The Way of Love, by Pastor Noel

July 14 & 15, 2018    Proper 10B

 

      Amos tells us that God uses a plumb line to judge the health of his people. A plumb line is a string with a weight on it so builders can make sure that walls and posts are upright.

      Amos is saying that some folks are on the upright or good side of the line, while others are not.

      In the story Mark tells, most of the folks would be on the “other” side of the line.

      This gruesome gospel story is a parody of Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day. It is Mark’s satirical criticism of Herod in particular. It could be a skit from Saturday Night Live.

      Mark gives us a king who is tyrannical and also insecure and weak. He gives us a dinner party that would have broken moral law.

      He wants us to know the consequences of being a prophet, of standing up for God’s justice and truth. And he wants us to know that we are all called to be prophets.

      Herod has married his brother’s wife. That was against the law. Yes, there was a Levrite law that says that a man must take his brother’s widow as a wife –but only if she is childless. Herodias has a daughter, so that law is moot. And she is not a widow—she divorced Philip to marry Herod.

      The guests—all men, by the way—are a mix of military, government, and business. Those Herod relied on, and also those he needed to impress.

      Somewhere outside all this festivity, John the Baptizer is in prison. Herod enjoyed conversations with John, even though John called him to be a more faithful Jew.

      Herodias just wanted him out of the way entirely. She used her daughter for that. The daughter’s name is Salome—not sure why Mark calls her the same as her mother.

      Her dance may have been a joyful way of celebrating Herod’s birthday.

      Herodias uses it to get her wishes about John.

      Still, her presence at this party stretches, if not breaks, the norms of Jewish family life. Women, or any age, did not socialize with men who weren’t of their family.

      Herod is not interested in social norms.

      Jesus has warned the disciples about “the leaven of Herod.” One of our canticles warns against “the leaven of malice and evil.” We can see that leaven active in this story.

      Another name for leaven is yeast. It makes bread rise and be filled with air. Jesus also says that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (of dough.)

      Here at this banquet there is a whole lot of evil leaven, and it sets the tone for John’s murder.

      Herod is surrounded by his cronies. They may know him better than anyone else, and he has to be strong and powerful for them to approve him.

      The leaven here is his need to have their approval and to appear be strong and decisive.

      So, he puts his reputation ahead of John’s life. Herod saves face, John loses his head.

      Salome is seen as a pawn between her mother and step-father. Her dance entrances Herod and the guests.

      When Herod offers her whatever she wants, she has to ask her mother what to say. With all the emotion in the room on her side, Herod has to say yes to her request.

      This is the power of the crowd on someone who is fearful and unsure of themselves. Herod may have been the one on the throne, but he needs the crowd to stay there.

      The power of the leaven of malice and evil comes in crowds and in individuals. If you wonder what it might look like, just watch the news. You can’t miss it.

      It doesn’t have to be like this. There is another way that is not evil or malicious. The way of love.

      This is, of course, what Jesus came to show us. Not more rules and regs and social norms for a check off list. Love. There is no law for love, Paul tells us.

      The way of love can be harder than keeping rules and regs. Love means that we pay attention to everyone. Care about everyone. Help everyone however we can.

      This love was the theme of our church’s General Convention that just ended. The red “wheel” in your bulletin is from Convention and our Presiding Bishop.

      Bishop Curry says that the way of love is “loving, liberating, life-giving.”  Following Jesus.

      I think that you can start anywhere on this wheel, but starting with “turn” makes most sense.

      TURN—away from the world’s culture and to God’s culture. That’s what “repent” means

      We can’t do this well alone, so we LEARN about God’s way and Jesus—from Scripture, from church, and from each other.

      PRAY. No surprise there! For me, prayer is not about asking God for things. Prayer is being in touch with God through my thoughts, through enjoying companionship, through God’s creation.

      Yes, I lift up others to God and sometimes do ask for things. Mostly I just ask that I’ll be guided to whatever I can best be doing.

      WORSHIP.  Again, a no brainer. We are not in this life alone. We need each other. Worship and other church activities help us to be God’s family together. And Jesus sent the apostles out two by two so they’d have a companion and friend.

      BLESS.  When I pray over a meal I ask that God will bless us to be a blessing to others. That is what we were created to be and do.

  1. Take God with you somewhere. Across the street, into another room… Some are called to go across the country or around the world. Some stay home but keep God’s love alive and well. REST. This may be the hardest of all the ideas on the wheel! We are such a “doing” people! Sabbath time is restorative and strengthening.  It is a gift that God invites us to share with him.  Take a day or a few hours and see the difference it makes.

      Whatever else comes out of General Convention—whatever ideas are debated, resolutions passed or not—this wheel of a life with God will be the most important.

      The Presiding Bishop says that we are “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.”

      May we keep that branch healthy and blooming. May we use this wheel to lead us into a deeper and richer journey with God.

      And this cycles back to the Collect. We prayed that we may know and understand what God wants us to do. We prayed for the grace and power from God to do it.

      This wheel, these practices, will help us to be on the right side of that plumb line. It will help us follow Jesus in the way of God’s love.

      May everyone we meet know us to be “loving, liberating, life-giving” as we draw them into this journey of God’s love. ëë

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details