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July 14, 2018

Two weeks ago we took a quick trip into the Rocky Mountain National Park and saw two black fox kits and their Mama. On the way back home we saw this Mama Deer and her two fawns grazing. This was definitely one of those pinch me, we get to live here moments. It was pretty amazing.

However, when I contemplate the two readings for tomorrow, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, I don’t exactly get the same sort of feeling. I have been struggling with the passage from the prophet Amos (7:7-15) and the Gospel (Mark 6:14-29). The Amos reading is about the plumb line which God showed Amos before telling the prophet to take a very divisive and difficult word to the king of Israel. The Gospel reading is the story of Salome dancing and Herodias demanding the head of John the Baptist on a platter!

I am still not sure where this sermon is going as of yet. It has been a difficult week on a number of levels for me and the darkness of the passages have been haunting me.

When you consider the word Amos was to give King Jeroboam (God is going to tear down the sanctuaries of the Kingdom and turn away from the King and the people) you can’t help but think, this isn’t going to turn out well. It never turns out well when a Prophet doesn’t kiss up to a despotic ruler but instead tells the Emperor that they are buck naked and a fool to say the least! Challenges like that don’t go over very well and it usually turns out badly for the honest prophet!

Well, that is what happened with John the Baptist. He told Herod (among other things) that the relationship between Herod and Herodias was adulterous. That was the final straw and the prophet who had been challenging Herod and the ruling religious elite from the beginning of his ministry was thrown into prison! It was when he threw a party where his step-daughter danced a risqué (to say the least) dance before his drunken and lecherous guests that it came to a head so to speak. Herodias seized the moment when the drunken Herod promised her daughter anything… Mom, what do I ask for? Ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter, she replied!

What ties these two stories together? I think in part it is the whole idea of speaking the word of God as the prophet can get you into serious trouble. While the prophet calls for justice for the oppressed or calls the religious and political elite to turn from selfish, greedy, and self-serving ways, they often see injustice meted out to them just as the elite have meted it out to the people in their rush to be greedy and self-serving!

John the Baptist lost his life for calling out Herod on many an occasion… Amos was threatened by the elites who had fouled up and made an abomination of the original Covenant between God and God’s children.

King Jeroboam thought he was getting justice by threatening Amos. Herodias thought she was getting justice by having John the Baptist killed. Herod was too much of a narcissistic coward to stand up to Herodias in front of his drunken friends.

In both cases, the ones who cried foul and demanded “their justice” were acting in a horrific and unjust way to say the least. And it was the Prophets and the oppressed on whose behalf they spoke who suffered as a result of the “so-called justice” meted out by the elites.

If this story sounds a bit too familiar, dear reader, it is! The christians (lower case is intentional) who cry foul the loudest are the ones are the ones who are too often the persecutors and not the persecuted. And for too long, the politicians who say they have the interests of the people in mind are actually in it for themselves and often at the expense of the poor and the marginalized and the oppressed. Just like Jeroboam and Herod (and Herodias) they are more concerned about keeping their power than they are about caring for those who they have been charged to serve.

As we rallied for Immigrant Rights and marched against the oppressive system of Cash Bail in St Louis during the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), one of our chants was this: What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!

The voice of the prophet must ring out today against injustices of all types. It’s as though I can hear the voice of the Prophet saying: What does the Lord require? Justice! Kindness! Mercy! Walk Humbly! When does the Lord want it? Now!

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