Anyone who presents material to others regularly — I’m thinking of course of preachers, since that’s what I do most often, but also teachers, workshop leaders, researchers, journalists — probably runs into this problem fairly often – the problem of having more material to present than can fit into the allotted presentation time.
For example, on Sunday, January 24, I preached from Mark 5, the healing stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman who was hemorrhaging. Before worship even started one member of our church had already read the story and stopped me in the sanctuary to ask, “Why did Jesus tell them not to talk about what had been done?” It’s a 5 second question with a 30 minute answer. We chatted quickly about the possibilities, and before I scooted to my seat, I apologized that she wouldn’t hear more about this in my sermon. After worship, on Sunday afternoon and evening, I exchanged five emails with another member as we dug deeper into the connections between the 12 year old girl and the 12 years of suffering endured by the woman. It was so much fun! It was also much more than I could include in any one sermon.
This week’s sermon that I didn’t write was certainly based in the one I did, and it gets a nod in an admittedly unusual picture I chose to illustrate a portion of that sermon when I blogged it.
This is the painting “Herodias mutilating St. John the Baptist’s head” by Pieter Fransz. de Grebber. I’m no art historian. I simply found it with the Wikimedia database of media in the public domain, and, well, in a weird sort of way, I loved it. But I understand my appreciation maybe singular. A friend texted me today asking (all in good fun, I like to assume):
So you went with Herodias Mutilating St. John the Baptist’s Head?
What were the other choices??!!
My friend was right. There were plenty of other results to my “death of John the Baptist” search, but this one preached the sermon I didn’t have time to include – – the sermon about why we need God’s persistence. What I see in this painting is the reason we should be grateful for God’s persistence with grace. We human beings and the way we live is messed up. We are messed up. We consistently choose wrong over right. We pursue revenge. At best we turn away from those who call us toward holiness; at worst we kill them. We work carefully and diligently at picking other people apart, mutilating their bodies and minds and spirits, physically and metaphorically. We stand by with nothing more than disinterested disgust while people with power abuse it at the expense of the poor.
I looked at this painting and thought that there must be precious few better depictions of the doctrine of total depravity in the world. I look at this painting and know why we need grace. I didn’t have time to say all that in my sermon – – that we need grace because we kill the prophets in our midst. We need grace because we don’t recognize the presence of God in our midst. We need grace because we resist Christ’s healing. We turn our ears away from his wisdom. We think we know everything about him and it just so happens to prop up everything we believe about ourselves. (OK, I did get that last one in briefly.)
It’s a gruesome picture for sure, but for some reason it turns my mind toward God’s persistent grace. I’m willing to admit my mind is a little odd.