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Trinity 7: Change, dance moves and corruption in high places

One of the consequences of the bright sunshine is the readjustment you have to make when you come out of a dark space into the sunshine. It takes a while to readjust your vision and get used to the light.

Whilst the England team came across a very strong team from Croatia the good news football story this week was the dramatic rescue of the boy’s football team from a cave in Thailand.

On limited food supplies they had to survive twelve days in total darkness with fear of rising water before their position was found.

In the last few days all have been rescued and brought out of the waters into light and safety. By contrast the other big event this week has been the visit of President Trump and Amnesty International sent an email outlining some of the reasons for the massive protest in London

  • Tearing families apart at the border

  • Keeping Guantánamo open

  • Attacking women’s rights

  • Quitting the human rights council

Interestingly the theme of water and misuse of power are reoccurring themes in the Bible. Water is a powerful image in the Bible. One of the most well known stories is Noah’s Ark and how the waters covered the face of the earth. It is a story of death and destruction as the waters cover the face of the earth.

This prophetic “voice crying in the wilderness” appears “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

He is not the Christ. John is the one who gets us ready. How does one prepare for this new age? Repent, change your ways, and get washed.

Like the prophets of old, John is no respecter of those in power and those of rank. Everyone is to repent and come into the cold waters. Even Jesus appears on the banks of the Jordan and is baptised. As Jesus starts his preaching and ministry after his baptism John, we are told, is arrested.

The Gospel story now returns to what happened to him.

Herod Antipas has heard rumours of Jesus, most likely stories of what he has been doing in Galilee. Stories are going around but Herod believes Jesus is in fact John the Baptist raised from the dead. It is then a sad story of power and corruption in high places.

John was arrested because his wife Herodias was angry that John had been openly critical of the royal marriage saying it was unlawful because she had been married to Herod’s brother Phillip.

She had a grudge but we are also told that Herod feared John and liked to listen to his prophetic rants.

We are told that they perplexed him and “he liked to listen.” It is suggested that Herod is fascinated by what John says but hearing his preaching does not change how he lives or lead to repentance.

I think that Mark wants to show that Herod had a choice. He had him arrested but it was in his power to release him and even change his life.

There is a banquet to celebrate Herod’s birthday and all the powerful and influential people of Galilee are there to celebrate with him. Then the daughter of Herodias enters and dances in a way that pleases the King and the guests.

Herod is so enthused he makes a promise that he will give her anything she wants, even half of his kingdom (not all of it, so not quite anything). She asks her Mum who is not in a forgiving mood and she suggests that she asks for the head of John the Baptist.

She goes back to Herod and asks for his head with the additional request “on a platter.” The King is grieved but “out of regard for his oaths and his guests, he did not want to refuse her.” So John meets his end and his head is brought in and given to the girl, who hands it over to her mother.

Herod had a choice but he opts for saving face and his holding onto his position of power and John as a consequence meets his death.

I was thinking this week about how this story impacts on us. There is an obvious message of not making rash promises as you may end up keeping them.

The focus could be on Herodias who carries a grudge that leads to the death of an innocent person; holding bitterness in our hearts is dangerous as if we are not careful it can destroy us.

The American thinker Booker T Washington once said: “never let someone pull you down so low that you hate them.”

Yet maybe it more focused on what is meant by baptism and repentance.

On two occasions, Jesus uses “baptism” to refer to his own impending death: He asks his half-hearted disciples, “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?”

It is a really difficult question to answer, because he is speaking about his death on the cross.

It is possible that the story is placed here as the threats against Jesus start to grow. We have already been told that the authorities wished to destroy him and he was soon speaking to his disciples very openly about his own death in Jerusalem.

It is although Jesus understands his own baptism not so much as going into the water and being made clean but being submerged and drowned. Jesus will be rejected and put to death but through this will he be raised to life.

When St Paul speaks about baptism he contrasts life and death: “You also must consider yourselves dead,” Paul tells the Romans. In baptism, the “old Adam” is drowned.” “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

I think baptism is a bit like coming out of the darkness and readjusting to the light. It is recognition that when we come to church we are putting ourselves in a place where change is possible. The things we struggle with can be faced and gradually overcome.

Martin Luther King once wrote: “One of the great glories of the Gospel is that Christ has transformed so many men, and made sons of nameless prodigals He transformed a Simon of Sand into a Peter of Rock.” He changed a persecuting Saul into an Apostle Paul

Tolstoy’s beautiful confession in “My Religion:” “Five years ago I came to believe in Christ’s teaching, and my life suddenly became changed I ceased desiring what I had wished before, and began to desire what I had not wished before. What formerly had seemed good to me appeared bad, and what had seemed bad appeared good. The direction of my life, my desires became different what was good and bad changed places. ”

The pull of the darkness as we see in Herod’s inability to break free is very tenacious, but by God’s grace the pull of the light is even stronger.

In the Church of England we are very gentle in baptism and the Greek Orthodox possibly have the right idea. Even babies get full immersion and are submerged into the waters.

An onlooker might think that is a bit dangerous and there is a risk of drowning.

It is possible if John the Baptist was with us today he would say: Good observation. That is exactly the point I was trying to make.

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