This mornings Gospel reading is a flashback. It is a continuation of last weeks reading from Mark which ended like this:
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
When Herod heard of this, he thought that John the Baptist had come back to life and then we are told why and how Herod had John killed.
There was a party, a grand party, a birthday party for the king. All the important people were there, a literal who’s who of the important people in Galilee. It was a celebration with lots of great food and plenty of adult beverages. Beautiful women danced to entertain the guests. One of those who danced was the king’s daughter, Herodias. Her dance was beautiful and pleased her father the king. When she had finished, Herod swore to her he would give her anything she asked for. He probably expected her to choose some monetary or materialistic reward for her dancing performance. He was ready to keep that promise.
But, she wanted something else. After consulting with her mother, she asked for John the Baptist’ head, on a platter. This put King Herod in an extremely uncomfortable position.
King Herod had a unique relationship with John. He respected John’s wisdom, he enjoyed listening to John, and he feared John. He also protected John. But now, he had this decision to make. Does he deny his daughter her request and keep John alive, or honor her request and have John killed.
There was more at stake than John’s life, there was Herod’s reputation. Was he a man of his word or not? What would his guests think of him if he went back on his promise to his daughter? Would it jeopardize his position and authority? What would his wife think?
Herod kept his word to his daughter and had John executed. He had John’s head delivered to his daughter on a platter, just as she had requested. He kept his reputation as a man of his word intact. He did what most benefitted him.
Herod had put himself into a difficult situation. In fact, he put himself in a situation he could not win. If he kept his word to his daughter, he had to have John killed and would no longer benefit from John’s wisdom. If he continued to protect John, he would damage his reputation.
A lot of people put themselves into similar situations in that there is no good way to proceed. In Herod’s case, he decided to do what would most benefit him. Perhaps that is not always the best decision, perhaps looking at the larger picture would be a better way to decide.
It would be easy for this sermon to become a political sermon by comparing Herod’s self-serving decision to the perception some people have of our countries politicians. But this is not the time or place for such a discussion. Making self-serving decisions is ingrained in the nature of humankind as a whole and not just in those who have political power, like Herod.
Often, salespeople are accused of the same thing. The perception is that some salespeople try to sell people the products that bring the highest commission, regardless of whether it is the best product for the consumer. Perhaps some of you have felt that at some time, a salesperson had their own best interest at heart instead of yours.
It all comes down to decisions. Each day we all make many decisions. Most of our decisions are small and relatively easy to make and do not have long lasting consequences, but some do. When we decide what we want for dinner, it doesn’t usually have a long lasting impact, but when we decide about a major purchase, it can affect us for many years.
This morning we all made a decision to come to Church; a decision I hope will have a lasting impact. But we have also each made a much more important decision. We have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, to be Jesus’ disciples. We have answered the Lord’s call to follow Jesus and to serve our Lord. This is a decision that affects us the rest of our lives. But this decision doesn’t just affect us, no, it transforms us. We become new people when we follow Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t change our circumstances, he changes us and the way we look at things and the way we respond to our circumstances. We start to become more Christ-like. We start to look at the bigger picture of how we fit in with the world and how our actions affect others. We think less about how things will benefit us and more about how things will benefit others. We stop being self-serving and become a servant to others. We stop trying to be self sufficient and start to rely on the community. We share ourselves and allow others to share themselves with us.
Herod knew John was a man of God, that is why he feared John. Perhaps it was guilt, for Herod knew he had done wrong. When Herod heard about Jesus he thought it was John reincarnated. It is a shame Herod didn’t follow Jesus. It is a shame he never felt the forgiveness for the things he had done that comes from Jesus. It is a shame he never felt the unconditional love that Jesus offers each of us.
Perhaps some of you know people like Herod, people who don’t yet know Jesus, people who are more concerned with themselves than with others, people who don’t know what forgiveness means or what unconditional love means, or that Jesus is offering forgiveness and love, and acceptance to them. Perhaps you know people who don’t feel worthy of going to Church, who feel they have just been too sinful to be in Church. Perhaps you know people who are struggling with addictions, whose disease inhibits their ability to understand that there is a different kind of life being offered to them by Jesus, a life free of the stranglehold drugs or alcohol have on them. Perhaps, all these people need are someone to plant a seed, a seed of hope, a seed of compassion, a seed of love.
Share the love Jesus has given you with others and thereby plant those seeds. Let others know that none of us deserve God’s love or God’s forgiveness, but that God offers God’s love and forgiveness, and comfort, and guidance to all people. Let them know that Jesus is calling them to a new life, a transformed life, a life in relationship with God. Let them know we all have our own struggles, but Jesus helps us through them and will help others through their struggles as well. All it takes is a decision. Jesus is calling, Jesus is offering unconditional love. Through your words and actions, through your caring and compassion, through you living your faith and following Jesus, maybe, just maybe, you will plant a seed in someone else’s life, and they will decide to follow Jesus.
Let us pray:
Gracious and loving God,
you have taught us through Christ
that love fulfills the law.
May we love you with all our heart,
all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength,
and may we love our neighbor as ourselves.
Lord, open our eyes to see your hand at work
in the splendor of creation
and in the beauty of human life.
Touched by your hand, our world is holy.
Help us to cherish the gifts that surround us,
to share our blessings with our sisters and brothers,
and to experience the joy of life in your presence.
We thank you for planting the seed of your Word.
By your Holy Spirit, help us to receive it with joy,
and live according to it,
that we may grow in faith and hope and love,
and that we may share the faith and hope and love
you give us with others, and that they too,
may choose to follow your Son, our Lord,
and experience the joy and peace
that comes from being in relationship with you.
We pray this in the name of our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever more.
Amen and Amen.