St. Andrew's Episcopal Church

…a welcoming faith community of all ages in the service of Jesus Christ

Puppets & Puppetmasters by Amma Susan 7.15.18

Herod Antipas was a puppet-king; a pawn in a religio-political venue. Out of his league, even criticized as a weakling, he was obscured by shadows thrown onto the throne by his father, King Herod the Great.

But who in power wants to be ridiculed as powerless, a pawn, a mere puppet, controlled by strings pulled by others? Inadequacy and disempowerment breeds contempt.

So imagine the King’s high banquet. His wife Herodias (formerly his brother’s wife) is in a rage for John the Baptist has condemned their marriage. Ah, there’s the motive.

She means to exact revenge and this banquet has handed her the perfect opportunity, on a silver platter. Herodias employs her daughter Salome as the puppet in her perfect scheme.

With beguiling beauty and finesse her dance before Herod is so completely mesmerizing that without thinking of the longterm repercussions, with his immediate approval, the viper strikes. The puppetmaster tells her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod’s honor is as stake.

To renig on his offer of anything Salome wants, extending even up to ‘half [his] kingdom’ would bring shame upon himself and further reduce his weak and ineffective hold on power. The heinous deed is accomplished.

This drama skillfully interweaves lustful sexuality, familial scandal, social and gender power differential, political intrigue, ambition and murder, so to captivate and inspire artists, musicians, painters, writers, playwrights and their audiences ever since.

But going beneath the lurid details of the story, is the unsteady world of puppet and puppetmaster.

Unfortunately, much of the world is satisfied with the less than satisfactory arrangement of puppet and puppetmaster and its unhealthy sense of order.

We might agree that the bulk of politicians observed are puppets controlled by puppetmasters operating on limitless purse strings. Superpacs with oceans of financial means control the sea of political candidates. Legislation is steered by the incoming waves of the puppetmasters’ wealth.

The Herods of the world have very little say and act impulsively. They know that their power can be taken away, in the blink of an eye.

The Herods of the world are dangerous, because they do not push back against the executioner’s axe.

That is as the world operates. Not God.

God is not the puppetmaster as many theologians and their converts claim. God did not send his Son to die on the cross. God’s Son came to save us. There’s a difference.

Jesus came to show us The Way of life – which is diametrically opposed to the way of puppets and puppetmasters. That’s actually what got Jesus nailed to the cross.

A bunch of puppetmasters who couldn’t control him, by any means necessary, found a way to get rid of the guy who wouldn’t dance for them. They couldn’t edit His story, so they executed Him.

The blessing of God and the hope of the world is that no matter what the world throws at God, God can deflect it towards God’s vision, or to use heavily packed language, redeem it to accomplish Heaven on Earth.

Some of you have heard me talk about “Process Theology.” The story of John the Baptist’s head on a platter is a perfect opportunity to offer a brief understanding of it.

Contrary to Rick Warren’s thesis in his book, A Purpose Driven Life dubbed by some

as The Puppet Driven Life; Epperly, Process Theology – A Guide for the Perplexed, 2011, p. 42-44) God does not exert control every event according to ‘God’s plan’, a phrase which has come to repulse me. So call me a semi-Pelagian if you will! That’s theological humor, or heresy depending on where you stood in history.

Rather, try thinking of God as ‘the nudger’ rather than the puppetmaster. God influences, guides, beckons, interacts, and offers possibilities, but God doesn’t have it all planned out from before creation till the end of it! God draws creation towards God’s vision with purpose.

Most of us have experienced tragedy, sadness, or loss either personally or through our relationships near and far, communally, regionally, nationally, and globally; depending upon how far we cast our gaze. We invariably ask the question “why does bad happen?”

Why does bad stuff happen to good people?

Why does evil exist in the world?

That’s the question of ‘theodicy’.

If everything good comes from God, then where does bad come from?

Some say, “it’s all part of God’s plan.” But to that I say Bulltwinkies! That it is not the God I know.

It’s a faulty hypothesis to say, ‘everything bad in the world is instigated by God’, because if it were true, then God is sadistic, twisted, and blood-thirsty for starters. If that were true, then God’s sovereignty eclipses love and compassion. It means that “our joy and sorrow matters little in light of God’s ‘plan’ for the universe.” (Epperly, p.42)

Process theology refutes the disturbing notion that natural disasters are God’s punishment upon those ‘so-called’ who deserve it. God doesn’t ‘test’ us for sport and then stick us in the penalty box when we don’t make the grade.

God didn’t ‘plan’ for someone like ‘Dylan Roofe’ to murder Christians studying the Bible in their church for the sake of the color of their skin!

Process Theology affirms the goodness of all God created and understands that free will and natural processes means that things do (and often) go awry. That’s basically what Pelagius said in the late 4th – early 5th century and he was forced into a life of exile. Pelagius understood that mistakes will be made but God doesn’t love his creation and creatures any less. It’s part of growing into the divine vision God has in mind.

God interacts with creation in our material context, while not controlling the outcome but responding to the choices we make. For better or worse; God has covenanted with creation to stick it out with us. God holds the past, present, and future with the divine outcome in mind.

God, I’m sure, could see the handwriting on the wall and knew that Jesus’ attempt to save the world would lead to his death in a cruel and horrific way. Yet, God didn’t let the story end there. God raised Jesus from the dead. The first-fruit of the Resurrection. Sickness, disease, even death, doesn’t have the final say. The puppetmasters will not prevail. Jesus fearlessly advanced God’s Kingdom, not caring what social media was tweeting about him.

The Trinity operates out of love and relationship. The Jesus Way of power is self-emptying and letting go; something the Herods of the world can’t do and their puppetmasters won’t let them.

John the Baptizer, was executed by the power of the puppetmasters and in part by the weakness of their puppets. John demonstrated the power of God operating within, by standing up to power with truth. The strength of God is seen in not fearing ‘loss of power’ and that is the power of the Cross.

In process theology, we see the difference between how we/the world often try in vain to make plans only to arrive at an unexpected outcome.

Did the death of John the Baptizer end the story? No! It ignited Jesus to take on his public ministry at that point!

Did the death of Jesus end the story? No! It opened the way of salvation to all peoples and creation!

Divine Power is relational, not coercive. “God’s power is always personal and contextual, working in our lives as they are, in terms of what they can be.” (p. 46) God does not act unilaterally or forcefully. Process theologian Bruce Epperly notes, that “Jesus seldom transformed people’s lives apart from their consent… ‘Do you want to be made well?’ ‘what do you want me to do?’ (p.47)

Part of our job is to participate in God’s divine vision by being open to the Spirit working through us, mutually. And part of our task is to figure out when others are trying to manipulate us as their puppets. Only then can we find the strength of John the Baptizer and Jesus to stand against the puppetmasters and tell them NO!

We will not conform to your demands or stand mute against your testimony.

We will walk The Way of Jesus and affirm the goodness of creation and one another.

We will join our voices with brothers and sisters near and far in concert with God’s vision of a new creation in which all are loved and respected;

all have dignity,

all are cared for,

all are One.

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St. Andrew's Episcopal Church - Winthrop, Maine | A member of The Episcopal Diocese of Maine, The Episcopal Church, and the Worldwide Anglican Communion