Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 7/12

          The beheading of John the Baptist is not exactly what you want for a gospel text on picnic Sunday.  It’s not a very pleasant story but you play the hand you’re dealt; so I come here not to bury King Herod but to praise him, sort of…maybe praise is the wrong word, but to cut him a little slack anyway. 

          You know King Herod; he’s one of the quintessential villains of the Bible.  Every story needs good guys and bad guys and Herod is a bad guy.  If he’s not the number one villain of the New Testament he knows who is because he’s right up there.  He’s there in the Christmas story, threatened by the newborn king the Wise Men tell him about so he has all the babies in and around Bethlehem killed.  He also shows up in this story today and at various points when the Pharisees conspire with Herod’s people in efforts to get Jesus and he’s around at the end, involved in Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, and it doesn’t really matter that the Herod around at the time of Jesus’ birth was Herod the Great, the one around the rest of the time his son; all the Herods are pretty much cut from the same cloth.

          Herod’s a bad guy but there are hints in this story that there is another side to him.  The background of this story was that Herod had heard about the miraculous deeds of Jesus and it caused him to flashback to John the Baptist, deciding in his mind that John had been raised from the dead and that was a little frightening because Herod was the one who had John executed even though in his heart, he knew that John was a good guy, a righteous and holy man.  The text also says that when Herod heard John speak he was perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.

John had said some things about Herod and his illicit marriage to his wife and Herod would have preferred that John hadn’t said those things; but my guess is that Herod knew John was right, he just didn’t want to hear it.

All of that makes me think that it could have been different for King Herod.  He was intrigued and attracted by people like John the Baptist and Jesus, but unfortunately for him, there were other forces at work in his life.

          Let me digress for a moment though.  We’re in the season of Pentecost throughout the summer and into the fall.  We celebrated the Day of Pentecost at the end of May with the story from Acts about wind and tongues of fire and people speaking in strange languages.  It’s the story of the Holy Spirit turned loose in the world, the transformative wind of God active and in play, blowing where it will, and throughout the long season after Pentecost we remember that we are Pentecost people, that the church is the community formed by the Holy Spirit. 

          One of the things the spirit does is to create wind carriers, those who are infused by spirit of God who become agents of transformation in a world that often resists change.  Inspired by the spirit though, wind carries move things in new directions that sometimes upset the order of things.  In the Bible there are lots of stories about wind carriers, about those who caught the wind of the spirit and moved with it, maybe in the Old Testament we would say those who anticipated the wind of the spirit and became part of the transforming work of God.  But people like Moses and Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah were wind carriers. 

          In the Bible, wind carriers are often in tension with office holders,  office holders being those who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are.  So, for example, in what is perhaps the defining story of the Old Testament, Moses is a wind carrier, Pharaoh is an office holder.  Moses, by the power of the Lord was working to create something new, a community where the production of bricks was not the highest priority but where honor and worship of the Lord came first, where people lived by commandments that ensured the well being of everyone, where there was time for Sabbath rest.  Pharaoh, as an office holder, was about production.  In Pharaoh’s kingdom here was no time for rest, just higher brick quotas, and some people simply didn’t matter, apart from whatever they could produce.

          Elijah and Elisha were wind carriers, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were office holders.  Isaiah and Jeremiah were wind carriers blowing against the destructive policies and behaviors of the leaders and people of Israel and Judah, policies that ultimately led to defeat and exile.  King David was a wind carrier who you could say became an office holder as he became somewhat seduced by his own power.  You get the idea.

          King Herod was an office holder.  He felt the wind.  He felt the wind of wind carriers like John the Baptist and Jesus.  But he was an office holder so while he felt the wind he was more concerned with maintaining power and status than he was with the wind.  So when he made the promise to his daughter to give her whatever she wanted and it turned out to be the head of John the Baptist, even though he knew it was the wrong thing to do, even though it grieved him, even though he knew the wind was blowing the other way, he ordered the execution.  The text says it was out of regard for his oath and his guests and because he didn’t want to disappoint his daughter, but you have to think that it was mostly out of concern for himself.

          What Herod found though, was that while he could eliminate the wind carrier, he couldn’t stop the wind.  When Herod heard about what Jesus was up to, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised and the poor have good news preached to them, when Herod heard all that he could feel the wind, the wind of a new wind carrier.  You can eliminate the wind carrier, but you can’t stop the wind. 

          John the Baptist could be executed, but the wind kept blowing.  Herod and his cronies could crucify Jesus, but the wind kept blowing.  And so it has gone throughout history.  Efforts to stop those who carry the wind can be successful, but you can’t stop it; the wind blows where it will.

          Remember too that it’s not just bad guys, office holders like King Herod who try to stop the wind.  It’s not just bad governments either, like the government of the Soviet Union for all those years.  Sometimes it’s been the church itself that has tried to stop the wind.  The church can become an office holder too, when it’s mostly concerned with its own status and power, concerned about keeping things the way they’ve always been, even though the wind is blowing, moving in new directions.

          Every year when we have this service, it feels to me like the wind is blowing.  I’ll bet that there is no one here today who thinks that the long term future of the ELCA presence in Ishpeming is to continue to have four individual churches operating separately.  You can feel the wind blowing in another direction.  And for one day we work together, we gather together, we worship together, we eat together.  We’re wind carriers and as we carry the wind we can imagine the possibilities.  We can imagine where that wind is blowing us and what kind of ministry we could be doing in this area if this wasn’t just a once a year thing.

          But the people of Bethany will go back up on the hill, the people of Bethel and the people of Trinity will go back downtown, the people of Faith back out on 581 and we’ll go back to being office holders, keeping things as they are, duplicating efforts, in some ways competing with each other, instead of imagining the ministry we could be doing, the witness we could be if somehow we could work together.

          I can’t say I know for sure exactly where the wind of the Spirit is blowing us, but the wind is blowing.  I can feel it…and so can you.

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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