The Beheading of John the Baptist

July 12, 2015
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12th July 2015, Dean Jamie

On the face of it, this Gospel appears about as dismal as they come. Here's this loyal servant of God – life devoted to pointing the way not to himself but to Jesus... All comforts given up, in the name of obedience to God. And where does it lead him? Not, after all, to a prosperity Gospel of riches, comfort and a fast car.

It's a situation all about the dynamics of power. It is the unfolding of how, as a species, we sometimes get it all wrong in how we choose to be influenced and led. Herod apparently has all this power at his fingertips, and invests this momentous decision of government (up to half the entire kingdom) on the basis of a dance and a dancer who dazzled him.

Of course, these days, the advent of the internet has vastly improved who we listen to when it comes to our greatest influences, and such a situation would never arise in 2015. Or has it? I'm not sure it has, given that the top ten most followed twitter accounts in the World are topped by Katy Perry at number one, with 72 million followers, Justin Beiber with 65 million and Lady Gaga with 48 million. For our words of wisdom, at least on the twittersphere, humanity also turns to Britney Spears and, of course, Kim Kardashian.

It's a mystery quite why the Developed World invests so much faith in these particular icons and the words that they come out with. However, it proves that Herod's horrific ineptitude, which led to the brutal killing of an innocent human being of faith and virtue, all because of his attraction to entirely the wrong sort of power, isn't something we are perhaps much closer to solving, 2000 years on.

The power of the words of the rich, attractive and famous is one thing; but the issue of how and who by we are influenced is increasingly critical for a massively connected World. Years ago, Suzy and I had the privilege of spending our honeymoon at the very same beautiful beach of Sousse in Tunisia, where last month, thirty seven similarly innocent people were brutally gunned-down. Despite what other voices of influence may say, such brutal assassins aren't, and will never be true Muslims by taking other peoples' lives. No one should hide behind Islam or Christianity for that matter, to justify their own evil.

This Gospel story of horrific killing gives us plenty to think about when it comes to complicity — who we allow ourselves to be influenced by; which groups we choose to be a part of; whether they are based on truth or lies, and where we stand up and object to issues that we know are evil or wrong.

For example; a humanitarian issue for us to think about. Of the World's estimated 52 million people living through the horror of being refugees, Aotearoa New Zealand receives only 750 per year — ranking us 97th in terms of providing this critical hospitality. That number — 750 per year - hasn't increased in thirty years. 2014 was one of the worst years for human rights in recent history. Not since the aftermath of World War II have there been so many refugees. What does our faith say about that, and what is our faith community saying about that; might we need to speak up on this and make some more sacrifices with our comfort? Especially remembering that the Holy Family were refugees when their little one, Jesus was just a baby; and without the hospitality of Egypt, he would almost certainly have been killed. Jesus began his life in a situation similar to that which Iraqi and Syrian children refugees are experiencing today. Jesus, as a young boy, like Iraqi children, experienced the pain of fleeing a land of bloodshed, where the innocent were being slaughtered. He saw the fear in his mother’s eyes as his family fled at night, hurriedly and desperately under the cover of darkness for fear of discovery.

Complicity? What happened to Herod the Tetrach was this.... He ended up acting against his better judgement and a tragedy ensued. It's a horribly extreme example, but its message is commonplace enough; I doubt that many of us has not experienced being trapped in some way or other by words or actions of the past. In Herod's case, he simply couldn't see any way out other than going along with it; so he did. But of course, there could have been any number of other outcomes; if he'd stood up for justice, the worst he would have suffered would have been loss of face. I believe that God will help us to find a way out; a better solution when we are entraped. We can trust in his help.

As this Gospel story is all about the dynamics of power; it is a reminder that the Church must refrain from mimicking the systems of power of the ways that are not of God. The treatment of John the Baptist; imprisoned for no crime; illegally killed... look to the Cross of Nails here; we can certainly reflect on the parallels between this injustice, and what happened to community of Parihaka in the 1860s. In that situation; in St John the Baptist's situation – “Who appears powerful?” ...obviously the tyrant. But is that really power?

And, most significantly – what next? What next for.....
- Herod – Heriodas - Salome
- What next for John the Baptist? - For his supporters and friends

John the Baptist went to meet his Lord. And, of course, within a relatively small number of years, so did each of the above! I wonder how these events bore on the rest of their days? Were they changed by them? Did they find peace? Did they know real hope for themselves and their loved ones? Were they secure in God’s promises? How about us? Are we relishing the freedom and love that Jesus gives? And we growing with the confidence for tomorrow that Jesus can bring?

As our own community of faith faces uncertainty about use of this beautiful sacred space, with the prospect that the building may have to be closed for a time; as there are many anxieties that you are maybe facing; may we all know that the Gospel ultimately holds all the reassurance we need; and that Jesus expressly understood our anxieties and yearned for us to worry less. I can barely imagine how frightening those last days of John's must have been; and if you find that your situation or the World's problems are worrying more than they used to; there are things that you can do....

  • ....Do get enough rest. If you're not sleeping, talk to someone about it and share the difficulty that your lack of good sleep is; there is help available.
  • Do tune in again to the words of reassurance from Jesus in Luke 12. Many of us are worried and anxious about events that will never actually will happen to us. Focus on today. Take life one day at a time.
  • Do listen to relaxing, soothing music. There is so much beautiful music available that can help you focus on God and leave your fears and worries behind. We have a fantastic selection of CDs here at the cathedral that you can borrow for as long as you like. Just ask. Music can help you pray; and just enjoying its beauty – like the anthem today during communion; is a prayer all of its own.
  • If at all possible, do something regularly that you enjoy. Allow yourself that.
  • TALK to someone. Don’t hold all the anxiety inside. It can be a big relief to share your fears and worries with someone else—a friend, relative, minister or counselor. If fear and anxiety is weighing you down, schedule a regular time each week to talk with someone
  • Do take action —If there is something practical and wise that you can do to alleviate the problem, take action. Don’t put it off. Procrastination only generally raises our anxiety level.

...and remember the beauty of this promise: “...God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son, Jesus.” Amen.

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Jamie Allen was called to St Mary's during 2009 as Vicar and was installed as the first Dean of the new Cathedral in March 2010..He departed in April 2015, and now runs the Taranaki Retreat and works for Tear Fund.

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