I heard someone comment on the radio or TV that the July 4th weekend is considered to be the beginning of summer. By the calendar this person is not far off from being correct. Summer really began about three weeks ago now. However, back to school stuff is on sale now as it seems that some people believe the summer is coming to an end already. Weather-wise, there have been a few days suggesting that. Well, there are 90 days of summer and we are about 25% percent of the way through this glorious time of the year. Yet, the gospel reading for today hints of winter. We really don’t talk much about John the Baptist in July. Rather, we think of him more likely during the Sundays of Advent in December. But today we hear the story in its fullest about what happened to the one who called for us all to prepare the way of the Lord. This kind of urges us now to think about winter in summer. In other words what we are more likely to think about in winter does happen in summer. There are people without homes in the summer also. There are people living in horrible conditions year round. I can’t imagine living any place where there would be raw sewage in the basement any time of the year. People go hungry during this time of the year also. Many playgrounds during this school recess time are providing hungry kids with lunch. Some missions that provide for the poor are fixing picnic baskets for the hungry to enjoy. Why not? We all like to have hot dogs, hamburgers and potato salad in the summer. It must be terrible to be stuck in an apartment or room during 90 degree days without any cool air comforting you. More people than we realize suffer the ill effects of heat. Of course, not every family is able to plan a family vacation while the kids are home from school. The violence in the city might even be worse this time of the year as anger boils over in some violent neighborhoods. So, through John the Baptist we are reminded us this day that Jesus came into the world for all seasons, and for all the reasons the year brings despair. John announces that we are cared for, watched over, and saved from the sin of winter and summer.
I don’t need to tell you that there are many things that happen in life that are unfair. I agree. It is unfair that people we love get sick, or the good die way too young, or the wrong people who do some questionable things get all the attention. Surely we know that there are people victimized by those in power or with power. God never turns his back on such behavior. He never covers his eye from the sin that mars the world he created out of his goodness and for his good. Jesus steps into this world. He comes to help those who are victims, to heal the hurting and sick, to offer hope to those who have nowhere to turn or no one else to turn to. He hears the pleas of a father whose little girl is so ill; Jesus did not stop listening to the father’s cry until the little one was well. Jesus knows those who are victims, and truly warns those who victimize. He would choose to dine with those scorned by society, and help those forgotten way too often by the righteous. To those who cry out for mercy and repent of their sinful and evil ways, our God remains a gracious and loving Lord who forgives and grants redemption. The very day Jesus died on the cross he granted paradise to one deserving death. Grace and mercy from God is always for the undeserving.
What we never forget is that we are not any more deserving of grace and mercy than the worst of sinners, whoever they and whatever that might be. We do not come into the presence of the Almighty with merit badges of an Eagle Scout Christian. It does us well to keep that in mind the next time we behold someone homeless or nearly so, someone caught doing something evil, or those who misuse power. We, too, stand before the throne of God deserving judgment, but instead we receive grace and mercy. Then, we are chosen and called to be messengers and agents of grace in this very grace-less and starved world. Our Lord Jesus forgives us of our sin, and the penitent redeemed are equipped to be the bearers of peace and love made possible through God’s goodness for us. God does not give up on us, not because we are so righteous, but because he is so loving. The more that love germinates in us, the more it generates love in this world.
Not a day goes by it seems that there isn’t a front page or leading story of sin. Perhaps that will always be the case as the media will never run out of bad news to report. There are many “Herods” and “Herodiases” in this life, and there are no shortages of people who have misused power or who live with greed. The “love of money” can do a number on the best of us. We witnessed the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina and the memorial services that follow so many other senseless and needless violence. It is a tragedy what celebrity status can do to some people, or how the wrong drugs are used to fix lives, or how “gods” are made of mortals. What tragedy evolves from public sin and sinners! Even though it is not said or clear, one could imagine the scene of the wild party that Herod threw for his friends, even using his own step-daughter for the amusement and pleasure of all. The checkout line magazine stands are full of stories of such parties today. Our children can easily enough see or watch the same on their computer screen or primetime TV. The public sin can easily enough become our private sin.
We are not immune from falling prey to the hunger of Satan. We are not immune from the disease of power, prestige and greed. We will keep for ourselves before we would give away. We make judgments about the poor and those of another color than ours. We seek entertainment that can cross the line. We seek that which gives pleasure to our bodies and minds even if it might be dangerous. Parents turn a blind eye to what their children do, and even those from the best of neighborhoods can get in trouble very easily. Maybe parents don’t care, or are too busy trying to build their empires based on wanting more and better. We fall before the thrones of celebrities and sports stars, and we will overlook their sins as long as they keep giving us pleasure. Herod is really a wimp, controlled by his evil desires, wanting all to adore him, gutless to the truth, and seeking any means to be pleasured. He lived in a Playboy Mansion and in the end his good life was not all that good. The worst thing we could think is that we would never be anything like him.
Maybe it is “old age”. Thank you for singing me birthday greetings last week. As I age, fewer people are telling me I’m still a young man. When I first began my pastoral ministry, I thought pastors who were 66 years old ought to be put out to pasture! Well, I preach to the choir once again. On any given Sunday there are many more who I wish would be here to experience again the need for this hour. It is, of course, to praise God and to give him all of our honor and glory as our only God, thanking him for sending us Jesus. We are here to hear and listen, to grow in trust and faith in our Lord, and to be strengthened with the gifts from above that the Holy Spirit lavishes upon us. And I grieve when I know so many people and families are missing or absent, choosing instead to be influenced by another culture, or world. Knowing how much God loves us is not bad and neither is it a turn off. Believing what Jesus did for us is renewing and redeeming much more than anything else we could do or have in this life.
This is what a commentator wrote about this week’s readings—we frame our conduct not by the world’s mores (morals) and ways, but by the love and peace that God’s goodness has made possible for us. Apart from the love and presence of God, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion and fellowship that the Spirit draws us into as his holy people, our conduct and lives become influenced by something else. Think about that. Think about what is influencing us. Grandchildren know more about the Disney channel than they do about God. Children can sing the lyrics of their favorite songs and not know any of the 10 Commandments. And some children are influenced by parents who choose not to follow through on their baptismal vows. We “old people” are not exempt from guilt. Our examples are hardly noteworthy all the time as what we say, do, laugh about, party, seek, want and desire hurt more than aid. We all need to be in the midst of the body of Christ to keep our hearts and minds focused on living the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are here to be framed in the love and peace of Christ that will be revealed in the way we live in this world and society.
It is risky, of course. There are Christians in this turbulent world of ours who have literally lost their heads because they confessed Jesus as the Lord; while at the same time some live in this world making us wonder if they have lost their minds. We take the risk of ridicule, losing some so-called friends, being shunned or made fun of, not gaining from this world, losing out on some short-term pleasures. Instead, however, we gain peace that surpasses the world’s understanding of it. We gain integrity. We grow in compassion for the forgotten and homeless and nearly homeless. We put our money to use for the good of others and the furthering of God’s kingdom. Our conduct can be healing balm for the ill of body and soul as we invite, welcome and receive those who are left out or need friendship. We are here to grow in resemblance of Jesus and then be messengers and agents of his grace to the world. We bring hope to others not just for 90 days of summer, but 365 days of spring, summer, autumn and winter. You can do that because you have been chosen to be holy and blameless in his love. The Lord be with you.
The Rev. William L. Kay
July 10, 2015 St. Paul Hilton, NY