Mark 6. 14-29
Church – like Christ – is called to speak truth
to those who don’t matter!
Speaking truth to power! That’s a phrase everybody’s using, nowadays! Especially here in the church! Speaking truth to power! Standing up for what’s right! Courageously confronting injustice! And no one did it better than John! John, the baptizer! John, god’s messenger! John, the voice crying out! John, the one preparing the way! Now, he – HE – knew how to speak truth to power! And people came from all around to hear him! From countryside! From city! They all came into the Wilderness to hear him! To be baptized! To confess their sins! To see the man in camel’s hair, a leather belt around his waist! Eating locusts! Wild honey! Flames in his eyes and a fire in his belly!
Mark doesn’t say much about his preaching. Matthew and Luke, though, make up for it! Shaking fist! Pointing finger! Ranting! Raving! John was never one to pull punches! “Brood of vipers” he called them! The Pharisees! The Sadducees! Ax at the roots! Winnowing fork in hand! And fire! Always fire! Unquenchable! Out of control! That was John! Nothing soft about him! Nothing gentle! Always! Always! Always! Speaking truth to power! Never backing off! Forever standing his ground! To the very end. That’s what we read, this morning. The story of the very end.
We’ve heard it, before. The baptizer speaking out against Herod. Against Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. Herod has John arrested, bound, imprisoned. Then comes the banquet, the dance, the promise. In the end, John’s head is on a platter and his disciples come and take his body and lay it in a tomb. Mark tells the story, but not for John’s sake. He tells it for Jesus’ sake. You see, when Herod hears of Jesus’ disciples’ preaching, as Jesus’ name becomes known, he believes … believes that John has been raised from the dead. He believes that John has returned to life! The one an echo, a reflection, of the other. Speaking truth to power.
Speaking truth to power. But the more I thought about the comparison – how Jesus could be John the baptizer resurrected – the more I realized it couldn’t be further from the truth. Close your eyes, for a moment. Pull up all your memories of Jesus. Everything you ever heard about him. From the manger to the cross. From the cross to the grave and beyond. Now, how many times – other than that day in the Temple – how many times do you remember an angry Jesus? How many times do you remember Jesus raising his voice? Or pointing a finger? Or shaking a fist? How many times does he issue an ultimatum? A threat? Where John was hard, Jesus is gentle. Where John was righteous, Jesus is humble. Where John was demanding, Jesus is easy-going. As far as personalities go, they’re polar opposites! John was all obedience! Jesus was faith and hope and love! Especially love!
Now, think back over the last thirty-or-so Sundays. Consider the part of Mark we’ve read, up to now. He begins with John preparing the way, making paths straight. But nothing about his preaching. The warnings. The threats. The fire. Jesus is baptized! Tempted! Then he begins preaching of his own! Preaching gospel! Proclaiming goodNews! He calls disciples! Casts out demons! Heals sick. Cleanses lepers!. Forgives! He’s questioned by the Pharisees! Challenged! “John’s disciples fast, yours don’t.” “They don’t have to,” Jesus says. He stills the storm! Raises the dead! And not once – that I saw … Not once – that I remember … did he point a finger … or shake a fist … or raise his voice … Jesus didn’t speak truth to the powerful. He spoke truth to the powerless! And that’s a whole lot more threatening, a whole lot more dangerous, to people like Herod than what the baptizer did!
In the end, John’s death accomplishes nothing. It’s doesn’t redeem. It doesn’t deliver. Jesus’ death changes the world! Flips it upside-down! Turns it inside-out! Jesus speaks truth … to the lowest and the least! He speaks truth … to the forgotten and ignored! He speaks truth … to the people who had no faces, no names! And in the end, that’s why he’s killed. He gives hope to the desperate. He gives tomorrow to those who have only the moment. John was killed because he was more like a mosquito. A nuisance. A bother. Jesus is killed because he set the world ablaze with love. Of course, that’s hard for us to understand. Faith for us, believing, has been reduced to nothing more than an hour-a-week. Three songs and a handful of prayers. We’re a church domesticated. A church tamed. A church drained of the love. At least, drained of love like Jesus.
We’re not here to speak truth to power. That’s not what we’re about. We’re here to speak love! Love to the loveless! Not just so they, like the song says, might lovely be. But so they can go and do the same! So they, too, can speak love to the loveless! As a hundred generations before them have, already, done. That the world might be bornAgain … and again … and again … Reborn … over … and over … and over …
We’re not John’s disciples. We’re disciples of Christ. Disciples of the one whose death brings life. They both speak truth. Just different truths to different people. One to the powerful; the other to the powerless. One shouted; the other whispered. One an indictment, a denunciation; the other grace and mercy. My friends, we are Christ’s! We are church! We’re not here to speak truth to power! We’re here to speak gospel to the poor! And the captives! And the blind! And the oppressed! We’re here to speak gospel, goodNews! To people! Just! Like! Us!