Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mark 6:14-29 Children will listen

Stephen Sondheim wrote the great lyrical finale of into the woods with these words…

How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me”

For some odd reason those are the words that first came to me as I walked with this gospel today. I cannot help but wonder what this strange request did to this young girl.  I wonder if she even had a concept of what she asked for?  We do not know for she is not mentioned again. Now Herod on the other hand.

“Mark chose this opportunity, after Jesus sent out his disciples on their first formal mission, to report the death of John the Baptist.  Mark hinted at this political death earlier in the story when John was arrested (1:14) but saved the full report until chapter 6.  Interpreters who choose to think that Jesus' life and mission were disconnected from the socio-political affairs of his first century context must view this account (John's death by Herod) as an aside.  Using intercalation (i.e., the "sandwich" technique) once again, Mark placed this account between the commission and the return of the disciples to intimate its significance for the expansion of Jesus' mission.”[1]

Mark is intentional of putting this message in between the moment Jesus sends out his disciples two by two and before they return. Now this translation is a little weak on just how much Herod enjoyed the company of John.

In Nicholas Kings direct translation it says this about Herod.
“and Herodias had it in for him and wanted to kill him. And she couldn’t, for Herod was afraid of John, knowing him a just man and a saint. And he protected him, and when he was listening to him he was greatly puzzled. And he used to listen to him gladly.”[2]

It is a bit more of a gentler kinder image of Herod. He actually enjoyed being puzzled by John’s teachings and he truly did want to protect him as best he could.

Now Herodias Philips ex-wife and now wife to Herod seems to be the point of contention she is the one who doesn’t like John’s objections to the marriage and plots to be rid of him and sees an opportunity with Herod’s Birthday party. So she gets her daughter to dance for Herod.
Her daughter has become famous for her dance what was her name?... what was the dance??

Well actually we do not know her name is not mentioned except for in some writings where it is the same as her mother’s name.  What kind of dance did she do htat so pleased the king?  We do not know? It might have been a simple little girl trying to impress her daddy. Over the centuries there is more legend than anything substantial around this dance.

 So “What was Herod’s fear all about? He could not have been happy with John’s judgment against his adultery. There is no evidence that Herod repented. Yet we are told that Herod knew John to be righteous and a holy man, and Herod liked to listen to him. Was he like we are sometimes, sensing a hard truth about our lives, uneasy but not ready to accept it? Why risk offending God by harming John; he could be a true prophet after all. Was that it? Or was it also fear, as the ancient historian, Josephus, claimed, that the power of John’s message might stir a rebellion….

Herod was not loved by all. His more zealous enemies considered him a collaborator with Rome. Herod, a small-time ruler, not actually a king, was beholden to Rome and vulnerable at home. As the drama played out, he was vulnerable to his wife as well. Beguiled by his daughter’s …dancing and its effect on his guests, Herod makes a rash promise. Herodias leverages his need to appear resolute in front of his politically important guests to get her wish; John is beheaded. Conflicted within himself about John’s message but surrounded by manifold political and family pressures, Herod does what he knows is terribly wrong. He is deeply grieved.”[3]

Herod is deeply grieved as are Johns followers and, I would imagine, John’s family which is Jesus’ family.  John "a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" (Mark 1:1-3) It John we celebrate as this wild uncontrollable spirit that comes out of the dangerous wild places proclaiming one baptism of repentance and a forgiveness of sins.
John is the one who points past himself, a lesson for all of us preachers and teachers, John proclaims; “The stronger one than me is coming after me, of whom I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. ( Mark 1:8) Jesus is baptized the heavens open, the holy spirit as a dove descends upon him, and a voice is heard saying this is my son in whom I am well pleased. Then Jesus is hurled out into the desert. It is after John has been handed over to Herod that Jesus returns and starts his ministry.

John starts the Jesus story whether it be at the baptism or by a simple stirring in his mother’s womb we have no Jesus without John…I mean we could have, Jesus might have still had a great ministry and message without John and yet John is essential to our story…this is our sacred story…this is our sacred text.

So yes, we grieve the loss of John, but we do not celebrate how he died or even why for that is a bit confusing, but we celebrate the life he lived.  The wild man in the desert telling us to make ready the way for our lord.

Just as much as Herod is part of our sacred text. In the best of storytelling anytime we see or hear Herods name we want to boo or hiss.  Herod is a villain and yet in the circumstances that play out is he a villain or is he trapped by his own circumstances? Remember “Herod makes a rash promise. Herodias leverages his need to appear resolute in front of his politically important guests to get her wish”[4] so is he a patsy or is he some political parable in the midst of all of this?
One commentator point sout that;

“It is tempting to see in Herod a parable that speaks to leadership in government, economic and institutional life in our own time. Persons in positions of power are subjected to powerful pressures that pose a threat to their own security. Personal pride, greed for gain and prestige, and the influence of ambitious intimates can also play a role. Under the sway of these encroaching forces, the courage to serve truth and the common good can flag. The results may not be as gruesome as John’s execution, but the damage can be even more extensive. Even exemplary leaders who are devoted to the welfare of those dependent upon them frequently find themselves mired in a morass of conflicting forces that stymie their best efforts. Certainly there are prophetic voices like John’s today also. Yet, the impact often seems minimal. When wealthy interests can now influence the presidential election by giving anonymously to non-profit “social welfare” organizations, citizens without such economic power might wonder if their needs are being served. Indeed, one could feel a bit like the Baptist’s disciples: nothing left to do but bury the body.”[5]

But we are called to be more resolved and invested in life.  We are called as disciples of christ to stand in the face of such opposition and call it out as what it is..we are called to be the faces of hope beyond hope..

“So why does Mark tell this story: the longest of the Gospel’s anecdotes and its only flashback? Aside from the Golgotha plot and discovery of the empty tomb, this is the only tale in which Jesus never appears. Its villains never reappear. It’s a strange story about John in which the baptizer himself never appears. Even stranger: beneath this story of John is the story of Jesus. The flashback is a flashforward. Mark tips us off in “King Herod heard;for his name had become known. And he said. ‘John the baptizer has risen from the dead, and that’s these reason these miracles are at work in him…. That fellow I decapitated, John-he has risen’”(Mark 6:13-15)[6]

 In this turn of events Herod foreshadows Pilate in the same way that John foretells of Just like Herod, Pilate is amazed by circumstances surrounding an innocent prisoner, swept up in events that fast spin out of his control and unable to back down after being publicly outmaneuvered Like John, Jesus is passive in his final hours and is executed by hideous capital punishment seemingly dying in order to placate those he offends.

As I was wondering how I might tie this into today what we see here is a governor who knows better but is trapped by the politics and expectations around him.

I found one commentator that brought me to tears.  I am going ot share just a part of commentary as he reflects on this gospel and today…

“Connecting to present times

One such story from today’s headlines goes like this:

When he landed in Michigan in late May, all the weary little boy carried was a trash bag stuffed with dirty clothes from his days long trek across Mexico, and two small pieces of paper -- one a stick-figure drawing of his family from Honduras, the other a sketch of his father, who had been arrested and led away after they arrived at the United States border in El Paso…

An American government escort handed over the 5-year-old child, identified on his travel documents as José, to the American woman whose family was entrusted with caring for him. He refused to take her hand. He did not cry. He was silent on the ride “home.” The first few nights, he cried himself to sleep. Then it turned into “just moaning and moaning,” said Janice, his foster mother…

He recently slept through the night for the first time, though he still insists on tucking the family pictures under his pillow …

Since his arrival in Michigan, family members said, a day has not gone by when the boy has failed to ask in Spanish, “When will I see my papa?” They tell him the truth. They do not know. No one knows … José’s father is in detention, and parent and child until this week had not spoken since they were taken into the custody of United States authorities. He refused to shed the clothes he had arrived in, an oversize yellow T-shirt, navy blue sweatpants and a gray fleece pullover likely given to him by the authorities who processed him in Texas.1

I, Cláudio, have a 6-year-old boy and I am an immigrant citizen, foreign and citizen at the same time. I could not read this biblical story of John the Baptist without thinking of stories like José and the loss of his father. To have José separated from his father is like having one’s head cut off. The story told in Mark 6 has no redemption. John the Baptist had his head cut off. That is how hundreds of families are now living, with their heads cut off, parents without children and children without parents.

If John announced the coming of Jesus Christ, these kids and parents announce the horrendous cruelty of the immigration policies of this country. On behalf of these families, we must stand up like John the Baptist, who told the governor of his day: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). Just as Jesus came in the footsteps of John the Baptist, we must show up as Jesus Christ to these families.”[7]

We must show up like Christ…Just as John started a ministry and Jesus came in fulfillment and yet not completion for you see the ministry goes on.  The apostles stepped up, the disciples stepped up and we a re called to step up as Christ to keep the ministry going. We are called ot be Christ to our immigrant brothers and sisters.  We are called to be Christ to our homeless brothers and sisters.  We are called to be Christ to those suffering from illness.  We are called to be Christ to each other any time and all the time. If not us than who?

  We are the United Church of Christ a united and uniting church living to maker this place heaven on earth for all. So I will leave this sermon as I began…

How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn

[2] King, Nicholas. The Bible: A Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.
[5] Ditto
[6] King, Nicholas. The Bible: A Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.

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