Pentecost 7 - July 11th and 12th - Mark 6:14-29
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
And here we get the death of John the Baptist. That's how we normally think of this passage - right? John's death. But you know what - the way the tale is told, it doesn't focus on John. It focuses on Herod. And you know what - that's a good thing for us. Frankly, for us in this room, our lives look more like Herod than John. Don't believe me -- which is more likely? That this month you'll have a great party with fantastic food, or you'll eat locusts til you get tossed into jail for preaching? Which is more likely - you'll become a wandering hermit, or have strange family issues to deal with? We have a lot in common with Herod, and so let us read this text and let Herod serve as a warning for us.
"For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Phillip's wife, for he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.' And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe." Now, if I just say "Herod" - we tend to think "bad, evil!" Partially that is because of this Herod's father - Herod the Great - he was the one who killed all the babies in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. This Herod in this text is his son - well, what should we make of him? He's a mixed bag. He does get caught up in some stupid stuff. First of all, he marries his sister-in-law. Just think for a moment what sort of family fighting this would bring, if one son basically steals his brother's wife. This would be dumb and would lead to all sorts of fireworks. And it's not as though this gal, Herodias, is a peach. She wants John killed. Dead. Now. So basically, Herod is a guy who was, shall we say not thinking with brain, and it got him in trouble. And John called him on it, told him to stop - but then Herod's wife gets all bent out of shape and complains so much to where Herod has to throw John in prison just to keep him safe.
Now - does any of this sound familiar? Granted, none of us in this room are Kings; we don't get to throw people in jail - but doing stupid stuff, spouses getting offended, whether it's the wife getting offended or the husband getting all huffy, doesn't that sound familiar? Nasty, bitter grudges and feuds? We see the same sort of folly going on in our own town, in our own lives. And at the start of the story - it's sort of calmed down. I mean, things are messed up, but Herod still listens to John - "When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly." So often we have this image of Herod angrily throwing John in the dungeon and letting him languish there - no, Herod's keeping him safe from Herodias' wrath; Herod goes down and listens to John preach. Herod's going to church as it were. Gladly. He's a mixed bag - Herod has a messy, messed up life, just like so many of us here have.
But then, for poor Herod, it really goes south. "But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias' daughter 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 to you.' And he vowed to her, 'Whatever you ask me, I will give it to you, up to half of my kingdom.'" Alright folks - again, we aren't kings - but isn't this a familiar sort of thing? Again, men not thinking with their brains? Getting drunk and doing stupid things. Wanting to be boastful in front of their buddies. Dimes to donuts every single man in this room could share a story where he said to his friends, "hey, watch this" and it was something flat out dumb. Hopefully you mature and put a stop to that. Herod doesn't. He doesn't learn, he doesn't guard himself. Then his niece does a sultry little dance, and all the guests like it, so he decides to be a "big man" and give her something.
"And she went out and said to her mother, 'For what should I ask?' And she said, 'The head of John the Baptist.' And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, 'I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.' And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her." Well, suddenly Herod is caught. Ran his mouth, and it ran him into trouble. His wife tricks him up and traps him - and then, Herod sees all his boys around - he doesn't want to look bad in front of them. And he gives in. Off with John's head. It's sad - it would have been simple enough to say, "Well, I can't give you something illegal, so ask for a pony or something." But no, Herod's wanting to look like a big man, and trouble results.
This actually drives to what we talked about in our Catechism lesson today. The 4th Commandment is not just about listening to mommy and daddy - it's about order in society. Doing things the right way. We are supposed to listen to our father and mother because that's the right order - and mom and dad are supposed to be seeing that the house is run well. It's why we add in "and other authorities" in the meaning - we include the government as well. And here, Herod drops the ball. His job as King is to promote order. It's his job as a husband, even if he shouldn't have married the gal in the first place. Yet he fails, he wimps out, and worse wickedness comes in. He acts dishonorably and cowardly, and John pays for it with his life.
So then. What to make of all this? Well, I will ask to consider your own life. Let's consider the first trap Herod falls into. How often when it comes to making decisions, do you do what you *want* to do instead of what is right? It doesn't matter how good a looker Herodias was, he had no business marrying her. But instead of doing what is right, he does what he wants. And again, this is something each and every single one of us fell into this past week - it might not have been as technicolor bad or bold as Herod and Herodias - but sinning is at it's core putting your own wants and whims above what God has said is good for you. And you know what? Herod was dumb. Did any fellow in here sit and hear that story and think, "man, I wish my wife was like Herodias"? That's the thing; sin, all sin, even the pet sins we enjoy the most, are dumb. And we forget that some times, and we go along with the dumb.
The next big danger we see is Herod's fear of what people will think. When his niece says, "I want John's head" - Herod is in trouble. So what does he do? Does he put a stop to things? Does he say, "Okay, I've messed up, this has gone too far; it's time to stop"? No. He's worried about what people will think. This is one of the greatest dangers to Christian people in the Church. Let's be honest, how many of us in this room are utterly terrified of what people will say? I've never seen a small town where folks didn't gab, I've never been to a church where there hasn't been gossip. And what happens - when we run ourselves into places we shouldn't go, instead of putting a stop to things, instead of getting and asking for help, we get embarrassed, we clam up, we don't do what is right for fear of what folks might say. And things get worse. And we feel like we've got to pretend - how quickly will we put up the mask, and if we hear something about someone else... instead of going to help, up come the defense mechanisms and we pile on - "We'll I never, isn't that horrible" - as though our own family doesn't have stories that are even worse. I just spent a weekend with both my dad's side of the family and my mom's side too, and there's some humdingers around in there. But this is what Sin and Satan and temptation like to do - they like to lead us to bad places, and then isolate us, make us feel alone. Even in that room full of people - Herod felt isolated and trapped. Sin had him right where it wanted him.
So then, how do we handle sin? In this place - how do we deal with sin? First of all, we do not pretend sin doesn't happen. In our communion services, we all stand before God together and say that we are poor miserable sinners, and you know what - I believe you; I believe you when you say that, because I know I am one. Trinity Lutheran is not the place where the best of the best come - it is where sinners come to receive forgiveness - and if you say you have no sin, you deceive yourself, and the truth, that is JESUS CHRIST, who is the way, the truth, and the life, is not in you. Never try to play a holier than thou card in this place - that dog won't hunt. Or today's service - the service of prayer and preaching - it is designed with the intent that we all gather and learn, that we see more and more our own sin and understand our need for a Savior. Never whitewash your sin. Instead, face it, struggle against it; and when you fail, confess it.
Because really, it's not how we deal with sin that counts - it is how God Himself deals with sin. And how does God deal with sin? He crucifies it - He ties it to Christ Jesus and crucifies your sin upon the Cross. Is your sin big - it isn't bigger than Jesus on the Cross - and it is forgiven. How does God deal with sin - there's a reason this font is right here, front and center - What does such baptizing with water indicate - it indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. There, at the font, at your baptism, all your sins were drowned. There, at the font, at your baptism, you were put into Christ so that you live in His righteousness and in His purity. You were put into Christ so that you are never alone and isolated. You are not defined by your actions, by your sins - you are defined by Christ Jesus and His death, His actions which have won you forgiveness for all your sins. Don't let shame or fear drive you to forget that.
Because there was one nugget in the text that we should remember. It looks in this text that sin wins the day. But when Herod had asked about Jesus, what did some people say - "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead." Close - Jesus is not John raised from the dead -- but Jesus is the reason John will be raised from the dead, and He is the reason that you too will be raised from the dead - He is the reason your sin is forgiven, the reason why all your sins may be faced because not a one of them is bigger than Jesus. Herod's folly doesn't win - Christ wins, and Christ's victory is your victory. Dear friends - remember who you are in Christ - a forgiven child of God. Don't act as though your sins are bigger than Him, for He reigns in love for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +