Some of you may be aware that today is the 12th July. For most of the people of the world it’s just another day, but for us in the West of Scotland and indeed in Ireland, it is a date etched in our brains. One of the first songs I learned in Primary School contained the words, “And it’s on the 12th I love to wear the sash my father wore” Then ended up with words that suggested that someone, somewhere should have sexual intercourse with the Bishop of Rome. God help me, I didn’t know what I was singing about. Some of my classmates of old are still singing, and they probably still don’t know what it’s about! My father didn’t have a sash, and neither did my pal’s dads! But sing it we did!
Today, in the Gospel we had the head of St John the Baptist served up on a plate, and there’s a lot of truth in saying that there are some who will march this weekend, commemorating the Battle of the Boyne 319 years ago, who would gladly have the head of Pope Benedict served up on a plate too.
The thing is that if it was an anti-Islamic march then it would be banned! But even in this community, shortly, the flutes will play on our streets, the drums will bang, and wee girls will dance like Salome, twirling the cords of the various banners.
Not that the other lot are much better.
There are some who would wish they could get away with blowing the said walk and all its participants to kingdom come in one fell swoop. Mass murder is nothing new to either camp.
Hatred of Roman Catholicism and hatred of Roman Catholic practice is an abomination to God. There, I’ve said it because it is the truth.
Hatred of anything that is not Roman Catholic, Calvinism, Protestant and reformed is also an abomination to God. There, I’ve said that too, because it’s the truth.
We take God Almighty himself and use him as an excuse for our hatred and division, and that is an abomination.
I will have nothing to do with bigots and those who will perpetuate hatred in the Name of God in my country or in this community, whether Christian or not, for it is an abomination, and that’s the truth.
But telling the truth can get us into all sorts of problems.
There are two types of people in the world we despise. The first are people who can never be trusted to tell the truth. The second are people who can only be trusted to tell the truth.
Can you remember the first time you got in trouble for telling the truth? I can. I was four or five years old. An adult was visiting our house, and they asked my dad why we didn’t come over very often to visit them. I chimed in, “I know. . . Because my mum says your children have dirty heads.”
I once told a funny-smelling “old lady” that my mum would never have a cup of tea in her house. Well my mother had said it. “It would give you the bile”, she’d said.
Eventually we learn that while we should always tell the truth, we don’t always have to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Some call this the art of the “white lie,” And there are many things and situations which, if we are going to fit in with society and be acceptable, we have to learn the technique of staying silent or telling the white lie.
The truth be told? We usually don’t want the truth to be told.
But sometimes, I believe, we need to tell the truth, even although we risk getting our head on a plate for our efforts.
And we might offend. Well, tough! Because some things need to be held up as wrong, some things need to be held up as evil, and sometimes we need to be brave enough to stand and speak the truth.
And John the Baptist was doing just that. Sure, there were lots of things he could have accused Herod of doing wrong. His politics were more than a wee bit crazy, but eventually he did something that couldn’t be ignored, and John spoke the truth.... “You are in an adulterous relationship. You have stolen your brother's wife and you must repent.” And it was because Herod was offending God and God’s law that he eventually spoke out. It cost John his life.
There were other things that could have been said about stuff in Herod’s life, but some things are worth dying for and others aren’t. We maybe have to pray for discernment. Discernment is important, because there is always a time to speak and a time to stay silent.
But, if God is being used to create the sort of hatred and division in our society which we see at this time of year in this community then it must be condemned. The truth needs to be told.
If someone is destroying the fabric of the People of God, then the truth needs to be said.
If someone is even jeopardising the life and unity of this parish, then the truth must be told, even if it’s told in love.
If the Gospel itself is being twisted and used for means other than truth, unity and love, if it is making a mockery of Jesus and his way of love, then it is an abomination and worth speaking out against and maybe even dying for. We’re lucky that heads on dishes are not common sights, even on Dumbarton High Street.
Often, we are asked to speak the truth because it is necessary to do so, but so many of us shy away from it because we are afraid to offend, or afraid of the consequences.
What if Michael Jackson had had people in his life who weren’t afraid of giving offense, what if certain people who loved and cared for Jackson brought grace and truth together in his life, were firm and told him the truth about himself? What if they weren’t afraid that he might want their heads on a platter? Might he still not be alive today?
What about some of the drug abusers and alcoholics in our communities who continue to be enabled, simply because nobody is brave enough to stop it and hold a mirror up to their faces, and confront them with their unacceptable behaviour. I would have been saved a lot of pain had someone long ago had done that for me. Instead, it was all covered up with the words, “Oh! Father enjoys his wee drink!”
And so our silence can often enable evil and unacceptable things to go on, we enable things to happen which are destructive to our communities, our friends and families because we won’t tell the truth. We’re frightened of the consequences.
Sure, we always need a spirit of discernment, but often it’s just that we lack the courage, and are afraid of the consequences.
John the Baptist had no such fear. His love of God was such, that there were things that had to be said.
There are things that need to be talked about. Truths that need to be told, from world hunger, to Islamic and Christian extremism, from basic human rights, to racism and even homophobia. And the truth needs to be told.
But even in our little communities, and in our families, often the truth needs to be told in love, to save folk from themselves, whatever the consequences. We need to be brave, sometimes, to do that.