23 February 2020 Speaking Truth to Power Martin Baker
1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
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's head. 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.
I think it is a pretty natural thing to do – to project ahead.
Last week I happened, to see on Trade Me a picture of a 1978 Volkswagen Beach buggy for sale.
I owned a beach buggy just like that, and it brought back memories. It was so cool to drive around in that in 1978. But it was totally unreliable and its bucket seats will literally fill up with water if it ever rained. I can remember jumping into the beach buggy without knowing about this phenomena, and driving home sitting in 6 inches or 15 centimetres of water.
But before I owned this contraption I also dreamed about about what I would do with it. The sand dunes I would drive over. How cool I might look driving down the main street of Raglan . The people I might even attract.
I know people who after their first date are planning the wedding and the names of their children. And people I know who after their first bout of indigestion are planning their funeral.
There were ques of people at the Lotto counter – all imagining what they would do with the 35 million dollar prize that they were going to win. Even though they would each more likely be struck by lightning.
Those future imaginings, they are powerful forces in our lives, they can be places of joy and excitement and they can be places of fear and dread.
So what are we imaging for ourselves?
This morning we enter these places that seem to move between these possibilities. These futures. Filled with hope and with dread. To the early followers of Jesus they are being told that both of these futures are both possible. And they may not be either or, but it can be both.
First we are told that Jesus goes to his home town. Nazareth. Remember this would have been a few hundred people. We are talking about a tiny village here. You’ve been away for a while. And how are people going to view you. You are the one that left. And in a town that small everyone would know who you were growing up.
So Jesus goes back to his hometown and is rejected. Rather than being astounded by his teachings and his healing we read. 6 And Jesus was amazed at their unbelief.
The old adage that seeing is believing doesn’t ring true here. People hear and see and they say "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
Facing rejection. When you don’t get that job, when you had allowed yourself to imagine a new future and it doesn’t work out. That can be so deflating so undermining. It is something those early Christians had to really wrestle with as well. Why didn’t everyone believe? It makes no sense.
But then listen to what we hear next:
And in response, to this rejection. And in response to this amazing disbelief, we hear:
‘Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.’
They take nothing with them. Dependent only on the power of the Gospel message. Miracles, unclean spirits are vanquished.
We are told 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
And then the next story we hear. In this midst of these two types of astonishment. The disbelief in the village, the astonishment of healing and casting out demons, we then seem to hit a brick wall.
Mark tells us of the death of Jesus cousin, John the Baptist.
Herod had John arrested. Remember John was the man who told people to repent and be prepared for the coming of Jesus the messiah. God’s anointed one.
We are told 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.
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
John had obviously spoken against Herod taking his brother’s wife and marrying her. Nothing new here. When kings and queens and presidents and princes act in ways that suggest they are above any moral or sexual ethic.
It is not an easy subject, but our scriptures make these connections between the good or bad judgements we make in our personal lives and the good or bad judgements made in our public lives and especially in roles where we have power and influence over others. And we find through John that Herod’s corrupt private life is expressed in his corrupt public life.
We find this in verse 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.
We know from historical sources how absurd this statement is. Herod had no power to give away anything. He was just an appointment, a pawn of the Roman authorities It would be like our Prime Minister offering to give away the Sky Tower to her favourite drummer.
Those first listeners would have simply been reminded of Herod’s arrogance, weakness and foolishness.
And finally the realisation by Herod that he can’t have it both ways. Remember we have been told that Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, he liked to listen to him.
But the manipulation, the pressure, the guests and the ‘in crowd’ and Herod’s weakness comes to the fore.
Sadly for John the Baptist Herod, while not having any kingdom to give away to anyone, Herod did have the power to order an execution and so John is beheaded and his scheming wife has John and his meddling ways conveniently removed from her life.
So we begin the story today joining with Jesus as he comes to his home town. Joining with the expectation that he might be welcome, he might be embraced, the healing, the casting out demons . But he is met with hostility and rejection.
We move with the disciples - they are sent out with nothing and yet people are healed and demons cast out.
And then a further story. John the Baptist, John the forerunner, is executed.
And the hearers of this story would be making another connection here.
To when Herod appears once again.
And we hear this drama right at the end of the Gospel. Just before Jesus is condemned to death. And this encounter between Jesus and Herod sound pretty familiar.
In Luke Gospel Chapter 23 we are told
8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9 He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer.
And as the story unfolds, Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate and neither could find reason to have him executed, but then the old familiar story. The pressure, not of Herod’s wife this time, but of the crowds, the pressure of the religious elite, we can read ‘ they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed ‘ and so Jesus like John goes to his execution.
It is an ancient story but it is such a contemporary story as well.
At the end of December Dr Li Wenliang warned his colleagues about the dangers of the coronavirus. The police immediately responded by accusing him of spreading false rumours and threatened to arrest him if he continued.
Li caught the virus himself off patients he was treating and started coughing on Jan. 10. He said then ‘It will take me another 15 days or so to recover. I will join medical workers in fighting the epidemic. That’s where my responsibilities lie. ‘
Sadly Dr Li did not recover, succumbed to the virus himself and died two weeks ago leaving a 4 year old and his pregnant wife.
So the forces at work. The evil at work. That will see John beheaded that will see the innocent Jesus son of God crucified, and even Dr Li threated with imprisonment for speaking the truth.
And we know that there is some confusing, some terrible illogic to all of this. Jesus brings healing and preaching the truth to this own family and friends, the people who are closest to him - and is rejected.
Herod listens to John, but in the end has him executed .
Pilate and Herod again find Jesus innocent and he’s crucified.
Even today if authorities had taken Dr Li’s warning’s seriously thousands of lives might have been saved.
Our scriptures take seriously the reality of failure and rejection. Our stories today and through the Gospel recognise the illogic, the pounded unfairness and injustice that is part of life.
But the powerful overwhelming message here is that these things do not define us, nor do they define what is possible for now and the future,
The cycle of corruption and death is broken in the proclamation that Jesus has been raised.
Our risen Lord calls us to live a life empowered by a different vision. Confronting evil, bringing healing. Living by faith. Trusting God who sends us out. Again and again to proclaim the God’s News of God’s love.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.