Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 15, 2018
Year B, Proper 10: 1 Samuel 6:1-5; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-13; Mark 6:14-29
CLICK HERE to listen to the recorded sermon.
Have you ever wondered, even for a moment, what it would be like to be royalty? Have you ever indulged in a daydream that you’re really the child of a king or a queen? I know I did because when I was young the British Royal Family had children my age and I always thought Queen Elizabeth was the most beautiful mother.
Well, in today’s first reading and gospel lesson, we get a glimpse into the lives of two royal families. Neither has a happy, fairytale ending.
The first couple, in our first lesson, is King David and Michal, his wife, who was the daughter of King Saul. If we know the backstory of Michal and David, there’s a line in this lesson that really sticks out. It’s when Michal looks out the window and sees David dancing before the Lord. And then we hear, “and she despised him in her heart.” That line should break our hearts a little because this is not the happy story that their romantic beginnings portended.
Michal was the second daughter of King Saul. Saul had vowed that whoever killed Goliath would obtain his first daughter in marriage. But when David kills Goliath, Saul is jealous of David and reneges on his vow and marries the older daughter to someone else.
Turns out that’s good news for Michal, because according to 1st Samuel, Chapter 18, “Michal loved David”.
When her father Saul finds this out, he decides to use this to his advantage in his hostility toward David. He tells David he can have Michal as his wife – he can marry into the royal family – if David kills one hundred Philistines. Saul is certain David will end up the victim of some Philistine, but David kills two hundred. He gets to marry Michal.
Saul sends his soldiers to kill David, but Michal protects him. She lowers David out the window, then dresses up an idol like David, complete with his clothes and a goat-hair wig, puts it in bed, and pulls the covers over it. Saul’s soldiers burst into the room, pull back the covers, and—no David (1 Samuel 19:11-17).
With David on the run, Saul gives Michal in marriage to someone else. And in the meantime, David also takes a couple more wives.
Michal loved David.
Eventually, David becomes king and demands Michal back. Maybe it was love after all. Maybe it was just getting back what belonged to him. We aren’t told when exactly Michal stopped loving David. Maybe it was when they were separated, and she didn’t know what had happened to him. Maybe it was when he took her back from a man who begged him not to. Maybe it was when she met the other wives he had married in the meantime. What we do know is that day, watching David dance for the Lord with joyful abandon, she sees David and she hates him.
David was a great king, but a great husband? Michal might say not. No fairytale “happily ever after” here.
King Herod, in our gospel lesson, has other troubles in the marriage and family department. He has divorced his first wife and married Herodias, his brother’s wife. Since his brother was still alive at the time, this was against Jewish law, and John the Baptist calls him on it. Herod is supposed to be keeping Jewish law, not flouting it. But neither Herod nor Herodias like John the Baptist criticizing their marriage in public, so John the Baptist is arrested and thrown in jail.
That is until King Herod throws himself a birthday party and makes a promise that is supposed to make him seem like a big man, a stupendous, powerful man. He promises to give his daughter (some versions say stepdaughter) whatever she asks.
Herodias sees her chance, not to change her husband’s mind about John the Baptist, not to practice good conflict resolution skills and see if they can come to some compromise about John, but to get rid of this prophet once and for all. And Herod doesn’t have the guts to say no, to go back on his word in front of his guests.
Herodias tells her dancing daughter to ask for the most repulsive possible dish at a dinner party—John the Baptizer’s head on a platter.
Those are some family values: Herodias is willing to use her daughter to get the horrific thing she wants. Herod would rather be taken for a murderer than a fool. The daughter doesn’t seem to have the moral sense to recognize she’s being used to commit a horrific tragedy.
So much for fairy tales.
Our own families, I pray, do not include such utter hatred or gatherings that descend into murder, but we’ve all had our experiences of people who are supposed to be partners becoming enemies, of people using one another, people feeling discarded, or being manipulated.
What we see in today’s lesson are about raw abuses of power.
Our daily lives often present a series of Herod-like personal and spiritual dilemmas. We question who we are and how we should act as life pushes and pulls us in conflicting directions. And as in the story of Herod’s struggle, there are lives at stake as they decide which actions we will take.
The most obvious life at risk in the Mark text is that of John the Baptist. It is John who pays the ultimate price when Herod, trapped by his own fears and ambitions, chooses to save face and make his public image more important than regard for another man’s life.
What things have happened in history because certain leaders like Herod dared not appear to be weak. In his book “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” biographer Robert Caro makes it clear that much of what drove and animated Lyndon B. Johnson was a deep-seated fear of never looking like a failure, of never being seen as a failure the way his own father had been.
Watergate, or at least the cover up occurred because of the deep-seated paranoia of another President.
I’m not judging because only God gets to do that; I would like us to see the result of actions or inactions, things done and left undone, in our daily lives.
The consequences of unequitable and iniquitous actions are generally devastating for families who are most vulnerable. Infants die when promises to cut budgets result in the closure of public health centers without alternative means to care for the poor. Working families struggle to make ends meet when debt erodes the value of the dollar and drives up prices and even those with health insurance are threatened by rising prices.
In today’s Epistle lesson, however, we hear God’s plan for a different kind of power in a family in which we are adopted as God’s own children through Jesus Christ. The power and inheritance we have as members of this family is redemption, forgiveness, knowledge of God’s will and God’s desire to gather all things on heaven and earth together in Christ.
You know what happens next in Mark’s gospel, right after today’s lesson, right after Herod’s this horrible feast? Jesus throws a dinner party. It’s the feeding of the more than five thousand, and it’s completely different from Herod’s feast. There’s no guarded palace, just a beautiful open field where all are welcome. There’s no head table; everyone is a guest of honor. There’s no boasting, just thanksgiving. There’s no “regard for his oaths” or pompous vow-making just simple food, blessed, broken, and shared, and enough for all. No silver platter, just twelve baskets full to the brimming with abundant life-giving bread and fish.
As a child, I often wished to be at another dinner table. As an adult, I give thanks for not being invited to Herod’s table, but to God’s table, a table open to all of us.
The sermons are recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link above, but to access the library of audio files for recent sermons, CLICK HERE.