We worshipped outdoors this day but pre-recorded a service for YouTube. Thus the sermon in the video and the one below are two different sermons.
Proper 10 (15), Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
11 July 2021
My parents were born in 1931. In May of 1945 my father was 14 years old, my mother 13. I have heard some of their stories.
Among them, my father’s confession to have been brainwashed by the Hitler youth, having believed the propaganda, and having been devastated when all fell apart and none of the glory he had been promised materialized. Both shared their stories of being shipped to the country side when the bombing raids of German cities began. My mother could never forget the many invalids in their early twenties she saw in the city of Fulda while she lived there with a family not her own. My mother also told me of the rubble that my hometown had been turned into, and the years of hunger. My father, who had a difficult relationship with his parents, spoke proudly of his father having denied him permission to attend an elite Nazi school, saying to to my father, “Are you crazy? We have lost the war,” two years before the end of the war.
My parents were too young during the thirties and forties for me to have asked them what it was they had done to oppose Hitler and the rise of the Nazis. But I could have asked my grandparents yet I never did. It did not occur to me and I suppose that while it would have been legitimate, it also would have been expression of a hubris that may have assumed that I would have done better, without knowing that I would have done better. What was beyond dispute was the evil of the regime and its ideology.
Occasionally, we come across this history in Canada, though less and less as the perpetrators of Nazi crimes age and die. The case of Helmut Oberlander, now 97, who has been fighting deportation for 24 years may be the last one.
Oberlander’s argument is that he never participated in any killings, though he is known to have worked as an interpreter for a Nazi death squad that killed at least 20000 people. He says he never participated in the crimes but was occupied with only menial tasks like shining officers’ boots.1
These are often the excuses of those charged with such crimes. Whether Nazi murderers or the pilot of the Enola Gay who dropped the nuclear bomb “little boy” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima (a city with a substantial Christian population), or the Mỹ Lai massacre, or other atrocities committed in the name of honour, country, and freedom. The most common defence I heard growing up in post-war Germany was that during the Nazi rule one had to obey commands or risk ones’ own life. There have been studies showing this not to be true. Besides, no one seems to ask why one did not prevent the Nazi’s from taking power in the first place or question the political accommodations that made it possible for them to do so. After all, there was a time the Nazis could have been stopped without the use of force.
The evangelist Mark presents us with an insertion into the story of Jesus, a remembrance of the murder of John the Baptizer, killed by King Herod because Herod wanted to preserve his honour, as if killing a prophet could be honourable, even if that prophet proved inconvenient.
We may recall that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us not to give an oath but to simply speak truthfully (Matthew 5:33ff), perhaps bearing in mind the story of Jephthah who gave an oath that if God gave him victory over the Ammonites, he would sacrifice to the Lord whatever emerged from his house upon his return (Judges 11:30-31). This is even stupider than opening the Bible randomly and thinking that God will give us guidance through whatever we may find randomly on a page of our sacred scriptures. Jephthah he ended up sacrificing his only child, his daughter, as if that was something the Lord would have desired.
Like Herod, we have strange rationalizations for the things we do, whether it concerned the running of residential schools, or the fight against global warming today. Our most effective lies are to ourselves.
Today’s story of the murder of John the Baptist by King Herod is preceded by Jesus’ sending of the twelve to be bearers of the Kingdom of God by being bearers of God’s peace and having authority to cast out demons. John’s death functions here not only as a preview of what will happen to Jesus, but also as a warning to the church called into discipleship to count the cost. Following Jesus is not easy, it demands sacrifice, it may not bring popularity, it will not permit us to go with the flow, nor permit us to rationalize the things we do as if we did not have a choice.
While in one way the story of Herod may serve as a warning not to meddle with the powerful, not to swim against the stream, because after all, what did John’s death accomplish, in Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus it does the opposite.
Jesus persists in his ministry, and has no need to rationalize what he fails to do because he does not evade his mission.
It is a gift to church and world that Jesus did not count the cost, or rather counted the cost and saw his life and sacrifice as worthwhile, considered you and me, and the salvation of the world to be worthwhile.
For the paradox of the cross is that it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. It is counter-intuitive and yet true.
By doing so, Jesus sets us free to follow him instead of cultural, economic, or political expectations, not needing to hide behind power structures, economic necessities, or to tell ourselves that what we do won’t make a difference anyway and that we may as well go back to watching Netflix.
Jesus sent the disciples to be God’s presence in the world. Jesus sends us to be God’s presence. It may be costly, it was to God, but it is the way of life.
What Jesus showed us is that our lives are not our own. My life is not just about my happiness but about the economy of God, about community, others, about our calling to live out our baptism.
To love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind and to love our neighbour as our self.
St Paul said this beautifully when he said, (…) it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
And Martin Luther articulated the same thing when he said, A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.2
Thanks be to God.
2 On the Freedom of a Christian: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Freedom_of_a_Christian