Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 6:14-29.
In my second appointment I preached an October sermon series called Fright Nights where the congregation studied four texts of terror contained in Scripture. These stories – all contained in the First Testament – are accounts of abuse, exploitation, and violence against women…and sadly each of these four stories conclude without any just or comforting resolution, which is quite upsetting.
I remember when I finished the sermon series that one of my congregants approached me after worship, “Oh pastor…I am so glad these ‘nightmares’ are finally over! What will we begin next week?” “A stewardship series!” … “The nightmare continues…”
(We are not starting a stewardship series…yet…)
I consider our Scripture passage for this week a text of terror; it recounts the gruesome death of John the Baptist. Disregarding his humanity, his personhood, his contributions to the developing world and the world of faith – even his relationship with Herod! – John the Baptist’s life ends on the whim of Herod’s daughter. It is jarring that such an evil request would come from a teenage girl. The request might be a bit more palatable if it were to come from a warlord…but from a girl…dancing at her father’s birthday party? The very thought knocks the wind out of me.
That is the way of evil. It can surprise us. It can crop up in unexpected places. And if we are not prepared for it, it can execute its plans while we are numb with inactivity.
I think evil has the opportunity to take control of us when our center – when what anchors us – becomes dislodged or warped. God desires to be the center of our lives, to anchor and guide our decision-making capacities…but at times other forces come on the scene and skew God’s intended scheme. Sex, money, addiction, power, jealousy, greed, envy, fear – any of these left unchecked can become lords over us and unleash evil in our lives as well as the lives of others that we did not intend.
Texts like this one are not easy to read. We may be tempted to skip over them entirely or skip to the end in order to find the moral and then (gratefully) turn to the next page. Taking care to read these texts is one way for us to evaluate not only what we are capable of – both good and evil – but also to evaluate how (if) God is the guiding and anchoring center in our lives. If we find ourselves in a situation similar to Herod’s – and we will if we have not already – how will we respond? What will we do? The answer to these two questions will vary greatly depending on how or if God is the guiding and anchoring center in our lives.
I encourage you to take time in reflection this week to consider who or what is your guiding and anchoring center. What, if anything, needs to change? What, if anything, needs to be strengthened?
Prayer: “Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to your God to order and provide; in every change God faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”* Amen.
*”Be Still, My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 534.