Week of July 12 – Pentecost 7
Gospel: Mark 6:14-29
14 King Herod heard of it, 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.’ 15But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’16But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’
17 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. 18For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for 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. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When 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.’ 23And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ 24She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ 25Immediately 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.’ 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
I'll begin this sermon by taking the Communion Bread from the table....
What do I have on this plate?
We say it's the body of Christ. And we know that during Communion it will be broken. It will be torn into peices.
At the high point of the feast we hold up the bread and wine. And when we talk about it, we say it symbolises what Jesus did. He gave himself.
In Herod's feast, John's head is lifted up on a platter. That is the high point of Herod's feast. Herod's feast celebrates the death of innocent man. It celebrates his murder. John is torn into pieces, too.
And it's just like the murder of Jesus, another innocent man who people were jealous about and angry because he didn't do things their way. (Mark 3:6) They plotted to kill him, just like Herodias plotted to kill John.
These two murders are the same in another way. In each case, the person with the power, Herod and Pilate, knew the victim was innocent. They didn't want to them to be killed, but they gave in— as it says in Mark chapter 15— "in order to satisfy the crowd."
Jesus and John were paying the cost of discipleship. This dreadful horrible story of revenge, child abuse, murder and injustice, is inserted in the story of the disciples Jesus has sent out to tell the good news of the kingdom of God.
Interrupting the story of 12 disciples with the death of the last of the old Testament prophets— John, who would have made a good disciple— is a way of saying that if you are going to stand for the good, and for the just, and for the kingdom of God,
if you're going to live it and speak it,
and if you get in the way of the people of power,
they'll have your head.
Sometimes we might get lucky. We might be a disciple like Desmond Tutu who ends up being feted and praised. But we could equally be like Martin Luther King who was assassinated. It's really just the luck of the draw. And I'm sure there are those of us here who have stood up for the right thing, spoken out for justice, protected someone who is being done over at work, or even in the church, and somebody has assassinated us— they've had our head. It works at all levels.
What's the difference between the stories of John and Jesus, and the stories of Pilate Herod and Pilate?
The answer is that John and Jesus gave their lives away. Jesus knew what would happen to him. He told the disciples that they would kill him in Jerusalem. And you can be sure John the Baptist knew what a dangerous game he was playing, when he criticised the King. But he did it anyway because that was what he thought was right. It cost both of them their lives.
Herod and Pilate didn't give their lives away; that's the difference. Herod couldn't even risk saying to his daughter, "I know I said I would give you anything, but I can't give you what is wrong. Another man's life is not mine to give you." He wanted to save his face..
And Pilate didn't want to risk a riot that might get him into trouble with Rome and Caesar. He wanted to save his life.
Jesus had something to say about this: What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world but lose their soul?
And so that's the difference. 2000 years later we remember Herod and Pilate as weak, unjust tyrants, and failures as people. Yet we celebrate the life of John the Baptist. Jesus said "I tell you there is none born of women greater than John the Baptist..."
And millions of people across the world remember and celebrate the life of Jesus, because what he shows us is that when you give your life away you find it, you truly receive it.
Finding life is not about winning. Finding life is about striving to do what is right even if it costs us. It is more about giving life away-- we were saying in the study this week that the first half of life seems to be to learn how precious it is, and then we realise that the key to it is to give it away!
This is a real thing which affects our lives now. It's not some airy fairy thing in the future. Let me give you an example:
In Australia, our politicians are afraid of not winning. It's not even a case of life and death for them, it's just a case of winning government. And so like Herod, and like Pilate-- and like us-- they compromise on what they know is good and true and just.
Because they are afraid that if they don't please the people with the real power— the voters who voted for more money in their pockets rather than what is good and right, then they won't get elected, they won't stay in control.
And so we have the most evil and ridiculous situation in this country, just passed into law.
You see, I'm required by law to report child abuse— which is a good thing. If I become aware of the abuse of children and don't report it to the authorities, I can be hit with a 10,000 dollar fine. But the parliament with support from both sides has just changed the law, so that if you report the already known and documented cases of child abuse in our concentration camps you face up to two years in prison!
The government has essentially legalised child abuse…. Because…. it is afraid might not win, and that it may lose control. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that the parliament, or at least those people voting for such things, are in the process of losing their souls. Needing to win affects us now!
And that's just when we are alive! We say that we are eternal creatures. What eternal damage are we doing ourselves if we hold on to our lives rather than giving them away? I've given a most egregious example, but we all live this out to some extent. What damage do we do to ourselves?
I don't know the answer to that question. I also don't like being on the losing side. It scares me to think that I would get into trouble for doing the right thing. And yet when I look at John the Baptist and Jesus, and then when I look at Pilate and at Herod in this story— well, I reckon there are worse things than dying, and worse things than losing our life.
The gospel for today might be this: give your life away. It might cost you everything. But it will be the making of you. Amen
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