Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA
July 15, 2018
Pastor Robert McCarty
Preaching Texts: Mark 6: 14-29
Herod liked to listen to John. Sometimes (often typically) you benefit by listening to people who will share with you opinions different from your own. That once stood as a mark of friendship: the willingness to listen to that which you did not want to hear. Herod liked to listen to John, the prophet from God Almighty. Herod goes and listens to John. Maybe we should give him credit. T-- M--- and I went to the afternoon listening session on Tuesday about the school name change. We went to listen. (I will just say this.) Everyone gave respect to whoever was speaking that afternoon and allowed their voice to be heard. "Please lord, don’t let us be like Charlottesville." I think that was our common prayer.
Now, Herod went and listened to John, he would sit there and listen. Still, that reality aside, I do not want to be like Herod. I do not want to be like Herod in that I do not want my most embarrassing moment, my most shameful moment, to be global news for the world to hear and recorded for all time. For Herod, son of Herod, we would have to expect that this would be one of many shameful moments, one of many sinful moments, but this moment makes him notorious. Immediately, he senses the awkwardness of what his wife’s daughter asks him to do. He faces a damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t moment. And he chooses the worse of the alternatives. Herod needed someone besides John to listen to.
Perhaps I should be interested in the sin of Herod’s activities and deride his wonton disregard for human life. Few of us can relate to that level of depravity. Embarrassment and public embarrassment is something most of us have been through. Maybe not to this scale. (Hopefully, not to this scale.)
I heard this embarrassing moment on radio. Thankfully, for the person involved, the Associated Press report omitted his name. A homeowner in Helsinki Finland mowing his lawn saw a snake in his yard. Not liking snakes, he doused it in gasoline to burn it. As this homeowner doused the snake, he splattered gasoline on his lawnmower that was still hot from recent use. So the gasoline ignited on the lawn mower and caught the side of his house on fire. By the time the fire trucks arrived, fire had worked its way up to the roof and attic. Seventeen thousand dollars worth of damage to the exterior of the house. No word in the news report on whether or not the snake survived. Fortunately no one hurt, and the fire never cracked into the interior of the house, but the story made global news. I am glad I am not that person.
This happened end of last month 4,400 miles away. This is what we do not want happening, we do not want something stupid that we do going from bad to worse and people laughing about it or moaning about it 4,000 miles away. And we certainly don’t want video of it posted onto Facebook.
So why my high school classmate did that to one of his neighbors last week, I have no idea. At least he didn’t post the name of the neighbor on Facebook. Every summer at my high school alma mater, they host a community days festival. Different churches and not-for-profits set up food booths to raise funds, or sponsor carnival games. Fire companies walk around with boots for donations. Carnival rides spend the week. Musical groups and local dance classes perform on stage. A community worship is held. Then on the closing night, Saturday, they host what is typically the biggest firework display in the county.
On July 4th they don’t have fireworks, but, of course, people set off their own fireworks, including C---’s neighbor. Some of you have done this. Or your husbands or sons or fathers have launched their own fireworks. So this neighbor launched his own firework and it landed on his own roof and set the roof on fire. And the emergency dispatch goes out and all of the fire companies that were at Community Days Festival have a make shift parade up to the cul-de-sac to put out the roof fire.
We have all had these moments, where we want to hide under a stone and disappear for twenty-four, forty-eight hours. One of our youth at St. Paul’s in rural NW Pennsylvania, I won’t mention his name, his friend just got his drivers license, so they tied a rope onto the back of the car, found one of those old back rural roads that people rarely use, brought out their skateboards. Car, ropes, skateboards, where do you think this is going? And the friend with the newly minted drivers license pulled his friends on their skateboards down the road—water skiing on macadam with wheels. You can think of a hundred ways this could go bad. No one would have ever guessed that the local officer would drive down that same road and see them. The officer wrote up citations to both the driver and the skier, the skateboarder. The skateboarder was our youth member at St Paul’s.
Ten days later here comes that youth with his father to our Saturday morning men’s prayer breakfast. R--, a man my age also with a teen-age son, welcomes the youth with words similar to these, “Hey M—, cops caught me doing the same thing when I was your age. Rather than a ticket, he took me home to my Dad, and he smacked my butt.” He said it with a chuckle in good humor. He put what none of us would have said on the table. He spoke the elephant in the room in such a way that we were laughing at R-- and the youth together.
Been there, done that. You are not alone. There but the grace of God go I. It makes a difference. Unless you have done something stupid like Herod, whatever you have done, odds are someone else has done it as well. Someone probably that you know. You are not alone.
Perhaps handling these embarrassing moments would be easier, if we all lived out our most embarrassing moment of the year on the same day—a day like April Fool’s day. Then we could all get together April 2nd and commiserate.
"What did you do?"
"Set my roof on fire with a firework."
"Really, I set my garage on fire with a turkey fryer."
"What did you do?"
"I got a tattoo that I already have doubts about."
"I put buck shot in the back side of my good friend."
Remember when Vice President Dick Cheney did that 12 years ago. It was easier to make jokes about that on late night TV because no one actually died. That’s not always the case. What other things might people confess on that hypothetical April 2nd, the day after. Life’s most embarrassing moments, arrested for DUI, caught involved with insider trading. "I am pregnant and my husband is away"— that was Bathsheba’s moment with King David. Or remember Enron Energy Corporation, how that company just melted away with thousands of retirement accounts lost.
Even typical moments feel huge when you think you go through them alone: failed a test, wrecked the car, received divorce papers, got caught sleeping on the job, fired from a job, got caught shoplifting, wrecked the car. Sometimes you wreck the car because you ran through the stop sign. Sometimes you wreck the car because Herod drove through a stop sign. Sometimes our most embarrassing moments are full of sin, but not always. Sometimes it is just stupidity, and sometimes it is just the unlucky stupid way in which a bad moment gets worse and becomes legendary.
Poured gasoline on a snake and set the house on fire.
Shot a firework into the air and the wind blew it on on my roof.
Had a party where my step daughter danced, then made her a promise that I know now I should have broken.
We all go through embarrassing moments and sinful moments; I cannot shield you from that. Maybe it would be easier if we went through them all at the same time. Then the healing would (could) come quicker. And maybe if we all went though these moments at the same time, we would be less likely to judge others and with quicker intentionality move to forgive.
That is what we do just about every week during confession; we put our most embarrassing, our most regrettable, even our most sinful moment out for God to see, knowing that we are not alone. And we confess knowing that God will not laugh at us the way our good friends might. God might frown, maybe swallow a chuckle, but you know God will wipe that sin away, reassure you and tell you, “be better this week.”
I do not know whether or not Herod’s sin was forgiven. I know he showed willingness to listen. I would imagine if Jesus was there to listen to, things might have turned out differently for John and for Herod. It is not that your sin is as great as Herod’s. But small sins can get out of hand and have great levels of embarrassment connected to them. Small sins can give way to moments where your embarrassment feels as great as Herod’s shame should feel.
Ephesians Chapter 1 Verse 7 and a bit of 8:
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.”
You heard that text this morning in our second lesson: the lavishness of God’s grace and mercy. Because St. Paul knows (Jesus knows, God knows) that painful embarrassment or sin can only be offset by a powerful amount of grace and life. And that lavish amount of grace and life comes to you today, because you are willing to come (here) hear and listen to Jesus, listen to Holy Words. These divine words (that you know and trust) free you from your sin and lift you up into an overflowing life. Thank you for your willingness to listen. Grace is spoken to you in the name of Jesus Christ.