The podcast can be found here.
You have probably picked up by now that I don’t talk politics during the sermon time. I know a good many priests who can’t go a Sunday without commenting on a soap box political topic, but I’ve always been a firm believer that the pulpit is the place for the word of God, for hearing and understanding the things of Jesus, and that the preacher should not simply be another political pundit. I recently read a blog post titled, “If Your Church Doesn’t Preach the Gospel.” The author stated, “Honestly, I sometimes wonder if preachers, and often hearers too, relish ‘newsworthy’ sermons because it gives us a way to avoid the scandal of the Gospel. Which is a real bummer, since the Gospel gives us a way to respond that has nothing and everything to do with what is on the front page.” (Source) That said, let’s talk some politics… but probably not the ones you are thinking about.
On September 19, 1486, Arthur was born, the first son of King Henry VII. As first born son, he was heir apparent to the throne of England. In order to strengthen his position as King, it was important Henry VII to have his son married off to the right person, so the arrangements for his wedding were underway before he was three years old, and he was officially engaged to Catharine of Aragorn when he was eleven. Catharine was the daughter of Queen Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, and the marriage would create a strong alliance against the French. Two years later, a month or so shy of Author’s fourteenth birthday, he and Catherine married. Six months later, Arthur was dead of an unknown sickness. However, King Henry VII still wanted the alliance with Spain and as luck would have it, he had a second son, Henry. Only problem: Leviticus 20:21 – “If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity; he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.” Solution: Catharine declared she was still a virgin, so the marriage to Arthur was never consummated. In addition, the Pope gave special dispensation allowing the wedding to go forward. Happy wedding, happy couple… for awhile, but then, there were two more problems: no male children, which means no heir to the throne, and a little tart named Anne Boleyn. Solution: since Catharine had been unable to produce a male heir (certainly no fault of his own!), Henry declared that Catharine must have consummated her wedding with Arthur to the fulfillment of Leviticus 20:21 – “…they shall be childless.” It was this same issue, some 1,500 years earlier, that cost John the Baptist his head.
Herod the Great, the Herod that was alive at the time of Jesus’ birth, was nuttier than a fruitcake and paranoid. So much so that he had his only two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, executed. At the time, Aristobulus had a daughter, Herodias. Since Herod the Great felt obligated to care for this girl, she was now an orphan and a minor, he had her married off to her uncle, Philip.
For awhile, all was good. Philip was next in line to the throne and he and Herodias were happy, even having a child together, Salome. However, it was discovered that Philip had knowledge of a plot to poison Herod the Great and did nothing about it, so when Herod survived and discovered Philip’s deceit, he punished him, by removing him from the line of succession. As for Herodias, the Jewish Historian Josephus writes: “Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorce herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod Antipas.” Herodias had ambitions and being married to a has-been was not in her plans. She divorced Philip and married Herod Antipas, one of the other sons of Herod the Great. Herod the Great would die and Herod Antipas, a.k.a. King Herod (the one reigning at the time of Jesus’ ministry) ascended the throne.
Like Henry VIII who married Catharine, the former wife of his brother Arthur, Herod Antipas has done the same thing, marrying the wife of his brother Philip, therefore Herod Antipas is guilty of the same sin: “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.”
With that background we fill in some of the blanks from our Gospel: Herod Antipas, now King Herod, “sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” Herodias had a grudge against John, he had called her out on her sins, and so she wanted him punished, put to death, and the opportunity arose.
Herod had a big shindig and Salome—Herodias’ daughter from her marriage to Philip—came in and danced the original “dirty dancing.” She pleased Herod greatly, so he offered Salome anything. She went and asked momma what to ask for and momma said ask for the head of John the Baptist. Even though Herod liked John, he had him beheaded, because of all the guest. He could not lose face. The guards went immediately, beheaded John, and brought his head to Salome on a platter, who then gave it to her mother.
In the cases of Henry VIII and Herod Antipas, no one wanted them as an enemy, so everyone gave into their desires and overlooked their sins, but there were some who spoke against them, and in the case of King Herod, it was John the Baptist. John was the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. We can say that John was beheaded because he pointed at a king and called him a sinner, but the real reason John was beheaded was because He pointed at God and said, “This is the Way.”
As I said, I don’t like politics mixed with my Sunday morning, but this is truly God’s politics, and whether I like it or not, you and I—every Sunday—are involved in the same type of political activism. Theologian Jean-Jacques von Allmen writes, “Christianity is a basically political action: it reminds the state of the limited and provisional character of its power, and when the state claims for itself an absolute trust and obedience, Christianity protests against this pretension to claim a kingdom, a power and a glory which belong of right to God alone. That is why, in gathering together for Christian worship, men compromise themselves politically.” (Source)
By simply gathering on a Sunday morning, we are like John the Baptist, for our actions are crying out in the wilderness, declaring, “Your ways are not God’s ways. This is the path we must follow. This is the narrow gate that all must enter who are to be redeemed by God.” Not only are we declaring to the world that there is truth and another way, but we are also stirring the proverbial pot in a universal way.
Take our prayers, just during the Sunday Liturgy: there are the collects, prayers of the people, confession, the Eucharistic prayer, the Lord’s prayer, our time of worship is a time of prayer. But, do we know what we are doing? When we call on the name of Jesus, do we understand what power we are tapping into? When we make that one simple statement, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”: do we comprehend the magnitude of what we are asking?
Poet and essayist Annie Dillard wrote, “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.” (Source)
When we gather to worship, to be with God, it is so much more than simply going through the rituals of the prayer book and reciting nice little prayers. It is about transforming ourselves and the world we live in, not through our own strength, our own intellect, our own politics, but through the power, and the politics of God. And we don’t seek to change ourselves and the world around us according to what we desire, but according to what God desires.
That is what I love so much about the Church. The Church is not a country club or an audience at a Dr. Phil show. We are not here to be entertained and we are not solely here for good works and social outreach—the Rotary, Kiwanis, Moose and other civic organizations do a remarkable job in that department—but Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is the only place where the radical transformation of peoples lives and the world we live in can take place. It is a place where John the Baptist still cries out, where Jesus still heals, and where God’s redeeming work is accomplished.
No. I don’t like the politics of this world. They are human centered, often selfish, and never fulfilled. But the politics of God… Yeah. I’m in. In God’s politics we are all politicians, cast from the same mold as John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness and pointing to Jesus. Where do our politics unfold? In the least likely of places. On our knees.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, look upon our community of faith which is the Church of your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to witness to his love by loving all our fellow creatures without exception. Under the leadership of our Bishop keep us faithful to Christ’s mission of calling all men and women to your service so that there may be “one fold and one shepherd.” We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.