Mark 6:14-29? Ephesians 1:3-14

July 12, 2015 by Ken Dale

While I am usually somewhat awed at how the lectionary, in a wonderful way, lines up with what is going on in the church, the community, the world, on a given Sunday ? this morning was a bit more of a challenge.? This is a great Sunday each year in the life of this church as we welcome the people from Basking Ridge.? I am always mindful of the increased number of youth in the congregation and think about the importance of relevance in the sermon.? This morning?s Old Testament lesson from 2 Samuel 6 has David and the people with him dancing to the music as the ark of God goes to Jerusalem and we could have fun with that.? The epistle which we heard from Ephesians is a wonderful passage about the spiritual blessings in Christ ? the good pleasure of God?s will ? a vision of all things being united in Christ ? sounds nice and warm and fuzzy.

Then there was the gospel which you have just heard.? Some wild man dressed in camel?s hair, eating locust and honey, and the story is dark ? there is jealousy and seduction and murder.? I actually bounced it off a couple of adults in this church and they advised me ? ?yeah!? go with it ? the kids will love it!?? So ? here we go!

It?s a ghoulish tale of a triangle ? Herod, his wife Herodias and John the Baptist.? Herod had married his brother Philip?s wife which of course was unlawful.? Being outspoken as he was, John called them on it.? Herod had John arrested and imprisoned. He doesn?t want to kill him.? ?Heroidias, Herod?s former sister-in-law now current wife doesn?t like what John has said either, but there?s not much she can do about it.? On the other hand, there is Herod who, we are told, ?feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and protected him. ?When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.?

That?s a good place to pause and take note.? John is a prophet and not only speaks truth to power but befuddles power.? Herod is perplexed by John.? The root meaning of perplexity is ?completely entangled? ? unable to completely distance himself to retreat into indifference.? There was something about what John was saying that Herod was mystified by ? maybe John was speaking to the deeper places of Herod?s being.? Herod wanted to protect him.

But at the party Herodias? daughter dances a good dance and lecherous and foolish Herod promised her anything she wanted.? She consulted Mom who took full advantage of the opportunity ? and well, you know the rest of the story ? dinner wasn?t the only thing served on a platter!? Herod put himself in a bad position and saving face was an issue ? defaulting on an oath was not a good thing.? Herod had to win.? And he did, letting winning become more important than anything else.

It could very well be that Mark intentionally puts this story in between sending out the disciples (6:6b-13) and their return to Jesus to report in on what happened (6:30).? When those who follow Jesus and go out into the world to do the work of God, the world will respond and be true to itself.? The world will respond by rising up and being the world.? Even though John spoke to the deeper places of Herod?s being ? Herod remained true to himself first, at the cost of John?s life.? John?s concern was something, someone, other and greater than himself.? John confronted Herod ? the realm of God confronted the world.? It became winner verses loser ? a short sighted world won, and John lost.? There was a middle ground that was not sought where perhaps the two could work for the benefit of the whole.

Two wonderful illustrations come to mind.? One the story of? a Special Olympics race in which two students approach the starting line.? The shot is fired and the race is on and one takes the lead while the other falls behind.? Suddenly the one in the lead slows down waiting for his friend to catch up.? Then they run together with matching strides crossing the finish line yelling with great joy, ?We tied! We tied!?? There was some consternation among the line judges ? scoring books had no place to record a tie!? The second illustration is the rules for ice hockey at the Carpenter?s Boat Shop.? Good rules like no swearing, name calling, things like that – but the most important is the call near the end of the game:? The next goal ties.? The point of course is that it reminds everyone that the all-important thing about pond hockey is the joy of playing and not who gets the highest score.

Is not the life of faith and especially service to and for others in Christ?s name the same?? The joy is in doing what you?re doing ? something to benefit and better the life of someone else.? What a fine example we have in our midst this morning with these youth from Basking Ridge giving of themselves, of their time and talents for someone other than themselves.? Yes ? you?ll be working, but yes, I bet you?ll have fun while you?re doing it.? (Remember that I said that!)? If the project doesn?t go well for some reason ? and I?ve worked on some that were like that ? don?t get discouraged ? just remember why you?re doing what you?re doing.? Do not let that joy be taken from you.? I remember some years ago when a couple participated in their first CHIP Day in September but because they felt the family helped really didn?t appreciate what had been done for them ? they decided not to participate again.? How sad ? appreciation is important but that is not the reason the help is offered.? Again don?t let that joy of doing be taken away.

I have a friend and colleague who now serves as pastor in the church he grew up in.? When his children were very young they would play games.? One time the older child won and he broke into a great cheer ?I won, I won.?? His little sister did the same and he immediately corrected her saying, ?No, you lose.?? So she started cheering ?I lose!? I lose!?? Nothing would take away her joy of playing the game.? In her own way, she made it a tie!

I?ve always wondered if Herod just continued to protect John and did not give into the whims of another, what impact John may have had on Herod?s life ? perhaps what healing may have occurred.? John dared speak the truth and in doing so offered the possibility of healing and of new life.? Do we dare speak that truth ? and speak it not for our own glory but for the benefit of another?? Do we dare speak that truth in the faith that even if we appear to be defeated ? that it will make a difference?

May we each and all live by the faith that knows the blessings of a tie ? the privilege of walking, running, working, living and loving together ? even those, especially with those, who are not like us in whatever way.? May we live with a joy that cannot be taken away because that same faith reminds us ? the game isn?t over yet!