St. Matthew’s Sermon 07-15-2018


Count ALL the Victims

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, Psalm 24, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

As a precursor to today’s message I have to note that, as I went through the Gospel reading, I was stunned by the amount of what I thought I knew was nothing more than a whole lot of conjecture added to the telling of the story by commentators, playwrights, and choreographers. I was further surprised at how many respected scholars of various times have included such artistic liberty in their commentary.

As the story is told by our reading from Mark for today, there was a birthday party for Herod, his wife’s daughter danced for him, he was pleased, he offered her an award; up to a half of his worth, and her mother talked her into asking for the head of John which he reluctantly gave her. That’s basically the bare facts of the brief, 16 verse story.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but do any of you have thoughts of Herod being drunk as is commonly portrayed in a play or movie? Does the name “Salome” come to mind? Do you imagine the dance as being erotically seductive? Do you think of the “Dance of the seven veils”? Yet, none of this comes from the actual text; it is either imagined by the reader or comes from our memories of plays and movies on the subject in which the writer added them for entertainment value. Sadly, the alterations made for the sake of entertainment take our thoughts away from the truths to be found in the text.

One such truth, and the one I will address today, are the losses suffered through victimization when honor, power, and prestige are on the line.

Again, sticking with only the information given in the text, we hear that Herod had mixed feelings toward John. John was condemning him for having married his brother’s wife while his brother was still living. He didn’t like this criticism, and certainly didn’t like the position it put him in with his new wife who also didn’t want to hear about their sinfulness from John. Yet Herod recognized John as a “righteous and holy man” and did like to hear the other things John had to say. So, Herod has John in prison to keep him under control, yet he protects John from Herodias out of fear of what God might do to him should anything happen to John.

John is the forerunner to Jesus. His preaching was very popular with the people which, of course, isn’t looked upon favorably by those in places of power; crowds gathering in large numbers can easily be crowds turning against the standing authority. Yet, nowhere in the story do we hear that causing an uprising was in John’s plan.  Later we find Jesus in much the same situation with those in places of power fearing his popularity and seeking to control his actions.

Of all the characters in the story, Herodias’ status is clearly that of the villain. She left her first husband to marry his brother; she really doesn’t like John for his condemnation of her marriage to Herod; and, unlike Herod, she seems to have no fear of reprisal from God if she manages to fulfill her desire to see John dead.

Philip, only briefly mentioned in the story, might be thought of as a victim also; he did lose his wife to his more powerful brother. But on the other hand, knowing the hateful treachery and cunning of Herodias, that may have been more a blessing than a loss.

And, finally, there’s the daughter of Herodias, the one who danced for her step father and his guests. Now, again, this is where we have to be very careful to not let the images we’ve been predisposed with through artistic liberty overtake the story as it is presented. If we do so here, and imagine the girl’s performance as erotic and seductive, we may see her as an evil perpetrator but the story doesn’t support that. Thinking in modern terms, she could just as well pleased Herod and his guests with a skillful ballet as with any other kind of dance. Thus, she might be seen as not a part of the evil action, but rather, herself, a victim of it.

 

Oh what a tangled web we now see in these few verses; an entanglement of fear of crowds that might threaten our position in life’s hierarchy, fear of God who might strike us down for our sins, even a fear of recognizing our actions as being sinful; an entanglement of the forces of the earthly powers with the power of God; an entanglement of the innocent with those who will use them for their own gain; and an entanglement of manipulation for the sake of having things our way; regardless of the cost to others.

Not all of the characters are perpetrators in this entanglement though some certainly were. But every-one was a victim

 Herod was a perpetrator; he imprisoned John and ultimately ordered his execution. But he was also a victim. Not only a victim in his wife’s treachery but also of his own arrogance, his self centered sense of honor, and his unwillingness to commit himself fully to God. It cost him his soul.

John, of course, was not a perpetrator but he was obviously a victim. Just the perception of being a threat to the standing earthly authority set him in a position to be victimized and his refusal to back down from speaking the truth of God finalized his fate. It cost him his life.

Herodias was the key perpetrator, the one who could not bear to be called out on her sinfulness, the one who couldn’t just let it go, the one who had to maintain her dignity, in her own eyes, at any cost. And she was a victim of her own hatefulness in the self-loathing that drove her to committing the additional evil act of murder rather than face the fact that she was, indeed, evil. It cost her, her soul.

Philip was not a perpetrator, he didn’t really have a part in the story at all except that he was Herodias’ former husband. Yet he was a victim of her willingness to leave him for his more prominent brother. At the very least it cost him his marriage and his dignity.

And there is the daughter. She wasn’t a perpetrator; she did no more than please her stepfather at his birthday party. But oh was she a victim; a victim of her own mother’s scheming; pulled into giving up a fortune to fulfill her mother’s evil plot, sucked into being a part of a hideous plan to silence, once-and-for-all, the truth of the word of God. Besides the loss of her award for her dance, God only knows what it cost her.

 

There is yet one more victim to be mentioned in this story. It’s one that is central to the word of God throughout time, one that is most prominent in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and one that is still suffering horribly in our time. When honor, power, and prestige are on the line and the web of evil intentions is woven, it is justice that becomes the ultimate victim.

In the story we can see that there are perpetrators; and we can see that all are victims of their own injustice or that of others. In our world today we don’t have to look very hard to see the story being retold over and over again; reenacted by people seeking to gain or maintain honor, power, and prestige while heartlessly disregarding the cost to others. It can all be so disheartening.

But-there-is-hope! Hope can be found in today’s reading; for, although John lost his life, his voice was never silenced. Likewise, when Christ was crucified his voice was not silenced; in fact it spoke even louder; ringing through the ages to this very day.

Our hope, then, is found in the knowledge that the voice of the righteous and holy will not be silenced; that the cries for justice will not be silenced; that God will not be silenced; as long as we are not silent!

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Amen

 

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
6:2 David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.
6:3 They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart
6:4 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark.
6:5 David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
6:12b So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing;
6:13 and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.
6:14 David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.
6:15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
6:16 As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.
6:17 They brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the LORD.
6:18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts,
6:19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

Psalm 24
24:1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
24:2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
24:3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
24:4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
24:5 They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
24:6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
24:7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
24:8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.
24:9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
24:10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah

 

Ephesians 1:3-14
1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
1:4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
1:5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,
1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
1:8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight
1:9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,
1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,
1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;
1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Mark 6:14-29
6:14 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.”
6:15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”
6:16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
6:17 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.
6:18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
6:19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not,
6:20 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.
6:21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.
6:22 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.”
6:23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”
6:24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”
6:25 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.”
6:26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.
6:27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison,
6:28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.
6:29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.