Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sermon; 4 Epiphany; Luke 4:21-30

Epiphany, as I've been saying, is a season of revealings and beginnings.  The gospel passage for today, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, follows this theme of revealings and beginnings.

Today follows directly after last week's gospel – the one that ended with, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  The gospel today begins with that very same sentence.

Jesus has read from the prophet Isaiah anointing him to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and sight to the blind.  He read from this piece of scripture while attending the synagogue in his home town.  And before Jesus has an opportunity to clarify or elaborate on today's opening sentence, everybody there gets all excited and jumps on the Jesus bandwagon.

I wonder what might have happened if the people hadn't gone all gaga over him?  Would they have heard his message of good news?  Would he have called a person or two to be his disciples?  We will never know.

Instead he confronts the people with what will really happen.  What really happens is that the town, or at least the people in the synagogue, want to claim him for themselves.  They want what's known in sports negotiations as a home town discount.  They want the status that comes with being able to say, “He's our boy.”

To which Jesus responds with a foreshadowing of the crucifixion – Doctor, cure yourself – and an indictment of their attitude – Do here in your hometown what you did over in Capernaum.  He doesn't dwell on the first, but he definitely hits them with the second.  And when he does, they promptly escort him to the nearest cliff.

It isn't clear in Luke that Jesus was in Capernaum before this event.  Luke only tells us that he “returned to Galilee and a report about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”  This may or may not be a reference to Jesus in Capernaum – I can't say for sure one way or the other.  What I can tell you is that Capernaum was his next stop.  But regardless, Jesus is confronting them about their desire to see him perform miraculous works.

A few days before 2 Epiphany there was a video clip making the Facebook rounds among my clergy friends.  I didn't post it because I knew it would mess me up.  I barely got through the gospel without laughing as it was.

2 Epiphany was the wedding in Cana/water-to-wine gospel.  The video is of Rowan Atkinson, better known as Mr. Bean, doing a skit on that very story.  “The servants took the water become wine to the steward, and he did not know from WHENCE it had come.  But the servants knew, and they all applauded wildly.  And they enquired of him, 'Do you do children's parties?'  And the Lord said, 'No'.”

The skit goes on with Jesus bringing forth carrots and white rabbits and all the people praising him.

While this is funny stuff from an off-beat English comic, it reminds me of today's gospel.  Rowan's skit has the people pushing Jesus for more and more tricks – the highlight of which is sawing Mary Magdalene in half.  Eventually they get him to perform in Jerusalem, where “they absolutely crucified him.”  The skit isn't about Jesus and the good news; it's about people wanting to see magic tricks.  Today's gospel isn't about the people of Nazareth wanting to hear the good news; it's about them wanting to see the act – Do for us here what we heard you did there.

The people of Nazareth fail to comprehend two important points of Jesus.  First, this is not an act.  This is the in-breaking of God into our world in a new way.  This has to do with new life.  In other words, this is good news.

Second, what Jesus is doing is meant for a wider audience than just his hometown.  To make his point he references the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian.  Those are important references because the widow was visited by Elijah and Naaman was cleansed by Elisha, two of Israel's greatest prophets.  The catch, though, is that both the widow and Naaman were Gentiles.  God reached out across boundaries then, and God is reaching out beyond boundaries now.  And that, I think, is what really gets the people of Nazareth so terribly upset.

The people of Nazareth were being confronted with the idea that they did not possess God – God did not belong to them.  In a larger sense, this is what the people of Israel were confronted with when Elijah visited the widow in Zarephath and when Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian: God does not belong to Israel.

Before we get too judgmental about the people of Nazareth and the Israelites, remember that Christians are just as good at playing this game.  We have a good habit of proclaiming and labeling people as being outside the bounds of orthodoxy for not believing what we believe, believing what we don't believe, not allowing what we allow, and allowing what we don't allow in all manner of things.  How many times have we heard, “You/They can't be Christians because . . .”

What we are essentially saying is, “God does not belong to you.”

But what Jesus is saying, what Elijah and Elisha were saying, and what so many people refuse to hear is, “Everyone belongs to God – everyone is the Lord's possession.”

God is not ours, we are God's.  God does not belong to us, we belong to God.  As it says in the burial service (borrowing from Paul), “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's possession.”

If you think about it, this lies at the heart of almost every religious disagreement we have.  Not all, but a lot.  When we exclude certain people we are essentially telling them that God is ours and we control who has access to him.  Fear of losing that control, fear of seeing God differently than we've always seen him, is one of the reasons we take Jesus to the cliff.

Epiphany is the season of beginnings and revealings.  Today's gospel isn't so much about revealing who Jesus is, as much as it's revealing what we think about Jesus and God.  The epiphany today is that Jesus/God is not yours, but that everyone, even people outside our boundaries, are the Lord's possession.  May we begin to reveal this truth as we proclaim, “You are the Lord's possession, and you are welcome here.”

And if some people want to take us to the cliff, so be it – we will be in good company.

Amen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On a more serious note

Heard the news that the anti-government terrorists in eastern Oregon have been arrested (with, unfortunately, one killed) AND that certain pro-forced birth terrorists have been indicted after covertly videotaping and then doctoring the footage to be used as a "documentary."

The terrorist takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge seems to be coming to an end as several of the terrorists were stopped while traveling to a neighboring community to try and raise support for their efforts.

A small number of the terrorist group is still holed up at the Refuge, one of them stating that the F.B.I. was "hellbent on war," but he hopes for a peaceful resolution.

Let me guess . . . that "peaceful resolution" is defined as "Give me what I want and go away."  As one person said in the NYT comments, "It might be easier to believe they want a peaceful resolution if they weren't armed to the teeth."

And in another form of domestic terrorism, one group using any means necessary to shut down clinics that provide healthcare for (mainly) low-income women have been indicted for using illegal means and fraud.

From the NY Times about the videotaping:

Mr. Daleiden and Sandra S. Merritt, 62, were indicted on felony charges of tampering with a governmental record with the intent to defraud — specifically, falsifying California driver’s licenses to pose as biotechnology representatives and infiltrate Planned Parenthood centers and research conferences. Mr. Daleiden was also charged with a misdemeanor related to trying to buy human organs.

Yet, despite the illegal activities, the blatant lies, and the desire to treat women as property duly controlled by men, the pro-forced birth crowd is beginning to double down on their stance of bearing false witness and comparing Planned Parenthood to the S.S. and Holocaust.

But for now, the terrorists have been dealt a setback.  We'll see how it plays out in the future.


Monday, January 25, 2016

The Money Gap .... or, what the Church can learn from NASCAR

I was talking with a parishioner after services on Sunday and somehow we got on the subject of the Church and NASCAR ... stay with me.

Most congregations are running at some sort of a deficit.  The one we are facing is manageable; it's certainly not ideal, but we are optimistic that we are on an upward swing.  Other congregations are facing deficits in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How might we be able to cover these deficits, we wondered.  And after a bit of back and forth, I suggested that maybe our answer could be found in NASCAR.

"NASCAR???" she asked incredulously.

"Sure . . . Think about a car race.  Other than seeing a bunch of cars going really fast to the left, what do you notice?"

She thought for a moment and said, "Advertisements."

"Bingo.  Every car has a major sponsor.  Every car has a multitude of minor sponsors.  Every car's paint job is covered with advertisers.  So is the driver's fire suit and helmet.  The driver will never talk about 'my car,' but about the advertiser's car ... as in, 'Yeah, the Nationwide car was running really good today on those Goodyears.'

"So what if we sold advertising space for things in church?"

In short, we developed a way to get people to buy sponsorships for the various seasonal hangings (Christmas and Easter costing more than say, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost), the stoles I wear, the Advent candles, etc.  And then she decided we needed an electronic hymn board.  Every year during the Season after Pentecost we take hymn suggestions and incorporate them into Sunday services.  We could begin selecting hymns based on the highest bidder and advertise that on the electronic hymn board.  "The opening hymn today is 618, brought to you by Nancy Davidson."

I drew the line, though, when it was suggested that Communion be sponsored by Bud Light.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sermon; 3 Epiphany; Luke 4:14-21, 1 Cor. 12:12-31a

Epiphany is the season of revealings and beginnings.  Christ was manifested to the Gentiles (revealed) when the wise men came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  He was revealed as the Beloved Son of God at his baptism when the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him; his public ministry beginning shortly thereafter.  And Jesus stepped into the spotlight when he performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana, revealing his glory.

Today we get another revealing and beginning with the episode of Jesus reading from Isaiah and claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah's end-time prophecy.  This end-time prophecy being ushered in by Jesus includes release of captives, sight for the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.  This is a new beginning for the people of God.

The passage Jesus reads comes from two places in Isaiah – mainly from 61:1-2 and partly from 58:6.  Both of these quotes are taken from what scholars refer to as Third Isaiah, basically the last ten chapters of that book.  In this last section of the book, the Jewish exiles have returned home from Babylon and the prophet addresses practical problems of restoration and reconstruction.  There is a focus on living daily into the holiness of God and to remind the people of what that looks like.

What that looks like, according to Isaiah, is that God's spirit is upon us to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.  In other words, now that God has freed us, we must help free others.

This prophetic message, however, fell by the wayside as Israel became focused on internal affairs, working to maintain their core identity, and life in general.  It eventually got forgotten and Israel began spending their collective time waiting for the arrival of a savior.

Enter Jesus.

At the time of Jesus, Israel was not in exile but they were occupied.  They had been overrun by the Roman military and political machine.  They were oppressed.  They worked hard to maintain their identity.  And they waited for a savior.

For us Christians we believe that Savior came in the person of Jesus Christ.  We believe that he was a fulfillment of the prophecies, born of the Virgin Mary, God incarnate, fully human and fully divine, and all of that other stuff we proclaim.  We also believe he came to announce the nearness of the kingdom of God.

Over time, however, this salvific message of the nearness of the kingdom has fallen by the wayside.  It seems we have spent more time focused on internal affairs, trying to maintain an identity and getting sidetracked by life.  And while we work to maintain the institution of Christianity, we sit idly by waiting for the arrival of a savior.

We need to avoid that trap.  We need to avoid arguing about internal affairs and get busy proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom of God.  We need to stop waiting for a savior and get to work proclaiming the message of Christ.

“But,” you may protest, “Jesus read that passage from Isaiah and interpreted it to refer to himself.”  That certainly may be technically correct because the text does say, “me,” and Jesus proclaims it fulfilled.  But this is one of those times when we need to take a wider view.

The Bible, for all its faults, messiness, and brutality, is, more than anything else, a love story between God and creation.  It is a story in which we participate, however imperfectly.  It is a story of our reunification with God.

The story begins in a garden and our banishment to keep us from eating from the tree of life.  The story ends in the city of God that has as its centerpiece that very same tree of life.  In between we are asked to participate with God in his vision of what creation is intended to be.  To do that, we need to have an all-encompassing view and understanding of Scripture.  And for that, Paul gives us an excellent example.

Today's Epistle from 1 Corinthians has Paul comparing the Church to a physical body.  We are baptized into one body – the body of Christ.  Paul goes on to talk about the various parts – hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose, etc. – and how, though different, they are all part of the one body.  By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, we are one with Christ.

If we are in Christ, if we are a member of Christ’s body, then the mission of Christ is our mission and the proclamations of Christ are our proclamations.  The mission of the Church as we understand it is to restore all people to unity with God.  This also happens to be the mission of Christ.

Part of that mission is to be found in the Isaiah passage read by Jesus.  Part of that mission is to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and to free the oppressed.  Jesus reads that passage, complete with, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME,” and tells his audience that Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in their hearing.

It was certainly fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  But taking Scripture holistically, and using Paul's belief that, collectively, we are the body of Christ, that prophecy should be fulfilled in us.  Isaiah's writings point to us just as surely as they point to Jesus.

We are united together in Christ.  We are united with Christ in his mission.  We are not called to wait for a savior.  We are called to participate with the Savior in restoring all people to unity with God.

Today's epiphany is that we are one with Christ.  Today's epiphany is that we are called, along with Jesus, to begin to proclaim the good news to the people of Isaiah's prophecy.  Today's epiphany is that this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sermon; 2 Epiphany; John 2:1-11

Last Sunday I said it was the beginning of the life of the church.  We commemorated and celebrated the baptism of Jesus by renewing our own baptismal vows.  And I asked how you might begin again to live into those promises we made – continuing in the apostles teaching and fellowship, resisting evil and repenting, proclaiming the good news, loving your neighbor, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

In doing these things we are helping manifest Christ to the world.  In doing these things, we are instigating small epiphanies for those around us and for ourselves as well.

All through this season of Epiphany we are presented with gospel stories that give us an epiphany, or a showing, of who Christ is.  Last week it was John's announcement, the dove, and the voice showing us who Jesus was.  Today it's a miracle that changes water to wine.  This is one of those stories that transcends Christianity in that even non-Christians are familiar with the general story, if not all the details.

One detail that is important to remember is that this story comes from the Gospel of John.  That is, not “this version of the story,” but “this story.”  It's only in John where we hear the story of changing water to wine.  This miracle wasn't a healing or feeding.  Nobody asked Jesus to provide wine (although his mother insinuated it), let alone offer any kind of solution to the problem of running out of wine for the party.  But, unbeknownst to anyone but the servants, he did provide wine.  And those few who knew about it believed in him.

John is funny that way.  In the three other gospels, the healings and other miracles are almost always preceded by a request and a statement of faith: “Do you believe I can do this?  Yes, Lord, I believe.”  In John this pattern is reversed – the miracle leads to belief.  Water is changed to wine, and the disciples believe; a group of Samaritans spend time with Jesus and come to believe because of what they hear; a blind man is given sight and comes to believe; and, most famously, Thomas comes to a profound belief after his encounter with the risen Christ.

For this reason I think John should be the patron gospel of every Christian church.  There are very few people who express a belief in Jesus Christ without having any experience of him.  The vast majority of people have an experience and then come to believe.  Whether that experience is growing up in a devoutly faithful home or being invited to church or searching for yourself to find a spiritual home, it's often the experience that leads to shaping belief.  And that belief is continually shaped by experience.

This is one, some might say, THE, purpose of the church: to offer an experience of the divine that shapes and forms disciples.

For us as Episcopalians, we are shaped by the liturgy whether we know it or not.  We are shaped by the particular rhythm of the service.  We are shaped by particular words and prayers we hear over the years.  We sit, stand, and kneel at particular times, involving our whole body in the act of worship.  And, as I wrote in the Wednesday Word a couple of weeks ago, we can take that liturgical experience into our daily lives so that our every act is an intentional liturgical act.  The liturgy can, if we let it, infuse our daily lives so that we can experience the divine in a way that shapes our discipleship and we can more fully say, “I believe.”

This liturgy, this experience of the divine that continually shapes and changes us, can be augmented to give us an even deeper rhythm.  One way is through the Daily Offices – Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.  Whether you say those in private or corporately (as at the 7:15 Morning Prayer service), you need to give it time to work, you need to give it time to become a habit.  In that habit is yet another way the experience shapes and forms us.  And if the daily offices are a bit much to fit into your schedule, maybe you could try reading and meditating on the Sunday Collect throughout the week.

The purpose of all this is to help us experience the divine so that we can be formed and shaped as disciples.  That formation and shaping of who we are is really just another way of saying we have been changed.  And that is really what today's gospel is about  – changing.

The first change comes in how Jesus does business.  The steward is impressed and says, “Everyone else serves the good wine first, then the cheap stuff later; but you saved the good stuff until the end of the party.”  In other words, he's addressing the “We've never done it that way/We've always done it this way” argument.  Our experience of Jesus is calling us to look at how we've done things and make changes if necessary.  Moving the choir and altar could fit into this type of change.

The other change happens with the water itself.  Water to wine – a change in substance and form.  I won't go into all the chemical details of this change, nor will I address any of the arguments that this miracle has generated (was it really wine or was it grape juice or was it a non-alcoholic wine) because all that does is miss the point.  The point is this:  Jesus did something miraculous, do you believe it?

The other important piece to remember is that Jesus was present when the water was changed to wine.

Much later Jesus will make another change – he will change wine to blood.  As with the change of water to wine, it's not necessary to get into the details and run chemical tests to determine what type of fluid is actually in the chalice.  What's important to remember is that a change is made and that Jesus is truly present.

What Jesus did at the wedding, what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and what Jesus does at the Communion event, is to change the ordinary into the extraordinary.

So while this gospel story is most often seen as an epiphany story, showing Jesus to have divine powers and thereby proclaiming him Son of God, this is also a story of change.  We experience Jesus in a variety of ways and locations, and that helps form and shape us as disciples.

This is the Epiphany season.  This is the season of beginnings.  How will your own epiphany, your own experience of Christ, change you from ordinary to extraordinary?  Pay close attention, there's an epiphany in there somewhere.

Amen.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sermon; 1 Epiphany; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

This past Wednesday was the Feast of the Epiphany.  We had our annual Twelfth Night party Tuesday evening as we commemorated the arrival of the wise men and their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, with a potluck and gift exchange of our own.  The day of Epiphany is obviously the beginning of the season, but, practically speaking, today is the first day of the season for most people.  Other than today, the season can be considered part of Ordinary Time and offers a little green before the sparseness of Lent begins.

Today, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, is the traditional celebration/commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord.  Traditional, of course, being interpreted as, “It's been this way ever since I can remember.”  Today is also one of four specified dates by the BCP as “especially appropriate” for baptisms or renewals.

As such, many parishes will either be baptizing people or, like us, renewing their baptismal vows today.  The four specified days of baptismal renewal are a big deal.  They are, to some extent, like a birthday or wedding anniversary – a remembrance of who we are and who we choose to be.  So it is good for us to restate the promises and vows we made as we stepped into this life of discipleship.  As a reminder, here are the questions we will answer in promising to be disciples:

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

These questions from pp. 293-294 of the BCP remind us of who we are and who we strive to be.  We are, by choice, disciples of Christ.  As disciples, we are to gather together to learn, eat, and pray.  As disciples, we struggle against evil and (hopefully) humbly and honestly repent, asking for forgiveness.  As disciples, we proclaim the Good News.  As disciples, we try to recognize Christ in all people, not just those who think and act like us.  And as disciples, we are to work for justice and peace because all people are children of God.

Doing all of that takes effort and commitment.  It takes effort and commitment to show up at church every Sunday.  It takes effort and commitment to avoid sin and repent, especially when it involves sins we particularly enjoy.  It takes effort and commitment to proclaim the Good News.  It takes effort and commitment to love our neighbors.  It takes effort and commitment to stand up and call out injustices.

Because all of this takes both effort and commitment, we might be tempted to procrastinate, putting off our efforts to commit to that covenant until later; because, after all, there is always tomorrow.  But we shouldn't procrastinate on living into the promises and vows we made.  I shouldn't put off until tomorrow the obligations of being a father today.  I shouldn't put off until tomorrow living faithfully today into the choice I made in being a husband.

What we are talking about in all of this is a beginning.  Epiphany, with the star and the wise men and the gifts they brought, was, in a sense, the beginning of making Christ known to all the world.  The baptism of Jesus was the beginning of the recognition of him as Son of God, as well as the beginning of his public ministry.  So while Advent may be the official start of the church year, today marks the beginning of its life.  We can also look to our own baptism as the beginning of our life in Christ.  As Christ went out from his baptism to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God, we also can see our baptism as the starting point in proclaiming the nearness of God to others.  For most of us, that event happened a long time ago, and we might feel a bit inadequate as we reflect on how little proclaiming we've actually done.

But again, this is why these four appointed days of baptismal renewal are given to us: to remind us of what we signed up for, to remind us of our duty, and to remind us that it's never too late to begin.

As we participate in the renewal of vows today, remember that you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.  Today may you remember that you have been bound to Christ in his service.  Today, with God's help, may you live into those promises and vows.

This is the Epiphany Season.  This is the season that begins with the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles with the arrival of the Wise Men.  This is the season that specifically points to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, both cosmically and earthly.  This is the season that begins with the Baptism of Our Lord.  This is the season that begins with the renewal of our own baptismal vows.  This is the season of beginnings.

What are you waiting for?

Amen.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Sermon; 2 Christmas; Matthew 2:1-12

“When the wicked want to do serous harm, they paint treachery in the color of humility.”
An anonymous work on Matthew

There is no doubt that Herod was wicked.  I’ve gone over some of his antics before, so I won't do so again.  But I will remind you that news of the Messiah's birth posed a serious threat to the power of Herod, or so he thought.  This new king might strip him of his power and leave him on the street.  Sixteen hundred years before Macbeth would show us, Herod was a living example that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

When Herod heard the news that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, his only thought was how he could eliminate him.  Of course, this isn't something you announce to your guests.  So he instead enlisted the help of the visiting magi as unsuspecting accomplices.  I imagine him sounding very much like the Grinch explaining to CindyLou Who why he was taking her Christmas tree when he told the wise men, “You go and find him there, then come back here so that I may also go there and worship him.”

Herod's plan, of course, was to utilize the knowledge and skills of his visitors to learn where this new king was, not in order to worship him or pay him homage, but to eliminate him.  Herod wanted to silence this person who threatened his grip on power.  Herod couldn't afford to allow this person to have a voice, so Herod tried to keep him quiet forever.

Herod painted his treachery in the form of humility.  Feigning interest and concern, he was only interested in silencing that which would reduce is power, no matter the cost.

This is so over-the-top that we may think it's reserved for only the most evil people in the world – Herod, Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Stalin, Lex Luthor, the Joker.  But this behavior happens every day all over the world.  From men in southeast Asia coerced onto fishing boats and forced into a type of slavery and silence, to young women and girls abducted into the sex trade, and all sorts of things in between – some expected and some unexpected.

Joelene and I spent last weekend in Bandon.  The weather was awful – windy and rainy, but any day at the beach is a good day.   One night I was channel surfing (because it was warmer than whale watching) and came across a CNN special called, “The Hunting Ground.”  It was all about sexual abuse and rape on college campuses.  Having a daughter of that age, we watched.  And it was horrifying.

What made it horrifying to me wasn't the number of reported rapes/abuses, but the number of men punished.  What made it horrifying was the manner in which those men were punished.  What made it horrifying was how the perpetrators were treated in comparison to the victims.

Of the hundreds of rapes reported, less than ten men were punished.  Types of punishment included expulsion from the university – after graduation; writing a paper on his experience of the event; and taking a mandatory class on women's studies.  Many, if not all, of the universities being investigated had in their procedure manual/student hand book sections directed to men with headings such as, “What to do if you are accused of sexual abuse,” “How to protect yourself if you are accused of sexual abuse,” “Where to find legal counsel,” and, “Where to find support in your difficult time.”

In short, all of the resources for a support network, help lines, or other resources were made available to the accused, while nothing was provided for the victims of rape and/or abuse.

Women who made their rape public were sent threatening texts and emails.  They were labeled sluts and whores.  They were asked for theirs sisters names and contact information.  At Yale, A sorority was surrounded at night by a bunch of male students chanting, “No means Yes.  Yes means . . .”  I won't repeat that last one.  Charges made against athletes, especially football or basketball players, were ignored or dropped “for lack of evidence.”  And the women who were brave enough to come forward were themselves charged in the court of public opinion of trying to ruin a man's life.

In all of this, one message is clear: Do not upset the power structure and keep silent.  The power structure will keep women silent by ignoring them and burying their complaints so far down a rabbit hole that very few, if anybody, will know about it.  The power structure will keep women silent by making things so difficult for them that many will simply not report the crime.  The power structure will keep women silent by ignoring them and not providing resources so that some women feel the only solution to their situation is to commit suicide.

All of this is painted with beautiful words that feign interest for the outside world.  We are told over and over that universities take sexual abuse issues seriously.  We are shown graphs that indicate almost zero campus rapes/attacks proving that there is not a problem.  And we are told universities do all in their power to protect victims.

The reality is something else entirely.

Unfortunately this is not the only place this happens.  Anytime those in power use their power to protect themselves and silence those who threaten them, the ghost of Herod is alive and well.  Anytime women, minorities, the poor, or any non-majority person or group is silenced, we are in danger of committing the same crime as Herod – actively putting an end to those who might upset the power structure that we are comfortable with.

Today's gospel is difficult for us to hear, because just under the surface story of visitors bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, is a story of treachery and death.  In today's gospel we hear the beginnings of serious harm done under the color of humility.  We need to pay attention to this gospel and have the courage to speak up for those who have been silenced by a power structure designed to protect its own interests.

The gospel of Christ is not meant to be used to keep people oppressed and living in darkness, it is meant to lift people up and bring them into the light.  And sometimes we need to hear stories about the treachery of the darkness to remind us what that looks like.

Amen.