July 11: The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, July 11, was preached from the below manuscript as a response to Mark 6.14-29.

It’s a tough day for John the Baptizer.
Continuing his role
as ultimate forerunner to Jesus
he has preached,
is imprisoned,
and is killed by the state.
In Mark’s narrative,
we heard last week
that the disciples went out
and proclaimed that all should repent.
Jesus has sent them,
and they cast out many demons,
and anointed with oil many who were sick
and cured them.

Herod hears about
this work that Jesus’ disciples are doing.
Then Mark gives us a flashback.
John the Baptizer
had — to make a tangled family tree simple —
told Herod that his marriage to Herodias
was in violation of Levitical law.
Jesus’ forerunner John
is jailed,
but Herodias hates him.
His jailing is not enough.
When Herod gives a banquet
at which is niece, great-niece, and step daughter
that’s the same person;
that’s the complication of this family tree
is invited to dance.
Mark calls her a little girl
like Jairus’ daughter two weeks ago.
After she dances,
Herod who wants to be king
like his father before him
offers her anything,
up to half his kingdom.
She knows her limitations,
so asks for advice
about what to ask for.
Her mother,
hating John the Baptizer,
hating that this prophet has her husband’s ear,
says to ask for his head.
Ask for a beheading
as thanks for a dance.
Herodias’ daughter
whom tradition calls Salome,
adds the detail
about it being delivered on a platter.

The world has seen
how those like Herod among us
the rulers, the powerful, those isolated from hurt
are and have been willing
to serve the downcast
on platters.
This week has shown us turmoil in Haiti,
Haiti one of the poorest countries
in the Western Hemisphere
and one of the largest dioceses
in The Episcopal Church.
Our forebears
left Haiti to suffer
when they didn’t object
to 100 years of reparations to France
for people demanding
to live free,
govern themselves,
and reject slavery.
As we begin to experience,
a reopening after 17 months
of living with COVID19,
much of the world
is still being ravaged.
Countries that are seen as successful,
partly with a history of success
at hobbling other countries
colonizing them
and destroying their environment
and morale
are thriving.
For the most part,
we’ve been unwilling to share.
We’ve finally gotten around
to planning to share a billion doses.
Our success though,
and our vaccine surplus,
may prove insignificant when compared
to the number of lives lost
with concern for profits being greater.
Many of these places
domestically and internationally
where vaccination rates lag
are places where climate change
is already having devastating effects.
People are buying trips to space
while others homes are flooding
or being destroyed in wild fire
and food shortages
are a daily part of life.
This is the success of progress,
this glitz and glamor
is the success of Herod.

About our passage today,
Lamar Williamson says,
“Success, as the world measures it,
is seen in the court of Herod.
There we find
the chief of state and his advisers,
the military commanders,
the leading people of the country;
they are the ones
who can afford leisure and pleasure;
they can get what they want
when they want it.
John the Baptist,
alone in his cell,
doomed and helpless to save his life,
appears in shocking contrast
to the glitter of the successful people of his time.
Our minds are perpetually and perversely
fascinated by the wealth, power, and intrigue
of Herod’s court;
yet the significance of the text
lies in the death
of that starkly simple prophet
in Herod’s prison.
The Gospel here invites
us to look closely at success …
and then to choose significance
as we follow Jesus on his way.”

John has preached
and been handed up.
His death
is a forerunning to the end
preparing us for Jesus’ death.
We remember John,
the prophet who proclaimed
a gospel of repentance
and prepared the world to hear
Jesus’ message
that God’s reign
is at hand.
We know this part of his story,
and know in other sources
that he strived so much more
for success than significance
that he was exiled to Gaul
after begging so desperately
to take over all of what had been
his father’s kingdom.

Just as John preached and was offered up,
Jesus preached and was handed over,
so too does Jesus ask us to follow:
to preach, knowing that we may be handed over.
We are proclaiming,
along with Jesus
that God’s reign is at hand
with our sock box and pantry
whose installation details
are being worked out.
The sharing those inspire and invite
are following Jesus on his way.
Rather than hoarding our possessions,
we are sharing what we have
and inviting others into that work with us,
with Jesus.
As we are discerning
what to do with the land,
no one has forgotten!
we are primarily following Jesus.
What rang through in your survey responses
is that we care more about
having a significant impact
than having a successful bank account.

As we’re here together,
looking at John and Jesus
who have gone before
Jesus catches us up in his work,
fed and empowered
by the Holy Spirit.
When we share this bread with one another,
the Lamb of God makes us one.
This bread and this cup
make us a people, forgiven, healed, renewed;
ready to proclaim Jesus’ love to the world
and continue in the risen life
of Christ our Savior.

It’s not a good day
for John the baptist,
but it is
in that his significance
is remembered worldwide.
John’s and Jesus’ messages
to repent and believe in the gospel
ring loud in our ears
when we compare
the Herods to the Johns
the Bezoses to the Haitians.
Yet even in our frailness,
God is here
strengthening us and inviting us
to go and share Jesus’ good news
that the Kingdom of God
is at hand.

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