Sunday, July 12, 2015


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
July 12, 2015

Year B, Proper 10: The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

            Many of you have heard me say how much I love weekday worship – how important it is for my own spiritual health.
            One of the things that makes me happiest about my time at St. Paul’s so far is the fact that we’ve been able to maintain a regular schedule of weekday services for about two years now.
            Week in and week out, thanks to a small band of dedicated lay people, we offer our three regularly scheduled services – sometimes well-attended, sometimes not, it doesn’t matter.
            And we also celebrate the Eucharist on all of the major feasts of the church year.
            I love the major feasts when we can focus on – reflect on – the lives and the faith of the apostles and also specific incidents in the life of Jesus – people and moments that we’re not able to give so much attention to here on Sunday.
            For example, every May 31 we celebrate one of my most favorite feast days – the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
            Every May 31 we get a little taste of Christmas when we remember the story told by Luke of the Virgin Mary – who has just said yes to the awesome news presented to her by the Angel Gabriel – Mary has just said yes to God – has just said yes to carrying God into the world in a new and unique way.
            On the Feast of the Visitation we remember the story of the miraculously pregnant Mary hurrying to a Judean town in the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth who, it turns out, is having her own miraculous pregnancy – pregnant in her old age.
            Luke tells us that Mary is miraculously pregnant with Jesus and Elizabeth is miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist.
            Remember the story?
            Mary enters the house, calling out a greeting, and the unborn John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb.
            Elizabeth cries out words familiar to every Catholic, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
            And Mary replies with her own song – her song of joy and revolution – the Maginificat:
            “My souls magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”
            “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”
            The Visitation.
            A little bit of Christmas at the end of May.
            It’s a joyful scene – two women miraculously pregnant, sharing the joy and wonder of new life.
            But, of course there are shadows hovering over this joyous scene, as well.
            Mary and Elizabeth don’t know it – though they may have had their suspicions since throughout Jewish history prophets often found themselves in difficulty, often lived hard lives.
            Mary and Elizabeth don’t know it but we know that John and Jesus are linked not only through kinship. They are linked not only by their common message of repentance. John and Jesus are also linked through the violent deaths that await them both.
            The shadow of death hovers over this scene of joy.
            In today’s gospel lesson the shadows grow very dark indeed when hear the ultimate fate of Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist.
            The court of Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, puppet of the Roman Empire, was a shadowy place, full of intrigue and plotting and boasting and death.
            The court of Herod Antipas was a shadowy place – where promises were made that shouldn’t have been made – promises that definitely shouldn’t have been kept. Herod swore to the dancing girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it. Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”
            Instead of half of his kingdom the girl follows her mother’s orders and asks gruesomely for the head of the prophet John the Baptist on a platter.
            Herod isn’t amoral, though. He knows the shadow of shame – he knows what he’s about to do is wrong - but the shadow of insecurity – the desire to save face at all cost wins the day and John was beheaded.
            John the Baptist – that wild prophet who called the people to repentance and called out the religious establishment – that courageous prophet who challenged Herod about his unlawful marriage – that cousin of Jesus – he knew about shadows too – he knew the shadow of the executioner raising the blade above his head – the shadow of death hovering quite literally above him.
            Of course, as we heard today, the shadow of guilt continued to hover over Herod – and when he heard about what Jesus is doing he knows the shadow of dread – he declares - wrongly - “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
            We know all about shadows, don’t we?
            Even in our most joyful moments when, like Mary and Elizabeth long ago, we celebrate miraculous new life – when we celebrate a pregnancy or a birth – when we celebrate a new relationship – when we celebrate falling in love or making a new friend – when we celebrate reconnecting with someone we thought we had lost – when we celebrate a new job or a new opportunity – even in our most joyful moments there are always shadows hovering around us, aren’t there?
            The shadows of illness and death – the shadows of separation or divorce – the shadows of misunderstandings and words that can’t ever be taken back – the shadows of downsizing, layoffs, unemployment, unpaid bills – these shadows are hovering all around us.
            And out there in the world the shadows of racism and unspeakable violence darken the lives of so many both here in our city and our country and all around the world – from Jersey City to Charleston to Yemen.
            When the first Christians reflected on the story of the brutal death of John the Baptist they saw foreshadowing - foreshadowing of the brutal death faced by Jesus.
            Once again, a weak political ruler – in this case, Pontius Pilate – knew he was doing the wrong thing – knew that he was going to take the life of an innocent man – but the shadows of insecurity – the shadows of power and saving face no matter the cost – won the day.
            Or… seemed to have won the day.
            Hanging on the cross, Jesus knew all about shadows – the shadows of betrayal, abandonment, pain, fear and death.
            Good Friday was the most shadowy of day of all.
            But, because of Easter, the first Christians also knew that God’s light is brighter than any shadow – that life defeats death – that perfect love casts out any and all shadows.
            So, yes, like I said, the major feasts are great – and I love celebrating them. I wish everybody could celebrate them with us.
            But, you know, each Sunday we celebrate the greatest of all feasts – each Sunday we come together here to celebrate a little Easter – a little Easter in July - each Sunday we come here with all of our shadows of fear and death – we come here to celebrate Easter – to allow God’s light to brighten our shadows – we come here to get a little taste of the new life that awaits us – we come here and experience foreshadowing of miraculous new life – new life where there are no shadows at all.
            So…let’s have a little Easter in July:
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!