2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19
I’m going to tell you the story about Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss. Bartholomew, you see, was a page boy of King Derwin, the king of Didd. And the king had gotten tired and quite angry at seeing the same things come down from his sky—the rain, and the fog, and the snow, and the sunshine. He finally demanded that something else be made to come down. But Bartholomew cautioned him, saying that even the king can’t command the elements.
But King Derwin called on his magicians and charged them with the challenge. All night they chanted and made their magic, and in the morning, a green, sticky oobleck began falling from the sky. The king was elated and told Bartholomew to ring the special bell. But the bell wouldn’t ring because it was clogged with oobleck. So, the boy went to warn the people by having the horn blower blow his horn—but all he could make was a gurgle. And all over the kingdom, ooblek was getting the people and the animals and everything else stuck in a mess.
Finally, the boy went to find the king—who was stuck to his chair, trying to remember the magic words of the magician. But the oobleck kept falling. “Bartholomew Cubbins could hold his tongue no longer. ‘And it’s going to keep on falling,’ he shouted, ‘until your whole great marble palace tumbles down!…You ought to be saying some plain simple words!…This is all your fault! Now, the least you can do is say the simple words, ‘I’m sorry’.’
No one had ever talked to the King like this before. ‘What!’ he bellowed. ‘ME…ME say I’m sorry! Kings never say I’m sorry! And I am the mightiest king in all the world!’ Bartholomew looked the King square in the eye. ‘You may be a mighty king,’ he said. ‘But you’re sitting in oobleck up to your chin. And so is everyone else in your land. And if you won’t even say you’re sorry, you’re no sort of a king at all!’”
So, finally the king apologized. And suddenly, the oobleck began to melt away, and the kingdom was saved.
Do you think it was frightening for the page boy to say something so bold to the mighty king? A little like John the Baptist in the story today. He had told the king he was doing something wrong, and when the opportunity came, the king had him killed. Not everyone learns to say ‘I’m sorry.’
Let’s pray. God, help us recognize when we have made mistakes and hurt others. Help us to say I’m sorry and work to make it right. Amen.
I’ve been enraptured lately by the Netflix show, “Merlin.” As you might imagine, it’s about the magician of Camelot and the destiny of King Arthur. But, of course, it takes a great deal of license with the original story, developing the characters and bringing to life the fears and machinations of a king and kingdom at the crossroads of good and evil.
According to the show, Merlin is a young magician who serves as Prince Arthur’s personal servant. But, magic is forbidden in the land, and anyone practicing magic is immediately put to death. Much like Herod, Arthur’s father Uther hates magic because it killed his wife. So, his decisions against magic and those who practice it are born of fear, anger, and hatred. Uther’s ward, Morgana, also has magic. And she comes to hate Uther because of his ‘no tolerance’ policy against magic and sorcery.
Morgana’s hatred fuels her desire to kill Uther—and Arthur—just as Uther’s hatred fuels his desire to extinguish magic. And in the middle of it all is Arthur and his servant, Merlin, who has dedicated his life and his magic to protect Arthur and his kingdom.
You see, both are fueled by hatred, fear, and a desire to win—a desire to succeed. But neither are concerned about the people who they might serve in their capacities. It is only about them. Because of their hate, they are both destined to lose, and those around them are collateral damage.
Now, let’s leave Camelot and return to Israel—a sort of Camelot in its own right. Like Uther, King Herod’s decisions are fueled by fear, hatred, and a desire for power. He divorces his wife—against Jewish law—in order to marry his brother’s wife. For his birthday, he has his step-daughter do a sensual dance for him and his cronies. No doubt, they liked it as much as he did. And in a drunken stupor, he promises to give her anything she wants.
Her mother, who hated that John had spoken against their adulterous marriage, advises the daughter to ask for his death. John had spoken Truth to power, and those in power did not want to hear it. So Herod, loving himself and his reputation more than anything or anyone else, acquiesces. He can’t be seen as weak. He can’t be seen going back on his promise. Fear, hatred, and anger make very poor advisors.
I’m reminded of a saying that I recently came across by Octavia Buter:
“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”
Fear, hatred, and anger make very poor advisors. And fear and hatred are advising our society more than ever, it seems. We, as a people, have many fears—ranging from national to congregational to personal. For instance, when we’re afraid that the Church is dying, we may to over-extend ourselves to try to be everything to everyone in order to appease and attract people to join. Or, we may try to resurrect the old ways of doing things—to act as if we are still in the ‘good old days’, not considering how family lives are so different now.
When we’re afraid of people who are different from us—different colors, different nationalities, different languages, different sexual orientations and genders—we may tend to push people out—push people away. Bullying them in school, in the park, in the grocery store. Telling them to ‘go home’. Pulling the trigger first and asking questions later. Or worse, trying to keep them from coming to this country by all means possible—even if it means terrorizing their children in order to scare future travelers away.
When we’re afraid of our leaders and how they are treating others, we may feel hopeless and do nothing. We may be so angry that we find ourselves fighting just as dirty—causing riots in the name of justice, practicing a civil disobedience that is more destructive than it is inspiring, shaming and harming those we see as the opposition, attacking those who symbolize the institution and forgetting that they are people, too. Here’s an example to ponder. I just learned of someone who was traveling to Omaha in order to remove books (I’m not sure where) that contain prejudice. Think about that—denying freedom of expression out of fear and anger at what is being expressed. Doing the wrong thing for the intended right reason.
And to be honest, I’ve found myself ideologically in all of these camps and so many more. And I am sad to say that, more often than not, I too have let fear, anger, and hatred advise me in my responses. But these are not faithful advisors. They tell a story about us that undermines our God-given vocation of compassion and service. They tell us that we must defend ourselves and God. They tell us that we must fix what we see wrong with the world, no matter what the cost. Fear and hatred and anger lie to us about ourselves, about others, and about God. And when, in the midst of our turmoil, we are confronted with Truth, we don’t want to hear it. We can’t hear it. We rail against it. Because Truth—gospel Truth—hits us with both good news and bad news.
The bad news is that ALL of us fall short of God’s glory. Not one of us is, ultimately, better than another in God’s eyes. Even when we have the best intentions for ourselves and others, the lies fueled by fear, anger, and hate keep us from embracing God’s love. And whether we are the narcissist king who fights to keep his kingdom free from all the things he fears or the woman who fights to kill the king and all he stands for, as long as we are advised by fear, anger, and hate, we cannot bear God’s love to the world.
The good news is that there is another way. And though it is riskier, and it requires more work, it is more challenging, it takes more time, and there is absolutely no guarantee that it will bear the fruit we have in mind, it has something the other ways don’t possess—hope. Hope that no matter how bad it gets, God wins. Hope that God invites us to participate in God’s creative and courageous approach to justice. Hope that leads to open hearts, open minds, open hands, open borders, open tables, open doors, and open homes.
So, at the risk of ‘losing my head’, I want to tell you what I fear and where I stand. First and foremost, I stand here as your pastor—one called to love all of you, regardless of our differences and in spite of our agreements. I am called to serve all of you. I am also called to lead, challenge, and teach. And that’s what I aim to do.
I believe that the Church as we know it is dying. Yes, that frightens me because I’ve not been trained in how to do things differently. However, I have hope. I have hope that God is leading the Church into resurrection—into a new and creative way of being. God is bringing us into a new day and new way that will have the kind of impact on our world that we have only imagined having in the past. So, though I fear what that means for me, I have a great hope for what that means for us.
I believe that climate change and global warming is happening and is very real, and I fear for the well-being of my son and my descendants for years to come. But I have hope that new and innovative minds will continue to develop amazing and creative processes and items that can help creation, if we let them.
I believe that ALL people, men and women and people who are gender non-conforming, Americans and immigrants, migrants and refugees, children and adults and the elderly, veterans and law enforcement, people of various colors and nationalities, and any other human-designed category of people are created in the image of God. And I fear national genocide happening across the world; I fear how our own government is treating people seeking asylum; I fear the safety of cops; I fear the well-being of the homeless, underpaid, and underemployed; I fear for the safety of our children; I fear for those without health insurance; I fear the growing racism in our country; I fear the abuse of the vulnerable—children, elderly, women, people who are LGBTQ; I fear the Christians who misrepresent my faith in God. I have many fears.
But I am called to hope in the one who is bigger than all of them. WE are called to hope in a God who redeems us in all of our fears. We are given the Spirit of God in order to speak hope to fear, speak truth to power, and to live out our faith fully and abundantly in the love of God. We are called to follow a God who confounded kings and priests, who brought comfort to sinners, who welcomed the outcast, who loved the unlovable, and who died because he broke humanity’s rules in order to usher in God’s grace in a world aching for life. That is where my hope is placed.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church