This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on Sunday, July 12, 2015
Gospel: Mark 6:14–29
14King 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."
17For 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.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
What do Winnie the Pooh and John the Baptist have in common? The same middle name.
We are a people "Chosen to Proclaim".
The message that we are chosen to proclaim, is a very powerful message. It is the message of Jesus Christ. It is the message of life and new creation. It is a message that has been given to us by the grace of God, through our shared faith. And this message comes with great, great power.
Power though, is a tricky thing. Jimi Hendrix once summed up power's fickle ways very well. Of course, this wasn't from a conversation I had with him, but it is a message on a bumper sticker that I've often seen. Jimi said, "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."
So, why don't we know peace in the world today? Why don't we know peace, necessarily, in our own lives? Where is this peace? Why can't Jimi Hendrix's words ring true? More appropriately, why can't the Word of God, seem to to be what rules us, and give us peace?
The reason, when it all comes down to it, is that we are afraid. What we're afraid of, is that God's powerful word, will do exactly what God says it will. We're afraid of the transformation and change that God's word will bring, even though God promises that the result will be good things, like peace and also justice, and love for all people.
Like us, John the Baptist was chosen to proclaim God's very powerful word, and chosen to proclaim it to all people, including the powerful king, King Herod. And he did so. As we think about it, John the Baptist shouldn't have posed much threat to the king. He didn't have anything, except for some camel hair clothing, he ate locusts and wild honey, and lived out in the wilderness. What he did have, what he was chosen to proclaim, was God's Word. God's life giving and loving Word. God's Word of truth.
When, John went to King Herod and told the king that he shouldn't take his brother, Philip's wife, and marry her; when God through John, tried to restore peace to the world, King Herod and his wife didn't respond real well. The King had John arrested.
Yet, King Herod kept John around because he liked listening to him. Even though he was perplexed and troubled by John's words. Even though he was convicted by John's words of truth, he liked having him around. But Herod's wife didn't, because she knew that John's words, were really powerful. So, of course, she responds, through her daughter, and because the powerful King Herod really had no power to say no, John's life was ended.
King Herod was afraid. He was afraid of losing the power he had. He was afraid of losing all of the stuff in his life that really wasn't that valuable when you think about it. He was afraid, that maybe he would become like John the Baptist, stripped of so much, yet knowing peace. This human reaction, can be what happens, in the presence of God's power.
This Word of God, which John proclaimed, and which we are still Chosen to Proclaim, continues to speak to us today, but unfortunately, we respond to it a lot like Herod. We're afraid of losing what we have. We're afraid of the transformation that God's Word will bring into our lives. The Word that will tear down the walls that divide us, even while giving us a false sense of security and safety. Even though these dividing walls may trap us in misery, or in a bad relationship, and in a world that is broken, at least we know that these walls are there. At least we know that these walls of separation, and all the brokenness, and bitterness that they entail, will keep us surrounded by "the known". We are indeed afraid of God's Word, because it will do what God says it will.
As we read in our Gospel story, we hear about a King who has power. Now we might not relate to this type of kingly power, but really, this story is about the power of relationships. Herod doesn't seem to have much power, except for the so called, "power', that others give to him, so that he may do what they want. But in our own lives, unlike Herod, we do have a lot of power.
For instance, this past week, I was watching Charlie at his swimming lessons, and I watched as a little four-year-old boy had the power to disrupt the whole class. This little boy, was able to stop the whole class from doing what they were supposed to be doing, in order to get him to do the right thing. A four-year-old really had great power.
Or, think about a baby. They sure seem powerless, don't they? But, and trust me on this one, a little baby exercises great power over our lives. In fact, once a baby comes, they pretty much have the power to run your life.
We don't have to be a king, or a baby to have great power, and power over others, in our relationships and in our world. Yet, we often choose to be powerless. How often do we feel called to say something to someone, or speak-up on behalf of ourselves or someone else, or to help the poor, to become better stewards, or even to go out and exercise, and instead of using our power, we say, "I can't". But still, no matter what, we always have a choice.
John the Baptist, didn't have to go on to his horrible death. He could have very easily renounced all that he said and lived to see another day, or a lot of days. John the Baptist though, was given the Word of truth, the Word of life, and he could do nothing but proclaim that truth and life that he'd been given. We are called to do the same as John the Baptist did, and God has given each of us the freedom and power to do so.
Still, sin remains, and fear has great power over us, and so we continue to close ourselves off. No matter who we are; no matter how long we've been a Christian, or a pastor, or a member of Christ the King, we close ourselves off to the powerful Word, and the transforming peace it brings; because we are afraid. We're afraid of losing the control that we seemingly have. We're afraid of losing all the types of things that only last a short time. We're afraid, and so we cling to these "worldly things", and don't grasp on to the eternal things; the things that John the Baptist had a firm grip on. The eternal things that are made human in the person of Jesus Christ.
In our story today, we see the power of God's Word as spoken through John the Baptist. We see this power not only in his death, but also in the aftermath of his beheading. You see, after this horrible death, the Word of God still convicts King Herod. I'm sure that he knows that John the Baptist wasn't really raised from the dead, but still his words still speak to the King. Furthermore, we know that the One who John the Baptist pointed to, Jesus Christ, who came and brought the Word of God to this world through not only his message, but his life, was raised from a horrible death. We know that this same, powerful Word of God which he carried, was raised to new life, and through him, all of creation was raised as well. We know that this life, this Word of God, has been given to us.
So, we know, that even as we close ourselves off; even as we fear the unknown; even as we hear wise sayings about the power of love giving us peace and don't take any action; even as we remain sinful, God comes to us. God comes to us with his powerful Word, which has been raised to new life, and it has been given to us. And it will be given to us again, as we hear God say, "take and eat, this is my body, given for you. this is my blood, shed for you." This Word, this life is given to us, so that we can proclaim to our broken world, even as we go on in the grips of our self-preserving fear, the love of God, and the life that has been given to us in Christ.
We've been chosen, just like John the Baptist. May we continue to hear God's calling, and proclaim his life, grace, mercy, abundance, and love, which has been given to us, and to all of creation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,