by Bishop Mark Narum – 7/8/2015
14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Mark 6:14-16
I get to celebrate a homecoming of sorts this Sunday. I have been invited to preach at Bethlehem Lutheran, Ross. It has been three years since I have been in the congregation – a place where my family and I were members for 13 years. The text appointed for this Sunday is Mark’s story of the death of John the Baptist – it is a bloody, grotesque, unjust story of the rich and powerful taking the life of another, seemingly on a whim. There are better texts to preach on for a “homecoming”. The stories just prior to this one and those which follow are much more palatable – the story of the 12 being sent out two by two and having great success in proclaiming the Good News or the Feeding of the 5,000. However, it is neither of those texts which are appointed for this coming Sunday so I have been sitting and walking and thinking while I work about this gory text and what Good News might be hidden here.
As the words of the story roll around in my head all sorts of questions have popped up – like “Why?”. Why did God allow the faithful forerunner of the “one more powerful than I…” to die in such a pointless manner. Why did the writer of Mark decide to include this story – what is the point of it after all? God, please tell me what is the fruit of faithfulness? I assume that John the Baptist was a faithful servant, beyond a shadow of a doubt more faithful than I, and if his life ends in such a wasteful manner, so where does that leave me?
It is Wednesday morning as I write this with all of these questions swirling around in my head. At this point I see little hope of wrapping up a neat little sermon for Sunday morning which answers all of these questions nor the questions of those who will gather that morning. But to be honest I am coming to peace with that realization – maybe it is not the answers which are important but the questions. I have always been a person drive by questions which force me to think, to read, to seek out conversation partners. It has always been my sense that the job of the preacher is to raise questions for the hearer (and myself) to ponder, in this way the sermon does not end with the final word from the pulpit but lives on in the coming days and week.
My sense is this is not a Sunday for simple answers to life’s complex questions. No Sunday ever is, instead it is a Sunday to invite hearers into faith-filled questions until that day of our own final “Homecoming”.