“Searching for Good News”

Mark 6:14-29

July 11, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 6:14-29 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=398399510)

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias 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.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

| Centering Prayer |

I went to bed on that Saturday night

Quite confident that morning worship

Was well planned and my sermon is ready to go.

About 2:00 a.m. my pager woke me to a different reality.

A man had been stabbed in front of the church,

Right across the street from where I slept.

I went from sleep to warp speed in zero point one of a nano second.

I was called to put to work years of training, practice, and experience.

It was a futile attempt,

Even though my crew on the ambulance and I

Did everything possible to save the man’s life.

Three hours later,

I was showered.

The paper work was done.

I was back home.

Lying awake in bed I remember thinking to myself,

“Where is the good news?”

Where is Good News to be found?

If you are like me,

The Gospel lesson for today

Probably left you wondering

“Where is good news to be found

In this narrative about King Herod,

Herodias and her daughter, and

The beheading of John the Baptist?”

I mean, Holy cow!

This scene is more like a steamy romance novel that ends in an ISIS death camp.

Any volunteers to clarify the Gospel lesson?

Would anyone like to expand on the beheading of John the Baptist

And pitch an idea of how we can apply the Gospel to our life today?

My guess is that

Most of my colleagues in their pulpits this morning are punting;

Preferring to preach on the Old Testament or Epistle lessons

Instead of tackling sex, partying, and murder.

(Full disclosure.

In 36 years of pastoral ministry,

I also avoided preaching on the beheading of John the Baptist

Ten out of twelve times. I’ve only preached on this passage in 1997 and 2018.)

So, here we go.

It is helpful to step back and take in the larger picture,

The 30,000 foot perspective,

To obtain deeper understanding of the Gospel.

Our narrative follows

Jesus teaching in his hometown synagogue,

In Nazareth.

He was marginalized and scorned by his own family and neighbors. (6:1-6)

Indeed, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house,” Jesus observes. (6:4)

I love how Jesus gives himself just enough cover by using a double negative.

It left his critics scratching their heads trying to think it through.

Jesus leaves Nazareth behind, shaking the dust off his feet.

He teaches in the surrounding countryside.

He sends out his twelve disciples in six pairs,

Instructing them to take nothing for their journey except a staff.

No bread.

No bag.

No money.

Only the clothes on your back.

Stay, Jesus instructed them, with those who welcome you.

If there are those who do not welcome you,

Do as I did back in Nazareth,

Turn around and leave.

Shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. (6:7-11)

The strategy of Jesus was successful

Because his six teams proclaimed repentance and

“cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (6:12-13)

That’s quite a party Jesus throws:

Austerity.

Poverty.

Dependence.

Disciplined behavior.

Faithful attention to God’s will.

Fast forward to today’s Gospel.

Concurrently, while Jesus and his six pairs of disciples are out in the countryside

Living off of God’s grace and the hospitality of the population,

Herod is throwing a different kind of party.

Depart the 30,000 feet perspective

And let’s take a close-up view of what’s going on.

Herod was the proxy king for Rome,

One of many sons of Herod the Great.

You remember him,

The one who slaughtered innocent children in an attempt to kill baby Jesus.

Herod the son wielded great power

So long as he kept the population in check and under control.

He was an impulsive, undiscipline fool Saddled with a lot of power and wealth.

(Not like we haven’t seen this kind of story today)

Sex sells;

Especially if it’s a public figure

Who would delight the crowd with

Public humiliation and a fall from grace.

Herod divorced his wife.

Okay…

He divorced his wife to marry his brother’s wife.

Now we’re talking…

He divorced his wife to marry his brother’s wife because he was apparently infatuated with her daughter…

Bingo! Ding! Ding! Ding!

We’ve got a genuine sexual scandal of the most salacious sort!

John the Baptist,

A righteous and holy man, Mark reports 6:20),

Spoke up and spoke out in blistering criticism 

Of Herod tawdry behavior,

Bringing forth the wrath of Herodias.

What to do? But to have John arrested and innocently held?

(I hope you and I appreciate Freedom of Speech, because Herod didn’t!)

It’s Herod’s birthday.

Pop! Goes the corks, and wine begins to flow.

Unable to control his impulses,

Herod paints himself into a corner.

In this Gospel narrative where neither Jesus or John the Baptist appears,

We experience events spinning out of control.

Herod is unable to back down.

Pay attention to detail:

“What should I ask for?” daughter asks mother.

“The head of John the baptizer.” (6:24)

Daughter inflates the request,

“I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (6:25)

At once!

On a platter!

Hyperbole sells.

Exaggeration emboldens.

Why settle with mere pennies when millions will do?

Presentation is everything!

Pay attention to detail:

“Immediately the king,” (that would be Herod)

“sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head.” (6:27)

Instead of bringing the head as ordered to the king,

The soldier of the guard brings it to the girl

Who then gives it to her mother. (6:28)

Obviously, even the soldier of the guard could read between the lines.

A common soldier could see where guilt lay

In the midst of wanton excess and debauchery.

The contrast between Jesus and his disciples

Living in austerity, preaching and healing in the countryside,

Living on absolutely nothing but the hospitality of the people and the grace of God

Stands in polar opposite

To the banquet Herod is hosting

That spins out of control in a drunken haze

Of adultery, murder, corruption, and greed.

That’s the close-up view.

Where is Good News to be found?

In this Gospel narrative of the beheading of John the Baptist,

There may be none.

Yet, the Gospel begs the faithful,

When considering the contrast of Jesus and Herod,

To ask the question,

What kind of banquet does Jesus host?

What kind of banquet does Jesus host?

Jesus gathers his disciples close

Takes the bread,

Gives thanks to God who gave it,

Breaks the bread,

And gives it to them, saying

“This is my body broken for you for the forgiveness of sin.”

This is the banquet Jesus hosts.

Jesus takes the cup,

Gives thanks to God who gave it,

Pours the cup,

And shares it with them, saying

“This is my blood, the cup of the new covenant, shed for you.”

The new covenant is simply this:

Believe in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life.

This is the banquet Jesus hosts.

More than merely a martyred life,

The banquet Jesus hosts points to

The forgiveness of sins by his death upon a cross

And the salvation of the world by means of his resurrection.

Where is Good News to be found?

About six months later

I was enjoying our weekly breakfast meeting

With area colleagues in ministry

When an elderly woman entered the restaurant.

Carefully navigating with her walker

She made her way over to our table.

“Would any of you, by chance, be Rev. Goddard?”

The table fell quiet.

“O boy,” I thought to myself.

“What am I in for now?”

“The police told me that you worked on my son, the night he was stabbed in front of the church.”

I swallowed hard.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“We all did our very best to save his life.”

“I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” she said.

After a pause she said, “I only have one question,

‘Did he suffer?’”

“No, ma’am. He did not suffer.” I answered her honestly.

“Oh, what a relief!” she said.

She stood up straight, as if the weight of the world had been removed from her shoulders.

“That’s all I needed to know.”

Sometimes we’re so bogged down

In the hand-to-hand combat of daily trials and temptations

We can’t even imagine there is a 30,000 foot perspective

That God has been working on all along.

Redemption is God’s plan.

Forgiveness and salvation are God’s gifts.

That’s Good news.

Good news, indeed. Amen.

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