Our readings today call for us to think about our legacy. How do you want to be remembered? What kind of impact did we make in this world?
Valor, Honor and a History of Racial Oppression
A day before South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from the Capitol, Jenny Horne spoke before the state’s House of Representatives. Up for a vote were several amendments that flag supporters were adding, effectively delaying a vote and keeping the Dixie flag up.
A white Republican House Representative and descendant of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, Jenny is proud of her Southern heritage.
But after the shooting death of nine black church members—including a fellow senator—at a church in nearby Charleston, she felt the flag had to go.
She fought back tears as she spoke:
I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday. And if any of you vote to amend, you are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday. And for the widow of Sen. (Clementa) Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury, and I will not be a part of it. I’m sorry, I have heard enough about heritage.
For many, the flag represents the honor and valor of the Old South. But on that Thursday the House voted 94-20 to take the flag down.
With this vote, the House no longer see the legacy of the flag as part of the South’s rich heritage. They saw its legacy as a remnant of racial oppression that needed to die.
John the Baptist and the Legacy We Leave Behind
Now have a look at our Gospel today.
What makes it unusual is that Jesus is not central to the passage. Herod is.
Also unusual is its tone. There is no message of hope. It ends with evil earning a win.
In it, we witness John the Baptist’s life at the hands of Herod. Herod placed him in prison because John spoke the truth about Herod’s marriage to Herodias. “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife”, he said.
For this, Herod’s wife wanted John dead. And she got her way.
She got the king drunk on his birthday, had his own daughter seduce him and tricked him into swearing an oath to give his daughter anything she asked.
“I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter”, she demanded. And sadly, he gave her her wish.
If we left it at that, the legacy of John the Baptist could have been that of just another victim of a corrupt world. He spoke the truth and died for it. That he was ultimately powerless to the whims of people in power.
But as horrific as the story is, this story of doom-and-gloom is not John’s legacy.
We remember John as a man of God in the desert. He called out to the crowds “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
John’s legacy was to prepare the way for Christ in people’s lives. As Christians, our legacy is to follow this same calling.
Our legacy is not about how big or small we become in membership. Our legacy is not about the kinds of programs we do or don’t do. Our legacy is not shaped by our past.
Our legacy is about how we respond to the good news of Christ today.
We are all getting older. I’m getting older. And while death is always in front of us, I don’t think about it as something to fear.
But what does concern me is the legacy I leave. Will people remember me as a good son, a good husband, a good father, a good priest? Or did my time on earth not matter?
I’m sure you all have had similar thoughts. I’m sure many of you here feel that you are too set in your ways to change.
As you get older, the losses start to sting more. Or perhaps you have gotten so used to loss that it doesn’t phase you anymore.
But this story of doom-and-gloom does not have to be our legacy. In fact, I’m pretty tired of hearing it. This story is not why each one of us are here today. This story is not why we have been called to Christ.
The story we follow is shaped by a world that Christ has prepared for us, the kingdom of heaven. A world where—the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger for righteousness, those who seek mercy, those pure in heart, those who seek peace, those who are persecuted in the name of Christ—a world where all such as these will be blessed.
As followers of Christ, we are called to help make this new world happen. We are called to help the blind see Christ, the deaf hear Christ and to heal people in Christ.
Our legacy is to help bridge the way for people to see and experience the kingdom of heaven. To not only hear the Gospel, but for people to internalize it and to live as if the kingdom of heaven is here right now.
You and I are called to do things such as:
- feeding the hungry;
- giving shelter to the homeless;
- comforting the sick and needy;
- being patient with one another;
- forgiving each other willingly, and
- always praying for one another
I call upon all of you to consider the legacy you as a Christian and we as a church will leave this community. Is our legacy to throw up our hands, let life happen and just die off as a distant memory?
Or is our legacy to follow the call of the gospel? The call to do all we can to make Christ a vital part of the community we are a part of.
Our legacy is not about how we die. It is about how we lived.