Act of Worship at Home
Reading Mark 6: 14-29
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 the daughter of 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.
King Herod was a prime example of the foolishness and the danger of backing yourself into a corner. He was the very wealthy king of the Jews and he was very much a puppet king kept in place by the Romans with whom he had an uneasy alliance. He greatly enjoyed the lavish lifestyle of his masters with huge and opulent palaces where he would hold lavish banquets. Herod decided to throw a magnificent party to celebrate his birthday. Anyone who was anyone was there. Tables groaned under the weight of food, wine flowed freely, and Herod, along with his guests, was probably very drunk.
Herod’s step-daughter was entertaining everyone with her dancing, and in an extravagant gesture Herod offered her anything she wanted. No gift would be beyond Herod’s means. But the girl ran to her mother, Herodias, “What shall I ask him for?” Herodias, immediately told her to ask for the execution of John the Baptist. And rather than risking Herod wriggling out of his promise a day or two later when the witnesses had gone home, she told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist to be presented on a plate at the feast.
It’s a gruesome story. Herodias wanted John dead because, in the time-honoured tradition of the prophets, John had publicly denounced both her and Herod. She had been married to Herod’s brother Philip, and John had accused Herod of committing adultery with his brother’s wife. And so Herod had John thrown into prison. But even so we’re led to believe there might have been some remaining particle of decency in Herod, because when Salome made her request for John’s head, Herod was “deeply grieved”. He had often talked with John and was clearly intrigued by him, and Herod was also a little afraid of John, of this wild prophet who was not afraid of anyone but said exactly what he thought even to Herod. But for Herod none of those considerations were as powerful as the thought of losing face in front of his friends, and so John’s execution went ahead.
But still Herod’s conscience troubled him, and after John’s beheading, when he heard about Jesus, Herod was frightened that this new prophet was John the Baptist come back to haunt him. Jesus was also somebody who had strong feelings and who acted upon them, but the contrast between Jesus and Herod couldn’t be greater. Jesus always acted from his integrity and never from what other people might think.
And Jesus was open-minded enough even to change his mind on occasion.
Strong feelings can be good, but only if they’re based on integrity, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between integrity and the fear of losing face. If we’re to follow Jesus and the guiding of the Holy Spirit, then anyone who has strong feelings on either side of any debate must listen to reasoned arguments and be open-minded enough to change their mind if need be. Because actually you know that’s just about the only way we’ll be able to hear God’s voice.
Time of Prayer
Loving God, in the day-to-day business of our daily lives: when the computer crashes; when the baby won’t stop demanding; when we’re waiting anxiously for exam results; when we’re struggling to get about – in whatever is frustrating, irritating or just hard, help us to find your purpose and live in it.
Loving God, in the unexpected and the planned for joys of life: when we have a fun and relaxing break;
when we’re cheered by the sight of a rainbow arching the sky; when we’re out with friends enjoying a meal; when someone remembers our birthday
– in whatever is good, fun or comforting, help us to find your purpose and live in it.
Loving God, as we try to make sense of the world: with the news full of unhappiness; where poverty hurts so many lives; where being famous seems to be the biggest virtue; where hatred is given space to thrive
– in standing against whatever is oppressive, dehumanising or just wrong, help us to find your purpose and live in it.
Loving God, as we try our best to live in relationship with others: in the laughter and the tension of family life; in the lonely and desperate times; in the anger and the arguments; in the times we’re misunderstood; in whatever is painful, healing or mundane, help us to find your purpose and live in it.
Loving God, as we grapple with understanding some of the mystery that is you: in the times we’re sure about everything; when we’re full of questions and there don’t seem to be answers; when we’re quietly convinced that, despite the struggle, you are love and you are our God; when we get a sudden flash of revelation – in whatever is certain, doubtful or paradoxical, help us to find your purpose and live in it.
Hymn – All my hope on God is founded
All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
God unknown, he alone
calls my heart to be his own.
Pride of man and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple, fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour
is my temple and my tower.
God’s great goodness aye endureth,
deep his wisdom, passing thought;
splendour, light and life attend him,
beauty springeth out of naught.
Evermore, from his store
new-born worlds rise and adore.
Still from earth to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done,
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son.
Christ doth call one and all;
ye who follow shall not fall.
Lord, we ask that in whatever comes our way, today and in the week, you will give us the resources we need to take care of ourselves, to respond to others, to go gently through the world and to live in your purposes. And so may we go knowing your blessings this day and forever more. Amen.