Sunday Service 5th February
The Death of John the Baptist
Call to worship
Hymn 212: Morning has broken
Time for all
Hymn 616: There’s a Spirit in the air
Reading: Mark 6: 14-29 Margaret
Hymn 722: Spirit of God, come dwell within me
Prayer of Dedication
Hymn 724: Christ is the world in which we move
Welcome to our reflection for 5th of February.
Today we are looking at the death of John the Baptist.
Now here’s the thing...and this is very important, we often read these stories with our own bias already in place.
But what if we flipped that for a while?
You see, I truly believe that most people that we think of as bad guys, don’t see themselves as the bad guys.
Think of yourself.
Do you see yourself as a bad person?
Yet in the eyes of history we may all be part of a generation that was willing to let the environment be destroyed. Future generations may look at us as the evil generation.
We might think that is unfair, a mass generalization, but isn’t that what we do to people like Herod and his wife Herodias?
So we will see how flipping our view might affect our faith; how we see ourselves, how we see God.
Our narrative today is a flashback.
The rumours of Jesus and what he is doing are beginning to reach the court of Herod.
And Herod is feeling guilty.
Herod had married his brother’s wife Herodias, as part of a way of keeping power close to himself. All weddings of that time had little to do with love and everything to do with power.
John the Baptist had condemned this as against the law of God.
To silence John Herod had him arrested and put in prison.
And the relationship between Herod and John was a strange one.
John was the one in prison but I feel Herod felt he was the one who was trapped.
Herod liked John, he liked that John was honest with him, said what he believed.
The one thing Herod could count on was that John wouldn’t lie to him.
Ironically in a political world where everyone was trying to replace you, or use you, or manipulate you, John might have been the only person in the world that Herod could trust.
Until that is, there is an incident.
Now those that see Herod as pure evil, portray this incident as despicable as it could be.
Herodias daughter dancers for Herod and his cronies; in our minds it is a dance that is purely sexual, Herod and his cronies are lusting after this young woman and while they are distracted Herod rashly promises her anything that she wants. The girl rushes to her mum who demands that she asks for the head of John the Baptist.
Herod feels that to withdraw the offer would lower his social standing, so he reluctantly agrees.
But now he lives with the guilt of what he has done.
Let’s flip the scene. Normally we see Herodias as pure evil, a woman acting out of pure spite. Instead let’s look at it from the eyes of Herodias, who may see herself as the most vulnerable of people in this story.
She is used to political intrigue.
Her father was one of the sons of Herod the Great, one of the sons that Herod the Great killed because he thought that he was part of a plot to poison him.
She was then given in engagement to Herod the second.
After another plot to kill Herod the Great, Herod the Second is demoted and his half brother Herod Antipas marries Herodias.
There is a lot of people called Herod in this story.
Here is what is important.
This is a huge game of power, if you play it badly you end up dead.
Every move you make could be a fatal mistake.
When Herod Antipas married Herodias that caused a series of wars that went badly for Herod Antipas. And when things are going badly then you look weak, and when you look weak then others see it as an opportunity to get rid of you and take your place.
Herodias is stuck in this game as a pawn that has little influence in the outcome, but she has seen at first hand her father being executed by her grandfather. She knows the consequences of loosing this game.
What is more her daughter is described as ‘Herodias daughter’, not Herod’s daughter. As the man was more important in that culture, not to designate him as the father, means that he isn’t the father.
That makes her daughter very vulnerable in that royal court.
Herodias sees John the Baptist as a threat. The fact that Herod refuses to deal with him means that Herod is weak. If others see Herod as weak then they might come gunning for him, and if Herod goes, probably so does Herodias and her daughter.
Until an incident happens.
Herod asks for his daughter to dance for him at his meal.
She may not have been a luscious teenager, what if she is a cute five year old, and Herod is showing off how clever his young daughter is.
Everyone smiles politely, Herod, not sensing any threat, offers her anything she wants.
This five year old is surrounded by very powerful adults and doesn’t know what to do, so she runs to her mum, maybe expecting her mum to say, ‘Ask for a new dress’, and she comes back asking for a dress and everyone smiles and claps.
But instead Herodias sees an opportunity to get rid of this man who is threatening her family, forcing her husband to show his strength and power to these other powerful men, letting these other men see what happens if they threaten Herod.
Letting them see what Herod would do to them if they even thought about trying to replace him.
So here’s the question; if you were Herodias, and your life and your daughter’s life was in danger, what would you do?
I think that is a valid question.
Because we all live in a world where we are under threat.
Financially things are harder for most people.
The war in Ukraine continues to destabilize not only Europe but also the food distribution throughout the world.
We know that jobs aren’t as stable as they used to be.
We know that personal relationships don’t seem to be as stable as they used to be.
So how do we react to that?
It is clear that Herodias felt threatened, and she did all in her power to create as much stability as she could.
She acted out of fear.
And we see that a lot in our society.
Look at how we treat asylum seekers; these are not people to be welcomed, these are people to be feared.
Look at how we treat the mentally ill; these are not people to be treated; these are people that need to be locked up, because they are to be feared.
Look at how we look at a group of teenagers walking the streets; these are not our children to be encouraged, they are thugs that need to be disciplined, because they are to be feared.
Name the group, and then name the fear.
The only problem with that is...that if we live like that then everyone else eventually becomes a threat.
We can’t trust our politicians; they are only in it for themselves.
We can’t trust our neighbours; they are always looking to take advantage of us.
We can’t trust our children; they are only trying to get us into a nursing home so they can forget about us.
There is no peace in that life, there is no contentment in that life, there is no hope in that life.
Jesus opens us up to another way.
In some ways a more frightening way.
It is the way of a heart generously opened to God and others.
Others are not to be feared, others are to be loved.
Recently one of my daughters got herself into an uncertain situation.
And her sister just said to her these words that gave me hope.
She just turned to her sister and said, ‘Know this, you are supported.’
Here’s the thing.
Herodias acted out of fear, and there are thousands in Alva that will today act out of fear,
not out of maliciousness or cruelty or hatred or greed...out of fear...
because they believe that what they do will give them a wee bit more security in an uncertain world.
Their actions may lead to hurt and pain and feel cruel, but that was not what motivated them, it was the fear they felt.
They act out of fear because they believe that the rest of the world is doing the same, it is survival of the fittest.
Jesus offered another way, a truly radical way.
We can show them that different way.
The way of Christ, being open to others, acting out of love, not fear.
How would their lives be different if they knew that there was a God out there that was saying to them, ‘Know this, you are supported.’?
And maybe that is our calling.
To change this world of fear
by letting folk know
by what we say and what we do, that they are supported.
History is amass with people who lived this radical way, that were generously open to God and to others,
not because they were strong in their faith, but because they knew that even in their greatest weakness, that they were supported by God, and supported by those that God put in their lives.
Our journey into discipleship starts each day with us hearing God’s message to us;
‘Know this, you are supported.’
For only once we have heard it and know it is true for ourselves, can we share that life with those around us.
Let us pray
as we bring before you
ourselves, our time, and our treasure,
we take time to consider how we react to this world we live in.
It is easy to see it as a world where we are surrounded by threats to our health, our wellbeing and our sanity.
It is easy to see this world as dangerous and feeling that we must always be cautious in our dealing with others.
We never know if the stranger in front of us is trying to scam us or not,
that the person at the other end of the phone call is trying to cheat us or not,
that the simple email is not a way to hack into our computer systems and steal from us.
It can seem that we live in a world of fear and that we should react out of fear.
We give thanks for every person that stops when they see someone lying on the ground and checks to make sure they are safe.
We give thanks for those that phone the emergency services and waits patiently till police or ambulance arrive.
We give thanks for every person that responds to an appeal aboard and gives to people they will never meet, just because they are in need.
We give thanks for every person who spontaneously just checks up on a friend or neighbour, just to make sure they are alright.
We give thanks because each of these acts is an act of love, inspired by your love.
We give thanks for the way your love is shown.
That you know that our life is not always easy.
That we are able to bring you our tears,
trusting that you feel our sadness,
that you help us to carry our burdens
and that you will guide us along the path of healing and restoration
as individuals, and as a congregation.
May our inspiration always be, knowing that we are supported, and with that strength knowing that we can support others.
This we ask in Jesus name