Here is our worship service for July 11, 2021, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost! Our worship bulletin can be found here. Normally, I say that the bulletin is optional, but I was having some issues with the sound this week and so it might be extra helpful to have a copy of the bulletin handy, just in case you have trouble understanding some portions. As always, the bulletin will have the full order of worship, the hymn and page numbers corresponding with the ELW hymnal, and mostly importantly and helpful in this case, all the words of the liturgy and the full sermon. The sermon is also posted below the video for easy reading.
And if you’d like a fuller at-home worship service, you can have some elements in your space. You can have a bowl of water for the Thanksgiving of Baptism, something small to eat and drink for communion, and a lit candle for the whole service that can be extinguished during the sending hymn. These are optional of course, please only prepare what you are comfortable with.
May God’s shining light illumine your hearts and souls with God’s steadfast love!
Loving God, you Word leads us into peace. Send your Spirit to dwell among us that we might live in love and community with you and all the saints, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
I’m going to be honest with you, what on earth is up with this story out of our gospel lesson today? It’s like those horror movies that just end without any kind of resolution because the monster of the story somehow didn’t actually die like everyone thought but is just hiding in the closet or something ready to strike again. It’s like those overly dramatic soap operas that are so popular now, with all these crazy plot twists that don’t seem to make any sense whatsoever and are just added for the shock value alone. It’s like a bad sermon that just shouts out gloom and doom and leaves you without any good news or ironically gospel at all.
And here I am giving a sermon on it.
So you can imagine that this isn’t easy. I mean given that this text is disgusting, sickening, and absolutely outrageous, it’s hard to figure out exactly where we can draw good news from it all. Looking at what Herod and his relatively new wife Herodias does here to John the baptizer, in beheading him just because Herodias has a bone to pick, really makes it hard to understand why this story made it into our lectionary at all. Judging by how Jesus doesn’t even really show up in the whole passage really makes it darn near impossible to figure out just where we can see God in the midst of this injustice.
I mean John is a beloved character in our bible stories and he wasn’t doing anything wrong but preaching what he believed to be true. Which in this case, was telling Herod that he shouldn’t marry his dead brother’s wife, which Herod did. And John was thrown into prison for that. But that wasn’t good enough for Herodias, for as soon as she had a chance, she wanted John shut up for good. Thankfully for her, her daughter was a really good dancer, although I shudder at the thought of what kind of dance this possibly under-aged woman had to do in front of the king and his guests that the king would be so pleased that he’d promise her anything up to half his kingdom. So Herodias jumps on that opportunity and asks for John’s head on a platter, to be served up as the final course of this deranged birthday party meal. See what I mean? Disgusting.
But then, is it really that bad? I mean, even though Herod learned to respect John as a prophet, he did what he had no choice but to do, as he made that promise to his step daughter in front of all his guests. He can’t look weak in front of them or as a political leader that would be an open invitation for his enemies to attack. He did it for the best of society and to protect the greater good. Makes sense, right?
Don’t buy it? Well, let’s not forget that John was in prison for whatever reason and that makes him a criminal, so John probably had it coming. I mean the officials of the day labelled him as such and they must have had a reason to do so, so that really should be all the justification we need for capital punishment. Herod was doing society a favour by getting rid of this menace to society, right?
Still not a good enough reason? Well, I’m sure John probably had some drugs on him, given his spotty past. Or maybe he was wearing something too suggestive and so he was just asking for his head to be cut off. Or he was likely resisting arrest, so if he would just comply then maybe he wouldn’t have died.
I hope you see where I’m going with this now.
The fact of the matter is, there are a million and one different ways to spin this to make John at fault here. There are countless ways to justify Herod’s actions. There are limitless excuses we can make for the privileged to continue to trample all over the non, so they won’t have to face any consequences of their evil at all.
I know, it sounds kind of ridiculous when applied to this particular story, but why doesn’t it sound ridiculous when applied to our current stories? Why doesn’t it grind our gears when we hear of the finger-pointing, the victim-blaming, and the whatever-you-want-shaming that happens in our modern times? Why doesn’t it bother us as a society in general that justice only seems to be justice when the select few in power benefit from it? I mean according to society now, the rhetoric is to forget the marginalized, disregard the outcast, screw the minorities. Let’s just let those in power continue to determine how the scales of power can stay tipped in their own favour.
The sad part about that is that this is what we wanted. This is what we voted for, this is what we defend, this is the mentality that we teach our kids. If that weren’t true, then we wouldn’t be defined by our jobs, education, and pay scales. We wouldn’t be judged by our houses, the cars we drive, or the clothes we wear. We wouldn’t be seen as only a colour falling in the artificial hierarchy of melanin importance. The world wouldn’t be in this mess that we are in now.
And maybe that is the good news of this passage. Not in the story itself, but as a warning that this evil of Herodias, this passiveness of Herod, this complicity of the guests, is how the world that we want will continue to be. The power, the prestige, the pretension of the world drives all people into this selfish and self centered frenzy. And this passage as a warning is contrasted with the actions of John’s disciples.
In that, all they did was take his body and give it a proper burial. They just mourned the loss of their mentor. They didn’t retaliate against violence with violence or pay injustice for injustice, but they continued John’s message of repentance and kept the ministry alive.
See, just as there are no excuses for Herod to have done what he did, or Herodias to take advantage of the situation as she did, or even the guests to stand idly by and not speak out to the injustice of it all, there are no excuses for the evils of this time, the attempted genocide of the Indigenous people, the inequality among the sexes, classes, and ethnic groups, and the severe greed and supremacy held by the self-proclaimed elite. But the craziest thing isn’t that this kind of stuff still happens, no the craziest thing is that while we know there aren’t excuses, we continue to believe the ones that are given. So we might turn a blind eye to the racism. We might ignore the suffering of those deemed “beneath” us. We might justify the injustice.
But in the light of it all, God reminds us that there is a different way. A different and new way of living. A more compassionate and peaceful path for community. An alternative to the ruthless rat race of the world. And we see it in the story that comes right after this episode in our bibles. There is another feast that contrasts this one. Instead of a gathering of only the rich and prestigious, this gathering welcomed all people of all walks. Instead of a meal of only the finest foods, this meal was simple and probably uncooked, but available for all who wanted to partake. Instead of a hate-fuelled murder, there was sharing, caring, and love. The meal after this one was the feeding of the 5,000 as we have in Mark, and there we have Jesus providing for all with an act of grace and mercy. We see Jesus watching out for the needs of others and acting out of compassion and generosity. We have a large group of strangers eating together, fellowshipping, and communing. And this meal of course alludes to the Eucharist feast that we are all invited to partake, welcomed into community, and loved into God’s justice for all.
You see, this is the kingdom of God. A kingdom we don’t often work for but we are always welcome to. A kingdom that we don’t always want but is always freely offered and given. A kingdom that we might choose to ignore but always remains inviting, forgiving, and full of the Spirit of blessing and truth, reminding each and every one of us of our worth as God’s beloved children.
And as we enter this kingdom, we are called to act with charitable justice, recognising the evil in the world and counteracting it with gracious community and compassionate mercy, that all might be able to join in on God’s generous communion with God and all the saints, faithfully living in this new way of life forever.
So as we continue in this season after Pentecost, may we see God in the hard to see corners of life, that we be reminded of the truth and justice of the Spirit flowing in and through us even when we don’t recognise it. Thanks be to God. Amen.