Pastor Michael Frye:
Tim Bowden, in his book “One Crowded Hour”, tells about an incident that happened during the confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia in 1964.
Gurkhas from Malaysia’s ally, Nepal, were asked if they would be willing to jump from transport planes into Indonesia, should the need arise.
Since they had never trained as paratroopers, their leader at first said no to the plan. The next day their leader came back and said that they had discussed the matter further and would be prepared to jump under certain conditions.
First, they would jump if the land was marshy or reasonably soft with no rocky out crops.
The officer in charge said they would only be dropping over jungle areas, so they should be fine.
Next, the Gurkha leader said, they wanted the plane to fly as slowly as possible and no more than 100 feet off the ground.
The officer pointed out that the plane did fly as slowly as possible when dropping troops, but he said that it would be impossible to jump from 100 feet because their parachutes would not open in time from that height.
“Oh,” he said; “that’s all right, then.
We’ll jump with parachutes anywhere.
You didn’t mention parachutes before!”
That kind of commitment and courage is rarely seen and badly needed in our world today.
You might say that in his ministry, John the Baptist, habitually jumped into situations without a parachute.
He called the Pharisees who came to hear him preach in the dessert a brood of vipers; he was constantly calling out temple leaders and others who displayed outward piety, but who did not display that same piety in the way they treated others; and he took a great risk in publicly calling out King Herod Antipas for the treacherous way in which he took his brother’s wife for himself.
King Herod believed himself to be a righteous and religious man, so he took to heart much of what John the Baptist preached.
In fact, Herod was rather fond of John the Baptist, although he was somewhat fearful about some of the things he said.
However, he had decided to leave the baptizer alone.
The problem was that his wife, Herodius, hated John and plotted to turn Herod against him.
She did that by using her beautiful daughter’s dancing before the king and his guests, and then prompting her daughter to ask that John be killed as her reward.
This quite gruesome story was told by Mark to show how one can often be trapped into doing things they would not ordinarily do, because in this case Herod felt that he would lose faith with his subjects if he did not keep his promise to give his daughter what she had requested.
It also points out how a person who risks it all to tell truth to power must be ready to face dire consequences.
One such individual in the twentieth century was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood up to Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party in the midst of the atrocities that were being perpetrated by them during World War II.
Mahatma Gandhi was another such brave risk taker.
Both were brutally murdered for their beliefs and their courageous public stands against powerful forces.
Under what conditions might you be willing to take the risk of telling the truth or
speak your mind when confronted by injustice?
Many have done so throughout the centuries since John the Baptist spoke for righteousness in an unpopular environment, and most faced persecution and even death in order to do so.
Debbie Royals speaks of William Sloane Coffin, Jr., was an honored scholar, civil rights leader, and a man considered to be a prophet in his own time.
He summed up his faith in this way:
“I believe Christianity is a worldview that undergirds all progressive thought and action…
“The Christian church is called to respond to biblical mandates like truth-telling, confronting injustice, and pursuing peace.”
Royals goes on to say that Dr. Coffin’s actions and words were evidence that he was able to navigate the tension created by those who would separate power into the categories of church and state, or more accurately, of God and man.
These are important words to hear, especially in light of the world in which we are living today where authority and power are often used as instruments of privilege and personal gain.
Neither John the Baptist, nor our Lord Jesus, challenged authority or invited criticism for selfish or reckless reasons.
Both were sent by God to point toward a higher way of living our lives; of turning aside those things in our lives which cause us to place other things before our relationship with God, loving God above all else, and loving our neighbor unselfishly and with compassion and mercy.
This Gospel story today is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own struggle against power and the dire consequences of his staying true to God’s will.
In his book “Faith in Conflict” Eric Ritz quotes G. K. Chesterton’s words:
“It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but tried and found difficult.”
Ritz goes on to say that “life has many roads to travel.
However we choose the road on which the shadow of the cross falls.
It always leads to freedom and to victory when the final lap of the race is run.”
John the Baptist succumbed to Herod’s power and treachery.
Jesus was momentarily overcome by Caesar’s authority and might.
But now both Herod and Caesar are seen for what they were and judged by history with disdain, while Christians today still look upon the actions and ministry of our Lord and those who were inspired by him as examples to revere and follow as we live our own lives.
They risked it all for the sake of calling the world to repentance and faith in God’s saving power and grace.
You and I know that there is seemingly insurmountable evil in our world today.
There are instances where otherwise good people are drawn into doing terrible things to one another.
There are systems which leave people without proper food or shelter in a nation of abundance; people who are not getting proper medical care; elderly who are ignored and improperly cared for; and we could go on and on.
These times might prompt some people to ask “Where is God while all of this is going on?
Why hasn’t God done something to stop all this?”
To answer those questions, we have to stop and look ourselves in the mirror, and realize that God has done something.
God has given us prophets like John the Baptist;
God has given us a Savior whose life we emulate and in whose footsteps we are called to follow;
God has called us to go into all the world baptizing and showing others the way of salvation and peace;
God has given us this world to nurture, and cultivate, and correct when things are going wrong;
God has given us one another to love, and to cherish, to encourage and teach the ways in which our Lord would have us go.
God encourages us to see each person as having a soul worth fighting for and who has a heart worth touching through nurture and kindness.
When we attempt to live a life that is worthy of our Lord, it is because our understanding of “worth” is quite different from the typical world view.
We don’t see worth in terms of monetary value, or pedigree, or physical strength, or political power, our military might.
We see worth as something each of us has because of the God who made us.
Jesus thought we were worth his risking it all.
Therefore, we are all worthy of the risks that one must take in order to protect and defend the rights and privileges that even the least valued among us deserve as children of God.
We are called to treat one another with the dignity and respect that God intends for each of us to have as ones who have been created in God’s image.
That should count for something as we weigh cost of risking it all for the Kingdom of God.
Let us pray:
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may move every human heart; that the barriers dividing us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.