Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - July 16, 2006

Let’s start with a couple of kings who lived about 800 years apart.  First there is Jeroboam II one of the kings of Israel.  Exact historical dates are not what is most important here but he ruled around the year 750 BC.  To give that a little more perspective, you’ve all heard of King David, well he ruled around 1000 BC so Jeroboam II is a couple of hundred years after that and while David ruled over a united kingdom of Israel by the time of Jeroboam the kingdom is divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the South and north and south don’t always get along real well. 

But again that is not what’s most important about Jeroboam.  What’s most important is that he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.  If you read through the OT books of first and second Kings there is a steady refrain concerning kings who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; Jeroboam was one of them.  On the surface of things though, you might not have thought that, because Jeroboam ruled at a time when the kingdom of Israel was quite prosperous.  He had been successful in war so now there was peace; he had expanded the territory; there were large numbers of people living quite comfortably and luxuriously.  On the whole, for a lot of people things were going pretty well. 

You could say the same thing for King Herod some 800 years later.  His situation was a little different.  What had been the Kingdom of Israel was now part of the Roman empire so the Caesar of the day was the real authority, Tiberias Caesar I think was the one in charge at the time of Herod.  But with Caesar in Rome local rulers were needed to keep the empire under control and that’s where the Herods came in.  The King Herod in today’s lesson is the son of Herod the Great who was around at the time of Jesus’ birth, but this one, like his father was mostly concerned with maintaining order.  Dissent was not treated kindly.  It was quickly rooted out and punished.

Dissent is risky business and there is dissent in both of these stories today.  The prophet Amos is the source of dissent in the OT lesson.  He was an outsider who came from the southern kingdom of Judah to speak against the policies of King Jeroboam because while those policies were making some people fat and happy, lying on their ivory couches, drinking wine from bowls, it was at the expense of the poor.  There was social inequality and exploitation of the poor so that the rich could enjoy life and that, Amos said, is contrary to the will of the Lord.  Amos was passionate about justice, because the Lord was passionate about justice.

Not only that, Amos said that because of these unjust policies Jeroboam would be killed.  Not only that, this prosperous kingdom of Israel would be laid waste, made desolate.  Not only that, the people of this prosperous kingdom would be carried away into exile. 

Who wants to listen to such nonsense?

Amaziah was the priest at Bethel, the holy place of Israel, you could say that he was Jeroboam’s pastor and he basically told Amos to go back to Judah and do whatever you want there, but don’t bother us with this garbage.  Just look around, we’re doing fine.  We don’t need your negativity.

The dissent in the gospel lesson was provided by John the Baptist.  For some reason he took issue with the fact that Herod had divorced his wife in order to marry his brother’s wife Herodias, who also happened to be his niece.  When John pointed out the immorality of this arrangement he was placed in prison and then to further satisfy his wife, Herod had John the Baptist beheaded.

In both cases, with Amos and with John the Baptist, you had truth speaking to power.  They both spoke against the established order of their world, an order which said that injustice and intolerance and violence and immorality are just the way things are.  But both Amos and John the Baptist said no; they said that if you follow the Lord, there is another way, another possibility. 

And it’s not just them; truth speaking to power is one of the consistent themes of the Bible, whether it’s Moses speaking against the power of Pharaoh, whether it’s Nathan speaking against the excess and immorality of David, whether it’s prophets like Amos and Isaiah speaking of possibilities of breaking cycles of domination than seem unbreakable, whether it’s John the Baptist and Paul preaching repentance and turning away from the prevailing order of that time, whether it’s John of Patmos in Revelation envisioning a world where the Roman empire is not a superpower in control of everything, whether it’s Jesus preaching about a strange kingdom where peace and justice and sacrifice and care for the stranger and outcast are the norm.  It’s all truth speaking to power.  Seldom is it well received by those in power. 

Sometimes it’s down right threatening.  That’s what you get in both of these stories today.  More often though, what those who speak truth to power do is create images that help people remember that the way things are, the dominant script is not the only way things can be.  Those who write the dominant script don’t want you to think there’s another way.  They want you to think that your only hope is to play ball with them, get on board so that you too can benefit from the way they do things…and we all buy in, to one degree or another, supporting and participating in programs and policies that we know are not in line with Jesus’ teachings of justice and peace and forgiveness because we figure, what are you going to do?  You have to make your way in this world after all.

But then we gather for church on Sunday morning and what do we do?  Well, if we’re doing what we are supposed to do we are creating images that help us remember there is another way.  We preach Jesus, a crucified savior in whom we find forgiveness and new life, whose life is a model of compassion and sacrifice.  We proclaim the odd kingdom he proclaimed where things are turned upside down, the first are last and the last are first, there’s woe to the rich and blessing to the poor.  We remember that in baptism we become citizens of this kingdom and participants in, actors in the alternative script of the Bible.  We share in the sacrament of Holy Communion where all are welcome but all come empty handed, equal, no one getting more than anyone else.

All of this is truth speaking to power, proclaiming and envisioning the possibility of another way.  None of it makes sense to those who write the dominant script and they are clever in convincing us that this alternative just isn’t practical.  Concerning what you do in church they want you to think, “That’s nice for Sunday morning, but it’s not really how the world works.  The real world works on power and exploitation, whether it’s economic power, military, technological whatever.  That’s just the way it is.  Enjoy your worship time though, it’s nice.  Have a good picnic and we’ll see you back in the real world.”

And our response to that?  We’ll see you back in the real world, but we’re not willing to accept that that’s all there is.  We’re coming back next week and once again we’re going to read from and re-enact this different script.  We’re going to continue to orient our lives around this crucified carpenter and try to live according to his teachings as impractical as they may seem to your way of doing things.  In whatever small ways we can, we’re going to make this alternative vision real and we’re not going to forget it because we believe that this is the life God intends for all of us.  We’re going to come back and do this again next week, because we don’t want to forget.

I know that most people don’t think about worship this way, at least not very often, especially on a hot summer morning.  You want church and worship to be comfortable like an old shoe, familiar hymns, a nice non-threatening, forgiving, comforting Jesus.  Church can be and is all of those things.  But it also has to have an edge.  We have to take seriously the truth speaking to power thread of the Bible and we have to hear it speaking to us and our ways, even when, probably especially when it upsets us.  Otherwise, the church and our faith become irrelevant because we no longer can see the alternative offered by all those dissenters in the Bible like Amos and John the Baptist and Jesus. 

Remember, there is another way.  Come back next week and we’ll remember again.   


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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