Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sermon; Proper 10B; Mark 6:14-29

A man of God was executed today.  Where is the good news?

Today's gospel story is the only story in the gospels that is not about Jesus.  Not only is it not about Jesus, but Jesus isn't even part of it.  But that doesn't mean that it's not important, nor does it mean we can't learn something from it.

In a flashback episode, this story both alludes to previous stories and foreshadows stories yet to come.  Looking back, we are reminded of the episode in which Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  We are reminded of what the people were saying about Jesus – he was John the Baptist raised from the dead, Elijah returned or another prophet of old.  And Herod, in an odd twist, believes Jesus to be John come back to life, sort of a first-century Jacob Marley come back to haunt him.

This story also foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus.  Like John, Jesus will be killed at the hands of a government official who capitulated to the desires of others around him.  After John's execution, his disciples came and took the body, laying it in a tomb.  After Jesus' execution, a disciple also came and took the body, laying it in a tomb.

A man of God was executed today.  Where is the good news?

This is a rather difficult passage to preach on.  Everywhere else we hear stories of baptisms, healings, miracles and parables.  Stories that can touch our lives with hope or with how to treat our neighbors or with messages of evangelism.  Today we hear of the beheading of John the Baptist.  Go and do likewise?

How did this happen?  First, we need to understand a little about Herod.  One of my favorite websites is  This site is dedicated to being the antithesis of all those motivational posters, cups and trinkets that were so popular in the late-80's and mid-90's.  One of my favorite demotivational posters has a picture of a sinking ship and the tag-line:  It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.  I could argue that Herod deserves his own poster.

Herod was a cunning and conniving ruler, which might be why Jesus refers to him as “that old fox” over in Luke.  He was not as paranoid and ruthless as his father, Herod the Great, who ordered the slaughter of the innocents, executed a wife and three sons and requested the execution of visitors at his funeral so people would have something to mourn (a request that was refused by his children), but he often schemed and plotted for ways to gain favor.  All of this plotting and scheming for ways to gain favor gives me the impression that he was ultimately controlled by outside opinions, pressures and a desire to look good in front of the masses.

Herod was married to Herodias, his brother's wife.  The two met while married to someone else and they both conspired to divorce their spouses and marry each other.  This did not sit well with John and he publicly reprimanded the two of them.  This seems to be the reason he was in prison; attacking the king is generally not beneficial to your personal well-being.  Herod was happy to keep him locked up, but Herodias wanted a more permanent solution.  Herod was not the only one who could scheme and manipulate to get what he wanted.

Herodias comes across as a modern-day (relatively speaking) Jezebel.  The wife of King Ahaz, Jezebel managed to pull some strings in order to have Naboth killed at a party thrown by Ahaz.  She would stop at nothing to achieve her goal of power and control.

In a similar fashion, at a birthday party Herod throws for himself in which members of his court and other Galilean leaders are present, Herodias manages to pull some strings and manipulate her husband into killing John.  Royal courts are notoriously devious, and this one was probably no different.  Herodias took advantage of an unfortunate utterance spoken by Herod and sprung the trap.  And Herod, more concerned with the politics of his court and saving face with those around him, agrees to have John beheaded.

A man of God was executed today.  Where is the good news in this story?

It may be that there is none.  A man of God was executed to satisfy the political machinations of a scheming and manipulative queen.  A man of God was executed because a ruler was more concerned with his political livelihood and career than he was with doing the right thing.  A man of God was executed because nobody at that party was willing to stand up and say, “This is wrong.”  There is no good news in this story.  John is dead.

There may be no good news, but there may be, like the poster I mentioned, a warning.  The question we need to ask ourselves is this:  “How do we maneuver through this world?”  We could be like Herod who plots and schemes to curry favor with those around us in an attempt to continually come out on top.  We could be like Herodias and look for any possible advantage to punish those who offend us.  We could be like the crowd at both Herod's party and the crucifixion who wouldn't stand up for the powerless and innocent in order to save our own skin.

Or we could take an alternate path.  Instead of working to come out on top, as Herod did, we could work to make God known in the world around us, as John and Jesus did.  Instead of looking for any possible advantage to punish those who offend us, as Herodias did, we could look for ways to welcome those who are different and forgive those who offend us.  Instead of walking in step with the crowd and ignoring the plight of those who are unjustly treated, we could strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being.

A man of God was executed today.  Where is the good news?

It may be that there is no good news today.  There may be no good news today, but thankfully the story does not end there.  And, sometimes, knowing that the story does not end in despair might be the only good news we get.



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