Looking into a mirror only takes us so far. Sometimes we have to look a little deeper, dig a little further in order to expose light to a situation. Our scripture text for today is grim. When I was recording the scripture reading, I may have grimaced when I finished and spoke those traditional words:
“The word of the Lord”
“Thanks be to God”
I grimaced because I had just finished reading about the execution of John the Baptist, how can this be good? What part does God want with it? The answer is none, God isn’t interested in death, but life.
What this story does is peel back the layers of corruption and evil that led to John’s death. It leaves us with the question, what will we find when start looking deeper at our own lives?
Scripture: Mark 6: 14-29
We are thankful for the members of the choir who record the hymns each week, helping us to sing praises to God.
Reminder that Rev. Ellis is on vacation from July 12-25.
Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest one of all?
This is the question that Snow White’s evil stepmother is asking. The response comes, “Over the seven jewelled hills, beyond the seventh fall, in the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs, dwells Snow White, fairest of them all.”
It’s a well known sequence and we are all familiar with the tale. The evil stepmother uses the mirror to find those whose beauty surpasses her own. Then through guile, trickery and violence she eliminates them, hoping that the response will come that the stepmother is in fact the fairest.
But what does it mean to be the fairest? The stepmother seems to be looking for a response which is superficial, only skin deep. While she may possess qualities we ascribe to physical beauty, once we get under the skin we find a soul which is rotting. She is far to focused on aspects of physical beauty and unable to see all that makes an individual truly beautiful.
When the stepmother looked in the mirror she liked what she saw, but not even to be satisfied with who she was. When she looked deeper, well let’s be honest I’m not sure she did. But if she did, I’m sure that the envy and hatred that boiled beneath would have turned her away.
We never want to associate ourselves with the evil stepmother. It’s in the name, she is evil, she is the villain of the story. We don’t want to be the villain and we certainly don’t see ourselves that way. But sometimes, when we look below the surface we find ourselves on the wrong side of things. This is happening in Canadian society today around Residential Schools. The Presbyterian Church in Canada apologized for its roll in these schools in 1994 and since that time has continued to work with Indigenous peoples to reconcile the evil that we were a part of. And I think we can name it as evil, we are shocked to learn what once happened, that it was state sanctioned and that the church participated. We are rightly horrified that those who came before us thought that this was an appropriate way to share Christ’s name and God’s love.
This is not, we acknowledge, the way we should have behaved and we seek to address this wrong. This is hard and difficult work which addresses generational trauma. As the joint letter from our past moderator the Rev. Amanda Currie and our current moderator the Rev. Dan Scott indicates, we are committed to this work.
Herod’s wife Herodias has a lot in common with the evil stepmother. I don’t know what she looked like physically, but beneath the surface there was a nastiness, a vile form of evil. John the Baptist had spoken out publicly about the marriage of Herod and Herodias, it violated Jewish law for he had married his brothers wife.
Herod knows that John is a righteous and holy man. Even though he has had him arrested, Herod is still protecting John. He has listened to him preach and has found truth in his words, yet he has spoken ill about his marriage and Herod’s new wife is not pleased.
It’s after a drunken party full of innuendo’s which are also very taboo that an inebriated Herod grants his step-daughter a wish. He says, “You’ve pleased me and my guests, name your price!”
After a brief chat with her mom, the evil stepmother of the story, the response comes back: The head of John the Baptist.
What kind of child asks that a man be murdered, and his head served on a platter?
There is real evil here.
Herod, he is trapped. To not grant the request, of a man he’s already arrested, would cause him to lose face in front of his guests. And so Herod gives in and grants the request. John the Baptist is killed. Why? Because like the mirror John spoke the truth about the situation and the truth is often not what others want to hear, especially when it confirms that which we fear or already know about ourselves.
Earlier I referenced the Residential Schools. I don’t just do that because it’s topical or in the news. I referenced the Residential Schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because the Presbyterian Church in Canada had a part in that. We can’t ignore, we shouldn’t ignore it, instead we need to reckon with our denominations past sins and determine how to ask for forgiveness and how to love better in the future.
However, I believe I could just as easily use examples like Black Lives Matter, or Asian Hate, or acceptance of LGBTQI+ individuals. In fact, the past year and half of Covid provides us with many examples of us looking in the mirror, asking how things are going and getting an answer back that is not pleasing. But the answer is out there. The Canadian Militaries report on the state of our long term homes, how we care of our seniors, it was damning. Negligence is to soft a word for the state of things. Ask yourself if since that time anything meaningful has really changed? What about social services, health care or those that we call essential?
I’ll tell you now that I’d rather my grocery clerk earned double what they are paid, given the risks they took over the past year of coming to work every day so that I could put food on the table. How have we cared for our health care workers? Sure they might be better paid than the grocery clerks, but what about the emotional, mental and spiritual trauma of what they have endured to keep us healthy over the past year?
I could go on.
John the Baptist, like Jesus, is a truth teller. Both of them tell the truth about a situation and both of them are executed by the government of the day for telling that truth. They said this is wrong and instead of that wrong be corrected they were silenced, permanently. Except not permanently, because we are here today and we are brave enough, like John and Jesus, to say what is wrong even if it paints us in a bad light and to demand better.
Normally, when we say that someone is silenced by the state we are talking evil dictators. I’m not trying to make that parallel about Canada. I don’t want to paint our politicians in that light, but I do believe that as a society, not just as Christians, we have had wrongs exposed. The question is, will we have the moral conviction to stand up and say something? Or will we turn our backs on it, as we once did with Residential Schools, and allow the moment to pass?
As a follower of Jesus, who tells me to love my neighbour as my self, there is only one response. That response requires action, to name the wrong and to work towards righting the wrong. To do less, means we are not worthy of the name we confess to follow. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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