Lectionary blog for July 15, 2012, the seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
Figuring out what led up to the events in today’s gospel lesson is like trying to follow the story line of a soap opera. It can get a little confusing.
King Herod here is not the same King Herod who was around when Jesus was born. That was his daddy, Herod the Great. This is Herod Antipas.
He was, by all accounts, not much of a man or a ruler. And this royal family’s bedding and marrying habits were unconventional and messy to say the least. It really was a soap opera.
Herod Antipas had married his brother’s wife. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except that his brother was still living and Herod forced him to divorce Herodias so he could marry her.
And the daughter who does the dancing? Jewish historian Josephus tells us her name was Salome. She was Herod’s niece and his wife’s daughter and she ended up marrying his brother, her uncle!
Into the midst of this came John the Baptist. He surveyed the whole mess and called Herod out on issues of morality and leadership. He pointed out to Herod where he had failed to be a good leader to the people, both politically and in his personal life.
Herod’s reaction is interesting. On the one hand, he has John arrested and put in jail, but on the other, he protects John from his wife’s revenge. She is really angry and wants John dead, but, for now, Herod is more afraid of John than he is of his wife.
As the text says,” … 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” (Mark 6:20).
What if he is Elijah? What if Herod does need to repent? What if God is displeased with the way Herod is leading his life?
Herod is a perplexed seeker, a dabbler in the mysteries of God. He believes just enough to keep him awake at night but not enough to change his way of living.
All too often, we too are like Herod. We keep holy things hidden away in the basement of our lives. We are not willing to throw them out, but we are not really sure what to do with them. We live our lives without paying much attention to the holy, to the call of God on our lives, because we are perplexed as to how taking that stuff seriously might challenge us to be different.
And truth be told, most of us are happy with the way we are and don’t want to change; if we really wanted to, we would.
Look at Amos and King Jeroboam in our first lesson. Amos spoke the truth and nobody wanted to hear it. So the priest told Amos to go way, and then, in verse 13 said this, “never again prophecy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the temple of the kingdom.”
We all have to be careful on this point; it is God’s house, it is God’s sanctuary, it is God’s temple, it is God’s church. It’s not our church, it’s not the pastor’s church, it’s not the bishop’s church, it’s not the ELCA’s church; it is God’s church.
When pastors are ordained and then later when they are installed in various ministries, they are asked to promise to preach and teach according to the Scriptures and the theological tradition of the church. And the congregation is asked to hold them to that promise and to question them when it’s not clear they’re doing that.
But we are also to remember it is not the preacher’s calling to “tickle our ears” with pleasant things we want to hear; it is her calling to rightly divide the word of truth and challenge us to grow in our faith and godly actions.
Ellenita Zimmerman was a missionary in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan and then the long-time organist, choir director and church worker at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Nashville, Tenn. Her son Ted is professor of New Testament at the Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong. Ellenita and I worked together for several years and she told me often that her definition of the gospel was this: “God loves you just the way you are. And God loves you too much to let you stay that way.”
Both the Bible and the preacher have been sent to us from God to constantly remind us of those two basic truths. And like Herod and Jeroboam, we often doubt God’s love and resist being changed.
And the good news is God will not give up on us. God will continue to send messengers of love into our midst to perplex us, challenge us and ultimately transform us into the image of Christ.
Amen and amen.
- Who has been God’s messenger in your life?
- How do you keep “holy things” hidden?
Delmer Chilton is an assistant to the bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA, with responsibility for eastern and central Tennessee, northern Alabama and northern Georgia. Ordained in 1977, he has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.