A while back we added the “Question for the Car Ride” to our bulletin. Its included at the end of the liturgy and is meant to be used to stimulate conversation, so that you can strike up a conversation with anybody. This week our question is: What is the wildest thing that ever happened to you at a party?
That could make for some good stories, because you might have been to some crazy parties. At a party you’ve been to, someone might have asked you to hold their drink, their cigarette, and their baby while they got in a fist fight, you might have been underage at a party that was visited by the police and so you ran into the woods to hide, you might have been at a party where you lost a car in a card game. Whatever is the absolute craziest thing that’s happened to you at a party – I defy you to name something crazier than what happens at Herod’s party in Galilee.
This is the backstory for those who have forgotten:
Herod Antipas had a father named Herod the Great who tried to kill Jesus when he was born. Of course he failed, and after Herod the Great’s death his kingdom was broken into 4 parts, and in good nepotistic fashion Rome appointed one of them to be governed by his son Herod Antipas – the region of Galilee and Perea.
Later on, Herod Antipas stole his brother Philip’s wife, confusingly named Herodias, and John who was preaching out in the desert and looking for a good illustration for the kind of brokenness and selfishness we are to repent from, spoke against Herod and Herodias by name.
So Herodias, whose reputation has been tarnished, whose name is trending in the news because of John, wants to make John pay and convinces Herod to throw John in prison.
Sometime later, Herod is having a decadent birthday party and his daughter comes to dance – to add to the confusion of multiple people with the same name, her name is given as Herodias just like her mother (although the Jewish historian Josephus calls her Salome). So, Salome/Herodias dances for her father and his friends and everyone is so pleased that in an unguarded moment Herod says, “That was such a great dance I will give you anything you ask for up to half of my kingdom – just name it and you can have it.”
Mother Herodias convinces her daughter to ask for John’s head on a platter and while Herod would rather not kill John and is grieved in this heart about it — just like today people in power find it easier to continue with a foolish policy rather than admitting an error — Herod gives his daughter and wife what they’ve asked for and has John’s head cut off and brought to the party.
You’ve not been to a party crazier than that!
Now, all that John did to receive his grisly end, was to say Herod shouldn’t have married his brother’s wife. If he had just not said that, he would’ve lived. That one soundbite was the difference between continuing to be out in the desert feasting on locusts and wild honey and having a successful preaching ministry and being put in jail and murdered.
The only difference in those two outcomes, was speaking the truth to those in power.
How easy it is not to tell the truth. How comfortable it is to assume we don’t have a responsibility to tell what is. How tempting it is for the church not to get involved in conversations about race or immigration or politics in this country. We can say: the courts will just figure it out. We can say: it’s not something that we have the power to decide anyway. We can say: we are many people and we are all living out our obedience to God as best we can, but we don’t all agree about everything so we shouldn’t say anything.
Its not easy to tell the truth but are called to speak the truth. In the tradition of the prophets, and John, and Jesus, and his apostles and all the generations from then until now, we are called to simply to say what is true.
Jesus Christ is God’s love for the whole world and especially for those who are marginalized and vulnerable, so we can say with confidence:
Women deserve equal treatment. Racism is wrong. Families should never be split up for any reason. LGBTQ members of our community should be treated with respect and the same rights as everyone else. Bullying is never okay. Hollywood celebrity worship is a sham. Our selfish overconsumption is making our planet sick.
It is not always easy to tell the truth but we are called to tell the truth no matter what the repercussions and this crazy party at Herod’s house shows us what might happen.
Up until now we have been following Jesus and seen he is determined to oppose and defeat the forces that rob people of the abundant life God intends for them.
And last week we heard how he sent the disciples out to extend his work and so Herod has heard about Jesus.
And he wants to know who Jesus is. Is he a prophet? Is he the figure of Elijah? Is he John returned from the grave for revenge?
Herod’s question is, “Who is Jesus?” And the accompanying question that the Gospel of Mark wants us to consider is: “What will it mean if we follow him?”
This crazy party at Herod’s house provides an answer.
If we speak the truth of Jesus to the power of the Herods of this world, there will be repercussions. Its always been true.
Amos, who spoke truth to the power of Jeroboam, was banished from the land.
John was beheaded, Jesus was crucified, his apostles were murdered.
There is a cost to discipleship. And we should know what that cost is.
Yesterday afternoon we were at a little party – a birthday party in fact – and some folks asked me why Epiphany does a Vacation Bible School. It was a genuine question. What is VBS and why do we do it?
Our Vacation Bible School team has been working for months to get ready and working around the clock for the last week so that everything is in order: the building, our supplies, our teachers. Why?
My best answer yesterday was that we want our children and the children of our community to have an experience with Jesus Christ, and to come to know him as a friend and as their savior.
But that question: Why do we do VBS, was more insightful that I think this person realized.
I mean, why introduce our children to Jesus knowing he will set them on a path in which they will certainly face opposition. Why ask our children to be a part of this counter-cultural movement full of awkward conversations and moments of sticking out like a sore thumb? Why invite our children to learn how to tell the truth to a world that will cause them to suffer for it?
And all I can say is: Because it is the truth.
Because we will all suffer in this life. If you have not yet – thanks be to God – you will. And if we will all suffer in this life, and if it can’t be escaped – then we might as well suffer for the truth. We ought then to lift up the name of the One on whom we can call for help and for life.
The writer of Ephesians knows the seriousness of this call to speak truth to power, the probability of suffering, and so he writes what is essentially a motivational speech, a pep talk; like Braveheart’s William Wallace on horseback, the writer of Ephesians encourages those following Jesus not to turn back and not to be afraid.
You who go out to follow Jesus:
Hear and trust again that God our Father and our Lord Jesus chose us before the foundation of the world, destined us for adoption into his family as children, has forgiven us our sins, has lavished his grace upon us, and has given us an inheritance so that we might hope in him and live for his glory.
The writer of Ephesians reminds us: God has a plan. I don’t know about you, but MY plans fall apart, are poorly constructed, and leave me disappointed. But God has a plan – divinely imagined and sure to be exacted – God has a plan to gather up all things – in heaven and on earth – all things including those people who hear his truth and accept it, including those who hear his truth and reject it, including those who are too self-absorbed to hear it at all – God has a plan to gather all things to himself in love and healing and forgiveness and mercy in Jesus Christ…
And I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a party – a wildly beautiful party – the likes of which you and I have never seen, but which is being prepared for all creation. And get this: we receive a foretaste of this feast today at the table of the Lord.
At this wildly beautiful party, the body and blood of Christ are given as a burning coal to touch our lips, to purify us, and make us vessels to speak God’s truth to power and to a world in need.
Brothers and sisters, may God fill you with courage to tell the truth. May God bless you with confidence in his love, and may we party on in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!