-Pastor Melissa Fain-
25 Hurrying back to the ruler, she made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.” 26 Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests, he didn’t want to refuse her. 27 So he ordered a guard to bring John’s head. The guard went to the prison, cut off John’s head, 28 brought his head on a plate, and gave it to the young woman, and she gave it to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came and took his dead body and laid it in a tomb.
Mark 6:14-29 CEB
Last Sunday I spent a decent amount of time using John’s beheading to say believing in Jesus doesn’t mean everything is going to be sunshine and roses for the rest of life on earth.
It’s not a fun or nice message, but it’s a needed one.
I also got so sidetracked by the difficult message, I forgot the one I was going to give: Having power and wealth does not equal that you have God’s grace and love.
When looking at the family of Herod, it’s clear how that statement may be true. There isn’t a flattering Biblical story about the family of Herod. It’s simply written- them bad and us good.
This is where it can become problematic for us.
US VS THEM
When the Bible is an “Us vs Them” reading, it is all wrong. I say this because we should be called to “something” when we are done reading. Lament. Action. Contemplation. Those are all things we can do. We have agency once the reading is done. We have no agency over “them.” When we leave smug, because there is nothing for us to do, because we put all the real work on the “other,” we’ve done nothing.
If we are just leaving angry because some evil rich family beheaded John the Baptist, then we are learning nothing. Some of the best Bible lessons are when we put ourselves in the villain’s place.
Here are some great questions to ask after reading this scripture:
These are both places where John was killed because of the actions of the family of Herod. Maybe not to the point of murder, but these are both places where good upstanding Christian people fail. I’ve seen some very Christian people falter under the impression that doing what was right was not the socially acceptable move, and choose the “socially acceptable” over what was right. I’ve also seen pettiness destroy good systems. For the old timers here, I’m recalling that time a group of church members literally cut playground equipment in half and took it with them- a real life Soloman’s baby.
HAVES VS HAVE NOTS
It’s really difficult for me to engage in this subject. And, before I really get into this, I’m well aware that every century comes with its own terrible story of the Church. It pains me to say this, but no group of Christians are without their drama. Here’s part of ours: Since the 90’s the church has played the part of an oppressed waif. As society separated from the Church, the American Church doubled down on their culture. Atheists became the terrible villain. If not atheists, then Saten. Anything to point the finger anywhere but at oneself.
This had a two-part effect. First, it kept American Christians from being introspective. It wasn’t their fault, but those soulless atheists, or Satan made them do it. Nothing is learned. Nothing is gained. Secondly, wow we became the villains! When you go around telling everyone else they are wrong, you begin to be wrong yourself.
All this had to be said first.
Just because you have the building, the offering, the people- doesn’t make you right.
Just because you have nothing- or you are losing everything- doesn’t make you right.
This is where my frustrations rise to a boiling point. In the 90’s when it appeared everything was going great. We were all blessed by God! God had taken our spoils and multiplied it. Now, as so many are now seeing we are actually bleeding out, we are blessed by God because God is with the oppressed. (Excuse me while I go find a bathroom and vomit.)
This all comes back to self-reflection. Modern American Christians just refuse to do it. Sure, they'll brainstorm solutions, and do faith retreats to try to understand God’s will, but will only go as far as it keeps them in the hero role. Once they have to consider how they are Pharisees or Herods they shut it down and move on.
If one of our own is actually the villain we bury, move and ignore. That’s the modern American Christian way! Only, it’s not the Christian way. There’s a reason we have these stories in the Bible. It’s not so we point the finger to someone else. The Bible exists so we can grow ourselves.
So, for God’s sake, let us be the villains. Maybe if we accept what we are, we can finally fix what’s wrong. That’s more important.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
As I came back upstairs after worship on June 20th, I realized something. “I didn’t even mention Father’s Day!” My husband has a brief moment of shock, not from what I failed to include, but that he didn’t even consider it missing.
It is true that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day hang on by a thread in our household. As some of you know, Valentine’s Day is non-existent. As the 4th of July has come and gone, you might have noticed I didn’t even give it a sentence in worship.
These are all events, though, that are secular in nature and find our way into Sacred Worship. Each, in their own way, make me uncomfortable and here’s how:
I find Mother’s Day a perfect day to use feminine pronouns to describe God. At the same time, the use of the feminine to describe God fills me with terror, not because of God, but because of the backlash in the congregants upon hearing she/her language attributed to the Divine.
It’s not that there’s a lack of examples of God being described in the feminine, it’s that there is a lack of focus in the Church to those examples. Sophia, Mother bear, hen… We are given language to see God as more than masculine but something bristles up in us when we use She/Her language. How dare we explore God as both power in femininity and the least of these!
It’s verbiage I feel we deserve to explore, but it is also not natural because I grew up hearing His/He all the time.
None of that goes into actual mothers, and that’s me as a mother of two.
Probably the reason I want to push some into the feminine nature of God during Mother’s Day is the plethora of sermons about the masculine nature of God on Father’s Day. I can’t count how many pastors I have seen preach on the caring for mother because she works so hard on Mother’s Day, and then a few weeks later preaching on the masculine nature of God on Father’s Day. I’m going to extend enough grace to believe these guys don’t do it on purpose, but inadvertently they celebrate the servitude of the mom, and the divinity of the dad.
God is power! God is king! Happy Father’s Day!
I’m not going to say those statements are wrong, but I’m also going to say how and when we talk about God’s sovereignty and power is just as important as the topics themselves.
If I had it to do over I would have talked about God’s sovereignty and power during Mother’s Day and God’s servitude during Father’s Day. Even then, I would have been uncomfortable, because how we talk about service among females is drastically different than how we talk about service among males.
This is probably where I personally look like the biggest Ebenezer Scrooge to ever exist in the modern era. I don’t do Valentine’s Day.
If I were to do Valentine’s Day it wouldn’t be candy, flowers, and expensive dates. It would be to spam bee photos on February 14th, and July 6th. (He’s the Patron St. of courtly love, epilepsy and beekeepers.) It would be almost fitting, seeing as my name literally means honeybee in Greek.
Other than that, I just see Valentine’s Day as a day where we buy crap that will either add weight, trash, or both. Love is not in teddy bears the size of a Buick. Love is not in cheap or expensive chocolates. Don’t buy me tokens to show love. Act. Do. Live into love. Anything else is between you and yours. I want nothing to do with it. Flowers wilt, but action has lasting consequences.
4th of July
I am a Scout, and more than that, I am a Scout Chaplain for my Son’s Troop. Some of the leadership in my daughter’s Pack calls me Pastor Melissa. I am completely comfortable with taking the divine into a patriotic space. I am completely uncomfortable taking the patriotic into the Divine space.
I think most of American worship can’t see the difference between the two, and that’s a consequence of not setting clear boundaries of what is or isn’t worship, secular space, and Divine space.
I have very clear boundaries. On Sunday morning, I’m setting aside time and space to seek God. That language is incredibly intentional. Just as this language is intentional too: God can visit us in our time and space at any time or space. That means we can have a God moment while watching a firework’s show, planting a seed, or (sorry/ not sorry) sitting on the toilet. As I’ve written before, that is God engaging us. In response, we need to be intentional about engaging God back. The worship Space is made sacred because we’ve chosen to set it aside to meet God.
This is why you won’t see state/national flags in Fig Tree’s worship area. It’s also why I occasionally remind those on the other side of the camera to prepare their side to meet God.
You want to enjoy a fireworks show with your community while understanding the veterans around you? Great! That is a secular event, and should take place in a non-worship space. You want to sing the Star Bangled Banner at a sports event, go for it! Just don’t ask me to bring it into Sacred Space. While we’re on the subject, the same goes for sports. Aside from being an illustration to help understand the text better, it should stay outside worship.
The bottom line.
The more intentional you are about setting aside space to meet God, the more clear the lines become of what is allowed in that worship space.
The more intentional you are about what is Sacred and what is Secular, the more willing you will be to put away some culturally secular activities.
The more willing you are to read the Bible and see something new, the deeper and richer your faith is allowed to be.