The Ultimate Blessings

Mark 6. 14-29 7 th Pentecost R.C. Brown
All Saints 11 JUL 21

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The Ultimate Blessings

Today, we depart from our usual practice of the examination on the Gospel message in several ways.

First, yours truly wants to take a moment of personal privilege.

It has been my blessing to have experienced many, many satisfying moments over my career, which spans over fifty years. But none of those high moments compares to the experience I have had here, in this place, among all of you, in sharing from the Gospel of our Lord.

It has also been a most high distinction and an extremely humbling privilege to celebrate the Eucharist in
this Holy Place, among all of my fellow members at All Saints. To God, and to all of you, I express my
profound gratitude.

You have been especially patient in your tolerance of this old college professor. Even though I attempt
to disguise my feelings, I sometimes get very emotional at the Epiclesis, when we call upon the Holy
Spirit to consecrate the bread and wine that is our sacrifice.

For that, I can only ask for your pardon. For your kindness, and your patience, I will be forever grateful
to all of you. Thanks be to God.

In our Gospel lesson for this Sunday, Mark recalls the circumstances surrounding the death of John the
Baptist. This comes after Jesus has sent his disciples out to tell of the message of Jesus, and before their
return from the mission field. This is yet another example of Mark using the “sandwich technique”, of
placing a story within a story.

Many scholars are of the opinion that this account is merely “filler”, between the sending out of the
twelve, and their return. Others believe that there is insight to be had in this story.

Why does Mark include this account of the death of John the Baptist? It is the longest of the antidotal
stories in the Gospel. Besides the story of Golgotha and the empty tomb, it is the only story in which
Jesus never appears. Likewise, in this story John never appears.

Now, no one wants to preach about the beheading of John the Baptist! This is a most depressing
prospect. But together, we will attempt to ascertain the meaning of this tale.

Could it be that this flashback story of the death of John is really a forward view toward the death of
Jesus? Mark gives us a hint in verses 14-16 over the confusion of who John really is, and his relationship
to Jesus.

Our Gospel for today, among other things, is perhaps a study in vulnerability. There is the vulnerability
of Herod, the vulnerability of John, and most of all, the allusion to the vulnerability of our Lord Jesus,
who offered himself even unto death for our sake.

The psychologists tell us that exposing one’s vulnerability to others in the key to establishing a
meaningful set of relationships. We have no better example than Jesus and John of this fact.
All of us tend to hold privately our innermost thoughts and opinions. It is a natural defense that all of us
have against the world around us, and against those with whom we may have real differences of
opinion, whether that may be political, religious, or some local controversy.

But Jesus and John never hesitated to speak out against authority, whether against Herod in John’s case,
or against the religiously powerful in the case of Jesus.

And I confess freely before you that this has been a difficulty that I have had to face, as all of us have.
No one truly knows my mind, except for my dedication to the Gospel, except God, and Jill!
But you have not lived until you try to explaim to one of those brain- trust- geniuses, in the Arkansas
Legislature, that the simple and ideological answer they have concocted to a very complex set of
problems, is not feasible.

Herod and Pilate share many characteristics and roles. Each of them is a magistrate in charge of justice
for the accused. Each of them believes that the prisoners, John and Jesus, under their jurisdiction is
innocent. Each of them is sympathetic to these men. Remember, it was Pilate who said of Jesus, “I find
no fault with this man.”

Like Herod Antipas, Pilate is swept up in the circumstances of the moment, and both of them believe
that their credibility and office depend on honoring their past pronouncements. At the moment of
truth, Herod and Pilate give in to the forces around them, and each condemns an innocent person to
capital punishment, under their authority.

Like John, Jesus is passive in the face of these false charges, and both are put to death in a hideous form
of state execution. Both John and Jesus have a moment of truth, as do Herod and Pilate.
John’s followers give him a proper burial, but what becomes of the disciples of Jesus? That remains to
be seen.

Gospel means good news, and we must ask, “where is the good news in this story?” We are hard
pressed to find any!

But, my friends, we know the end of the Gospel. We know that Jesus gave himself for us. And we know
that on that fateful day of the resurrection, all of creation, all of our lives, and the lives of countless
generations, and all of humanity, changed for all eternity.

God made known to us his salvation, and all we must do to attain that salvation is to accept that most
marvelous gift of the grace of the Almighty.

And that, my friends, is certainly good news, indeed!

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