Sermon for July 15, 2018 – Preached at St. Matthew’s Bilingual Servic
Proper 10B – RCL Track 1
King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
This is one of the weeks that I would love to not preach on the Gospel text. I would rather preach on David dancing before the lord as the ark of the covenant is being processed through the town. A vision of exuberant worship that is not at all like the worship services in many Episcopal churches! Although in other denominations there is dancing. When I was in the Holy Land visiting the river Jordon there was an African orthodox group worshiping in one of the pavilions and there was much dancing and exuberant worship. But I dare not skip a gospel when it is one that I find difficult to deal with. For the gospels that grab our attention and make us squirm are ones that we need to engage. So with perhaps a little fear and trembling let us explore this text..
One of the things that gets my attention is how it is unlike the rest of the Gospel of Mark. Everywhere else in this Gospel things are happening quickly. Jesus goes from healing and teaching in one place to the next. There is a lot of “Immediately” in Mark. And now we have a multi verse flashback by Herod recalling the beheading of John the Baptist. Where is the Good news in this lesson? How does this lesson tell of the coming of the kingdom of God?
David Lose – a preacher I follow – suggested reading this section as another parable. Or maybe we could read it as a cautionary tale. Mark is giving us a multi verse lesson on what the world looks like absent Jesus. Mark is showing us what power looks like without love. Mark is showing us that without love power kills. Mark is showing us that without love power is corrupt.
Everywhere else in the Gospel of Mark we have stories about the kingdom of God but here we have the kingdom of Herod. A leader who is willing to kill someone he has protected because of a foolish promise to an entertainer. Herod is willing to behead John the baptizer to save face. He did promise the girl anything – even half his kingdom. She must have been some dancer!
The sad part is that while this type of power hungry leadership existed in the time that Jesus walked the earth in human form we don’t have to look too far afield to see the abuse of power when it exists without love today. We can easily identify autocratic rulers who do anything to stay in power – we can easily identify religious extremists in our world that still behead people. The danger is that we always look to other parts of the world for abuse of power.
But we really don’t have to look to places like North Korea, or the Taliban to see power without love abusing people. We can look in our own backyards to see power without love at work. The “me too” movement has exposed power assuming that they should have sexual favors just because they are powerful. I just read in the paper that Harvey Weinstein admitted to offering acting roles in exchange for sexual favors – and that he is innocent because it happens everywhere in the motion picture industry. An example of power that corrupts.
We can look no further than our government separating children from their parents when they cross into our country illegally – even when people cross seeking asylum. Separating young people because they cannot go to jail with their parents. An abuse of power called out by both sides of the political aisle. An exercise of power without love that led to calls to stop the practice.
David lose said “The Reign of God in Jesus has been, essentially, the focus of Mark’s story thus far (and will be again in just moments). It centers on Jesus’ determination to free God’s people from the forces that rob us of abundant life: possession, disease, isolation, discrimination, even death. Jesus comes and, in compassion for the world’s need, respond to all those who ask. Indeed, and as we saw last week, the only ones whom Jesus has any difficulty releasing are those who don’t want to be free because they can’t imagine either that a) they need release or b) [Jesus] is able to.”
We as follower of Jesus are called to continue this ministry of love and healing. We are called to identify the power that acts without love and offer a different way. A way the welcomes the immigrant. A way that offers healing to those who society shuns or worse who allow to die because they are homeless and without health care. We are called to do things like many did at the General Convention of our Church last Sunday when over 1000 Episcopalians marched on a detention center in Texas that houses women who have been separated from their children. To march and worship to show the women inside that there are people who come in love and care about them as beloved children of God.
We are called to remember – as Mark did in this gospel lesson – that power without love kills. We are called to identify areas in our own world where power operates without love and to offer a different way – a way that offers healing and love. Offers healing and love without regard to status, race, country of origin, sexual identity or religious affiliation – or lack of affiliation. I believe that is why this congregation still exists. It exists because we are willing to open this campus up to organizations that feed and educate our community members with love. And we exist to offer thanks to God for offering a way that is different from our society. A way that values love over absolute power. A way that offers healing to our hurting and hurt-filled world.