By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
July 12, 2009
Read: Mark 6:14-29
So. John the Baptist’s head on a platter. This is an uncomfortable story. One that has been referred to as a ‘text of terror’. We are faced with the dark side of human life, in this case we are recounting Herod’s adultery with his brother’s wife and the imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist.
Consider the personal and social dilemmas in which Herod finds himself in this passage. He is trying to negotiate complicated relationships within his own household and society and discovering that it is difficult to please everyone around him and still uphold his own personal standards. He is at odds with his wife over John the Baptist and odds with John over his wife. He is eager to appear a generous and trustworthy leader and troubled by his daughter’s request for John’s execution. His relationship with John evokes mixed feelings of fear, perplexity and protectiveness. Herod is conscious of how social perceptions shape one’s possibilities in life, yet he is also seeking some measure of truth by which to guide his life choices. He is caught in a web of relationships that seem to render him a “reactor” instead of an “actor” in the drama of life.
I think we can all understand Herod’s dilemma. This story is extreme to make the point clear. But, daily life often presents personal and spiritual dilemmas for us to negotiate. For a harried mother of a toddler, there is the questions of how best to love and parent a child in the face of a defiant “No!” and a full-fledged temper tantrum in aisle 6 of the grocery store at the end of a long day. A corporate executive wonders how her announcement of a long-awaited pregnancy will affect her employees’ perceptions of her as an effective boss. A stay-at-home dad wrestles with the whispers of former colleagues that he just couldn’t handle the pressures of work. Teenagers experience the angst of competing for acceptance in desirable social cliques, of serial broken hearts in the complex world of adolescent dating, of familial tensions over privileges and responsibilities. Younger children long for popular toys advertised on television, worry about parental fights and the potential, or actual, breakup of their families, and wonder if the trouble they have learning multiplication tables or basic grammar means they are stupid. Across the lifespan, persons question who they are and how they should act as life pushes and pulls them in conflicting directions. And, as in the story of Herod’s struggle, there are lives at stake as they decide which actions they will take. Will they be a reactor or an actor in the drama of life.
The challenge is in deciding which decisions to make. Good faith or bad faith decisions? “Bad faith” decision making is easier to identify in the story of King Herod because we read this story in the context of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and know that Herod is making a mistake. The challenge for us, the body of Christ, is to read our own decisions in light of that same story and ask ourselves whether the choices we are making are self-protective, in other words, are they made out of fear, or are they part of God’s transformation of the world.
I have a friend, Rod, who paddles down rivers in his canoe. And he recently wrote about how the currents in wild rivers are similar to the currents in our spiritual lives, in our creative lives, in our relationships. The currents are stronger than we are, we cannot out power them. All we can do it tune in to them and exercise leverage at the crucial points on the journey.
He writes, “There is usually more than one water path through a rapids, but usually one is deeper than others and requires fewer turns. Streams of water move through a rapids at different speeds. Rocks, the bend of the river, the different depths across the breadth of a river, all affect the speeds of the water paths. If part of the canoe is in one water path, and part in another, the current will exert conflicting pressures on the canoe’s hull. In harmony with the river’s flow, the paddler uses the differing currents as part of the turning strokes. Out of harmony, the river turns the paddler. That’s rarely good.
It’s not good in Herod’s story either. Herod was out of harmony with God’s plan, and societal pressures turned him. Had he gone with the Spirit’s flow, he would have trusted that part of him that did not think it right to kill John the Baptist. Remember, he was perplexed, he liked to listen to John. Truth has that kind of affect. But what decision is finally made? Herod made a ‘bad-faith’ decision. In our story today he is remembering John when faced with Jesus. Perhaps he is looking for a second chance. Perhaps he regrets the poor choice and is hoping for that second chance.
My friend also writes, “To connect with the currents moving through your life, or with the currents moving through a rapids, you need to move slower than the energy flows. There are just too many haphazard rocks around to move faster than the current. If you go with the flow and leave your speed up to the river, the river will determine where your canoe goes and it will go into rocks. In life too, I don’t want circumstances to determine my path. I want to get a lot out of life, and that takes vision, effort and courage.”
We are faced with choices every day. May we be granted the grace to put our paddle into the deep water path that is the force and movement of God in this world. May we tap into that strength and stand firm knowing that a decision made for the Kingdom of God, is a decision that we will not regret. And when, by chance, we do make those ‘bad-faith’ choices, may we trust in the God of second chances and of new life.
Flow, river, flow. Amen.
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