How Much Truth Can We Really Bear? Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 7/12/2015, Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, CA
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 7/12/2015
Amos 7:7-15 Psalm 8:8-13 Ephesians 1:3-14 Mark 6: 14-29
How Much Truth can we really Bear?
Often I skip over the introductions in our bulletin, but I’m glad I read this one:
In Herod’s fear that Jesus is John returned from the dead, we have hope for the oppressed: that all the prophets killed throughout the ages are alive in Jesus. We are called to witness to justice in company with them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr, Oscar Romero, and so many more recent prophets have lost their lives witnessing to the truth and finding themselves at loggerheads with those who wish to live a comfortable life of self-deception and illusion.
Lies are the mother of violence while truth mothers life and love and more abundant life into existence.
Therefore, as much as we love our country, it has no claim to our ultimate faith. The United States of America stands under the judgment of the Kingdom of God like every other earthly power and when Manifest Destiny equates our country with the Kingdom of God, then prophets will stand up and put our country back into its rightful more humble place.
For example, when Pete Seeger, the late folk song singer sang the Vietnam War protest song, “The Big Muddy” on the Smothers Brothers TV show, the program was censured and not allowed to air. The song declared that Vietnam was a quagmire that would destroy us and that we couldn’t win. We lost 55,000 soldiers, who died over there. Another song goes, “When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?” We never seem to learn.
When Albert Einstein criticized our country for its racism in the South, way back before you were allowed to talk about it, we unleashed a propaganda campaign against him saying that he was really quite flaky, when not speaking about physics and he was not allowed to work in the Manhattan Project. Meanwhile his theoretical work made the whole project possible. He also said that “the unleashed power of the atom changed everything, except our way of thinking, which could make humanity drift to unparalleled catastrophe.” Now our top general says that Russia, a nuclear power, has once again become our main threat.
When Nina Simone took racism and lynching in our country seriously, she was no longer considered an entertainer. She had to continue her career in Europe, because she had gone out of bounds over here concerning what was permissible to say.
These are just some national figures, but speaking the truth in churches, schools, hospitals, prisons, and government will often get people into trouble, the whistle-blower rule notwithstanding. Therefore often we feel that we cannot afford to tell the truth. One could get fired and our family may depend on our income and it becomes a disruption of our lives.
Way back in the sixties before I had graduated and been ordained, people warned me to be quiet, but I couldn’t be, and it took four years after seminary to get ordained and that was in Berlin, Germany. But God puts truth-tellers through the school of hard knocks to give us an education that you can’t get in schools. My fellow classmates received plumb churches in Ohio and elsewhere, but I experienced another church system altogether in Germany and then I had the chance to travel around the world. What an education God provided for me; but it comes with some suffering.
Look at Amos. God called him to speak out. His words were too hard to bear and the royal prophet in cahoots with the king calls Amos a conspirator. But get the irony: “Bethel” in Hebrew means the House of God, not the House of Jeroboam. But the royal prophet calls it King Jeroboam’s sanctuary. For the royal prophet, it is not God’s temple, but the temple of Jeroboam’s kingdom. The temple, however, belonged to God and the kingdom of God, which was there above him to give Jeroboam a conscience, direct him, and correct him when he erred. Pr. Barbara mentioned a show about a CEO whose board can’t tell him the truth and the business comes crashing down. He asks, “Have I surrounded myself with “yes-men?”
In NAZI Germany, Hitler tried to make the church serve his Third Reich and he found German Christians who were willing to place his portrait in their churches, further his antisemitism, and place Germany over everything. Deutschland über Alles. Hitler was able to choose Bishops who were in the German Christian camp and confessing Christians lost their churches and were driven from their pulpits. Bonhoeffer, for example, had to lead a seminary secretly up by the North Sea. Thus we too should not be American Christians, but confessing Christians, who happen to be American. It might seem counter-intuitive, but when we are “American Christians” we betray our country.
Now Herod in our gospel lesson had his eye on his brother’s wife and she must have wanted to be with that tyrant as well. So Herod acted as if he was completely above the law and married a married woman. Now John the Baptist had the nerve to tell Herod, “What you are doing is wrong.” Just because you are the king does not place you above the law. And you can see what happened. It says that the tyrant liked to hear John but his words left him greatly perplexed. I wonder what was going on. Perhaps the king found him entertaining.
What kind of a king, however, makes that kind of an oath to the daughter of his new wife right after she provides an erotic dance? Tradition has it that Herodias’ daughter’s name was Salomé. Love did not seem to reside in that eroticism, but an evil spirit of hatred and revenge.
Look at old King David. He sees Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her house and has an affair with her. Then when her husband, Uriah, the Hittite, gets in the way, he had his commanding general Joab, make sure Uriah was killed in battle. It was all done hush, hush in secret until Nathan the prophet finds out about it and with a parable nailed David in his sin: “You are the man who committed this crime.”
David repented. Most tyrants just kill the truth teller. David repented and had to suffer horrendous consequences.
Even if it makes us suffer, let’s try to bear more and more truth, because it makes us more and more loving and just. When I myself could not bear some critique about myself, my ears would just shut down. I just suddenly could not hear what was said. Are you like that too? Such words might make us perplexed, but God will help us open up. And either way, when we try to live a lie and tell lies, we have to have a good memory and keep up a false front. So that way we have to suffer too. God’s Word is the truth. Luther said, “Those who hear God’s Word become like the word, pure, good, and just.” I know that Amos has to come with his plumb line, because our hearts, according to Jeremiah, are crooked above all things and desperately corrupt.
When I worked in First Lutheran Church in Cincinnati before our Vacation Church School and Day Camps we would have a Leadership Training Laboratory. Near the end, after we built up and achieved a level of trust with one another, we would have to bring up things about each other. It was difficult. If you criticize some people, forget it: that is the end of your relationship. Let’s not be like that. Criticism given in love will improve a relationship. But always ask if a person’s self-esteem can handle it. Sometimes when we feel almost down to the ground, criticism will feel like rejection. In our Leadership Laboratory, some people had real problems with criticism, but some had real problems giving and receiving compliments, affection, and love. You know the old saw: the Norwegian farmer who loved his wife so much he almost told her.
We would ask: where is your growing edge? And we can ask ourselves that question, personally: where is my growing edge? I remember when we were children playing baseball in the street, a foul ball would crash through one of the windows of our house. Then one of us, usually me, had to tell our father that we broke a window. We referred to that as going to face the music. Sometimes we have to face the music when we have gotten into wrong ways. A self-destructive life swimming in lies leads to death and destruction. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and he will help us bear the truth and receive a life shaped by truthfulness once more.
But there are also on justice issues: where is my and our growing edge? In terms of our country we also have to grow in openness. We can’t live as though the ultimate in life is entertainment and pleasure, nor feel offended when the sins of our country are named; nor when at times we get on our high horse, fall off, and have to eat some humble pie. That makes us more human. There is a great deal of profit in heeding the warnings of the prophets among us. Their words lead to life and life more abundant, because after the cross comes the glorious resurrection. Amen.
 Talking with my brother Philip Krey, he pointed out how Herodias resembles Jezebel’s grudge against Elijah and how the incredible luxury and eroticism of Herod’s party resembled the one thrown by Ahasueras (probably Xerxes) in the Book of Esther, where the queen Vashti refuses to show up. He contrasted this conspicuous consumption and eroticism with Salomé dancing the dance of the seven veils with Jesus humbly feeding the five thousand, that is, feeding the masses.
 From his pamphlet, Freedom of a Christian.