The Cost of Telling the Truth – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David VryhofMark 6:14-29

This is one horrific story – so senseless, so tragic. It recounts the death of a devoted servant of God who played a vital role in salvation history.  His death is no martyrdom.  This is not Stephen, who after testifying to God’s faithfulness lifts his eyes to the heavens and beholds Jesus, as the stones batter his body and end his life.  No, this death is brought about by a drunken, lustful ruler who allows himself to be seduced by the sensuous dancing of his teenage daughter and tricked by his cunning wife into making a foolish promise that he must then carry out just to save face in the company of his equally-besotted guests.  This is a silent beheading, without witnesses or testimony, of a man of God who had been imprisoned for his bold witness to the truth.

The “king” was Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who had married a Nabataean princess but then discarded her in order to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias.  The dishonored princess fled in humiliation back to her father, which led to a military conflict in which Herod was roundly defeated and embarrassed by the Nabataean king and his forces.  Nevertheless, Herod married Herodias, and no one except John the Baptist had the courage and moral fortitude to point out how wrong it was.  No one except John made any attempt to hold this king accountable for his lies and deceptions, and for his evil actions. No one else had the courage to speak the truth to him.  They were all afraid.

Herod was a despicable character.  He was lustful and immoral and corrupt.  He was given to self-aggrandizement, dishonesty and deceit, and to luxurious living in the face of his people’s poverty and oppression. He eliminated his opponents and silenced his critics, and did all that he could to ingratiate himself to the Romans, by whose permission he held power.

John, on the other hand, was a man of outstanding reputation – a little odd by most people’s standards, (then and now), but indisputably a man of God, consecrated to God before he was born, living simply on the land, boldly calling attention to injustice and corruption, urging people to repent of their sins and return to God, and finally paying the ultimate price for his testimony to the truth.  Even Herod had to respect him.  “He came as a witness to the light,” the Evangelist John tells us; “He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:7-9)

Did John realize that testifying to the light could cost him his life?  Did he understand that there is a price to be paid for telling the truth? Perhaps if John had been content to limit his criticisms to the religious leaders and not go after Herod, things would have been alright.  Perhaps if he had held his tongue or looked for ways to ignore or rationalize or defend Herod’s immoral actions, he could have remained in the king’s favor and enjoyed a longer life.  Perhaps if he had looked the other way and not risked his reputation and his life by speaking the truth to power, he could have gotten by.  But he didn’t.

Do you understand that faithfulness to God can bring you into conflict with the world and its powers?  Do you know that discipleship can be costly? that witnessing to the truth is dangerous?

The strong and the powerful will look away as long as they are convinced that religion is just a “hobby” that some of us enjoy.  But if Truth takes hold of you, if you see corruption and deceit and injustice and evil and decide to do something about it, you’ll find that you’ve got their attention.  The strong and powerful will have to take notice if you take a stand.  They will take note if you are bold enough to tell the truth, if you are courageous enough to stand for what is true and right.

It has become clear that our country is currently led by a President who has little or no regard for the truth.  He is cavalier with the facts, ignoring the evidence that contradicts his positions.  He has shown himself to be unwilling to admit error even in the face of overwhelming evidence.  He will not listen to others, even experts in the fields of international politics or economics or science.  He stubbornly persists in his views, pushing aside the truth to achieve his ends.  He shows little concern for the consequences of his words or actions.  The problem is so severe that several news agencies have taken to tallying up his lies, printing “fact checks” about his claims, and exposing his most misleading statements.

But the lies have taken a toll, and whether or not he is to blame for it, we are now living in a culture of lies, half-truths and disinformation.  Truth has been sacrificed.  Deception and open, unapologetic lying are the order of the day – whatever it takes to advance our cause or to maintain our power is acceptable.  We have been told, for example, that 9/11 and the horrific events associated with it was in reality orchestrated by the American government, that Barack Obama was born in Africa and therefore was ineligible to serve as president, that the massacre of children at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut never happened and that it was fabricated to discredit the gun industry and gun ownership.  We have been told that climate change is not a threat, that drilling and mining have little effect on the environment, that our allies are not to be trusted and that the world’s most notorious dictators are good people who can be trusted to do what is right.  We have been told that we should put our own interests first and foremost, and that how we treat others does not matter.

Of course, we don’t believe these lies, but their persistence and perversity wear us down.  We hear people say, “I can’t take the news anymore.  I can’t trust what anyone says.”  Truth has been sacrificed to power and greed, and there are few who have the courage to stand up and say ‘No’ to it.

Which is why we need so desperately the witness of John the Baptist today.

It’s not that Jesus is a Democrat or a Republican; he was neither.  But he did have a coherent platform.  He was clear about what his mission was. It’s been written down for us in the Sermon on the Mount.  It is captured in the Beatitudes.  And it doesn’t begin with power and self-aggrandizement and becoming the greatest of all. It begins with loving service.  It speaks of sacrificial love.  It teaches us that the poor are to be lifted up, that the stranger is to be welcomed, that the sick and the poor are to be cared for and protected, that we are to forgive our enemies and do good to those who hate us, that we are to forego violence as a solution to our problems, that we are to love God and serve God above all else and glorify God in everything that we do.

Jesus’ kingdom is unlike any kingdom the world has ever seen or known.  Those who want to follow Jesus are told they need to lose their lives for his sake in order to find true and lasting life.  “What profit is there to gain the whole world,” Jesus asks us, “and yet forfeit your lives?”  What gain is there if you “make America great again” at the cost of your souls?  In this upside-down kingdom, the first are last and the last are first, repentant sinners and tax collectors enter in before righteous do-gooders, and the greatest in the kingdom of God is the servant of all.  Those who pledge themselves to follow Jesus promise to respect the dignity of every human being, to rid themselves of prejudice and hatred, to welcome outsiders with the same generous spirit with which Jesus welcomed them, and to live in harmony with the created order.  They see themselves as stewards of God’s creation, care-takers of the earth and its resources rather than exploiters and consumers of it.

I’m not trying to make a political statement here. I’m saying that these things are the core of our identity as followers of Christ.  This is who we are!  This is the Jesus we follow – the One who says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  These things are not just options – they are part of our core identity.  How dare we call ourselves Christians when we ignore the needs of the poor or look away while the ‘outsiders’ among us are ridiculed and marginalized?  How can we hold this name when we seek to promote our own welfare above all others, when we push to the front of the line, forcing others to conform to our will? How can we bear the name of Christ and ignore both his teaching and his example?

How, then, shall we live?  “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,” the prophet Micah tells us (Micah 6:8).  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” St Paul tells us, “who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likenessAnd being found in human form, hehumbled himself and became obedient to the point of death…” (Phil 2:5-8)  “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus tells us (John 13:34,35).  “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…  Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:35-36, 40).  “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17)

We are ambassadors of this message.  This is our truth.  This is our identity.  It far outweighs our commitment to any political party.  And we need the courage of John the Baptist, of Martin Luther King, Jr., of Desmond Tutu and Mahatma Gandhi and Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez and Nelson Mandela and Oscar Romero and every other prophet who spoke out against injustice and witnessed to the truth to live it faithfully.  We need their courage to do what is right.

As you make your way forward to receive the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood today, pledge yourself to live in the way of Jesus. Commit yourself to speaking and upholding the truth.  Overcome fear and do what is good and right.  Never forget the lives of the poor.  Take your inspiration from John the Baptist, or from any other figure – including Jesus himself – who dared to speak the truth and suffer the consequences. Beloved, “let us love, not [only] in word or speech, but in truth and action…by this we will know that we are from the truth…” (I John 3:18-19a)

Support SSJE

Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.

Click here to Donate


  1. John Gishe on January 21, 2020 at 13:26

    The easiest thing for a moderate-conservative California Republican Episcopalian like myself to do is to say nothing after reading Brother David’s sermon. I have been active in Cursillo and am very involved in the Kairos prison ministry (going into a state prison several times a month). How could I see so much wrong in such a sermon?….I have sat here for quite a while and have finally realized that it is an answer my liberal fellow parishioners need to answer: How could any one disagree with such an obviously true perspective that Brother David paints? If the country is ever to overcome the deep divide, we need to enter one another’s world with our righteous swords at our side. I once told a Fundamentalist student in my philosophy/religion class who wanted to convert the atheists, that he had to cross over into that world and understand it….But the risk is that you may stay there. Without that vulnerability, I told him, you were misunderstanding the vulnerability of the Cross. I hope that those who read my comments understand the courage for me to write this in the light of the overwhelming support the sermon has received. I love reading SSJE sermons and financially support SSJE. I always will. Amen.

  2. Susan Edwards on January 21, 2020 at 08:29

    Thank you, Brother David, for this clear and powerful message and reminder of who we are and what we are called to do and be as followers of Jesus in this world.

  3. Karen Wright on January 20, 2020 at 17:52

    Thank you Brother David. Such a clear message of commitment in our faith and in our Baptismal Covenant.
    i too find myself weary with the rhetoric that is propagated by our government institutions and wonder often how these men and woman could continue to support and uphold our President. We are all broken humans. Our commitment to Christ however, calls us to seek strength in our brokeness to speak and act when seeing the disenfranchised being used as pawns.

  4. Connie Kimble on January 20, 2020 at 12:16

    I note that this is a repeated sermon. Judging comments from two summers ago, even then most readers knew. NOW is a dire time in the lives of the Followers of The Way. To sit in silence is to neglect the words of Christ. Now is the time to speak. To act. To take a stand against falsehood, against injustice, against hatred. As the brother points out….. John the Baptist did not shrink back from calling a political leader wicked. Neither should we.

  5. Dr. Russell Carter on January 20, 2020 at 09:11

    When Mr. Trump was elected, we held a prayer meeting for those concerned at our church. Being a former history professor, I expressed my concern that 2017 would be a replica of Germany in 1933. Now that we are approaching a new election, I pray that people of faith, who want to do God’s will, no their own, will vote him from office. This may bring violence in our streets, but we must be strong. One of my heroes is pastor Bonhoeffer who like all prophets, did not fear for his own life. Can we do the same? If we truly believe in eternal ife, then we should not fear our mortal death.

  6. Jean Watkins on January 20, 2020 at 05:35

    Brother David,
    Thank you for this powerful Word spoken again today as we commemorate Dr. KIng, as we in Richmond brace for a “gun rights” protest at our State capital and as our US Senate begins the impeachment trial of President Trump.

  7. Pamela Forbes on June 24, 2019 at 19:57

    Is it political partisanship to say, when presented with incontrovertible and abundant evidence, that someone is a self-serving liar? I do not think so. Brother David’s exhortation, as I read it, calls us to confront deceit and misrepresentation-for-gain wherever they may appear. As in most human situations, there is plenty of blame to go around. We are called, as God-seekers, to discern prayerfully and humbly where the Gospel points us.

  8. Faith Oglesby on June 24, 2019 at 16:36

    Thank you for this writing/lesson today! Amen

  9. Susan Edwards on June 24, 2019 at 15:38

    Wow and Amen! Thank you for this. Your words were just what I needed to hear today and echo the voice of the Spirit within me.

  10. Gay C. on June 24, 2019 at 11:25

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Brother David, for speaking the truth in this powerful and inspiring sermon. It is central to our Christian life and our Baptismal vows that we not become “worn down” but hold each other up so that we may can be prophets in this world. Thank you for your reminder, your guidance and your courage.

  11. Nancy Wagner on June 24, 2019 at 10:53

    Thank you for speaking to the world in which we now live. Politics is not necessarily partisan; politics results in laws, regulations, actions, etc for the good or bad of people in a nation. You have reminded us that we must follow the truth and ask for courge to stand up and speak truth to power where and when and how we can.

    Today I was reminded of the cost of speaking truth to power when I heard about former Japanese American detainees who experienced our American concentration camps during World War II. They trecked from all over the country to the army base in Oklahoma to protest the plans of our government to imprison hundreds of refugee children there, children who are now living in despicable condidtions in dirty, overcrowded prisons, separated from human kindness of any kind. Most of these children could be placed with family members in the U.S. This is a horror we must speak up against. These Japanese Americans risked arrest to protest at that base this week. We must all join them in our own way to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in our times.
    John the Baptist is a wonderful example to all of us of the courage to stand up even to the point of risking death. Very sobering.
    Thank You for your wonderful reminder to us.

    • Rhode on June 24, 2019 at 12:28

      That our Japanese Americans risked arrest is amazing and speaks volumes about their priorities. Thank you Nancy, and thank you Brother Vryhof! for speaking from your heart. I pray Gods’ love lights a fire within our deepest attitude while we ask ourselves why our self-involvement, consumerism and fear of the ‘other’ has allowed what is now in power not only here but all over this world. We are all complicit. A divided nation of fear is a nation ready for anything or anyone who promises safety and greatness. Prayers for bad leaders while voting to remove them from power is a Christian’s duty. We need not be afraid. Love of God will search for truth, speak truth and do truth. How to be God’s love for others should be the first thing on our minds when voting or pulling out our wallets. Remembering we are immortal, God is always in charge, sees the infinite road, and is perfecting that which concerns Him and all His children through every Age.

    • Karen D Wright on January 20, 2020 at 17:43

      I had not heard about the Japanese Americans that have protested our abominable treatment of those in our detention centers. Thank you for sharing this statement of amazing faith of our fellow Americans of Japanese heritage. Blessings to you

  12. Gerry on June 24, 2019 at 10:07

    I am sorry that you have brought our current politics into your sermon.

    • Darrell Johnson on June 24, 2019 at 10:36

      Reflect on why “our current politics” should be brought into a sermon. Consider the entire point of the sermon. “Our current politics” is a situation exactly like the one faced by John the Baptist where he had to make the choice to speak the truth, that is, the God’s Truth of the Gospel. Reflect, ask what is required of someone who aspires to be a Christian. Br. Vryhof did not create a situation where truth-telling is called for. He merely points out the parallels to the Baptist’s situation that suggest “our current politics” makes it difficult for someone to straddle the fence – that is, profess to be a Christian while turning a silent “blind eye” to the political disease that has infected our nation.

    • SusanMarie on January 20, 2020 at 09:53

      Br. David never once spoke of politics. He never advocated Republican or Democrat. He never attempted to persuade for a single person or policy from either party. He spoke of truth and courage to speak truth — from our own mouths and to speak truth to those who abuse power. As others have noted in their comments (and was explicit throughout the sermon) Br. David’s message absolutely mirrors the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus. The situation we are living in/with today is frighteningly similar to the Gospel story on which this sermon is based, and the truth must be told. This is much less about the president or any political party or person than it is about each of us and how we are to be followers of Jesus.

      • SusanMarie on January 21, 2020 at 08:54

        I would like to add that acknowledging what is true and speaking truth to power — or simply speaking the truth about what someone is doing that is hurtful or dangerous — is not judging. Jesus did this frequently and never judged another human being.

    • Sally Baynton on January 20, 2020 at 17:10

      I felt the same way a few months ago when this sermon was published. I do not see how it advances the point Br. David is making without passing judgment on the President. And, I thought passing judgment was a sin, too. Thank you for your boldness.

  13. Sharon Yannarella on June 24, 2019 at 08:38

    Thank you for being a light in the darkness of this world. I am so encouraged and comforted and reminded of our truths by your words. Thank you.

  14. Darrell Johnson on June 24, 2019 at 08:34

    Amen, I say. And amen again. This is the sermon of our time. This is the sermon that calls us to remember that we who suffer under the political tyranny of the minority have a critical choice to make for our future and the future of our country. We can say nothing, rationalize and justify our silence in any number of ways. “I’m so tired and exhausted with all this that I just need to ‘tune out’ because I can’t take any more conflict or confrontation.” “There’s no point in taking a stand when it only enrages and encourages his supporters.” “We have to demonstrate our good will toward his supporters with our willingness to listen compassionately (but not to speak} in the interests of reconciliation.” “We have to show our respect for the person, even when we don’t agree with them.” We have all heard these justifications for silence. Br. David calls us to speak our truth fearlessly and witness to our Christian faith, to the scripture that resonates in our hearts. May we all have the courage to speak our truth in these sad days. Amen.

    • Sharon Yannarella on June 24, 2019 at 09:37

      Wonderfully said.

  15. Barbara Miller on June 24, 2019 at 08:26

    Thank you!!!

  16. Rick Porter on June 24, 2019 at 08:06

    Amen with a but. While the President is crass and casual with the truth, I also read a wide variety of news media, but no broadcast news, and the subtle untruths of the major news media are as damaging as the President’s tweets (I also do not tweet or know how to tweet). We are dealing with political speech from people and institutions with a sale to make. I truly do not believe that there is an unbiased source of news available today. And the news is most often directed to citizens we have chosen to not educate through our uniformly under preforming public educational system. Very complicated issues are presented to us as simple yes or no decisions. But go to any city council meeting anywhere and listen to the countless matters that have to be decided for even the seemingly simple issues. Higher education no longer teaches openness to different ideas and the reality of the complexity of the world. The information revolution and globalization have destabilized almost all cultures and our world will have to develop new institutions and standards for a new world. And yes. You eloquent explanation of the standards Jesus lived and proclaimed are our guide in this unsettled and scary world.

  17. Walter Edgar on June 24, 2019 at 07:33

    Br. David,

    Than you for a powerful message. June 23rd–yesterday–was the feast day for Rt Rev William Alexander Guerra, VIII Bishop of SC.–Reformer and Martyr. He was murdered in 1928 for his support and outreach to African Americans. He was willing to make a very unpopular stand and was murdered for it.

  18. Barbara on June 24, 2019 at 07:14

    He is the Way, the Truth, and the Light.

    Blessings to you for speaking to His truth and to the courage needed to follow His way and to profess our faith in action and in word.

    Your comments are an answer to a prayer that spiritual strength will
    stand firm among those with whom we worship and that fear and silence will not become the status quo.

  19. Bill Ditewig on August 13, 2018 at 23:43

    Br David, thank you for this clear and timely word about our core Biblical identity as disciples of Jesus, and the cost of being people of truth. We are called to be the salt and light of the world and yet have too easily forfeited that calling in order to live a more comfortable life. May God continue to give the SSJE brothers courage and discernment to be truth-tellers in this challenging environment and the grace to embody that truth in your daily lives.

  20. Margot Dunnachie on August 2, 2018 at 06:15

    Thank you Br David for the prophetic wisdom of your sermon and the call to re-attune our ears to the heart-beat of God amid the clamour of “the voices of power” in this world. God, grant that we may walk to the beat of your heart.

  21. Fronie Squibb on July 20, 2018 at 14:42

    Dr. David, your words reflect what loving people know in their hearts. Thank you.

  22. Paul on July 20, 2018 at 12:37

    In Jesus’ name we pray.

  23. Betsy Rose on July 20, 2018 at 11:31

    A courageous sermon Br David and an answer to those who say the church should leave politics outside. I believe you have clarified the difference between spouting a party line and speaking the gospel. Thank you!

  24. Harriet on July 19, 2018 at 14:37


Leave a Comment