Herod's power and Jesus' power

 

We could see its skyline for miles.

        Skyscraping hotels, opulent casinos, glittering in the desert sun.

Las Vegas.

 

Driving from Hoover Dam last summer on family vacation, we visited that city famous for adult fun.

        It was an eye opening experience, especially for my children.

                There is every kind of entertainment in Las Vegas

                top chefs at 5 star restaurants, upscale shopping in glitzy malls

                shows and slots and blackjack tables.

                        There are casinos made to look like Venice, an Egyptian pyramid, or a grand Circus Tent

                Fountains of water jet upwards in the dry air, and shops spew a/c out their wide open doors.

        What’s that?  Stephanie said pointing to an advertisement.

        “Bikini Bull Riding” the sign read. 

My husband was left to explain the people who ride mechanical bulls for fun and what they might wear.

 

Las Vegas is simply over the top in every way

Perhaps that’s why it came to mind while studying this passage about Herod’s feast.

 

Mark pauses his story about sending his disciples out two by two

to tell this story about Herod and the death of John the Baptist.

        It was Herod’s birthday, and in typical excess, Herod throws the party of the decade.

                Everyone is there, the rich and well heeled, the people with political and social clout.

        Herod was a show off:  showing off the best food, wine, appointments for the party

and the best entertainment—his new step daughter.

 

Herod had wanted his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, so he arranged for two divorces,

        one for himself and one for her, so that they could marry.

                This was not permitted in the Jewish law, so John the Baptist spoke out against it.

        John’s criticism infuriated Herodias’; she wanted John dead.

Herod was fascinated by this holy man and would only agree to imprison him, not kill him.

 

But that night of Herod’s party, Herodias found a way to get her way.

        Her daughter so charmed the crowd that Herod’s bravado got the best of him

        He offered to give the girl anything she wanted.

Seizing the opportunity, Herodias told her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head.

 

It is a gruesome tale, one that foreshadows both Jesus’ death and the dangers that his disciples would endure. 

        But this story points out something else as well: the limits of Herod’s power.

                Though Herod surrounded himself with the most important people of his day,

                he was manipulated by his wife and his own pride.

It was the same with his family of origin.

Herod’s father was a shrewd politician with an uncanny sense of when to shift allegiances,

                  he managed to expand his kingdom through alliances and military campaigns.

      But by the time that Herod became king, his father’s kingdom had been divided

            between Herod and his three brothers.

Though Herod tried to be a big time political power like his father,

the truth was he a was small time ruler, a puppet king of Rome.

 

The power then that Herod represents in Mark’s story is a frustrated power.

        Even with the influence and title of his position, Herod is impotent to make things go his way.

 

This is in stark contrast with Jesus’ power.

        The story of Herod’s birthday party falls on the heels of the disciples being sent out

                with authority over the demons,

                the story we considered last week.

        Not only was Jesus an exceptional healer and teacher—his disciples healed people, too!

They didn’t have political power; they had power over the spirit world, the demons.

People were comparing Jesus to the powerful leaders of the faith, Elijah and the prophets.

 

Mark skillfully contrasts two kinds of power

a worldly power, exemplified by Herod, and a divine power, exemplified by Jesus.

        Whereas Herod is frustrated by the limits of his power

        Jesus’ readily shares his power with others.

                Whereas Herod is impotent to affect change,

                Jesus preaches repentance, total life change—that’s what repentance is, turning 180 degrees.

        Jesus makes this total life change real in healings

and casting out demons and even raising a girl from the dead.

 

We         see plenty of Herod’s kind of power in the world

        people jockeying for the best position on the team or at work

        They do what they need to do to get ahead without thought of the consequences of their actions on others.

                We see the influence of money and power on our political system

                as major corporations’ economic interests and political action groups’ agendas

                dictate legislation and sway election outcomes.

        We see nations using might to make right

enforcing their political solution with military power, instead of supporting the nation building of the people.

Sometimes that’s even been our country’s MO.

       

 

 

And yet this story of Herod shows that this kind of power doesn’t get the last word.

        Though the story has a sad end—

        the consequence of Herod’s lack of personal power is that John is beheaded—

                John’s death did not silence the movement.

                        Herod was right, John’s movement was carried on in Jesus.

                And even Jesus’ death was not the end—he was raised from the dead,

        Making his followers for centuries to come virtually fearless, willing to face the lions for their faith.

 

The power of Jesus is often a quiet one.

        It might even look like failure in the short run.

        This is important -- Because sometimes what we are doing looks a little like a failure.

                Like when no one shows up for Sunday school, or when there are a lot of empty pews on Sunday.

        Or when you feel uncomfortable at the community meal at Grace sitting with the homeless folk of Hartford.

Or when the kids that are confirmed (and sometimes their families) seem to disappear.

 

But Mark’s story tells us that Jesus power is the ultimate power in the world.

        It’s God’s power, no matter how it looks to the human eye.

        It is the power of overcoming, of healing, of change that brings life and joy and justice.

And Jesus brought it to this earth to share.

 

He brought it to this earth to share.

        So that his followers could cast out evil.

        So that his disciples could share the good news that life change is possible.

So that his people could heal and be healed, and help put this broken world back together.

 

Brothers and sisters, we are his followers, called to address the evils of our day.

        We are his disciples, sent out to share the good news of the difference our faith in Jesus has made for us.

                We are his people, sent to do our part in mending our corner of the world.

        We have been given the power, the power with staying power!

We have what we need to be sent out, two by two and as a community of faith.

No matter how it looks, we can keep on going, trusting that Jesus’ power is with us,

and listening for Jesus’ Spirit to guide us.

 

Amen.

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