Sunday, July 15, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Our story today begins with a flashback, and a gruesome one at that! Herod hears the news of the disciples preaching and healing and he thinks it is John the Baptist come back from the dead. Was he afraid? Filled with guilt that he was the one who ordered John killed? It’s not unlikely that Herod’s impression of Jesus in this situation was much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator, “I’ll be back….to get you.” Herod had reason to be afraid. He didn’t really want to kill John, but as our story illustrates he did, and in a gruesome way. Why? Power. Plain and Simple. Our readings over the last month have focused a lot on God’s power revealed in Jesus who used his power to heal. Yet today we see how human power can be used not to heal but destroy.
Herod had a lot of power. He was the ruler of the kingdom and he had the power to do whatever he wanted, but he didn’t always use that power for good, but for evil. Herod Antipas was known for his contempt of the religious practices of the Jews. He even built his capital city – Tiberius – on an ancient burial ground leaving the city unclean for religiously observant Jews. He made decisions based on what was good for him, not what was best for others. That was clearly evident when Herod held an elaborate birthday bash in honor of himself, and how he backed himself into a corner. Because of his pride he foolishly promised to the girl who danced for him anything she wanted. And as you heard in the story it resulted in John’s death. If Herod didn’t keep his promise he would have lost his credibility as king. So Herod had a choice – his reputation or John’s life. He chose his own glory and reputation over truth and justice and compassion.
We all have choices to make. Each and every day we are confronted with making choices. Some choices don’t require much sacrifice like what clothes we’re going to wear, or what we’re going to eat, or what television show we want to watch. But other choices aren’t so easy. Like those people who wonder if they will even have food to eat, clothes to wear, or a place to sleep. And a really hard choice for almost everyone is whether or not we will let fear rule our lives.
The choice to embrace faith over fear is a powerful one. Faith compels us to follow a God whom we cannot see, and trust in God’s promises – even those that have not yet come to fruition. We live in a society that increasingly is run by fear. We are told there are all kinds of things to be afraid of and how we need to buy or do things to help us feel more secure. Fear is a powerful way to control people and get them to follow even the most hideous of ideas. Herod did that in ancient Rome, Hitler did in in Germany, other leaders do it today, and we do it to ourselves. We can get paralyzed by fear and worry. We say things like, “What if this doesn’t work out? What if I fail? What will people think of me? What if we don’t have enough? Evil thrives on fear because fear causes us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Fear causes people to hate rather than to try and understand. It causes people to hurt others to get what they want themselves, and it causes people to kill – either a person’s body or their spirit. Look at Herod, he killed because he was afraid of what others would think and what would happen to himself. Fear makes us focus on ourselves and that is the definition of sin – turning in on ourselves. And we can’t deceive ourselves – we all sin and are capable of committing the most horrible of crimes. We may not actually commit those crimes, but the ability to do so lies within us all. The difference lies in the choices we make.
The choice to focus on God makes all the difference in the world. Focusing on God gives us hope and confidence because no matter what we face, we know God is with us. Think of the difference it would make if when we had an argument with someone we paused to focus on God. Wouldn’t we discuss things with a lot more grace and understanding? What if instead of worrying and giving in to fear we focused on God and trusted that God’s promise to be with us always was really true? Wouldn’t it still our fears and bring us peace? What if we chose to live everyday giving thanks to God for what we do have instead of focusing on what we don’t? Wouldn’t we walk with a livelier step and smile a lot more? What if when faced with a horrible circumstance we chose to continue to look to God for the strength to get through it rather than give in to despair? Wouldn’t we have a compass to guide us through all our days?
God wants the best for each and every one of us. Yes, telling the truth and calling a thing for what it truly is important. I’m not talking about a Pollyanna kind of life where we ignore the horrible things that happen in this world. I’m talking about walking with confidence knowing that God’s power is greater than all the forces that try to pull us away from God. We have a choice, just like Herod had a choice – to choose God over anything else – over as we say in our baptismal promises, “over the devil and all his empty promises.” God’s promises are not empty, and God is true to them.
Each day we can renew our baptismal vows by making the choice to be part of a movement – followers of Christ – who choose to trust in God over trusting in ourselves. We can make a choice to be part of a group of people – the church – who may not be perfect, but who strive to be authentic. Because that is what God asks of us – to be authentic, who we are – flaws and all – and use our unique gifts to the glory of God.
When we are faced – like Herod – with a tough decision, what we do in that moment defines us. We need to ask ourselves not what will others think, but what will God think. If the choice we make cares for the well-being of someone else, if it leans on the side of grace, forgiveness, love and compassion then rest assured God is pleased. For Jesus said, “Whenever you do it to the least of these you do it to me.” We have a choice to act like followers of Christ or not. We have a choice to worship God in all we say and do or not – to follow Christ’s example. Christ had a choice, to live for himself or to die so that others might live. He chose love; he chose us. How can we not choose to live our lives for him! Amen!