I actually missed a week preaching the Year of Mark, because my family and I were on vacation. I had a supply preacher come in and he continued with the series – I actually felt kind of bad, because of all Sundays to be off and have someone else come in to preach, it was the hemorrhaging woman story! Oh well – rumor has it, the sermon was excellent! And there have been some doozies to preach since then (divorce anyone?) that I’m glad I was able to take the pulpit on.
Here is the sermon I preached 24 hours after getting home with a toddler who picked up hand foot and mouth in Disney (#momlifebelike).
Rehoboth Congregational Church
October 20, 2018
Why The Work We Do Is So Important
Okay, guys – remember a few weeks ago when I commented on the unfortunate timing of the story of the demonic pigs drowning on the same Sunday of Charlotte’s baptism where we likely had some of her family in worship visiting for the special occasion?
Well here we go again! I would like to extend a heartfelt welcome to the friends and family of Hunter Fernandes and apologize that we beheaded John the Baptism on his special day.
You see, we are doing something really fun here at RCC. We are spending an entire year preaching through the Gospel of Mark, from start to finish.
I know, I know. I have kind of a nerdy idea of what defines “fun.”
It’s fun because we are re-familiarizing ourselves with the stories of Jesus that we learned as children (or, in the case of some, hearing them for the first time!). It is also fun, because, by reading them chronologically, we can understand the context of these stories in a more complete way.
Like I explained with the demonic pigs, the unfortunate part of the whole thing is that we do not really get to choose what we preach and when – hence this morning’s beheading.
Although the Weaver and Keck family just spent a week at Disney and my dad suggested I open this morning with a joke about John the Baptist showing up without his head in the ride car of the Haunted Mansion.
I am not going to make that joke.
But I am going to go back to one of my original comments about the Year of Mark being fun because we are able to understand the context of these stories in a more complete way by reading them chronologically. Because that is what really struck me in this morning’s scripture.
Last week you all wrapped up a series of healing stories with the hemorrhaging woman who touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed. Jesus set off traveling again, this time to his hometown. And, unfortunately for Jesus, Bon Jovi was wrong and sometimes you can’t go home again, because the scripture says that people in his hometown, including his own family, “took offense at [Jesus]” and, “he could do no deed of power there.”
But Jesus kept going; and now he decided it was time for the disciples to start putting some of the lessons they were learning into action; he commissioned them, sending them out two by two to cast out demons, anoint the sick with oil and cure people.
And now we arrive at the narrative of the beheading of John the Baptist, which, in and of itself is confusing, because of the way it is translated in the NRSV. So let’s first make sense of that.
Herodias was a woman; she was the wife of King Herod’s brother; King Herod also married her. John the Baptist told King Herod that it was not lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife and Herodias got mad and held a grudge against John. Herodias wanted to kill him, but she couldn’t because Herod held so much reverence for John, knowing he was a righteous and holy man.
Fast forward a couple of years; Herod was hosting a banquet for his birthday and his daughter came in and danced for everybody. This is where it gets a little bit confusing, because the NRSV says in verse 22, “When his daughter Herodias came in and danced.” The problem with this translation makes it seem like either a) Herod’s wife and daughter have the same name or b) his wife is actually his daughter, which makes no sense. But this is probably the case of a bad translation; some scholars actually translate the Greek to say, “the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced.” So the girl dancing here is the daughter of Herod and Herodias. And even though it’s not written in this text, her name was actually Salome.
So Salome danced and Herod was so happy that he told his daughter she could have anything she wanted. Salome asked her mom, Herodias, what she should ask for and Herodias said she should ask for John’s head.
And we know how the story ends.
I am not sure I want to try to make sense of the beheading of John, because the only conclusion I have drawn is that while even though 2,000 years later there aren’t a whole lot of beheadings going on in our own culture, people are still people and we do find ways to hurt one another. But, again, I want to go back to the timing of it all – because this story appeared in the Gospel of Mark immediately after Jesus returned to his hometown and his authority was called into question and he then sent his disciples out to do their own ministry.
Jesus sent his disciples out to do the important work that is spreading the Gospel and, let’s be honest, it’s a good thing he did because the “stuff” started to hit the fan soon after. I do not think it is a coincidence that the beheading of John came right after Jesus commissioned his disciples because it reminds us, as readers, why Jesus called his disciples to do ministry in the first place.
We live in an imperfect world; a world where bad things happen – sometimes we are in control of these things, but very often we have absolutely no control over them.
But that is why the work that we, as Christians, do, is so important. That is why it is so important to respond to God’s call to serve and then to actually go out into the world to proclaim the Gospel and to live it out, like the disciples did. That is why it is so important to bear witness to God’s presence in this world and believe it to be true, instead of rejecting it and not believing it to be true, like the people in Jesus’ hometown did.
John the Baptist – the man who baptized Jesus, himself, who proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins – was killed right after Jesus sent his disciples out to proclaim to all people that they should repent. This reminds us that sometimes the world is pushing back against the very message we are trying to proclaim. Sometimes when we try to proclaim a message of peace, all we see is war. When we proclaim a message of love, all we see is hate. When we proclaim of message of hope, all we see is despair. When we proclaim a message of healing, all we see is sickness. When we proclaim a message of light, all we see is darkness. When we proclaim a message of faith, all we see is fear.
That just means we have to proclaim it that much louder.
Grace is real, my friends. It is oftentimes messy and imperfect and very human, but it is real. I believe that we are not only called to believe that God’s presence is real in this world, but also to proclaim that truth to the world so that others will believe, as well.
Because we don’t always know what the future will bring. But we can face whatever the future holds together. We can serve God and transform our community. We can proclaim the Gospel and push back against everything and everyone that is trying to reject it. We can make a difference in this world. We can change people’s lives.
So let us, like the disciples, go out and do the work that Christ calls us to do.
Thanks be to God!