Monday, February 22, 2016

"The Herods in Our Lives," a sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Chester Hines, Feb. 21, 2016

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?

This morning, we find Jesus on His way to Jerusalem for what will turn out to be His greatest gift to each of us, His death on the cross which will pardon us from all our sins and open the gate for us to life eternal. 
On His way He is approached by some Pharisees.  The Pharisees are middle-class businessmen of the community.  They are in contact with the common man.  They are not the one per-centers of their day and time; they are held in high esteem by the community and generally have the support of the people.  They believe in God, the resurrection of the dead, they believe in reward and punishment on an individual basis in the afterlife and they believe in the existence of angels and demons.
However, they have not come to a full understanding of who Jesus is and what God is able to do through His son. They know He has a following in the community and people are drawn to Him.  But the Pharisees also have a following in the community and people are drawn to them.  Are the Pharisees in competition with support from the same people who are enamored with Christ?  Maybe, maybe not but on this day, they have intercepted Jesus and are warning Him to get away from this place because Herod wants to kill Him.  
This Herod would be representative of the one per-centers of his day.  He cared little for others and greatly about himself.  This Herod is the same Herod who had John The Baptist imprisoned and later beheaded.  It is not necessary for Herod to be connected or concerned with the people because in today’s language, he is self-sufficient.
Jesus hears and receives the information from the Pharisees and then gives them an assignmentGo and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.”  Jesus had a timeline for what He had to do and today was not the day for interruption. 
Jesus understood His opposition was cunning like a fox, but calmly showed that this opposition would not stop Him from carrying out His mission of redemption, the saving of people from sin and evil.

Jesus told them to tell Herod that He is not worried about the threat and He will not stop working until His work is completed.
This gospel reading reveals Our Lord living on the edge of danger. Controversy is swirling around him. His outspoken style and his constant challenge to the established order have drawn the attention of powerful people and now Jesus has an increasing number of enemies.  When Jesus is given a warning that His life is in danger and responds with courage and determination we see what is meant by the contrast between the inclusive, abundant life given to us in Christ compared to the fearful frightened life that excludes and enslaves us. 

We later learn that even the warning from the Pharisees may have been a cloak for in the near future, they will join with the Sadducees, the one per-centers of the community, in calling for Christ’s death.  But Christ had a purpose and would not be distracted by outside threats. Jesus knew why he came into the world and what he needed to do. There was no way he would suspend his work and go into hiding. He set his face toward Jerusalem and nothing would deter Him.  The words of the gospel this morning challenges us to set an example like Jesus by living our lives with courage and resolve.

Most of us probably do not have the notoriety or status of local, state or national celebrity but all of us are affected by the influence of self-absorbed individuals and their effects upon institutions and the way of life of people within the community.  These powerful decision makers and the policy they create cause insecurity, fear, and anxiety in our daily life.  Thousands of our fellow Missourians right now wait in anticipation of action from our state legislature as to whether or not money for their life supporting benefits will taken away and given to the transportation department to repair the roads and bridges of our state. 

These decisions and related policy can become the Herod’s in our lives.  The acts and actions of those who influence how we live may not lead to our immediate demise but surly its effect has a long term impact causing us to experience a slow and agonizing deterioration.  It may be things, factors, issues, life’s challenges; those circumstances that hold of us and dominate our lives, keeping us from that peace that is given to us through Christ; keeping us from being whole. 

Many of you this morning can probably recall a time when you faced a type of Herod in your life; someone or something that you felt could or would cause you great harm but you had a greater call and it was necessary for you to walk into the danger zone because not to do so would in some way be an even greater loss.

As some of you are aware, I serve as the Chairperson for the Diocesan Commission on Dismantling Racism.  In that capacity I feel compelled to confront racism in all places and at all times in my life.  So, I’m sharing with you a personal experience where I had a Herod like experience; even though there was great risk, I had to tell the “fox” what was necessary in order for me to be able to live with myself. 

This situation occurred when I worked for St. Louis City Government, I had gotten into an employee/employer conflict with my immediate supervisor.  He directed me to do something that I didn’t think was appropriate so I refused; this refusal lead to my being sent to the Office of the Chief of Staff.  After having expressed my perspective on the situation, the Chief of Staff (who at that point became my Herod), clearly expressed his anger with me and he wanted and from his perspective needed to punish me; he needed to let me know he was large and in charge, so he informed me that I was to do whatever my supervisor directed me to do, quote, “if he, tells you to count bumps on the wall, you count bumps on the wall”.

Now hearing this directive, I first questioned myself as to whether what he said was what I heard; upon realizing I was not in the twilight zone but in his office, it was like a gunshot to my brain; my head actually felt like it was spinning.  

This powerful white man in my work relationship had just taken away all of my dignity and self respect in the last few seconds. He had achieved his task; he had reduced me to a person of low status in an arrogant and hurtful manner; he had accomplished his mission.

At that moment, I had come face to face with a Herod type experience.  I was in the danger zone; the next action on my part would set a challenging course; what would happen if I just accepted this personal disparagement, diminishment and racial aggression; what would happen if I spoke my heart just at this moment.  

Admittedly, my response probably was not Christ like because whatever I said in response to his directive lead to my termination a week later; this Herod experience lead to the death of my employment  with St. Louis City Government after twenty five years of service.

I tell you this story because my response was not professional but in my view it was necessary, I had to inform the Chief of Staff in a manner in which I thought he would understand that my task right at that moment was not to be concerned with job security and retirement but was to inform him of his racism and the detrimental effect it had on me. 

I did not get out of bed that morning with the idea that I would have a conflict with the surrogate of an elected official of the City of St. Louis but in retrospect, I see how Christ puts us in places and calls us to do things that are completely removed from our minds.  Christ gives us the opportunity at the most unsuspecting time to demonstrate our faith in our relationship with Him; He gives us the opportunity to be an imitator of Christ in this world we live in today.  He lets us know there are storms in our lives but we are called to endure and move forward knowing He will never leave or forsake us.

That morning for me was an opportunity for me to demonstrate to myself that I was a believer in the power of Christ.  On that morning with the Chief of Staff, as I was speaking the words that lead to my firing, I heard the voice of Christ in my head and felt His spirit in my heart.  I understood better how faith in God can become a shield and buckler against the Herod’s in our life.

Jesus was walking into danger and yet He was still working to and seeking ways to bring the community to the grace of God.  When Jesus walked the earth, people gathered as they could to express their personal faith in God; to hear the word of God, to seek a greater understanding of the mystery of God and Jesus Christ.

Now it is important for us to have a personal faith in God and in Jesus Christ, and our faith is deepened when we are a part of the body of Christ, which is the Church.  And when I say the church I don’t mean the physical building where we gather, I mean the personal and spiritual relationships we have with each other in our relationship with Christ.  A place to gather is important but the church is that which lives in each of us. And our task today and always is to be the eyes, hands and bodies of Christ on earth for those seeking solace and a better understanding of life with Jesus Christ.  And like Christ you are only going to find these tasks in the places of challenge, discomfort and on the edges of humanity.

We are called to talk about and act like Jesus in the places we go; Herod is there lying in wait to do us harm if possible but Christ is there also steadfast with His love. 

No doubt you have heard the story about the young man in a family of farmers. The hen house on the grandfather’s farm burned down just up the road from his home.  His dad arrived just in time to help put out the last of the fire. As he and the grandfather sorted through the wreckage, they came upon one hen lying dead near what had been the door of the hen house. Her top feathers were singed brown by the fire’s heat, her neck limp. The grandfather bent down to pick up the dead hen. But as he did so, he felt movement. The hen’s four chicks came scurrying out from beneath her burnt body. The chicks survived because they were insulated by the shelter of the hens wings, protected and saved even as she died to protect and save them. 
That is the story of Jesus. Jesus acts like that mother hen who would rather die than see its children suffer in agony. Jesus longs to gather his beloved under his wings to protect them; but we have a part in the process, we have to be willing to receive Jesus and live in accordance with His commandments.   Jesus did not fear Herod just as we should not fear the Herod’s in our life for we have a covenant with God through Jesus Christ which is a living document that protects us from all evil and despair and allows us to meet all the challenges and strife of life. 
When we live in Christ, the flesh need not fear death; for the Lord is our light and salvation and in Him we have no fear. Scripture (Palms 91:4) tells us that He will cover you with his feathers and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Make the Lord the strength of your life for He will overcome all of the Herod clones in your life.  Whatever you are confronted with know that God has the power, the grace and divine intervention to nullify the bad, to make smooth the rough places in your life, to defeat the foes and adversaries who gather against you.  God does all of these things with the greatest weapon we have ever known, He does it with LOVE. 
So let us strive to be people of courage and determination, resisting the Herods in our lives.  Let us stand up to strife, confusion, and wrongs wherever we find it, always living as citizens of God’s Kingdom.


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