Sermon for Trinity 6 (2021)

Today’s gospel reading is so different from the gospel readings we hear on most Sunday mornings.

Today’s reading immediately follows the accounts of Jesus’ rejection in his home town, and the sending out of the twelve apostles.

In the coming weeks we will hear of rest and prayer; healing, feeding and rescue from great danger.

But … today is different.

At first glance, today’s gospel reading sounds like the script outline for a television soap, with its account of adultery, seduction, revenge and extreme cruelty.

But … this account of the beheading of John the Baptist is not a television script … it is an account of both the power and the peril of prophetic ministry.

Those who are blessed with the gift of prophetic ministry do not often make the headlines … as John did.

And yet, prophets have an undeniable authenticity that speaks the truth to those who hold earthly power, just as it gives hope to the powerless.

We are both drawn to and driven from the Good News of prophetic ministry.

The prophetic voice – the voice which speaks the word of God – calls us into a better life than that which we live without God at its centre.

The prophetic voice is the voice which challenges all that the world calls ‘normal’ or ‘good’.

The prophetic voice is the voice which moves our everyday lives into a different gear … a gear which brings about movement and change.

Such God-inspired and God-driven movement and change was demonstrated in the life of Jesus – every time Jesus healed and exorcised, every time Jesus worked any deed of power – there was movement and change.

Of course there were places where unholy resistance to movement and change erected a barrier that stood in the way of Jesus’ life-enhancing power. Last week we heard of this very situation in Nazareth. But such unholy resistance did not stop Jesus trying!

We have to remember that Jesus did not lose his power because of unbelief. In Nazareth, despite the negativity, Jesus was still able to heal a few faithful souls. However, those who would not see who he really was (and is) were left bereft of all that saving power in their lives.

Like Jesus, we are called to keep moving …
to keep reaching …
to keep touching …
to keep loving …
and all that in the name of God.

Those who speak with a prophetic voice will be rejected by some. They will be rejected, misunderstood and maligned.

As well as experiencing the rejection of others, we will find resistance within ourselves.

We will have to answer such soul-searching questions as:

  • Are we willing to tell the truth of God?
  • Are we willing to stand firm in our faith?
  • Are we willing to accept those challenges no matter what powers may come against us?

Herod was fascinated by John, and yet his personal ambition and moral weakness led him to silence the prophet sent by God.

How do we resist becoming like Herod in our lives?

All of this consideration of prophetic ministry presents us with a string of challenging questions:

  • How strongly do we feel the call to take up the challenge of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ?
  • Are we willing to accept God’s invitation to tell that Good News, even to those who reject us?
  • Are we willing to proclaim God’s power because we know that it has the power to change lives?
  • Are we willing to proclaim God’s power because we know that it has the power to change outlooks and outcomes?
  • Are we willing to proclaim God’s power because we know that it has the power to encourage and to empower?

Or are we simply curious … like Herod?

  • Are we attracted to the cosy thoughts that Jesus’ message puts into our heads, cosy thoughts that we are afraid to turn into the prophetic ministry that many might mock?
  • Are we ready to apply our own inadequate rationalisations to the working of Jesus’ power, something to be ignored as the doings and sayings of a travelling nobody?
  • Are we ready to sway in the breeze of indecision and weakness, just like Herod?
  • Will we, ultimately, be in the front row when the crowds scream: Crucify!?