Posts Tagged ‘Death of john’

Drama 7-15-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 6:14-29, I explore the story of John the Baptist’s death. This is an oddball gospel, both in terms of its location within the narrative as well as the absence of Jesus within it.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/drama-7-15-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

All we have to do is take a quick glance around the sanctuary to see the decorations, and we can tell that it was VBS week.  I love VBS week…it is wonderful…Each day, somewhere between 35-40 kids, another dozen or so jr high and high school helpers, a handful of adults, and 5 camp staff flocked into the church…and the energy level is off the charts.

Its loud…its crazy…its exciting…and I love it. There is just nothing else like it throughout the course of the year. Now, I spent some time trying to come up with the perfect words to describe the atmosphere here in the church during VBS…and in the end, the one that seemed the most fitting was simply…dramatic.

Now when I call it dramatic, I don’t mean to say that there was a lot of angsty drama going on, the likes of which we see on various reality tv shows…quite the opposite in fact…but the stark difference between a normal week here in the church building and the week of VBS is…well…dramatic…its what we might call epic craziness. (pause)

And speaking of epic craziness…let’s talk about the Herod’s for a moment shall we? (pause) Interestingly enough…the Herod family is smack dab at the heart of today’s gospel lesson…and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say, this is an odd one. Because while we typically refer to this story as the death of John the Baptist…we could make the argument that even John is somewhat secondary in this passage.

But to begin to make sense of it, we need some background…as the passage kicks off today, the very first name we hear is Herod…and honestly, Herod is kind of a common name throughout the gospel isn’t it? But when you hear the name Herod, you need to remember that its not just one guy…in fact its an entire family.  They all stem from Herod the Great. He was actually the big wig at the start of the gospels.

He’d come to prominence about 30BC, and had found enough favor with the Roman Senate to get the old “king” in Israel kicked out, and to get himself established in this role throughout much of the region. He was brilliant but cruel…and he was excessively paranoid that someone would usurp his power just like he had done…he was so paranoid in fact that he actually had many of his own family executed if he thought they posed a threat.

Speaking of family, Herod the Great had a ton of wives, and countless sons and daughters…and once he found himself in the twilight of his life, he did start passing along authority…establishing 4 of his sons as something called a tetrarch…not really a king…not really a governor…but somewhere along those lines…and then once he died, all four of these sons who now had a little power for themselves, started jockeying for position and greater authority…and that includes Herod Antipas, also known as King Herod here in today’s story.

Now remember, he wasn’t a king, and in fact when he asked the Romans for the same title given to his father they just sorta laughed at him…He had authority…he had power…but it wasn’t as absolute as he liked to think it was. And so he was constantly scheming, just like the rest of his family…trying to make deals, and broker arrangements to better his position. They’d ALL learned it from Herod the Great, and from what information we can find from history, the whole family, which carried on in prominence over the course of about 4 generations, was just as guilty.

Take for instance, Herodias. By this point, she’s married to Herod Antipas…but previously, she’d been married to his half-brother Philip, another tetrarch.  Herodias divorced Philip and married Antipas at some point.  Even stranger, she was already a Herod…thought to be a generation younger…a niece to both Antipas and Philip…the daughter of yet another brother. And she doesn’t seem like an overly nice person either…holding grudges against people who speak out against her and her apparent opportunistic nature…people like John who is imprisoned over this type of thing.

Now we’ve got more junk going on to…because Herod throws himself a party…he invites ALL the bigwigs from Galilee, the region he controlled…and as they are at this party…something kinda disturbing happens.

We hear that the daughter of Herodias comes in and dances…and that her dancing “pleases” Herod and the guests. We don’t know exactly what’s going on here. We don’t know if she’s a young girl, or if she’s older….we don’t know if she’s a willing participant in this whole deal or if she’s being coerced. We also don’t know exactly what the dynamic is between these two. She might be Herod’s daughter…although she’s probably his step-daughter.  Regardless, the odd-ball language really seems to be some thinly veiled indications that there’s some pretty major inappropriateness going on here…and I’ll let you fill in the blanks yourself on that one…and if that is in fact the case, I can only think that this whole family dynamic is utterly depraved. They’re power-hungry. They’re opportunistic…they’re wildly inappropriate. (pause) You think you’ve got family drama…your family’s got nothing on the Herods.

Now in the middle of this, some more trickery happens, and Herodias takes full advantage of this drunken oath made by her husband towards her daughter, and uses it to silence the critic who has spoken out against her…as she instructs her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist.  To add to the whole deal, the daughter ups it a notch as well, giving it a flair of the dramatic, by asking for his head on a platter.

And here’s where things get really dicey. Herod doesn’t want to do it. Granted he’s had John arrested…and he probably didn’t like the criticisms any more than his wife did…but apparently he also enjoyed having John around…but when those who think they have power foolishly flaunt it, often it bites them doesn’t it? And that’s what happens here.

Herod has a choice to save face with the people he needs to impress, or he can do the right thing and deny the execution of an innocent man…and we see what happens…and the innocent…the one who lacks power in this particular case, suffers at the hands of the powerful. (pause)

Here’s the thing.  As we’ve already mentioned…this passage is known as the death of John the Baptist…and rightly so.  But did you notice that this entire thing is basically a narrative side-note…this whole account is simply the apparent thought process behind Herod Antipas remembering that he had John killed…an event that had happened quite a bit before where we find the story in Mark’s gospel…we’re about half way through the whole deal…but we actually heard that John was arrested back in chapter 1…clear back at the beginning…so why don’t we hear about his death until now…why on earth did Mark think it was fitting to interrupt the flow of the gospel narrative for Herod to hear some current events and then justify it by remembering a utterly crazy situation that had happened a year or two earlier? Think about that.

And as you think about it…I want to back up to VBS…Monday through Thursday of this past week…the church was crazy…good crazy…but crazy. But then as I sat in my office on Friday…the silence was deafening.

You’ve heard that phrase before right…a deafening silence…its weird but somehow fitting…that once your ears have grown accustomed to the noise…silence seems to be somehow “louder.” (pause) I bring this up…because in the midst of the craziness of this story in and around John and the Herods…there is a silence that is equally deafening. A profound silence when we recognize it.

Keep in mind…this is the gospel lesson right. Now is there someone we haven’t heard from? A name…a person…that we tend to think of whenever we think about stories from the gospels? (pause) This passage has the RARE distinction…of never mentioning Jesus. He’s not here…granted…this story happens because Herod hears about him…and as soon as this gospel side-note wraps up, Jesus pops up to feed the 5000…so he’s around…but he’s not here is he?

Where’s Jesus…or perhaps, we might ask the broader question…Where’s God in the midst of this story.  The powerful, preying on the weak…where’s God?   Family members stabbing each other in the back to better their own position or authority….where’s God?  Horribly inappropriate actions going on between a girl and her step-father, not to mention being manipulated by her mother…where’s God? (pause)

It’s a little disturbing isn’t it? Shocking even…to notice the apparent absence of God here. And I can’t help but wonder if that’s often the interpretation when we see the brokenness in the world.  Where’s God when innocent people get caught in the crossfire…when students are gunned down in their classrooms…when young women and even small children are trafficked…or pulled from their parents.  When there is famine, or pollution…or disease…or accidents…where’s God then?

I hear these questions constantly…or I hear something similar…what does your Bible have to say about this stuff? (pause) Here’s the thing…if you read the Bible…and not just to cherry-pick feel good verses, or something to smack the other side of the political line with…but if you really read it…you’ll find that narrative of the Bible is just as much about the apparent absence of God’s presence as it is about God being among us.  And that can be a tough pill to swallow if we take it at face value.

But here’s the thing about the scriptures…they aren’t intended to be taken one verse or one story at a time…the scriptures, even though they were written over the course of thousands of years in several different languages by people of multiple cultures and faith traditions who lived on different continents….somehow the Holy Spirit has shaped them into a narrative that all fits together…a narrative intended to reveal that even in those instances when it seems like God is far away or worse yet that God hates me…or even worse yet, that these is no God…even in these times…somehow someway God is still work behind the scenes, whether we see God’s presence or not.

Jesus isn’t named in this story…and yet Mark tells us this past-tense recollection of a previous event here…in the midst of Jesus’ ministry…in the middle of the physical presence of God in our reality…in whatever it is that God is up to, bringing about the kingdom of heaven in the midst of this brokendown messed up reality…this is where Mark tells this story.

Because Jesus came into our realty…the one where it often seems like God is far away or just non-existent…and Jesus has done something about it…and not only that, but Jesus has given us a promise that despite the brokenness that all too often rears its ugly head…and makes those without power or influence feel even less so…that this is not the end…and that there is somehow more.  And so we hope for that amazing, mindblowing promise…of which we’ve only been given a glimmer…we hope for it…and because this promise is given by the man who is also God we trust it.

And we live our lives in a way that reflects it.  That’s what a life of faith is.  We live out our faith as we trust in that which we can only hope for.  We live in a confidence that no matter how bad things might be….this is not the end…and that the last word will belong to God, whether we can find God’s presence in this moment or not. That’s faith…when we can still hope, even in the midst of drama. Amen.

That Reminds Me 7-12-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 6:14-29, I explore the rather odd story of the death of John the Baptist, recounted in Mark’s gospel through a flashback. This odd and almost brutal account highlights the power of misunderstanding, and yet reveals an important nugget of truth.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/that-reminds-me-7-12-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Over the course of this past week, our congregation hosted VBS, a wonderful summer tradition…and from 9am-2pm, Monday through Thursday, the church was buzzing…all kinds of stuff going on. The younger kids laughing and playing…older kids serving as helpers…all sorts of volunteers here to help out in different ways…it was wonderful.

And as I freely admit to having the gift of gab, a great deal of this week, I was not…sitting in my office…rather, I was moving around the church, engaging various people in conversations…and these conversations covered a wide variety of different topics…and not only varying from person to person…but in certain situations…the topics jumped all over the place within single conversations with single individuals.

And you know what…I absolutely love that sort of thing…those unplanned interactions…those unexpected tangents that conversations can take. (Pause) Now certainly, this sort of thing happens all of the time, but I’ve often noticed that it will happen much more frequently when I’m in conversation with another person that I really get along with well…one thing idea leads to another…one discussion jumps into a different discussion…one story sparks off another story…and it seems like these tangents are always introduced with the phrase “OH…THAT REMINDS ME…”

Ever found yourself in a conversation like that…one that keeps jumping around because one thought leads to the next…and the next thing you know a whole bunch of time has passed as the two of you sit there just sharing stories…sometimes these are stories that you experienced on your own…other times, depending on the individual…maybe they’re stories that you were both a part of…and you find yourself simply reliving those times together…bonding over that shared experience…and whether you realize it or not…strengthening your relationship through the power of story. (pause)
Now perhaps it comes as no great shock to you that I absolutely love this sort of thing…I love sharing stories…I love hearing stories and learning about one another through hearing them…and I ABSOLUTELY… love finding myself in the midst of a conversation that is filled with “OH…THAT REMINDS ME…”

But now here’s the thing…there are times when these stories…that are almost interruptions within a conversation…can take us to some really odd experiences…not necessarily bad…not necessarily good either…just odd…those times when a story comes out of nowhere…and really doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything you’ve been talking about. They can be fun…they can enlightening…but they can also be really confusing.

And that…is where today’s story comes in…Because today’s story…is one of those odd…confusing situations…one of those stories…that seems to come out of nowhere. (pause) Now before I really dive in today…let me set the scene for you…and keep in mind that this story occurs in the midst of Mark’s gospel…which as you may recall is a story where the author is telling us the Good News…of Jesus Christ…the son of God…and in the middle of this story…Mark…goes on one heck of a tangent. (pause)

Now right before this passage…before this story…we hear that Jesus has sent the disciples out 2 by 2 into the countryside…they head out to proclaim the gospel…to heal diseases…to cast out demons…in short…Jesus sends them out to do the very same stuff that he’s already been doing…and then…right after today’s story…we hear that once this mission is done…the disciples and Jesus all come back together and talk about what they’ve been up to.

In short…if we skipped today’s passage…the story would continue on with no interruption…it would flow along in a perfectly acceptable way…and it would make perfect sense…And yet…right in the midst…Mark seems to go “OH…NOW THAT REMINDS ME.” (pause) and we are treated with a story…with a quite detailed anecdote…regarding the death of John the Baptist. (pause)

Because at first glance…this has nothing to do with where we’re at in the gospel itself. We’re in the midst of Jesus’ ministry…we’re smack dab in the middle of the disciple’s first test as proclaimers of the gospel…and now we hear this…Herod…one of the powers that be in the area…has, flexed his muscles…in the past mind you…and arrest John simply because John pointed out the fact…that Herod’s been breaking the rules by marrying his brother’s wife. Come on Herod…you know better…that’s a no-no.

And Herod responds…seemingly because his sister in law turned wife gets a little cranky about…I guess Herod believes in that old notion of happy wife-happy life…but knowing full well that John’s got a pretty substantial backing from many people…and he’s got a good reputation…Herod locks him up in jail…but up to this point has been protecting him…that is until an odd situation occurs with his step daughter, herself in the midst of a situation she really shouldn’t be in…and now Herod’s wife takes full advantage of a momentary slip up from her husband…to get John killed…bring me the head of John the Baptist…on a platter…a lovely mealtime site I’m sure….and now Herod…needing to save face…because all his cronies heard him make the promise…has to go through with it…and so John ends up substantially shorter in stature.

And I’ll pose the question one more time…what on earth does this have to do with the gospel? (pause) Certainly this is a crazy situation that we find ourselves in. Mark, tell this story…which is literally a flashback…this all happened quite a while before Jesus’ started garnering a following…and not only that…but John’s story is really over by this point…he had served his purpose as the herald of the coming Messiah…so why do we need to hear about his, rather pointless death…at this point? (pause)
After pondering on this question for quite awhile…I did start see the connection…or at least to recognize what it was that made Mark go “OH…THAT REMINDS ME.” And here it is…as the disciples are out on their two by two mission, word is spreading…people are talking…they’re talking about Jesus…they’re talking about the disciples that are doing miraculous things in his name…word, is getting around…and it even reaches into the palace…arriving in the ears of Herod.

And Herod, of course, starts asking questions as well…Who is this guy? We need to check him out…because Herod has people that he answers to as well…and in this case it’s the Romans who might just take issue with anyone out there in the public developing a following…you see the Romans don’t like it when too many people start banding together behind someone other than them…that’s how uprisings get started…and so if they catch wind of this type of thing, they’ll crack down on their appointed authorities, which as you might have gathered…includes Herod.

And so everyone is asking the question…who is this guy? It seems to be the big conversation of the day…Some say its Elijah…other’s a prophet…and it makes sense that people would say this…it was part of their religious understanding that God would raise up prophets once again…but when Herod heard it…he could only think…Its John…He’s back…I had him killed…but…he’s back. (pause)

Now to us that might seem like a strange conclusion to come to…After all, Herod knows that John is dead…he ordered it…he saw John’s severed head served up on a platter…perhaps with a fine wine along side…and as everyone knows…when you’re dead, you’re dead…that’s it. Want someone silenced? Kill ‘em…because dead men tell no tails. Pirates know it…mobsters know it…the Romans knew it…and you better believe that Herod knew it to.

But yet, that’s the conclusion that Herod reaches…this odd man traveling around…preaching a new gospel…curing the sick, casting out demons…it must be John raised from the dead and that is where these powers are coming from. (pause)
Now I don’t know about you…but I hear this statement from Herod…and doesn’t it seem sorta foolish? All thoughts of Jesus and resurrection aside…why would Herod come up with something like this….He was dead but now he’s alive again and that’s why he can do this…Herod might as well be accusing him of witchcraft and having him burned at the stake…because he seems to be explaining this away with magic…with mystical powers only brought on through the power of death…

And yet…if we think about it…maybe there would have been some evidence to support this idea. Because as Jesus has been traveling around…performing miracles…one of the things he’s done…already by this point…is raise people from the dead. We heard about just a couple weeks ago when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus…there’s another story when Jesus happens upon a funeral in the village of Nain and out of pity for the widow, he raises her son from the dead…later on he would visit the home of Lazurus…who’d been dead in the tomb pushing a week, and Jesus raised him too. (pause)
And I’m betting those stories had reached the ears of Herod as well…and you know what…that’s pretty major…Because as we all know…once you’re dead, you’re dead…but all of the sudden, that’s out the window. (pause) If people won’t stay dead, then the rules don’t apply anymore. (pause) If people won’t stay dead, then we can’t count on anything to stay the way its “supposed to. (Pause) If people won’t stay dead…well then who know what might happen next.

And the thing that really caught my attention as I was thinking about all this…is that Herod, despite making a claim that we all know is pretty foolish…despite making a claim that makes no sense, and is something that maybe we want to laugh off as foolishness…Herod…actually has a grain of truth in the midst of his doorknob statement.

Herod claims that through resurrection, these powers…these miracles…are possible…and while he misidentifies Jesus as the resurrected John, he’s correct in saying that the power that makes resurrection possible is responsible for all this. Because Jesus carries the power of God…Jesus carries the power to heal…the power to cast out demons…the power over death…a power that he would later showcase when God raised HIM from the grave.

And that my friends…is something to stop and consider…because if people won’t stay dead because of the power of God…well then all bets are off…and who knows just what God might do.

Maybe God choses to act within some stressful situation, eliminating or reducing the negative effect…maybe God choses to heal a horrible disease…maybe God choses to soften the heart of someone that we had written off…who know what God will do? (pause) I can’t speak for what God will chose to do in your lives…I can only look back and see God’s fingerprints in my experience…but I sure love those times when I get to sit down and listen to you share what God has done in yours. (pause)

Sometimes we can see these experiences…these God moments pretty clearly…other times our eyes are clouded to it. Herod didn’t quite understand just what was going on in today’s story…and likewise we don’t always understand either…and that’s okay, tough at times, but okay in the long run…because in the long run, the one who carries the power over death has promised us that one day, we will join with him in the resurrection…whether it makes sense or not…because that…is what God is up to, even when we’re not paying attention.

That’s the gospel…that’s the good news…oh…and that reminds me…the gospel, its for you. Amen.