Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, July 11, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 7

Pentecost 7, 2021
Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well.  That was quite a gospel reading we just heard, wasn’t it?  It’s a stellar reminder that the priest does not get to choose the readings we hear each week.  And also a good reminder that I’m grateful we always have more than one reading from scripture each Sunday.

Let’s review what we just heard . . . Herod—who is sort of the local governor of the Jews—hears about Jesus and his disciples, and the amazing things they are doing, and everybody’s got a different opinion about what is going on.  Some say that John the Baptizer is giving Jesus the power, and others are saying Jesus is really Elijah the prophet coming back to usher in the kingdom of God.  But Herod . . . Herod has a totally different idea.  Because Herod has a very guilty conscience, that’s why.  And a king with a guilty conscience makes for a great story.

Edgar Allen Poe could call this The Tell-Tale Baptist.  Or, as Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth might say: “Out damned John the Baptizer!”  It’s easy to find examples like this.  If you’re Poe or Shakespeare, you just look around and talk to people, and before long you could have a big list of guilty consciences to work with.  We have a very hard time letting go of the things we have done in the past, even if everyone else has forgotten them.  That’s why we confess our sins every week—in the hope that one day we might actually believe in God’s forgiveness.  

So, in this gospel text, we hear Herod say, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."  People hearing this story for the first time would be asking, “Wait.  Hang on.  When did Herod have John the Baptizer beheaded?”  And then Mark says, “Thanks for asking,” and we flash back to a party at Herod’s house in order to answer that question.

Herod was living in sin with his brother’s wife—whatever that means exactly.  And John the Baptizer has called him out on it.  Told him that it was wrong to live that way.  Herod has John thrown in prison, but does not have him killed because, “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.”

I find this fascinating.  Almost like Herod knows John is sent by God.  He fears him, but he is intrigued by him.  He likes to listen to him, even though John is telling him things he does not wish to hear.  Almost like, by keeping John locked up in his prison, Herod has his own private spiritual advisor or something. 

And then, Herod throws this party.  His daughter, Herodias (same name as her mother, Herodias) impresses the guests with her dancing—like how you make your kids show off when you have guests—and then Herod is so proud and boastful that he promises her anything.  Herodias goes to Herodias and asks what to ask for.  The mom, who hates John the Baptizer, tells her to ask for John’s head, and . . . Well, you know what happens then.  Horrible story right? 

It’s a story that begs for a superhero, doesn’t it?  A case where we want John’s disciples to show up and bust him out of prison right before the guards come to behead him.  Some nick-of-time example that evil will not win out over good.  We want the lesson to be that Herod’s stupid ego and hate-filled Herodias will not win the day, because that’s the way stories are supposed to end, right?  John speaking truth to power is supposed to make him loved and respected, not headless in a dungeon.

Which raises the question that I really want to ask.  The elephant that is not in the room, in this case . . .
Where is Jesus in this story?   

And the silence that follows that question tells us all the answer.  If I say, “Tell me a story that isn’t about Jesus,” today’s gospel could be one of them, right?  Jesus is not in this story.  And it’s then tempting for us to say, See?  This is what happens to you without Jesus in your story.  And that is a very dangerous thing to think, because it then sets you up to start thinking that if you do have Jesus in your life, then bad things won’t happen to you.  

Everyone in this room has Jesus in their life.  So, has anything bad ever happened to you?  Exactly.  Then, if Jesus had been there at the party with Herod, would he have stopped John from being beheaded?  We can’t tell for certain, but I’m thinking the answer is probably no.  Even if Jesus were sitting in the house, for whatever reason, Herod still would have had John killed because of his boastful promise.

So now what?  What’s the point of Jesus if he can’t save you from dying?  What good is Jesus if he can’t help you when you are most in need of being helped?  Why follow a Savior who seems unable to save?

Maybe the best way to answer my own question is to say this:  Jesus is saving up his saving for the big leagues.  Even though God is intensely interested in every aspect of your life, Jesus does not save you a parking spot in front of the store.  Even though Jesus came that we might have life and have life abundantly, we are each still going to face death at some point.  Jesus does not save us from death.

Jesus saves us IN death.  The truth is that each of us is going to die.  But the greater truth is that each of us will be raised to new life.  God is in the resurrection business, is what it comes down to.  Jesus brings life out of death.  Hope to the hopeless, joy to the sorrowful, life to those who are dead in sin.  Jesus does not save us from suffering; but Jesus does save us in our suffering.  Even though we didn’t hear about Jesus in this story, Jesus was very much a part of John the Baptist’s story.  And that is what makes all the difference.

Now let me turn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which we heard part of right before this Gospel reading.  That reading is 12 verses long, but is actually one sentence in Greek.  Longest sentence in the New Testament.  210 words in one sentence.  Which is probably why it’s a little confusing to hear it read aloud.  But the part I want to focus on in this:   

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will . . . as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

God’s will is to gather up everything, in heaven and on earth.  Everything.  Not God’s reluctant compromise.  Not just some things.  No, God will gather up everything and everyone, because God wants to.  You, and me, and the people we don’t even like.  As I said earlier, Jesus is saving up his saving for the big leagues.  

We all know that bad stuff happens in life.  This is not a new thought for you, I’m sure.  And I don’t need to spend time reminding you of the suffering in the world around us; you’ve seen the headlines.  Living can be a painful business.  And if you come to Jesus looking to avoid problems, or for protection against crazy kings who may have you killed because some little girl asks, well . . . I’m afraid Jesus isn’t going to be much help to you in that moment.  At least in getting us out of the trouble we face.

BUT, if you come to Jesus looking for comfort in the midst of life’s tragedies, and the assurance that you are loved beyond measure, and to remind you that it is God’s will to gather you up into the arms of Jesus . . . Well, then Jesus is the one you’re looking for.  God is with you every moment of every day, and that is what makes things different.  

You will be gathered up because it is God’s will to gather you up.  You have been baptized into the death of Jesus, and you will be raised to new life in the resurrection of Jesus.  And along the way, in the midst of the struggles of life, you can come to this Altar and receive the reassurance of forgiveness, in the body of Christ, the bread of heaven.


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