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Worship services now on YouTube

CAT-TV is our local public access TV channel (and our next-door neighbor too!). They broadcast recordings of our worship services on Comcast Channel 15 (click for the schedule). They also post the videos on their YouTube channel:

(Please note: for privacy concerns, our time for sharing prayer requests is removed from the recording)

We also have a YouTube playlist of just the sermons available here:

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Dancing with the czars

Lewd dancing. Political power run amok. Intrigue and betrayal. Accusations of adultery and even hints of incest. Drunken boasts and promises. And the one good guy in the story loses his head. Sounds like this is “ripped from the headlines” or at least an HBO-worthy series, right? Last I heard the most popular show on TV is Game of Thrones, which this story seems to have a lot in common with (except the dragons). But no, this grisly (and true) tale is told in the Bible. Then it must be in the Old Testament, when things were barbaric and all bets were off, right? Well no, this story is told, not once, but three times in the Gospels in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Mark, the story is found right in the middle of Jesus’ preaching and miracles (see for yourself in Mark 6:14-29).

In case you don’t have a Bible handy, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version (or trailer, for you kids): John the Baptist preached directly against King Herod’s adultery (the true king of Israel would never do such a thing). The king somehow still likes John, but his new (illegitimate) wife definitely doesn’t, so John gets thrown in prison. The king has a party, and his new step daughter is the featured entertainment. She probably wasn’t doing the chicken dance, because all these powerful men at the party went crazy for her. Undoubtedly the king was more than a little tipsy when, as a reward for her performance, Herod promised her “up to half my kingdom” (which is the kind of boast people did in those days). She consulted with her mom, who had her order up John the Baptist’s head on a platter, which she indeed received and passed on to her loving mother. Thus ends one of the grossest and weirdest stories you’ll find in the scriptures (and there’s quite a few).

This story is in the Bible, so we’re free to do any and all of that kind of stuff, right? Well, no, but I’m glad you asked, so we can clear this kind of confusion up. Ask a simple question: “Is this description or prescription?” Or: is this story a cautionary tale, or something to emulate? Is vs. Ought? Once that’s cleared up (sometimes it is obvious, sometimes not), keep going and ask: “Why is this story here?”

One of the reasons for this story is to show what happens when you follow Jesus. Make no mistake: the world and its values (power, lust, lies, murder) are often directly opposed to Jesus’ kingdom and his values (service, love, truth, life). If we stand up for Jesus’ values against those with worldly power, we just might pay the price. This should come as no surprise, because another reason for this story is to foreshadow what’s coming for Jesus himself: a grisly death at the hands of those in power. So be very careful if a politician or preacher is promising you power, prominence, or prosperity. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross.

There was a well-known German pastor and scholar who opposed the Nazi regime. He was hanged for his part in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler (part of which was retold in the Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie). His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and he did and said a lot that is worth pondering (I’m happy to lend you a recent biography), and his most famous words are appropriate here: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

When the “good guys” run into the buzz-saw of the “bad guys,” the good guys often lose. As one of my favorite movies puts it: “So, Lone Starr, now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.” (Dark Helmet, Spaceballs) John the Baptist’s story ends with a thud: his people come and give him a proper burial. End of story. At least that is the end of this story, but thankfully not the end of The Story.

Ultimately Herod is dethroned and exiled after a failed attempt for more power. But keep reading Jesus’ story, and you’ll see his true power continues, and strengthens even after death, because he is resurrected in power and love. John’s story was key in Jesus’ story, and even though he paid the ultimate price, he was given the ultimate reward. Herod had many chances to hear God’s story, but he was too busy writing his own. His ending was final. John’s story as part of Jesus’ story continues to this day, because for Jesus, death is the new beginning.

You too, my neighbors and friends, are invited into The Story, into Jesus’ story, where life triumphs over death, power is in serving, and the end is the beginning.

Inoculated Against Jesus

Among young parents in certain circles, the debate continues to rage: to immunize or not to immunize? It goes something like this: should little Johnny get his shots, which will inoculate him against various diseases, or should we opt out of the shots, because the immunizations can cause all sorts of problems. I’ll stay out of this debate in this space, but in the spirit of full disclosure, we just got a puppy, who of course is the cutest creature yet created, and Toby is getting his shots.

I came across one of the saddest stories in the Bible the other day, and it made me wonder if it is possible to be inoculated against Jesus. The brief account is found in Mark 6:1-6, where Jesus, after gaining quite a following, pays a visit to his hometown of Nazareth. He’s not going for a quick visit to see Mom and get some laundry done; he’s going to do what he does now that he’s left the carpenter life behind: to preach the gospel, heal the sick and drive out demons.

It all starts out pretty well, as many gather to hear him teach, but the people can’t quite get over the fact that they knew him. When he was a baby, they used to change his diapers. When he was a kid, they’d help him up after he skinned his knee. When he was an adolescent, they celebrated his coming-of-age. As an adult, they employed him to repair their roofs. They were all there at Joseph’s funeral. So here’s Jesus sweeping into town with his entourage (who won’t stop talking about the amazing miracles he’s done), but isn’t he the kid we used to make fun of? They are scandalized. They are offended, because they have been innoculated against the real Jesus.

As you probably know, immunizations are a fascinating bit of medical science (disclaimer: I’m no scientist, but I usually paid attention in school). As far as I remember, they inject you with a weakened virus, so your body’s immune system can fight it off easily enough, so when the real-deal virus is encountered, it will be ready to go, and all will be well.

Spiritually speaking, the people from Nazareth were inoculated against Jesus. They got a “weak” version of Jesus (or at least they thought they did). They got used to their idea of Jesus. Their Jesus was safe. Familiar. So when the real-deal Jesus comes along, they fought him off. The real Jesus didn’t fit into their preconceived notions of Jesus, and it was spiritually deadly for them. One of the saddest, and even most surprising, verses in the Bible finishes the story: “Jesus could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5-6)

The result of this amazing unbelief is unnerving. In the stories immediately preceding this one, we see Jesus calming a deadly storm, casting out a legion of demons, healing someone chronically ill (without even knowing!), and finally raising a girl from the dead (just in case you’re a little too familiar with Bible stories, can you picture what it would be like having your child die from pneumonia and then having her come back to life again?). Jesus clearly has power over creation, the spiritual realm, health, and even life and death. So it is shocking that the people’s unbelief could hinder Jesus’ power.

And yet we experience that all the time too. Jesus still has amazing power, but so often, even those of us who believe in him, are inoculated against Jesus. We may believe, but we’re spiritually weak. Like the folks from Nazareth, we have an incomplete version of Jesus in our minds and hearts. A weak Jesus. A twisted Jesus. There’s way too many false-Jesuses running around out there (and in here).

See if any of these versions of “Jesus” sound familiar: Tiny Baby Jesus (he’s cute, but never left the manger), Santa Claus Jesus (here to give you whatever you want, as long as you’re “good”), Vending Machine Jesus (you give him something, you get something back), Blond Hair, Blue Eyed Jesus (sanitized and Westernized for your protection), TV Preacher Jesus (with blindingly-white teeth, feel-good preaching, and always asking for money), Mean Schoolteacher Jesus (ready to whack you with a ruler at any moment), Hippie Jesus (everything’s cool, man), Hipster Jesus (nothing’s cool, man), Gun-toting Jesus (here to protect you from the Romans, Russians, and whoever else you don’t like), Crucifix Jesus (still on the cross, waiting for you to do enough good deeds so he can come down), Leave-it-to-Beaver Jesus (complete with white picket fence), or even Your Local Religious Professional Jesus (heaven help us all!).

If you’ve been immunized by these or the many other false-Jesuses out there, you’ll have a much harder time encountering and experiencing the amazing power and love of the real Jesus. You’ll have a much harder time trusting Jesus if you have a false belief of who he is. Thankfully the real Jesus is a healer, and can heal even our minds and hearts from being inoculated against him. You may be harboring one or more of these phony Jesuses (everybody does!). Perhaps it is time kick them out of town, and get a fresh start by encountering the real and true Jesus. Go to the source! Read all about him in the true stories of his life we find in the Bible. Get some help by coming alongside others who are striving to know and love the real Jesus. Pray my favorite prayer, which is borrowed from a random guy in the Bible who encountered Jesus: “I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Jesus continues to do powerful things here in Bennington. I pray that Jesus won’t be amazed at our unbelief, but many would be amazed at our great faith in our great God.

Bob Wiegers is the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington, Vermont. His usual false-Jesus is probably Hippie Jesus. What’s yours?