Speaking Truth to Power

Death of John the Baptist (video)

On Facebook this week, a colleague posed the questions:

  • where is the good news in this text?
  • will you avoid the Gospel and preach another scripture?

It is hard to see the Good News in such scriptures as we read this morning.

John the Baptist is a beloved figure within the Christian church and faith. He is beheaded for being obedient to God’s vocation/calling for his life, it is to speak the truth even to those in power.

It is a story as old as our human history.

Within our scriptures, the prophets of old speak truth to the religious leaders and kings of their time and place, who had and abused their power and authority.

The vocation of a prophet is not easy.

It is easy, however, for us to desire and attempt to leave that history and vocation in the Old Testament. Yet, the truth is that the themes and patterns repeat themselves and individuals are called forth to continue that history, vocation, mission, and ministry of John the Baptist and the prophets of old.

There are several examples within our history.

Jesus the Christ
Jesus the Christ was a prophet speaking truth to the power of his time and place. Ultimately, it led to his crucifixion.

But, we do not have to go that far in time and place to bear witness to it. 

Paul Tillich
Paul Tillich was a Lutheran theologian, whom you have heard me speak about, living in Germany as the NAZI party and Hitler rose to power. He was a Seminary professor (Systematic Theology) who spoke against the NAZI party and Hitler. After Hitler’s election Tillich lost his career, his home, and his wife and children left. He immigrated to the United States and continued teaching in Lutheran Seminaries, but had lost everything because he spoke truth to the power of his day.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who is more familiar, was a German immigrant and Lutheran pastor living in the United States as the NAZI party and Hitler rose to power in his fatherland of Germany.

The NAZI party engaging in military preparations for World War II, sent military “draft” orders to Germany citizens living in foreign lands, effectively calling for their return to serve in the NAZI armed forces. Bonhoeffer received such a letter.

Bonhoeffer debated answering the orders and returning to Germany reporting for duty.
He debated ignoring the letter and thus refusing the military orders.

Ultimately, Bonhoeffer responded to the letter, returned to NAZI Germany, but not to be a ‘friend’ to the NAZI party and their efforts. Instead, Bonhoeffer returned to essentially become an under-cover spy or operative to undermine the NAZI efforts.

Bonhoeffer was involved in efforts to save Jewish people from execution and a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was arrested and tried, found guilty, and hung. He lost his life speaking truth to power.

We have a video to share about Bonhoeffer and his efforts in NAZI Germany.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Pursuing Costly Grace (Video)

But, we do not have to travel in time as far back in history as the 1940s. 

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke truth to power during the Civil Rights Movement (1960s).
Martin Luther King Jr. was also assassinated for speaking said truth to power.

We, as Christians, have a strange freedom to speak truth to power.

The Bonhoeffer video (above) speaks of this strange freedom because we are called to be freed from the fear of this time and place in order to speak God’s truth to all people… whether they are in positions of power and authority or not.

We are freed and called to love and to be gracious beyond reason.

We are freed and called to embody our baptismal promises…
We are freed and called to seek justice.
We are freed and called to act with compassion and mercy.
We are freed and called to love and serve ALL PEOPLE.

This freedom and call has its risks.
But the “Good News” is that despite those risks God is ever-present, standing with us as long as we are standing on the side of truth.

Instead of simply hearing the sad demise of these saints who, rooted in their faith, spoke truth to power and authority may we hear their stories, their witness and testimonies as examples for us. May these encourage us to stand on the side of truth even if we are speaking it to those in power trusting that God, through the Holy Spirit, is ever-present with us. Amen.

Scriptures were Amos 7:7-15 and Mark 6:14-29
Originally preached at Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN)

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