I did think I’d begin with the dance of the seven veils this morning, but you’ll be relieved to know that I thought better of it. We have this wonderful story which has been painted, made in to a play by Oscar Wilde, and the famous opera by Strauss with the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’. But if we’re taken in by that classy façade, then it dulls our disgust at this cacophony of incest, lust, greed, and the vilest injustice. The tabloids would have had a field-day!
Today’s Herod was the son of Herod (the Great), and Phillip was his half-brother. Dad Herod executed some other brothers and gave orphaned granddaughter, Herodias, to half-uncle Phillip as a wife. They had a daughter, Salome, then Herodias left Phillip and moved in with half-uncle-cum-brother-in-law Herod (today’s Herod), and that’s when John the Baptist stepped in.
John the Baptist calls out this morally-corrupt rat’s nest and winds up in prison for his trouble. Herod liked to listen to John, but was too in love with his position of power to act on what he heard. Then he throws a massive party and brings out his young and luscious step-daughter-cum-great-half-niece-cum-zeroth-cousin-twice-removed for everyone to drool over. Testosterone takes over, and he makes a showy and rash promise. Then instead of having the guts to admit he’s done something stupid, he gives in to the vengeful scheming of his wife-cum-sister-in-law-cum-niece, and murders John to save his pride.
It’s a sorry tale of all that is worst in humanity. And all that John’s friends can do is mourn. Sometimes things really stink. But there’s nothing new under the sun. Every day there is injustice. People get away with stuff they should not get away with. Other people suffer for things that are not their fault. It’s not right and it’s not good, but it’s how it is in our broken world.
We can see this all too easily, when political principles now seem almost non-existent. Amos’s plumb line seems to be needed now as much it was in his day. Not just Donald Trump, but in our own government, when heads appear on platters for all manner of reasons.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight against all that is wrong in the world. It takes someone else to wipe every tear from our eyes, to make a world with no more death or mourning or crying or pain. And that will be so. Meanwhile, in this world, sometimes things really stink. So, we must do what we can to make a better world for our children.
One way to do that is to celebrate what makes the world a better place. This past week it has felt like the whole world, whatever our differences, has been united around our shared hope that the Thai children and their coach could be rescued from that cave. I call the source of the shared unity, that shared energy, “God”.
I was certainly conscious of them constantly, praying for them, checking the numbers out, praying, conscious of others praying, however you think intercession works, however you think God works. Last Sunday, at the General Assembly, in our Sunday worship, it was my job to watch the then emerging news, and discreetly relay to the chaplain what he needed to pray for in the prayers of intercession.
There was the waiting for news before they were found, as the story began to increase in profile. There was the first encounter, so seemingly understated, with boys as young as 11 who had been there for ten days, in the dark, with no idea if anyone was even coming.
There is the shock of Saman Kunan’s death, a volunteer, diving to lay oxygen tanks and running out of oxygen himself.
There is the bravery of all involved, and the endless volunteers for all the necessary tasks from the most mundane to the most complex.
There is the international cooperation; the various languages.
The leadership of the divers, and of the whole operation in such a humble, never a “look at me” way, all the way to Chiang Rai province’s acting governor, Narongsak Osatanakorn.
There is the amazing group of parents.
There is the creation of an agreed plan.
There is the actual grueling, terrifying physicality involved, squeezing through a flooded 37 cm (14.5 inches) gap where you have to bend and turn and divers have to take off their own tank.
It intrigued me how the media responded: on TV and on the radio, presenters regularly spoke of “crossing their fingers”, “crossing everything”, but I didn’t hear any mention of God or prayer. In our place and time, crossing one’s fingers is clearly more scientific, more 21st Century, than God or prayer.
Then there were the stories of the coach having spent a decade in a Buddhist monastery, and the understanding that this gave him the resources to help the boys in a culture where spirituality and meditation are ubiquitous. Certainly, the first images were of young people peaceful.
The value of each human life has been dramatically illustrated. May this realisation enable us, motivate us, to put shared energy into other situations, less dramatic it may seem, where we can save and enhance a life.
The words of John Volanthen, the lead diver who was one of the two to finally discover them alive: “I dive for passion and always wondered if it would have purpose. Last two weeks was what I prepared for my entire life.”
Do we want to a community, a nation, with values and behaviours like Herod and Herodias? Or can we see Amos’s plumb line? Are we not challenged to follow the example of those who rescued the Thai boys from the cave, to use our gifts and talents, to stretch ourselves to the limit, to make the world a better place for children like Salome, our children, for all God’s children?