The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s127g15   Sunday 15   12/7/2015

‘John .. has been raised’   Mark 6:14

I find it interesting that the first person to express a faith in resurrection in the gospel is Herod!  

Like so many of us, we think that God is primarily here to rebuke us.   We think it is religious to berate ourselves.   This accounts for the enduring popularity of the ‘Wee Donut’ - ‘we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table’. (1)   ‘Rumination is the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one's distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.’  (2)   We reason that this endless berating ourselves makes us acceptable to God whereas those who get on with life without worrying are damned.   Not the sort of God I would commend to someone whose friendship I valued.   As a good Anglican, I am one who has inflicted plenty of recrimination on myself.

So Herod hears about the activities of Jesus and believes that God has thereby sent John back to haunt him.   Of course there was much he could feel guilty about.   He, like us, find ourselves caught in circumstances partly of our own making, partly unable to extricate ourselves from the maliciousness of others.

It is but one example of how few of us ever feel particularly secure in our society.   Even the rich and famous have their issues and no one gets through life unscathed.   It is comfortable to be able to live in our gated communities, both the physical ones and the spiritual ones.   Yet such comfort is essentially illusory, because real life is about removing the need for the physical and spiritual gates, for all people.   While the need for gates continues, the need for ever more powerful weapons continues and therefore the likelihood of them being manufactured and used.

And the church cannot point the accusatory finger at governments and secular institutions while defending her spiritual boundaries to the death.

So it is to the soldiers who were crucifying Jesus, that the words: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (3) are addressed - not to the devout and pseudo-orthodox who knew precisely what they were doing when they handed Jesus over to Pilate and demanded the death penalty.   And again, we as the church cannot point the accusing finger at the ancient people of God, when our own religion is about how right we are and how sinful and expendable others are.

Recently I was asked to contribute to a paper on spirituality for those travelling the cancer journey, and I added the words: ‘Choose thoughts, friends, and beliefs with are cheering rather than depressing.’   When illness or other disaster strikes it is human to indulge in self-recrimination: what have I done to deserve this?    It is at these times we need supportive people around us, beginning with ourselves.   We need to not be our own worst enemy!   If we find some of our companions merchants of doom, like those three friends of Job, ‘Eliphaz, .. Bildad .. and Zophar’ (4) we might do ourselves a favour by finding some more cheerful, some less accusatory friends.   And if our beliefs are not helpful, it may be time to re-evaluate their worth as well.

If we steadfastly hold to a faith that is the cause of continuing poverty, illness and premature death for millions in third world countries out of fear of safe and effective contraception - are we any better?

Fear causes others to be alienated.   We might not behead people like Herod and the IS murderers, yet our fear leads to self pre-occupation and self-absorption.   Millions of others are deprived of our attention, our consideration, our love.   The 1974 folk rock song by Harry Chapin ’The Cat’s in the Cradle’ (5) is repeated again and again as individuals have had to strive to eek out an existence and those who are important to them suffer.

Beheading is, I guess, the ultimate way of saying to others: ‘I have no fear’, yet as we see in Herod, ‘methinks (he) protesteth too much’.  (6)   Killing others betrays insecurity.   ‘The wages of sin is death’ (7), not our own death as divine retribution, but the death of others, contributing to the continuing cycle of violence, alienation and unhappiness. 

The remedy for all this is incarnation; we are called to follow Jesus, to grasp that perfect love which ‘casts out fear’ (7), fear for ourselves and fear that causes us to restrict our affections only towards others to those who reflect our own preconceptions in life.

1.  Book of Common Prayer
3.  Luke 23:34
4.  Job 2:11
6.  Hamlet Act 3, scene 2, 222–230
7.  Romans 6:23
8.  1 John 4:18