyone went to church services when they were offered and most people operated with a common base of values and beliefs. Those times have changed as well. Now church attendance is a choice among many and not all the alternatives are necessarily a sign of lack of faith. It’s hard to compete with soccer and hockey and visiting Gramma and, of course, the demands of employers. Farmers and fishermen can decide not to work on Sunday but many people have no choice these days and the weekend is the only three clear days in a month of rain even the most Sabbath observing farmer is tempted to start that tractor and get the hay in.
Of course, faithfulness is not limited to traditional views of Sabbath observance, or even what might be termed personal morality. Faithfulness involves a concerted and intentional effort to live our lives in the light of the call and demands of the gospel.
Jesus talked about living life fully; following the commands to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
To be Christian is to place these commands above all else in our lives, despite the consequences. Few of us will lose our heads but we may lose friends or economic gain or comforts of various kinds.
The care of the poor, for example, has long been a concern of the church but church people have changed from simply feeding the poor to attacking the very causes of poverty.
The stewardship and care of this beautiful planet which God has entrusted to us is another aspect of Christian commitment. As part of managing this trust from God we are often asked to give up wasteful and destructive comforts for the longer term goal of environmental sustainability.
The work of seeking justice for those who are marginalized or oppressed is a valuable aspect of the prophetic life of the Christian community. We are called to look at our own values and then when we have wrestled with them we are to call the wider community to account for the ways in which some are made to live lives which are far less whole than they could be. As Christian people called to the life of prophecy we are called to ignore the political and social borders which normally define our existence. We are called to envision a life in which there are no second class citizens.
It’s impossible to know what will happen when the Spirit of God is let loose among God’s people. John didn’t know what was in sore for him and Jesus struggled with his call daily. But if we are faithful in seeking to follow that call to the best of our ability we WILL know the abiding love and presence of the God who will never leave us, nor forsake us.