I am not God.
I am not God. And I need God.
I am not God. And I need God. And without God, I am lost.
This is where I begin my reflection today, and it is increasingly the way in which I begin each day: I am not God, and I need God, and without God, I am lost. These aren’t the words of a pious person, or a particularly righteous person. When said with humility, these aren’t even the words of a self-righteous person. This is just the truth: I am not God, and I need God, and without God, I am lost.
There was a time when I thought that to speak prophetically was to speak politically; to speak at the intersection of faith and politics, or faith and social justice…or faith as social justice. The prophets might seem like the ones with the loudest bullhorns, at the front of the marches, on the stages in front of the state houses, chanting.
But prophetic speech does not require that kind of fanfare. Prophetic speech is truth telling about the world in light of the reality of God. It does not have to be particularly loud. It just has to be honest: I am not God. And I need God. And without God, I am lost.
There are consequences to speaking the truth.
Herod made that perfectly clear.
Truth threatens power. Truth dismantles the delusions that surface in selfish, self-centered people which make us think that we are God; delusions which make us think that other people’s lives are within our jurisdiction to judge, or to control, or to spare, or to end.
On an individual level, these delusions lead to all kinds of manipulation and harm in our relationships and in our understanding and experience of ourselves. On a systemic level, these delusions lead to prison culture, mass incarceration, the separation of families, the imprisonment of children. Brown children, mind you.
Beneath all of these cruelties is this delusion that we are God, and that the world is ours to control.
The prophet speaks truth to both the individual and the systemic delusion. John says to Herod, not only is your house not in order, but you are acting as though you are God, and that you can do whatever you want with impunity. The prophet doesn’t have to scream in order to make this point.
This week I saw the movie, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” and since then I’ve been imagining John the Baptist speaking in the voice of Mister Rogers.
You can tell the truth and be kind.
The prophet says, as he puts on his cardigan and house shoes, that the earth and all that is in it belongs to God.
And doesn’t that includes us? Our life, and all of the things in our life? Our vocations? Our career? Our family? Our money? Our property? Does any of it actually belong to us? Doesn’t all of it belong to God?
This thought is understandably unsettling to those of us whose identity is grounded in our things, our vocations, our careers, our family, our money, our property. The comfort we take in the illusion of our power is threatened by the truth that all things belong to God.
Whose head would we put on a platter to ensure that we retain control over those things? In our desperation to please others, like Herod with his daughter, or to maintain our status, like Herod with his guests, or to convince others that we are not the sinners, like Herod with God, what truth are we willing to sacrifice? Herod chose John. In this story, it would seem that power trumps the truth.
But is that Gospel?
Is the Good News that weak, self-serving men who abuse their office and wrongfully imprison or execute truth-tellers in order to protect their pride are the ones doing God’s work in the world? Perhaps Jesus’s followers asked themselves this question when they took John’s body to be buried in a tomb; a foreshadowing if there ever was one.
Who among us has the courage to speak the kind of truth we hear from John? The kind of truth that is not only willing to lay bare the injustice of a tyrant king, but also the kind of truth that rejects any notion of his own greatness. Remember, when the people of Judea and Jerusalem flocked to John to be baptized, he was adamant to say — I am not the one you are seeking. I am not God.
I wonder if it’s enough to speak truth to the powers of this world, or if we must first learn to speak truth to the illusory power we cling to in our own, everyday life. Living your life as though your life belongs to God is a radical act that defies the ruling order of the world.
It is a radical act to say with conviction, “I cannot free myself from my own selfishness. I need God’s help.” It is a radical act to say with conviction, “Only by way of God will I experience peace, joy, contentment, true happiness.” It is a radical act, because most of the time, don’t we think we can do on our own?
I’ve got this, right?
I’ve got a good a plan for my life. I’ve got a good scheduling system. I bullet journal. I’ve got a good exercise routine. I do crossfit. I’ve got a good therapist. I’ve got a good marriage. I’ve got a good job. I’ve got a good church.
I’ve got this.
And if you do, if you’ve found that you don’t need God or that you are capable of managing everything about your life on your own, please come find me after church. I want to know how you did that.
Cause I don’t.
I can’t do it on my own. I don’t got this. I’ve tried to go at it alone, and it doesn’t work out. I’m not God, and I need God, and without God, I’m lost.
At the end of service I invite you, as you are leaving this sanctuary and journeying out into the world, to reach your hand into the baptismal font — stick it all the way in — and think of John the Baptist. Think of the one who baptized Jesus; the one who spoke the truth, regardless of the consequences. Touch your head with your wet hand and remember that everything in the world, including you and your life, belong to God.
Remember who you are and remember whose you are.