6th Sunday after Trinity

Collect

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Amos 7.7-15

This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: the Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb-line in his hand. And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb-line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb-line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

     “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
         and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
         with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. For this is what Amos is saying:

     “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
         and Israel will surely go into exile,
         away from their native land.’”

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy any more at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”

 

Ephesians 1.3-14

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

 

Mark 6.14-29

King Herod heard about Jesus, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

 

Reflection by the Revd Sandie

If a preacher were flipping through the Bible looking for "101 Stories to Inspire Great Preaching," he or she would probably not linger long over this story of the martyrdom of John the Baptist.  It isn't a very uplifting story -- in fact, it is quite dark.  The good guys lose, and Mark depicts the loss in gruesome terms.

But this story is in all three of the Synoptic Gospels and when we study it further we realize that there is something more here than the death of a martyr.  This is also a story of hope -- an encouraging story for difficult times although we have to dig deeper to find that.

Just before telling us about John the Baptist, Mark told us that the Twelve had called people to repent, had cast out many demons, and had anointed many sick people and cured them.  These apostles had been doing great things for Jesus. 

This isn't the only place where Mark inserts one story inside another one.  As far as we can tell, Mark did that as a way of saying, "Look!  Terrible things happen!  Nothing could be more terrible than this gruesome story of John's death!  But don't be fooled!  That is not the whole story!  Something important is going on in the background while John is being martyred, and that something important is God conquering evil – disciples casting out demons.

.  When Mark sets this story of John's death into the middle of the story of the Twelve casting out demons, he is reminding us that bad things happen even to good people.  John the Baptist wasn't doing something wrong when they killed him -- he was doing something right.

Herod imprisoned John because John criticized Herod for marrying his brother's wife.  That upset Herod a little bit, but it upset his wife, Herodias, a whole lot more!  She wanted to kill John. It is very possible that Herod imprisoned John just to keep him away from Herodias. He saw something good -- something holy -- something true -- in John, and wanted to protect him from the wicked queen.

But, then, one night Herodias got her chance.  Her daughter having pleased the King with her dancing at his Birthday banquet is told she can ask for anything and Herod will give it to her. At her mother's prompting  she asked for John's head. 
Even Herod was horrified at the idea -- but he was also trapped.  All the important people in his kingdom were at that banquet, and they had heard his offer -- and they had also heard the daughter's request.  He didn't want to kill John, but he also didn't want to embarrass himself in front of his friends.  And so he did kill John


But, in the background, the apostles were out there on their mission -- preaching -- calling people to repentance -- casting out demons – healing the sick. Yes, one good man was being murdered, but hundreds were being saved. God was at work in the world.

Mark's church needed to hear that!  By the time Mark wrote this Gospel, the church was suffering terrible persecution.  Christians were being imprisoned -- even killed -- not because they had done something wrong, but because they had done something right.  I believe that Mark wrote this story within a story to reassure them. 

We need to hear that too. 
When faced with danger or pain, it is difficult to believe that there is anything right about the world -- or our lives.  But the story of John's martyrdom -- set inside the story of the successful mission of the apostles -- tells us that God is at work -- and it tells us that God will
win.  This story reassures us that, if we walk with God, in the long run, all will be well. That is an important promise to remember when we are in danger -- when we are suffering.

When our spirits are broken, God puts us back together again. During the healing process, God helps us discover inner resources we would never have known existed within us had we not experienced being broken.  As written in Ephesians  “With all wisdom and insight He has made known to us the mystery of His will...as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Him things in heaven and things on earth”  God is at work in us and in our world always. Amen

 

Post Communion Prayer

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water:
refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above):

Amos 7.7-15 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Ephesians 1.3-14 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Mark 6.14-29 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Post Communion (6th after Trinity) ©  1985 Anglican Church of Canada: The Book of Alternative Services
Collect (6th after Trinity, Short) ©  The Archbishops' Council 2005