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Preaching Mission for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 14, 2024)

God’s Banquets are Very Different
by Bishop Chris Giesler

Scripture Text: Mark 6:14-29

Imagine the scene: It’s Herod’s Birthday.  Now, this is not the same Herod as the one who tried to have Jesus killed as an infant; this is his son, Herod Antipas, one of three sons to the old man Herod.  Good old Dad had divided his kingdom into thirds so that each of us sons would have their own territory.  Nice of him, don’t you think?

One of the other brothers, Phillip, had a wife named Herodias, but young Herod Antipas also liked her, so he stole her away and took her for his own wife.    When John the Baptist got word of this, he told Herod that he had stepped beyond the bounds. So this then brings us to young Herod’s birthday party. The room is full of leaders of the local communities. These are folks who want to be in Herod’s good graces but also people that Herod wants to keep happy. You can be sure the tables were overflowing with food, and the wine glasses were always full.  And dancing her way into this extravagant party comes Herod’s daughter.  As Mark tastefully puts it, she “pleases all of the guests.”  A room full of men, plenty of wine, and a young woman dancing – go ahead, you can read between the lines.   So happy is Herod with the reaction his daughter receives for her dance,  he promises her anything she wants, even if it is half of his kingdom. Not knowing what to ask for, she returns to her mother to inquire what might be a good request.  With hatred in her heart for the man who has questioned her ethics, Herodias immediately asks for John’s head. But when the daughter goes back to Herod to make the request, she does one better by not only asking for John’s head but asking for it right then and there on a platter.  I can’t imagine how gruesome this scene must have been.  Quite the banquet, don’t you think?

Let us now compare Herod Antipas’ banquet with two of the banquets that Jesus held. Immediately following this account, Jesus gets in a boat with his disciples and tries to find a place to get away. But when they arrive at what should be a lonely lake shore, crowds have gone ahead of them and are waiting for him. Jesus looks upon them compassionately as a shepherd does for lost sheep.  He sees that they are hungry and asks his disciples to feed them. Puzzled, they ask him how this will be done. Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and gives it to the people. Jesus takes fish, gives thanks, and gives it to the people.  Well over 5000 people are fed that day. Jesus does not take credit; Jesus does not ask for thanksgivings. Jesus simply serves, and life is given.

Later, just before Jesus is arrested, he gathers in the upper room with his disciples. The Passover meal has been prepared. But before they eat, Jesus takes a basin of water, puts a towel around his waist, and humbly washes his disciples’ feet.  He tells them that they should go and do likewise to others. A bit later that evening, Jesus takes bread from the table, breaks it, and gives thanks.   He gives it to them, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  He takes the cup of wine from the table,  gives thanks, and says,  “Drink from this all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant which he said for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin. Do this whenever you drink it in remembrance of me.” This is life-giving and life-saving. This is why the kingdom of God is different from the kingdom of this world. Herod’s banquet is life-taking in so many ways.  Jesus’ banquet is life-giving.

 Hatred is life-taking, prejudice is life-taking, selfishness is life-taking, division is life-taking, deceiving others is life-taking, and Greed is life-taking.  But grace, grace is life-giving.

Father Richard Rohr says:
“If you walk around with hatred and prejudice in your heart and mind all day, morally, you’re just as much a killer as the one who pulls out the gun. That seems to be what Jesus is saying. The evil and genocide of World War II was the final result of decades of negative and paranoid thinking among good German Christians, Catholic and Lutheran. The tragic fascism of Nazi Germany was fomenting in people’s hearts long before a political leader came to catalyze their hate and resentment.

Father Rohr goes on to say:
“Jesus tells us to not harbor hateful anger or call people names even in our hearts like “fool” or “worthless person” (Matthew 5:22). If we’re walking around all day thinking, “What an idiot he is,” we are already in the state of sin. Sin is more a state of separation and superiority than any concrete action—which is only the symptom. How we live in our hearts is our real truth.”

You see, the kingdom of God is very different than the predominant sentiment of “me first” or “America first.”

The kingdom of God is full of love. The kingdom of God is full of grace. The kingdom of God is full of forgiveness. The kingdom of God seeks to serve the other. The kingdom of God has a place for you.