The Gospel: Mark 6:14-29
King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, 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.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: To begin this morning I am going to ask you to look at the screens or at the Announcement Folder and take a moment to review the Christ Church Mission Statement.
The line I would like us to focus on is the one right in the center of the Mission Statement:
Christ Church is a praying family of God seeking to walk in Jesus' love as the Bible guides and the Spirit leads "as the Bible guides"
That is an interesting phrase isn't it? To me, it implies that the community of Christ Church holds that there is something distinct and specific about how the Bible can guide us in our lives. It implies that we see and understand the Bible to be the central text for Christ Church as a community.
The creators of the Mission Statement could have added other texts and other schools of thought into the mix of what they understood the community of Christ Church to stand for. But they made the Bible the central source and text.
Now, this Mission Statement was developed some time back. So does it still reflect the life and community of Christ Church?
When the Five Year Vision committee met they took some time to consider whether or not they felt that we needed to update or modify the Mission Statement.
At that time they were considering what would be included in the Vision Statement. As the committee talked they realized that the Vision Statement needed to reflect a practical application of the Mission Statement. So the question was raised did we still hold the Mission Statement to accurately reflect the community of Christ Church?
After some time of discussion, review, and reflection, they decided that the Mission Statement was a solid representation of how the community of Christ Church saw itself. The members of the committee came from a broad cross-section of the Christ Church community and they resolved to keep the Mission Statement as it was created.
So, that brings us to the question how does the Bible guide and direct our lives?
In the world that we live in, there is no end to the manifold ways that people and indeed Christians understand the Bible.
Some would say it is the inerrant word of God to his people. These folks would want us to hold tight to the "Word of God" as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Some others would say it is a compendium of thoughts and ideas, which have been brought down through the ages, which have been affected and influenced by society, translations, and translators. These folks would say we need to honor the Scriptures but to acknowledge the not so Godly influences which have been brought to bear on the text.
There is a vast number of differing views that would fall somewhere between those two extreme views.
The reading from The Gospel of Mark is a wonderful example of the "difficulty" or "challenge" that some of us have with reading the Bible and seeking its guidance in our lives.
This is truly a gruesome story. It is a story filled with broken family relationships, power-brokering, the evil of the characters who make promises and have to live with the consequences of their actions. It is a story where obviously there is a lot of sexual tension and innuendo. In the end, it is a story which seems to promote the triumph of evil over the redemptive and restorative power of God in the world.
John the Baptist ends up being a pawn in the political palace intrigues of Herod. His life, which had such a powerful influence on the society at the time, which included the high spiritual point of the Baptism of Jesus, is snuffed out in a petty, childish, and ultimately pointless act by a ruler who is trapped by his own desires and John pays the price for that. Herod is the classic example of the sinfulness of humankind. I don't know about you but I don't want to see myself in the depiction of human traits gone wrong as we see them in Herod in this story. I find it hard sometimes to reconcile that with what I understand to be at the heart of God's desire to redeem humankind by sending Jesus. How do we read the Bible and seek to have it guide our lives when it contains stories like this one?
Then there are times when we look at the Old Testament. We question how with its recounting of the bloodshed and the imprisonment and subjugation of people how we can reconcile this with our view and understanding of God as a loving benevolent father of all humankind?
One way that people have attempted to do that is by looking at the Bible and eliminating the parts that disturb or upset them. As I was reading and researching for my Sermon message for today I came across a fascinating part of American History that I had not really been familiar with before. Now, I tried as hard as I could to find credible sources for this information. Perhaps this is one of those examples of how you shouldn't believe everything that you read, especially on the internet. I did however come across enough information to give me a sense of the credence of this story. Apparently, Thomas Jefferson was disturbed by some of the stories that he came across in the New Testament. Apparently, he created a Bible - for his own personal use and study. From what I read Jefferson believed that a person's faith or spiritual walk was just that - personal. From what I understand he did not expect this book to be used or distributed in a public way. It was for his own personal study and reflection.
But what he did was take out all the parts of the story related to Jesus that had anything to do with the miraculous.
One source I read put it this way: "This Bible was focused only on Jesus, but none of his mystical works. It didn’t include major scenes like the resurrection or ascension to heaven, or miracles like turning water into wine or walking on water. Instead, Jefferson’s Bible focused on Jesus as a man of morals, a teacher whose truths were expressed without the help of miracles or the supernatural powers of God." Now, that is one way to read the Bible.
We begin the process of eliminating anything in the Scriptures which we don't understand. Or we might decide to ignore or eliminate any parts of Scripture that might cause us distress or which we might, with our modern sensibilities, be offended by.
I have met folks who would like to read a Bible without any of the writings, stories, or events which can be attributed to the life of Paul. One statistic that I read said that would mean we would have to eliminate 28 percent of the New Testament.
So, how do we approach the Scriptures? How do we read the Bible? One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in Seminary was to read "the whole Bible."
That is a daunting task. The Bible is a complicated and at times stupefying book.
There are study methods or tools that have been created to help get through the whole book like the One Year Bible. But even that can be at times a challenge. You could also look online for a method to read the whole Bible.
If you follow the Daily Office - Morning and Evening Prayer - you can read the whole Bible as part of your devotional life.
But, I have to say, that reading the whole Bible is not the end result you are looking for necessarily. I want to suggest that, what we are seeking is, to be able to understand the nature and the character of God from reading the whole Bible.
As I said earlier, often, people get caught by what they regard as the inconsistency of God. I would like to suggest that they possibly get hung up on how they see God, or how they desire God to be. Sometimes God's character and nature need to be examined in the long view. How does what we read in one Old Testament book relate to what God said in another place and time?
Are we willing to accept that God does get angry, that God does sometimes become impatient? Are we willing to accept that we have to dig into the overall story of what is happening rather than accepting what we read on a surface level? Are we willing to look for more than what seems to be right in front of us in a particular account or story?
The story from the Gospel of Mark this morning is a gruesome account. But it does highlight the need that existed, in that time, and exists in our time as well, for some way, something, or for someone to break us free from the worst of ourselves or those around us.
As we read we should be looking to discover the loving, kind, and gentle embodiment of God's love. We should be looking to discover God's desire to be in relationship with us.
As we read we should be looking to seek how The Bible can and should guide our lives.