A sermon prepared (but not delivered) for a congregation in Kingston, Ontario
by Robert Brow
We often think of sin as particular acts that we do. "She got drunk, I told a lie, he stole money from the church." But sin is not just little acts of badness. It is much more like getting caught in a complex entanglement of the evil in the world around us.
In our Gospel today we have the story of
a woman who wanted revenge,
a girl who was a beautiful dancer,
the dignitaries who applauded her dance,
a King who made a careless promise,
and a soldier who was ordered to cut off the head of John the Baptist.
They all died. And none of them guessed that today after 2,000 years people in a million churches all over the world would still be remembering how they failed so badly.
The woman was named Herodias. She fell in love her husband’s brother. He was Herod Antipas who was the King of Galilee. As a result she left her husband, the King divorced his wife, and they lived together in the magnificent city of Tiberias which he had built. All was well except that a prophet named John the Baptist condemned what they had done. This infuriated her, and she was just waiting for the day when she could get him removed.
Many people admired John the Baptist, and the King did not dare to have the prophet executed, so he kept him in the palace jail. He was fascinated by this strange man, and often had him brought up to the palace and discussed with him.
Then the King threw a huge party to celebrate his birthday, and he invited all the dignitaries and army officers of Galilee with their wives. When everyone had eaten and drunk more than was good for them, Herodias’ daughter Salome came in and performed a dance which everyone applauded with great enthusiasm. The King was so pleased he promised to reward the girl with anything she wanted up to half of his kingdom. That was his second major mistake. No King has the right to give away half a kingdom for a dancing girl.
But this was Herodias’ opportunity. Her daughter asked "what reward should I take from the King?" Instead of asking for money, the mother said "Get the head of John the Baptist on a platter." Salome could have refused to get the great prophet executed, but in the excitement of the moment she hurried in to the King with her demand.
By then Herod Antipas had come to enjoy the prophet’s visits. So he was very upset. He should have said that the head of John the Baptist was not his to give. But he felt he could not lose face before the assembled guests. He was entangled, as we often are, in his careless words.
Any one of the assembled courtiers and army officers could have objected and said "You can’t do that. It would be a crime against God. And you would have a riot on your hands if you had John beheaded." But none of them had the guts to say anything.
Then there was the soldier from the royal guard. He knew that he had been given orders to do something which was an injustice and a crime against God. But he did not dare disobey orders. He would immediately lose his job. So he came to John in the prison. "John I am afraid the King has ordered you to be beheaded. I hate to do this, but if I refuse I will be dead, and another guardsman will have to do it. Please pray for me and my family. Now kneel down quietly and bend your head."
Now you can see that all those involved were caught in a vast system of social sin. They could see no way out. There was divorce, revenge, being chicken-hearted, pride, doing one’s duty.
Similarly you and I were born into a world where sin and injustice envelops us on all sides.
My father ended up being caught in a divorce which he did not want.
In the army I had to shoot at people in Java who wanted their independence.
I won’t ask you what went wrong in the lives of your parents, your brothers and sisters, your children.
And you all know what goes so badly wrong on the farm, in your school, Kingston General Hospital, the government of our city, in your place of work.
This is why Paul wrote "There is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We are all caught in a satanic web of sin. What is holding you in its grip right now? But God can show us the right way. When Joseph was in great confusion as to what to do, he was told "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21).
When we say Jesus is our Savior, we are not just thinking of being forgiven for things we know we have done wrong. He understands all the messy confusions in which you and I are entangled. He is not interested in finding ways to condemn us and make us feel guilty. Rather he wants to show us the way out into love and joy and peace and blessing.
Sadly I don’t think any of the people involved in our story found that way out. So I will end with a verse which will remind us that God has a way for you to find help in the particular situation that is making your life a misery?
"No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful who will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Prayer Think of what is the causing you the most misery and frustration, and mention it to Jesus the Savior and Healer. He understands how you are entangled in the situation, and he can intervene to give you freedom.