Sermon July 11, 2021, “Two Very Different Parties”

Hebrew Bible Reading        

            2nd Samuel 6: 12b-19

12 King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13 and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14 David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Gospel Reading:

Mark 6: 14-29

14 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.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 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. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 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. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 

22 When his daughter 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.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 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.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’shead. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise to you Lord Christ.

Sermon, “Two Very Different Parties”                                                 July 11th, 2021

            Where’s the good news in this reading? We just said it is. “This is the Gospel: The Good News,” we responded with praise. Seems like an odd response for a reading like that. In this Gospel reading from Mark, we find only one reference to Jesus. It’s in a passing tone where the great King Herod, that is Herod Antipas whose father was King Herod in the time when Jesus was born, heard about what was happening in Jesus’ name. You know where we left off last week. Jesus’ disciples were sent out and cast out demons, cured people with illnesses, and preached repentance. Herod heard about all of this and some thought it was John the Baptist back from the dead or Elijah or another prophet.

            We finally found out why John the Baptist is missing from the rest of Gospel after Ch 1. You know John, the great prophet whom Jesus lauded in the Gospel of Matthew by saying, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.” He was put in prison for speaking out against Herod taking his brother’s wife. John spoke the truth. Herod didn’t like it, so he put him in prison. It’s as simple as that. Or is it? It’s interesting to note here the differences recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark of Herod’s view of John. In Matthew, Herod seemed to fear the people who believed John was a prophet. According to Matthew, Herod wanted John killed. In this Gospel, Mark, Herod considered John a “righteous and holy man” and feared him. Herod even protected him until his wife wanted John’s head.

            This is where we turn to the first party. The great King Herod threw a birthday party and at the party his daughter, Herodias, danced which pleased the guests and the king. Herod offered her a gift of anything she wanted. She didn’t know what to ask for, so asked for her mother’s advice. You have wonder what the girl thought or how she reacted when her mom said, “The head of John the baptizer.” What a terrible thing to have your own daughter ask for, to be caught up in this evil act.

            While it seems like Herod doesn’t want to do what she asks, because he would have probably never guessed that such a thing would come out of his daughter’s mouth, he had to do it. It was his promise. Yet, “the king was deeply grieved.” His guests were watching and judging what kind of king he was and how the great king would use his power and authority. Ultimately, the birthday cake was replaced with John the Baptist’s head on a platter. It’s quite the birthday party! This party, which represents Herod’s kingdom, is one filled with greed, murder, power gone bad, and scarcity.

            It makes me reflect on the times when we join this sort of party and celebration, one marked with greed, murder, a desire for power, and scarcity. We often dance at this sort of place whether we want to admit it or not. It’s found in our violent culture where more than 180 people were shot and killed across the nation over the 4th of July weekend and 108 people were shot in Chicago last weekend alone. This sort of celebration is found in the scarcity mentality where we believe we never have enough as a society to help the poor, the houseless, and the suffering. There’s a greed that permeates our culture that tells us we never have enough and were invited to party at this altar. In this party there’s racism and hatred for the other, whomever we want to label that way. There the injustice of black lives being lost to unjust violence of racism and as Pastor Emily reminded me this week John the Baptist also had a strange, public, and untimely death

How often do we directly or indirectly celebrate at the party that tells us not to care, don’t worry about that, it’s not our problem? Even if we’re deeply grieved, out of fear of what others might think, do we still celebrate, worship, and dance at this sort of party with the Herod’s of our own day? Are we his guests in his empirical, nationalist, violent, greedy party of power?

            Now I know what you are thinking. Where’s the good news? This is all bad news of an evil party. We don’t want to dance at this sort of celebration! There is another party to look at this morning and an alternative to Herod’s party and kingdom. This second party is found in our Hebrew Bible reading from 2 Samuel. Over the last several weeks, we have heard some of the story of King David from his battle with the giant Philistine, Goliath, to him becoming king, to today’s reading where we find a party and celebration for the ark of the Lord being brought into Jerusalem, the city of David.

            The ark was simply a wooden box that kept the stone tablets of Moses in it. The ark was more than a simple container though. It was a reminder to God’s people of their deliverance from slavery and the guidance that God had given them. It was even more than just a reminder though, it was a sign of God’s presence with and for the people.

            The ark could have been moved in private where King David could have just received it quietly, but he didn’t. Instead, this was a cause for a celebration, a party for all of God’s people. No one was an observer at this party, instead everyone was invited to sing and dance “with all their might.” And how did the dignified King David react? We are told he was “leaping and dancing before the Lord.” Such a different party than the one King Herod hosted. With this party, there is blessing, food was distributed among all the people, dancing, joy, and a common belief that the presence and faithfulness of God was with them.

            I don’t know about you, but I want to dance with David. I want to dance in the presence of the Lord all the days of my life. I want to celebrate the presence and faithfulness of God. I want to be at the party of God’s Kingdom not Herod’s Kingdom. If that’s the case, why don’t we live into God’s Kingdom now, not wait, but live into that reality now.

            There’s actually more good news, but we just have to keep reading in Mark. The very next section shows us another banquet and celebration. It’s Jesus feeding the five thousand with only five loaves and two fish. Here is another illustration of the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Herod. What we find in Jesus is love, compassion for the people, and great generosity. Everyone is welcome to the party and no one will lose their head or lose their life from gun violence.

            I have a clergy colleague and friend in Indianapolis who serves the largest black United Methodist congregation in Indiana. He almost chose a gun over God and the way of Herod over the way of Jesus. “When he was 13 years old, the phone at his family’s home in Jeffersonville, IN rang in the middle of the night. Rev. Charles Harrison watched as the caller’s message brought his father to his knees. Harrison’s 21-year-old stepbrother had been killed.

            That night, the stepbrother, also named Charles, had been across the Ohio River in Louisville, riding in a vehicle with several friends. He was shot seven times, dumped from the vehicle, and left to die on the roadside. (Charles’s son, Juwan, who was just 1 year old at the time of his father’s death, would meet a similar fate years later.)

Harrison felt a thunderbolt of rage when next he saw the men he suspected of pulling the trigger. He and a few others decided to take matters into their own hands, tracking down Charles’s killers and working to acquire guns. Before Harrison was able to execute the retaliation, however, a group of adults from his church learned of the plan and confronted him. Harrison said, “It was just a matter of those men talking to me, showing me they cared by getting involved in my life at a very personal level—that was enough,” he says. “They steered me in the right direction, and I truly believe that led to my calling.”[1]

            For years now, Rev. Harrison and colleagues in the Indy Ten Point Coalition, an organization he helped to establish in Indy, walks the most dangerous neighborhoods in Indy. They curb violence by being present and building relationships. They might not be dancing, but they are building the beloved community and walking in the party of God.

            Which party will we dance in this week and throughout our lives? To live and celebrate and party in God’s Kingdom and to bring the beloved community to earth as it is in heaven is an act of resistance to all the evils of the world in big ways and small. Do you remember your baptismal vows? The pastor always says this:

On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?         I do.

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? I do.

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? I do.

If you said, “I do” to each of those vows you are recommitting to dance at the party of God. And you have remembered and reaffirmed your baptismal vows again this morning. In a moment Pastor Emily and I will be going around with water.

            May you feel the Lord of the Dance invite you into the party of God’s Kingdom, that we might go forth dancing with joy, compassion, and love in all we do! Amen.


[1] https://www.indianapolismonthly.com/arts-and-culture/circle-city/rev-charles-harrison-crime-fighting-coalition-is-in-the-line-of-fire

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