Sermons

"Wait, There Really is Good News Here," The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

"Wait, There Really is Good News Here," The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Jul 15, 2018

Passage:Mark 6:14-29

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Pentecost

Category: Discipleship

Keywords: good news, herod, turn, way of love

Summary:

There is bad news all around us! Today's reading from Mark about Herod beheading John the Baptist seems like just more bad news. But there is really Good News for us! Herod gives into vanity, self-interest, and vanity and kills an innocent man. So, what are we to do with this passage? As part of Bishop Curry's new initiative, "The Way of Love," we are called to practice a rule of life that leads us in the path of Jesus and away from the things that distract us from Christ. Part of this rule of life is to "Turn," turn toward Jesus at every decision in every day. Sometimes we'll be successful and sometimes we won't, but we'll be better and the world will be better each time we do. This is the Way of Love!

Detail:

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

If we look at the news on any given day, there’s no end to the violence, hopelessness, pain, suffering, and injustice.  People inflict pain upon one another, either intentionally or not.  A young man isn’t paying attention as he’s driving and wipes out an entire family.  A man shoots and kills others as he robs a store for money.  A group of men and women beat a 91-year-old man with a brick and tell him to go back to his own country. 

Is there no end to all of this terrible news?!  Day after day!  It’s overwhelming!  It’s sickening!  It’s anxiety-provoking! 

How can we get a break from it?  Where can we go to find some Good News?  I know, let’s go to church this week.  There’s always Good News there.

Then the Deacon begins to proclaim the gospel reading for this week.  We’re waiting for the Good News, after all “gospel” means “Good News.”

But what do we hear?  A story about King Herod killing John the Baptist.  He doesn’t kill John because John has committed a crime.  Herod kills him because Herod gets himself in a situation so deep that he doesn’t know how to get out of it.  He gives into self-interest and vanity.  He misses the chances he has to redeem himself and do what’s right.

It’s a violent story filled with all kinds of immoral behavior.  But, wait...don’t give up yet...we will see the Good News in it...even if it’s hard to find at first reading.

Mark’s story about Herod is filled with action, adventure, and intrigue.  It moves quickly.  It keeps us on the edge of our seats. 

And as the story opens, we find King Herod being told about Jesus and how well-known he’s becoming.  Others speculate that Jesus may be John the Baptizer or Elijah back from the dead.  Herod is sure, though, that this must be John, brought back to life.  This must be John the Baptist that Herod beheaded.

Then Mark takes us into a flashback.  He’s recalling how Herod came to be involved with John the Baptist...how Herod married his brother’s wife...how his wife used her daughter and husband to get revenge.  We see Herod’s mixed feelings about John...and finally Herod’s submission to his own fear of looking weak to others.

What a sad and horrifying story on so many levels!  John the Baptist is only doing the work that God has called him to do.  And he ends up beheaded because of one person’s desire for revenge and another person’s weakness. 

Herod has the power to prevent all of this!  He knows that John the Baptist is a righteous man.  Even if he doesn’t take John’s advice, he knows it’s coming from someone who’s holy.  

And Herod gets more than one chance to the right thing.  He wants to protect John.  So, he makes a feeble attempt at doing what’s right by imprisoning John instead of killing him in the beginning.

Then Herod finds himself even deeper in this dilemma when he makes a promise in front of everyone to give his daughter whatever she asks for.  All of his guests witness this promise.  How can he go back on his word?  Won’t he be a laughingstock?  Won’t people say he’s weak...that his word means nothing? 

So, once again, Herod gives in and chooses evil over good.  He chooses to save his own reputation, his own way of life by sacrificing John.

When we witness this kind of destruction and sin, whether it’s in the Gospel of Mark or in our world today, it’s hard to stay tuned in to the Good News.  It’s hard to stay focused on God’s call to us.  It’s hard to keep following Jesus...to keep doing what’s right...to keep believing that love is stronger than evil. 

After all, where did following God’s call get John the Baptist?  And, for that matter, where did it get Jesus?

Well, if we read closely, our hope comes in the last line of today’s gospel reading.  It says:  “When the disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.”

This is Mark’s signal to us.  He’s not only talking about John, but he’s alluding to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  He’s reminding us that Jesus has already saved the world.  Jesus has already triumphed over death and evil.  In the end, evil does not win.  It doesn’t not win today and it won’t win tomorrow. 

Even when it looks like the world is falling in on us, the love of God triumphs over everything.  It’s our saving grace. 

Of course, this Good News of love overcoming death and evil is wonderful, but why should I follow Jesus?  Why should I give up the comfort of the life I know?  Why should I step out and take these risks? 

Because...following Jesus gives us freedom...the freedom to follow the light...to live without guilt and shame...to live outside of the shadows that darken our world when we follow only our own desires. 

Following Jesus gives us the knowledge and security that we’re loved without condition.  It fills us with unlimited love that we’re free to share with others.  It brings hope to the scary, dark places so that we never have to feel completely alone.  It gives us a community that shares that love with us even when we’re at our most unloveable.  

And when we know this kind of freedom and love, we can choose life in its best moments and in its worst moments.  We can choose life that frees us to be part of something bigger than ourselves...life that leaves a legacy of compassion and mercy...life that can see the good that surrounds us.

Don’t we all long for that kind of life?! It’s not easy to always walk in the way of Jesus.  Sometimes we do it better than at other times.  Sometimes we’re John the Baptist, innocent victims of cruelty and self-interest.  Sometimes we’re Herod, we give in to doing what others want us to do even when we know it’s not right. 

So, how do we grab hold of this liberating, life-giving love of God that Jesus shows us?  The rule of life that Bishop Curry introduced last week gives us some guidance. 

In this rule of life that he calls “The Way of Love,” the first practice is to Turn.  With every decision we make...we should first pause.  This pause may take a moment or two when the path is clear.  And it may take much longer when the way is murky.

Once we pause, we listen.  Listen for God speaking to us.  Listen to our very souls because that’s where God is often revealed.  Listen to what’s happening around us.  We’ll find evidence of God’s message in the sounds of Creation. 

And finally, turn toward JesusDecide to follow Jesus.  Make the conscious decision to follow Jesus.

Think how our days will change if we add this one practice to our lives.  Think about how differently things would’ve been if Herod had only paused, listened, and decided to act on what he knew what good and right. 

If we approach each decision with this practice, not only we will be changed for the better, but the world will be transformed.  And, of course, we’re not always going to be successful in turning to Jesus when we should.  It’s a work in progress.  It takes time to build this skill.  That’s why it’s practice.  So, the more we practice turning toward Jesus, the better we become at it...the more we’ll see what love can do for us and for the rest of the world.

We’ll pause, then take the time to listen to someone else even when we’re preoccupied by our own worries.  We’ll pause, then give someone a hug or hold a hand when they feel lost and lonely.  We’ll pause, then take a meal to someone who’s struggling.  We’ll pause, then we’ll accept the love and help that others are offering us.

This is the Way of Love.  It’s the Gospel, the Good News.  And we don’t have to do it alone.  We have a community of people who love God and one another.  We help each other stay focused on following Jesus.  We help each other resist the distractions that lead us away from Christ.  And we know deep down in the depths of our souls that the love of God always conquers evil and death.  This is the Way of Love. Amen.