Reading through the gospel for this week is sort of a horrific treat. The beheading of John the Baptist is nothing if not a great story—drama, intrigue, tension, conflict, resolution. Even as a flashback (“John, whom I beheaded, has been raised!”) to explain Herod’s response to Jesus’ ministry, it’s the kind of story one doesn’t want to read and yet cannot stop reading. But compelling as it is, I don’t necessarily want to preach about a head on a platter.
Two Sundays ago, my congregation watched as pillars of smoke and flame spoiled the view of Pike’s Peak from our sanctuary windows. After that, our city—Colorado Springs—experienced mass evacuations that had people gathering a few possessions and heading into smoke-choked streets to hotels, shelters and other people’s homes.
In the chaotic days that followed, I sat down to prepare a sermon. I didn’t know where it would be delivered.
When my son was about five years old (he’s currently a very old seven) we spent an afternoon with a group of friends. The kids disappeared to play in the basement, and the parents gathered around in the kitchen to catch up. We snacked and told stories. There was lots of laughter. It was the kind of carefree, laughter-all-around gathering that I dearly love.
“No religion” is now the single largest group in England and Wales, according to British Social Attitudes data. Consisting of nearly half of the population, this group is twice the size of those who identify as Anglicans and four times the size of the Catholic population. A similar pattern prevails across Europe. The decline of Catholics in Britain would be more severe were it not for Christian immigrants from Africa and Asia. The data show that the church is poor at making converts and at keeping cradle believers. The Anglican and Catholic churches lose at least ten members for every convert (Guardian, May 27).