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.
Today’s text is sandwiched between Jesus’ homecoming and Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the massive crowd with two fish and five loaves. As I was reading our text, the story of John the Baptists death, I could not help to feel as if this story was out of place. We have Jesus with no honor, John the Baptists death, & the world’s largest picnic.
I thought about what I could say to you about this story. I pondered all of the times I asked for the head of others or made unsound commitments. If I had a nickel for every time I made an unsound commitment or asked for the head of others I could take us all out for lunch for the rest of the year.
What kind of brokenness, hurt, or fear are we holding on to now?
My mind drifted and I began to think about how God redeems us in the wake of our not so good moments. I thought about all the good that has come about, in spite of what we do or do not do. God hardens the hearts of some. God stirs the hearts of others. God awakens, moves, and authors all of creation. Then I read this story again, Herod did not have to kill John.
Herod had the ability to say no, when asked for John’s head. Herod could have been prophetic and spoke truth to the matter. He could have denied the request for John’s head and set him free.
I got to thinking about how we embrace the idea of freewill and predestination. How does our understanding of freewill and predestination impact who or what we hold up as Jesus the Christ?
Free will is the idea that we are agents free from constraint that may accept or reject the notion of God. This means that we are not bound by God. Can we not choose God?
Predestination is the idea that we are agents constrained by Gods predetermined course of action. There may be limited choice but it cannot exceed the determined limits of God. This means we are bound to God. Who does God chose?
These concepts are what maintain the fabric of the reformed faith. Free Will and Predestination are building blocks of faith to which Confessions, Creeds, and Theological Statements are built upon. To be “Reformed” hinges on ones relationship to these concepts.
To be honest, I am not entirely comfortable with either of them. I wonder if free will and predestination can coexist with each other, are they sips from the same cup. One could argue for and against these ideas with equal force. It is arguments like this that get the church to where it is now…
In a recent Gallup Poll it has been revealed that only 44% of Americans have confidence in the church. This is an all time low. Just 39 years ago 66% of Americans held confidence in the church. I am not surprised. How many of us hold confidence in the church?
We can look back at the sex scandals and financial improprieties that plagued the church and stop there. Sure, it was the Catholic Church that did what it did and it was the Evangelicals that have a national problem with money. Sex and money are tough things to engage with a clear head. Temptation does not need much to get a hold of you with sex or money.
I believe that if it was just sex and money that messed with the church we would be ok. After all, we are human. I believe our problem, as the church is the same as Herod’s here, shame and honor. Better know as pride.
Herod had a choice. Herod did not have to kill John the Baptist. What if Herod had stood up to the unjust call for John’s head and released John. His disciples would have picked him up and his ministry would have continued on. Herod would have suffered a public shame. His pride would have been inflamed and his reputation would have suffered.
Jesus was in a low point in his ministry. He just got worked over at home. He sent his disciples out and they were experiencing success, but Jesus, he was in a rough way. What if John the Baptist had not been killed then would his ministry have drowned out Jesus’ own ministry? Could the one that prepared the way for the Lord exceed the Lord?
I know this sounds heretical. I am not suggesting that Jesus was not anointed. I do wonder if we have forgotten that we are anointed as well. Jesus, the fully human, fully divine, child of God arrived in the flesh to conquer death and reconcile creation. This was not an overnight mission. This was not a 30-year mission. Children of God we are in the midst of that 2,000 plus year mission. Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Anointed One, is still present in the Holy Spirit working to reconcile ALL of creation.
We are the agents of reconciliation. We are the hands, the feet, the hearts, the minds, and the voice of reconciliation in the world. Yet, we are not the source of reconciliation. This is our error; we have acted in a prideful manner.
Homelessness, disease, war, and poverty still collide with the justice-filled vision of the Kingdom of God. Are we as followers of Christ different than the 66% of Americans that find no confidence in the church?
We all make choices. Those choices do not stand on their own isolated from others. The choices we make engage and affect the world around us. We face decisions like Herod’s on a daily basis.
Poor Herod. He could have chose differently. Herod is like Pilot. Pilot could have chose differently as well. Jesus’ death could have been prevented. If we had chosen different, our injustice, our sin may not have demanded that the Anointed child of Jesus be delivered unto us and suffer for our reconciliation.
When Jesus did arrive to guide us to the Kingdom of God, we focused on his humanity and the hope that he might throw open the earthly gates and we may enjoy the spoils of war as victors. Jesus own flesh was impeding the Kingdom work that needed to happen. [Unpack this] Jesus could not guide us to the Promised Land. We focused upon the land and God wanted us to focus on the Promise. The Promised Land is no land at all but a fight for your mind. The Promised Land is the real estate in your mind.
Even Holy Things can become barriers to God. Has the church become a barrier to our relationship with God? In other polls regarding faith and God, I have seen numbers that reflect the idea that while the church is seen in an unfavorable light, God is still as popular as ever. God is not constrained by choice, free will, predestination, or reality. God is beyond any and all of this. Do we have a list of God is or God is not running through our hearts and minds? What box do we put God in to? God is beyond all that we can imagine. Have we limited God? Have we focused upon the church at the expense of God?
Is it a bad thing to lose confidence in the church? I believe that when we lose confidence in the humanity of Christ, the divinity of Jesus shows up and amazes us all.