Legacy of Love

by Genevieve Zetlan, Licensed Lay Preacher

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Writer Anne Lamott once said she was thinking of writing a new book: “All the People I Still Hate: A Christian Perspective.”

We are supposed to love our enemies, but honestly, some people are really hard to like, much less love. We all have someone we just can’t stand. Someone we feel has wronged us, or mistreated us, or offended us.

And this morning our stories take us to that uncomfortable place. We have two stories about huge parties thrown by a King. Two stories about dancing. Two stories in which two women feel they’ve been utterly wronged. And not without good reason, either.

Michal is the youngest daughter of King Saul. Saul promises his daughter to the man who can defeat the Philistines, and that, of course, is David. Fortunately, she falls in love with David, and when her father comes to kill David, she saves his life. Unfortunately, after this betrayal by how much does 10mg cialis cost his daughter, Saul turns around and gives Michal to a man named Paltiel, to be his wife instead. Meanwhile, David collects a bunch more wives over the course of his rise to the throne. And when he gains enough power, he demands Michal back. She is taken from Paltiel – who follows her weeping as she’s dragged off. But then it turns out David doesn’t really want her and she never has any children. And she “despised him in her heart.”

Herodias has a similarly sad history. King Herod the Great executes her father when she is a little girl, leaving her orphaned. Herodias is then married off by that same King to her half uncle. Then the other Herod, the Herod of today’s Gospel story, divorces his first wife because he wants Herodias instead. After all that, John the Baptist begins making her life at court both miserable and dangerous by loudly and publically criticizing the marriage. No wonder she had a grudge against John.

These two women have been used. And we’ve all experienced that wrench-in-the-gut initial response to being mistreated. Anger, despair, hate — these are the legacies left when people are used, an inheritance of pain, hurt, and humiliation that carries across generations. Achoholism or abuse in families; racism and sexism in political systems; in ways both personal and global, when we as humans treat other people as less than ourselves, our voices can drown out the voice of God.

These are the voices that accompany us every day. Our collective earthly inheritance from parents or bosses or spouses, voices we internalize and repeat. Voices that whisper in defeat, “Everyone else has this figured out but you,” or shout in anger, “I have been wronged and someone should pay!” Voices that contantly remind us how, every day, we fall short in the eyes of the world.

King Herod listens to the voice that say he will be humiliated, lose face, if he doesn’t acquiese to his daughter’s demand. Herodias’s daughter listens to the voice of her mother, full of humiliation and revenge, and a prophet dies.

And so today in our readings we seem to hear very little of God’s voice, because when we listen to those voices, we cannot hear the voice of God.

The Good News is, as Herod found out, you cannot silence the voice of God. Killing God’s prophets is like playing wack-a-mole — sooner or later, another one is going to pop up and insist on speaking God’s Word.

And sure enough, among our readings this morning there is also Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where God’s voice is clear: Our earthly inheritance from generations of global injustice and personal pain is not our only inheritance. We also have a heavenly inheritance. The voice of God is the voice that insists that no matter how we fall short, no matter how we have been treated by others or have treated others ourselves, God’s grace is lavished upon us, generation after generation. An inheritance of love.

And we can choose to listen for God’s voice. We can choose a legacy of love.

In the 1700s Robert Carter was one of the richest men in Virginia, with tens of thousands of acres of land and more than 500 slaves. Two generations later, his grandson heard the voice of God. Despite the protests of all his friends and his 10 children who were watching their earthly inheritance go up in smoke, he began freeing all of his slaves in the largest emancipation in American history — 60 years before the civil war. And he left a legacy that spanned generations. At general convention a little over a week ago, we, the Episcopal Church, elected the first black Presiding Bishop to lead us for the next 9 years.

We know we’re supposed to love our enemies, but we usually don’t believe it. Near the end of his life, when my grandfather was getting pretty senile, he sat at the breakfast table one morning and said to my grandmother: “I love you. And I love Patti, and Rod, and Pam, and everyone. Well, maybe not everyone.”

If we’re honest, mostly we secretly believe that God loves us a bit more than other people, and probably hates the same people we hate. But this is our voice, not God’s. God loves David, dancing with wild abandon in the streets of Jerusalem, even though he’s pompous, egotistical, and callous towards women. God loves Herod, and Herodias, and Michal. God loves people who have burned churches and people who have betrayed their spouses and all the people we think have got it wholly wrong, or who have wholly wronged us.

And because of that, we are called to listen for God’s voice. We’re called to choose a legacy of love.

Despite Hallmark holidays and Hollywood endings, love, as in the love of God, isn’t a feeling. It’s an action.

Someone I know who was in charge of a large conference event at work called one of the vendors the day before to confirm delivery of materials. But the woman who answered the phone said they had no idea the deadline was the next day, and the materials weren’t ready. You can imagine the panic that ensued—and the heated request for a manager to call back to explain the mix up. Well, when the manager called back he was, let’s say, less than polite. He said the woman who had answered the phone was his mother. He didn’t appreciate anyone raising their voice to her, and, since I’m standing up here I’ll just say he used many colorful expressions, including calling my friend a word that rhymes with “witch”.

Now, my friend could have sued the vendor for breach of contract. She could have trashed his company on social media or the Internet. But instead, she sat down and wrote a note to the woman. She apologized for raising her voice. She said she hoped that if she ever had a son, he would be as protective of his mother as that woman’s son was of her. She chose love.

Not all of us are called to grand gestures like freeing slaves or fighting unjust political systems – but we are all called to pay attention to all the voices in our own lives that drown out the voice of God. We are called to choose which inheritance we accept, and what we do with it.

We are called to listen for God’s voice, and we are called to choose a legacy of love.

Amen.