The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Readings – II Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1: 3-14; Mark 6: 14-29
Jesus had just begun his public ministry. He and his earliest disciples were going from village to village. A woman had touched his robe and was healed. Jesus took Jairus’ daughter by the hand and she miraculously recovered. Then the disciples were sent out for the first time to expand the ministry. In teams of two, they went out to teach and to anoint the sick. And then came to horrible news, John, the cousin of Jesus, John, the baptizer, the one who had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, was beheaded by the order of King Herod as requested by his daughter. The cost of ministry, of proclaiming the Word of God, of proclaiming God’s truth, of doing God’s work, suddenly became very real. In the next couple of verses of the Gospel according to St. Mark, we learn that Jesus gathered the disciples together, and they sought to find a quiet, deserted place for rest and refreshment. But the crowds pursued them and would not allow them to do so.
John, the baptizer, was executed. King Herod had a choice. In the midst of a birthday party, he made an off-handed offer to this daughter who had danced and entertained “his courtiers, officers and the leaders of Galilee”. “Whatever you ask of me, I will give you, even half my kingdom.” Herodias requested John’s head. What would the king do? The text tells us he knew “[John] was a righteous and holy man”. “[Herod] protected him.” The text even states, “[Herod] like to listen to him.” So, King Herod need to make a choice, please his birthday party crowd and display his own power, or listen to his heart, his soul, and refuse his daughter’s request. King Herod joined the long line of powerful people that continues to this day of people who select to please the crowd, to demonstrate their earthly power rather than to be faithful to the true Lord of heaven and earth.
Our gospel reminds us that being faithful always has a cost and that there are times when we, too, may be asked to choose faithfulness over what pleases our peers, over what appears to be powerful.
The reading from Ephesians reminds us that when we are faithful, we are never alone. To be faithful, he writes, is to be “in Christ”. The author repeats these two words throughout this passage. To be “in Christ” is to be in Team Jesus Christ; we are part of the spiritual body of the People of God, never alone; we are with others in Team Jesus Christ.
The Psalmist adds to our understanding of being “in Christ”. Psalm 23 reminds us that we are in the Good Shepherd, and it is followed by Psalm 24 that reminds us that we are not only shepherds to one another, but that we are also shepherds of the entire creation.
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein.
For it is he who founded it upon the seas and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
The faithful in Jesus Christ choose to serve rather than to crowd please and wield personal power. The faithful in Jesus Christ care for one another and for God’s creation.
Here in Central Pennsylvania to care for our neighbors and to care for God’s creation, the opportunities to act with Team Jesus Christ are all about us. With opportunities to serve everything about us, I hope we daily praise God, daily give thanks to God, as well as gathering in this place as Team Jesus Christ on Sundays. Our first reading from II Samuel shares the story of King David uniting the two faithful traditions of ancient Israel, the Ark of the Covenant containing the stone ten commandments that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai, with the Tent of Meeting where Moses met with God and his face brilliantly glowed. The Ark of the Covenant was from the northern tribes, and the Tent of Meeting originated from the southern tribes. King David used his power to unite the southern and northern people’s traditions, and he danced. He danced with the people in the equivalent of his underwear! He was so exuberant; it embarrassed his wife, Michal, daughter of former King Saul. King David danced with the faithful. They sang and played lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. There are still congregations of the faithful who rejoice with singing, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, cymbals, and even drums. Well, we on Sundays sing… and we ring the parish bell. During the Easter season, we bring our bells from home and ring them joyfully along with the parish bell. Perhaps we need to ring the parish bell more vigorously during the Sanctus, and perhaps, even, invite individual bell ringing as well, every Sunday.
To be faithful can be costly, just ask John the Baptizer. To be faithful is to rejoice together in Jesus Christ, to rejoice as Team Jesus Christ, perhaps with more bells. To be faithful is to care for all people, and to care for all creation. To be faithful is to choose each and every day to serve the Lord God.
Choose with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength to be in Christ Jesus!