7/15/2018 Eighth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Mark 6:14-29.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Within the pages of one book, you will find the truth…you will find the naked, gory and shameful truth about human kind, and you will the amazing, grace-filled and unbelievable truth about God. The truth contained in human story and divine revelation is interwoven in this book. So, we call it holy or hallowed, and the words within it we call scripture.
In order to encourage our youngest readers to pick up this book, this Holy Bible, and read it, I’ve told confirmation students who love action/adventure flicks that there’s not anything new in the movies they seen on the silver screens or through Netflix. There isn’t anything in any of the soap operas that is new either. For, there is nothing new under the sun that isn’t already written about in the Bible. Yes, clothes and circumstances have changed. Technology has developed to make weapons more destructive and has made it easier to break every one of the 10 commandments. There are more ways to harm and kill your neighbor than when the words were originally penned. But the basic human story at it’s very worst and very best is the same. So, within the pages of the Bible, you will find stories of incest and trickery. There are stories of murder and abandonment. There are stories of every kind of sin under heaven. For, the Bible contains the very worst of what human beings can do to themselves, to others, and to the world around them. But, also within its pages you can find stories of people at their very best. Within the Bible is the truth, both of bad and good, the worst and the best, the evil and the just, interwoven with the story of God who never gives up on us as he works with and through people who are anything but perfect.
What we have for our Gospel for this day is one of those stories which show people at their worst. The people in this story are real, maybe even all too real. There is Herod, his father’s son, a ruthless and hated leader who is married to his brother’s wife. There is Herodias, the woman who wants it all and who hates John the Baptist for his disapproval of her life choices. And then there is Herodias, her mother’s daughter, a child who has learned how to manipulate men to get what she wants and who sees others as objects and not living beings. To this we add a gathered crowd which has been invited to a party, people whom Herod wishes to keep happy. Plus, we have an unwitting soldier who simply does as he is told without question. And finally, we have a hero of the faith, John the Baptist, the uncompromising man of God who is present in spirit if not in body for he sits in prison, arrested by a Herod who fears him and his message.
What John did to get himself in hot water with those in authority was simply to speak the truth, the uncomfortable word about the scandalous relationship between Herod and Herodias, a truth about the need to amend lives, a word which they did not want to hear. When someone challenges our behavior with the unwanted, uncomfortable truth, we often find ourselves on the defensive, denouncing the messenger in order to dismiss the message and justify our position. We ask, “who does he thing he is,” or “who gives her the right to say these things?” rather than being open to the message in order to evaluate our behavior in light of the divine truth and change our life’s direction so we can get back on track. No one ever wants to admit that he or she might be wrong, even when we know in the secret places of our hearts that what we are doing is questionable. It’s only in the old movie, “Love Story,” that loves means “never having to say you’re sorry.” In real life, we may need to do more than apologize for our missteps. We may actually need to be open to the challenges issued to us by God’s truth, and repent and believe in something more than ourselves.
But, Herod and Herodias would not think of admitting faults and failures, nor would they embrace the challenge of changing life direction and trusting and believing in something more than themselves. To do so might make them appear weak and fallible, all too human, to those they wish to impress, and it would shatter their own illusion of ultimate authority and power. So, in order to ignore God’s word, the messenger was put behind bars. John was imprisoned for speaking the truth and preaching repentance, for delivering a challenging and uncomfortable message to those who did not want to change, a message that would not be silenced as long as the messenger lived. Herodias was all too aware of this so she wanted John eliminated. She wanted the message silenced through the reality of death, while Herod, her husband and ruler of the land, was not about to kill John for he knew that John was a righteous and holy man, a messenger of God. To kill the messenger meant estranging himself from the one who sent him.
We know, in the end, that Herodias gets her way for Herod paints himself into a corner. In the presence of the crowd, he makes a promise to her daughter and the daughter asks that John’s head be given to her on a platter. Herod, in his desire to please, faces a difficult choice, a choice between following his conscience and keeping his word. And, in the end, Herod kills John out of fear of losing face with those in his presence as he fears losing face with others more than estranging himself from God and God’s word. Little did Herod and Herodias know that the death of the messenger could not silence God’s word. For there was one coming after John who was more powerful than he and in him the truth of God’s word would be revealed to all people.
It is here that we get the whispers of God’s grace…here, in John’s death and in the hope of the resurrection. For, as John is laid in the tomb, the ministry of Jesus is blossoming – a ministry, which in the end, would make the grave a gateway to eternal life. As John willingly died for his faith as he refused to silence the word of the one who sent him to preach and baptize and prepare the way, so too Jesus willing dies for us. John was the forerunner to Jesus, the savior of the world.
But, human nature remains the same. In spite of the whispers of God’s grace which erupts on the cross of Calvary, the truth about us hasn’t changed. We, like those in the biblical stories, are not perfect. We rebel; we sin; we seek power in all the wrong places; we place our trust in others or in ourselves; we make poor choices; we fear what others will think about us more than fearing estrangement from God; and we turn away from the divine truth which is revealed to us or we use it as a weapon against others. We don’t want to change. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t want to admit that there are things in our lives in which we need God’s help to alter. We want God’s stamp of approval on whatever choices we make. So, at the very worst, we act out our displeasure and try to silence God’s whispers. But, God doesn’t give up. God gives us his word and sends us a messenger with uncomfortable challenges so that our hearts and our minds may be opened by the truth and our lives turned into the direction of God’s peace and salvation prepared for us by Jesus Christ.
Listen to those challenges, my friends, and unlike Herod, don’t be afraid or intimidated or manipulated into estranging yourself from God’s word. For, if you turn in his direction, God will be with you every step of the way. Hear his word. Listen to his message for you and for all people. Follow the way of the Lord. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.