Jessie was four years old when a little bird flew into the glass picture window while she was eating breakfast in her kitchen. The little bird was killed instantly. Jessie was very sad and cried a lot. It was the first time that she had seen anything die. She decided to enlist her dad's help in burying the bird. So together they found a small cardboard box and covered the box with a paper napkin shroud. They processed the bird in its small coffin to the backyard where they dug a hole. When the hole was ready, Jessie carefully placed the box in the ground. Then Jessie's dad suggested that she say a prayer. So this is what she said,
"Dear God, we have buried this little bird. Now you be good to her or I will kill you. Amen."
When they were walking back, Jessie's dad asked her why she had to threaten God. Jessie said, "Well, I just wanted to be sure that God heard me."
King Herod Agrippa had married his brothers Phillip's wife. I cannot imagine how that must have played out. Talk about a soap opera! Taking your own brother's wife while he was still alive was the worst form of rivalry. It was cruel and selfish. But Herod was King and, like David before him, he wanted what he wanted. And Herodias probably was flattered and happy to be elevated to the status of queen. But deep down, they both knew that they were wrong. And no one dared say a thing, no one.
The King and his wife had a daughter who Herod named after her mother, Herodias. Herodias grew into a beautiful young woman and her dad loved to show off her dancing. Most of the public had either simply forgotten that Herod had taken his brothers wife or they were too scared to say anything, but then John the Baptist came along. John spoke out to say that it was wrong. It was unlawful for a woman to marry one man, then divorce him and marry his brother. And it was unlawful for Herod to take his brothers wife as his own, even if she did so willingly. So John told Herod what he thought. No matter how much time had passed, it was wrong. Herod could not hide.
Herod threw John in prison but he did not execute John for he realized that John was a man of God, a man worth listening to. Herod knew that he could still learn from John, even if he disagreed with him. Herod would call John to him and listen, with fascination, as John told the truth. I don't think that Herod had ever met anyone like John before. John fascinated and perplexed him. But Herod's wife hated John because he made her look bad and she wanted to think of herself as the perfect queen.
Herodias was insulted, personally insulted and affronted. She had been openly criticized by John and she did not just disagree, she wanted him dead. Dead. The most deeply insecure people do not just hate those who point out their flaws, they want to kill them. Like Hitler and Stalin after her, this woman wanted John dead for his opinion. And so, when her daughter pleased her husband by dancing at a party, and Herod offered her whatever her little heart desired, Herodias told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. I cannot imagine the psychological impact that this one event had on this girl. She did what her mother wanted and became a murderer. And we never hear more about her again.
I can only imagine the look on King Herod's face when his own daughter came to him asking for the beheading of a holy man. Herod had a choice between his pride and the life of an innocent man. All his friends were looking at him. He had made a promise. And they were watching as he weighed his options. His reputation or the life of a man of God. Herod chose his reputation. Just like Pontius Pilate, Herod was willing to murder an innocent man rather than look bad. He was willing to kill rather than being shamed or proven wrong. He would rather murder than have admitted to making a mistake.
When we disagree with one another today, we don't murder one another, at least not in this country, not most of the time, but we do try to get rid of each other. We don't want to be around people who don't think like us.
All over this country, when you walk into church, it only takes a short while before you can tell if it is a liberal or conservative church. It is not hard to tell. People are worshipping only with those who think like them. After all, how could they find God if they disagreed? It might make them feel uncomfortable.
But my vision for this church is to be more than a place where people agree. It is a harder vision, a tougher vision. This church is one of very few churches in this nation where people who disagree are still worshipping together. Church has become one of the most segregated places in our country. People tend to worship only with others who think like them and look like them. In essence, if someone disagrees with us, we get rid of them either by leaving ourselves or by forcing them to feel so uncomfortable that they leave. I have watched over the past decade as thousands have left our denomination. And we have let them go, thinking, great, now we can do what we want to do. But whenever we kill off those who disagree, we kill off the very people who can really help us grow.
You see, God works best when we are not sure of ourselves. God works best when we realize that we do NOT have all the answers and that everything we do, we do with the utmost humility and respect for those who disagree with us. God works best when we truly listen.
But the only way that we all will move forward is for us to continue to communicate. Disagreement should not mean that the body of Christ splinters. Disagreement is an opportunity to move more deeply into community. Read the book of Acts. The church is always disagreeing and has always done so. We do that. It is part of our life together.
Imagine if John the Baptist had not died. Imagine what he could have said and done. Imagine what he could have contributed to the people who knew and loved Jesus. Let us not be like the religious extremists who want to simply get rid of all who act differently than they do.
When I was at General convention, people wore name tags. The name tags would tell not only your name but what diocese you were from. And people then took to putting buttons on their name tags to identify the causes that they believed in. Rainbow buttons, Anglican Covenant buttons, on and on they went on everything from liturgy to the environment. You could see a persons politics just by looking at the array of buttons. But I began to realize that we were no longer looking at each other in the eyes. All we were seeing is the cause, not the person.
I remember getting on an elevator and immediately reading the person across from me by his buttons. And I did not even look into his eyes. He had become nothing more to me than a series of political opinions. It was then that I vowed to take off my buttons and look into people's eyes.
When that young man walked into that prayer group in Charleston, he actually stayed and listened for over an hour before he killed those innocent people just because of the color of their skin. And in that hour, he realized that they were nice to him. He started to see them, to listen to them, as people. But he could not stop the hate in his heart and he ended up killing them to prove a point.
Look at each other. Do you see each other? Each of us is a human being. Each one of us is so much more than just one issue, more than our political persuasion, or ethnicity or race or gender or sexual orientation. Look at each other. Stop seeing a cause or a perspective. See the person! Do not stop being in relationship when you disagree. In fact, when we disagree is the moment that we should move closer not further apart. Don't try to get rid of each other and don't flee. This is just when we can become a real community, this is the time when things get rich and deep and we all realize that we know nothing when it comes to understanding God. This is the moment when we can become a great leading community in the Christian world and beyond. We still have disagreement here! That's when we can truly start to listen and be changed by one
another. That's when Christ's work of reconciliation can truly be done.