This was my sermon from January 19th.
This week we are going to talk about some whom we do not usually find in our nativity sets-- King Herod and the Holy Innocents.
Herod was appointed king in 37 BC by the Romans. He was a practicing Jew and they gave him the title, “King of the Jews” because of the amount of Jews under his rule. Historians claim that Herod had a successful and generous reign in part because he oversaw the construction of fortresses, aqueducts and amphitheaters.
However, what we know King Herod best for is the rage that he unleashed at the thought of losing his title “King of the Jews.” Whether or not Herod had the children killed is a matter of debate with historians since there is no record of it outside of the Bible. However, I think it is likely that it happened for three reasons, 1) There is record of it in the Gospel of Matthew, 2) The town of Bethlehem had only 20 or less children of that age in it so it's likely this massacre was not large enough to be recorded in historical documents and 3) King Herod had a history of killing those those that threatened his power, including his own wife, three of his sons and mother-in-law.
This is a part of the nativity story that many children do not know, but I think it is important for people of any age to know. This is a story I grew up hearing because my elementary school was named after the children that were slaughtered by Herod's command-- those children we call the Holy Innocents.
Those children, innocent people, were slaughtered because a man did not want to relinquish his power to the new king of the Jews—even though he didn't even know what that meant, or who that person was.
Many people do not even know about these Holy Innocents. These children who were treated unfairly, to say the least, because they were in the way of someone in power.
This story is haunting. Surely, if we heard about it happening today, we would do something about it, right? Well, it may not be something as obvious as outright as ordering the deaths of innocent children, but there are injustices being carried out every moment of everyday all over the world and in this country because of people who do not want to lose their power.
Today in the United Methodist Church we celebrate Human Relations Day. This day is celebrated the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr Day.
Human Relations Day is a Sunday set aside to raise money and awareness for outreach and social justice.
Martin Luther King Jr. not only raised awareness for social justice—specifically racial justice-- he changed things in this country. He was the frontrunner in ending segregation in the south. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963 for his work and he was assassinated in 1968. He was slaughtered by those who did not want to relinquish power.
Now for someone like me, I grew up thinking this was history. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated 46 years ago, 18 years before I was born. But the older I get, the more I realize, this isn't history. Many of you were alive for this. Many of you lived through the civil rights era of the 60s.
This man said, “no more.” this man decided he could not sit around another minute while people were being taken advantage of by those in power. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Rev. King said, “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt...Now is the time to make justice a reality for ALL of God's children.”
There is surely still racial injustice in our country and in our world, but the injustice that is truly plaguing the world is the love of money and power. Those with the money have the power. They will do whatever they can to keep their money and to keep their power.
There was once a king that slaughtered innocent children in order to get rid of a baby that threatened his rule. King Herod died when Jesus was less than 10 years old; Jesus was never a real threat to his kingship. Jesus grew up to be King of the Jews-- not a politically powerful way—but in a spiritually powerful way.
Jesus stood up to and spoke out against anyone who was not living in ways that would build God's kingdom. People like those that had a love of money and power. Those that treated others unfairly and unjustly. Those who put people on the outskirts of society.
Jesus had one great commandment and that was to love God and love another. But what does that mean to us today? To politely say hello to someone you meet? To take the trash out with complaining about it? To donate time at a food bank? To come to church?
Yes, it, can, but it means so much more. Loving one another means to learn about each other's struggles and do what you can to help. To live ethically. To not support the evil practices that you are aware of. To recognize and combat our own racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, and all of the rest of the isms---anything that makes us think we are better than anyone else---we need to work to recognize them and actively combat them.
Everyone of us are God's children whom God created equally—from the President of the United States to the newest AIDS-infected baby born to a woman who was raped in Africa. In God's eyes we are all equal and we need to work to make the world see that too.
If a tragedy happened to the world's richest and most powerful, we would surely know about it and yet a blind eye is turned to the world's poor and middle-class that deal with tragedy, famine, injustice, rape, lack of healthcare, and inequality everyday.
Let us seek out truth and honesty instead of corruption; let us extend a hand of generosity instead of carrying greed in our hearts; let us find ways to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem; A part of kingdom-building rather than one who tears down the work that has been done. Let us have the courage, faithfulness, self-control and diligence to do the right thing in the face of evil-- To live ethically when we become informed of injustice.
I say these things because so many of us do not realize when our neighbors are hurting. We are ignorant to the hard truths of the world. We need to seek out the truth, find how we are harming others, directly and indirectly. And when we know, let us not brush it off, ignore it, or rationalize it. Let's change it. Let's make the world a better place, a fairer place.
Jesus came to be a teacher of kingdom-building. We celebrated his birth and we celebrated it well-- so let's not drop the ball. Let's do something about this being that came to earth and sacrificed himself so that we may live and build the kingdom so that all may truly live.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us. If we begin to learn of the world's problems, we might grow weary and think, “there's nothing I can do.” If everyone thought that, the world would stay the same. But if everyone thought, “I want to love God and neighbor and not harm them” we could change the world. We could build the kingdom. We all have our role to play.
“Love one another” it sounds easy, but we know it's not. I know I am not being loving toward my neighbor when I buy things from other countries that aren't fair trade because the workers were not treated fairly. But how difficult is it anymore to find something of reasonable price that is made in America or fair-trade? Jeremy and I are in the midst of going vegan for ethical reasons and it isn't easy to give up cheese and ice cream. It is a struggle.
But these things are worth the effort and worth the struggle because I know I'm doing my part to make the world a better place and I ask for God's forgiveness when I fall short. And I know there are still many ways I don't even know I'm harming my neighbors and I ask God's forgiveness for those things as well and ask God to open my eyes to them.
Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from Birmingham Jail wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
We are not separate from each other. We are all connected to one other as children of God. It is our duty to love one another and in loving one another, to help one another have a chance at life. And not just a chance, but to live a life of wholeness. Or as our litany stated earlier, to "live simply that others may simply live." Everyone deserves a chance. With God's blessing, let it be so.
(I learned Herod's historical information from many different sources including National Geographic and the BBC).