Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Today’s text

Mark 6:22-27

When the daughter of this same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, 'Ask me anything you like and I will give it you.' And he swore her an oath, 'I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.' She went out and said to her mother, 'What shall I ask for?' She replied, 'The head of John the Baptist.' The king was deeply distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he was reluctant to break his word to her. At once the king sent one of the bodyguard with orders to bring John's head.


There are two basic ways to read any story from the Bible.

You can read with a keen eye for what human beings are doing … or should do, or you can look for God’s gracious presence. You can read hoping to find what is wrong with us so you can castigate yourself or others, or you can read looking for how God shares divine life and beauty.

What you find is often determined by your initial focus, whether on God’s grace and goodness or on human failure. Just so, your reading will bring comfort and hope, or it will yield guilt, accusation, self-righteousness and a heavy spirit.

I prefer to read looking for the wonder and beauty of God.

I find it even in the grisly story of John the Baptist’s death at the head of the henchman’s ax, a story as contemporary as today’s news.

Mark’s Gospel inserts this story in the middle of Jesus’ sending his 12 closest friends, two by two, into the villages ahead of him. They go out to bless and heal, to call people to prepare and believe the gospel of God’s kingdom. He sends them out with no extra clothing or supplies, depending upon the hospitality of those who would receive them.

Each time they were welcomed the kingdom, the community of God’s loving presence, became as real as the food on their plates and the smiles across the table.

They go out and immediately we come to the story of John the Baptist’s execution at the hands of King Herod, who drank too much at a dinner party at the palace and made a promise even he didn’t want to keep.

Right after John’s death Mark tells us about the return of Jesus 12 followers from their mission. Jesus takes them away to a quiet place that isn’t so quiet. Hungry crowds follow, wanting words of God’s kingdom, words of hope to lift their lives into the living experience of God’s loving kingdom, moving them to life and joy.

The power of God’s living grace is everywhere, it seems. It stirs the imagination of the 12 so that they went on their mission with hope instead of worried whining about where their next meal was coming from.

It made John strong and passionate about the justice of God so that he should call for God’s justice even when kings and conspiracies threatened--then took--his life in a most ugly manner.

God’s living grace stirred the heart of the crowd, too. They followed their inner hungers to seek Jesus, hoping for blessings they could barely name, knowing it was better to be near him than to be separate from his presence, which is why I come to this place as often as I do.

Stories of human sin and failure are easy to find, and it is easy to read the Bible and history ever looking for what is wrong.

It’s more rewarding--and joyful, however, to set your eye on beauty and grace, knowing God’s love and power will show up, even in the worst situations you can imagine.

People of faith throughout history have found God’s beauty and grace in such places. That’s why I continue to look, trusting that the beauty of grace … is everywhere.

Pr. David L. Miller

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