The Beheading of John the Baptist
Television can be rather surreal – and can condition us to expect what we wouldn’t expect in real life. I remember watching the first series of Lost. The concept was that an airplane crash lands on a deserted jungle island and the passengers then go about trying to survive. Mostly strangers, they were discovering one another’s back story while also trying to figure out where they had landed and what they needed to do to survive. Only things weren’t always as they seemed. There were mysteries introduced – there was a polar bear stranded on this island with them, odd things started to happen. Like many other tv shows, like soap operas and marvel or dc comic book inspired shows. The audience becomes conditioned to expect the unexpected. Death never quite sticks – characters thought long gone re-appear with some complex back story.
Of course the real world conditions us as well. We begin to assume success looks a certain way, or that certain things, like money and possessions, will make us happy. We are conditioned to believe that we have complete power to control our lives. When our lives are as much down to chance. We are conditioned to value people in certain ways, for their intelligence or their sense of humour or their appearance, when really we are each of us valued by God for who we are. We are conditioned to think that we must earn God’s grace,
by attending church, by saying the right thing. We are conditioned to think of the building when we talk about Church.
In today’s Gospel Herod is conditioned to think that Jesus, who he thinks is a prophet like John the Baptist, might be John the Baptist come back to haunt him, or worse, to exercise revenge on him. We hear the story of his killing John the Baptist, even though he believes him to be a prophet of God, because he places his promise to his daughter Herodias ahead of the God who created him.
Of course Herod is perplexed by John and by Jesus. He is conditioned to expect them to say and do specific things. He is conditioned to expect John to be trying to seek revenge – to be haunting him. He is conditioned to assume Jesus is going to try to enact revenge to try and overthrow him as king, perhaps. This is the son of King Herod from the stories of Jesus’ birth – given the tendency towards paranoia of his father – perhaps that this Herod is conditioned to expect Jesus is out to get him isn’t surprising. Only, the Jesus we know isn’t a jealous earthly king. He isn’t some anarchist trying to strike fear at the heart of the local ruler. Though he is challenging his authority.
What would Jesus really do if Herod had met him. Think of what he does to the pharisees or the tax collectors or the roman officials. He challenges them, sure, but he doesn’t attack them. He challenges the very assumptions by which they live. He asks them to eat with him and his friends.
Today we celebrate the dedication of All Saints’. The church was dedicated in 1856. But we aren’t just celebrating a building. We are celebrating the dedication of the local worshipping community who built this church as a place to continue their worship of God. It was the moment when a community which had been worshipping in one of the local laundries received the mantle of the church, the care of those who live in this parish of Child’s Hill.
So yes, we celebrate the existence of this building, but more importantly we celebrate the existence of each other. It is our anniversary of being recognised as a Church, i.e. as a people doing God’s work, worshipping God in what we do and say. In this morning’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we are reminded that we have inherited Christ’s mission, to be his body – the church. We as a community have received God’s blessing to continue the work of his saints on earth.
Much like Herod’s conditioning meant he expected Jesus had specific things in store for him. So we tend to be conditioned to think we must do particular things to be worthy of God’s grace, or to be a part of this church. Perhaps we have been conditioned to feel guilty if we haven’t been to church each week. I’m always surprised that people apologise to me for not having been to church recently.
You don’t come to church for my benefit. The problem is if you come to church because you feel guilty for not having come – then the more guilty you feel, the less likely you are to come to church! In being created by God we are dependent on God for life.
We are in need of that relationship with God, coming to church should, I hope, help us to feel more whole, coming to church should help us to feel encouraged in our faith and in our lives. The last thing it should do is make us feel guilty – quite the opposite. In reality, after all, we are the church – not this building. Whether we are here, or out in the street, or at home or at work – we are sent by Christ to do his work.
The difficulty is we need to shake off this pre-conditioning, pre-conditioning to feel threatened, to feel guilt, to think the church is only this building and not us. And it is the gift of the spirit to us all, to all the saints, which helps us to shake off the things we assume to be true,
to challenge the expectations of society, and to be the dedication which we celebrate today. The dedication to truly be the Saints’ of Child’s Hill!
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Said Eucharist in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
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