Evensong 7th July 2019
Mark 6. 7 - 29
What is to be said to those who will choose a new Prime Minister in the next few days, using one (or perhaps more than one) of their postal votes? What is to be said about truth, community, trustworthiness, integrity, hope, the long term…when all seems to be about short term gain, simply getting to the top, popularism rather than service? And, given that this Church of England has its fair share of failures in the public square, around sexuality, safeguarding and inclusion most recently, what can we say about lifestyle and morality with any degree of confidence? We are not in a position to preach.
Mark 6 is about speaking truth: the truth about contemporary politics and leadership, and the truth about the call of God leading to a new life and a rewed lifestyle. John the Baptist doesn’t distinguish between the two, and no amount of what is called “whatabouttery” should stop us from doing the same. When we try to speak, and people say “ah yes but what about…” and list our failures, we must point to the truths we seek to hold, not our failures in doing so. Proclamation based on te truths of God is still possible, isn’t it?
Herod Antipas had power over his people. He wasn’t a King, but was used in that way by his Roman patrons. Herod had succeeded his father, Herod the Great. Go to Israel today and all the fabulous archaeological sites are that Herod’s constructions. He made an impact, and his son revelled in it. You were meant to be daunted by the size and scale. How do you speak truth when your power is tiny by comparison? This reading gives an option. Get under the skin. Be of such transparent desire for the truth that leaders desperate for affirmation, quick witted and wanting every scrap of knowledge will want to download what you have. Come to power with the way which taps into the ancient ways.
Herod simply cannot resist John. He can’t pigeonhole him, can’t recruit him, hates what he says but won’t silence him. Power needs truth, and someone has to speak it. Truth needs boldness and honesty and lack of fear. John knew what would happen. But truth needs to be spoken. And when it is, eventually, however much it gets smacked down and called fake and assassinated and despised, it will be heard.
‘One is coming’, said John, ‘who is more powerful than I. I’m not fit to repair his shoes.’ It is not about us, not about our structures and cathedrals and churches and billions of pounds of investments and Bishops in the Lords, brilliant though they may be, but about the one to whom we point, like John the Baptist did. Our structures and buildings are only any good when they don’t rely on their power but preserve and express the theology and discipleship and aspiration of faithful Christians, and continue to preserve and express and make clear all of that by pointing to Christ.
This humility and desire for the truth will be heard, just as it was by Herod. Mark gives us the story of John because Herod is affected by the preaching of Jesus’s disciples, who have gone out two by two, not relying on power and technique but on truth and prayer. They reminded him of John. Our structures will get in the way unless they too are transparent and honest and humble. That’s why the current safeguarding enquiry is so crucial, and why the church’s defensiveness is offensive to the Gospel.
Locally and nationally our fellowship and community life and active proclamation of the Gospel must be such that we are such a place and people of holiness, forgiveness, healing and faith in Christ, and can speak the still small voice of truth to power, even the powerful in the church. This is what we use to proclaim, and this is what we use to confront power. At the heart of a world city with stunning wealth and power all around us, and within us, we may feel we have little which can change things. With no power John spoke truth. We must not fail to do the same.
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