Welcome to this morning's CTS Worship service. Worship today is led by Martin Sykes and our preacher is Morag Walder (service via Zoom today with a recording of the Zoom below)
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Below you can find this weeks Message. Click here to find the whole worship sheet.
Many years ago, when I was training as a teacher, I recall an activity we were asked to do.
We were invited to take part in ‘an experience’, and then reflect on it.
I don’t recall so much about what we did, but I do remember what we learnt.
Basically we were divided into three groups and given some trading tokens. What we initially did not realise was that each group did not have the same ‘wealth’ or ‘power’.
And as the game progressed the group with the most was able to develop a strategy so that they gained even more - and one group became significantly disadvantaged.
The group with the power claimed that they were not really trying to be exploitative but they wanted to preserve and promote their position. Power can be so seductive.
The group that was struggling felt that the rules made by ‘power group’ had less and less legitimacy - and that impacted on their position and their reactions.
For me, one of the most searing lessons came when someone in the middle group said that they could see what was happening and wanted to do something about it.
And the struggling group replied: But you didn’t do anything.
You didn’t do anything
And since those times, decades ago, I have found myself reflecting. Where am I in those groups? And what am I doing?
Herod was a man with some power. Power over his province, though subject to the Romans.
His father, Herod the 1st - otherwise known as Herod the Great - had been appointed a provincial governor of Galilee and later was proclaimed king of Judea by the Roman Senate. Although he established large building projects, he has been described as decadent, despotic and dangerous. He acted to preserve and promote his own power base. He had one of his wives - and other family members - executed.
Herod the Great was the king when Jesus was born, the one that Matthew’s gospel recounts was responsible for the killing of the infants.
The Herod in our reading today was Herod Antipas, Herod the Great’s son by one of his wives: Malthace, a Samaritan.
After Herod the Great’s death there was a dispute about succession, which was settled in Rome. Whilst Herod Antipas was there, in Rome, he fell in love with his sister-in-law, Herodias. She was also his niece.
This Herodian dynasty was complex.
So Herod Antipas and Herodias divorced their spouses - and got married.
Enter: John the Baptist… who forthrightly condemned this relationship. Herodias, who appears to have been quite an ambitious and manipulative person, was furious. So John was arrested and imprisoned in the great fortified palace at Machaerus, in the area that is now Jordan.
Herodias wanted John out of the way… killed. But Mark tells us: …. 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.
Then it is Herod’s birthday, and he has a big party to which he invites a lot of very important and influential people: top leaders, leaders and military commanders.
Picture the scene: a porticoed courtyard hall full of important people, a sumptuous banquet - and no doubt the wine was flowing.
On to the floor steps his stepdaughter. And she dances: a dance so pleasing to the gathered revellers that Herod makes her a rash promise: ask for anything that you want and I will grant it.
And this gives Herodias the opportunity she has been waiting for: John’s death.
Artists have captured the subsequent scene:
A banquet scene, a severed head served on a platter.
Is some scenes the young girl is portrayed looking away, perhaps deeply disturbed by this development.
And some scenes capture the satisfied expression of Herodias: the deed is done.
Herod had the power at this party, his birthday party.
And though he had previously protected John, he now orders his execution.
Why did he do it?
Did he not want to lose face in front of all these influential guests?
Was his judgement fazed by alcohol?
Was he so influenced by Herodias that he would compromise his conscience?
Was he seduced by the dancing of his step-daughter? What were the factors that led to his decision?
This was the use of his power. The abuse of his power.
Mark places this account in between the report of Jesus’ sending out his disciples on a mission and their return. He wrote this at a time when the Christians were facing persecution.
Key to the passage is the cost of discipleship.
This account of John’s time before Herod prequels that of Jesus’ appearance before Herod shortly after his arrest. Luke recounts that this was in the presence of the religious leaders who made accusations against Jesus, and ended with Jesus being ridiculed and mocked.
Though curious about Jesus, Herod ended up colluding with Pilate, the leaders and the crowds.
This was the use of his power. The abuse of his power.
And through the centuries since, like those early Christians, people of faith have been persecuted. And they are still today. In many places of the world.
And this story reminds of that reality.
As someone has commented this week: there will be Christians in many places today for whom this story will have a strong significance.
Let us stand with them in solidarity. Let us remember them in prayer.
Reading this story also reminded me of that game that we played way back in teacher training.
That game where some people had a lot of power, and some people had some power and some had very little - and their situation became even worse.
And I wonder where we are in all this?
We may not have a lot of power - but I guess we have some.
And how do we use it?
What influences our decisions? Our actions?
Do we hear the voice of the disempowered? Those who feel excluded? Those on the margins?
And those whose lives are being devastatingly damaged by climate change, by global scorching?
And what are we doing about it?
Are we using the power that we have?
There is a song in Singing the Faith - number 702:
I will speak out for those who have no voices
I will stand up for the rights of all the oppressed…..
The searing memory I have of that game we played years ago in that classroom is that the powerless group said:
“You did not do anything.
You said you knew about us. But you did not do anything.” May our next hymn be our prayer of response.