Today’s gospel lesson, “The beheading of John the Baptist” is not the best segue into the sermon. Just finishing the gospel reading with, “The Gospel of the Lord” and you all answering back, “Praise to you Lord Christ” is just a little weird. What is “good news” about John the Baptist being martyred simply because the King Herod’s latest wife wants him killed. The whole scenario is just so gross and awful. What I wonder is how did the situation within Herod’s household disintegrate to such a crude and base level? Was Herod always this weak and pathetic or did he devolve over time. Did the position of power and authority warp him or was his character formed by an even more despicable father? If you recall it is Herod’s father who condemned all the baby boys two and younger to death in the desire to kill the newborn king.
We know a few things about Herod and his family. We know that Herod is only king because the Romans have propped him up as king. We also know that Herod is not a descendant of David and therefore not considered a legitimate King. We know that questions surrounding his legitimacy resulted in pettiness and cruelty. What we don’t know what his original intentions were when he became the King. Did Herod intend to rule more justly than his father? Did he intend to be more faithful? We just don’t know. However, scripture shows us time and again that it doesn’t matter what a king’s original intentions are because over time the power and authority take their toll. King David is a testimony to the revealed truth that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Today’s Old Testament lesson highlights the coronation of King David as king over a united Israel. Prior to today David was king of the Judah and after Saul’s death the people of the north, Israel, asked David to become their king. This is a beautiful moment in the history of Israel. It is the transitioning of power not only between two men, but between two families. The handing over of authority takes place without bloodshed and war between the two. Granted, Saul and Jonathan died in battle, but it wasn’t a battle between David’s army and Saul’s. Rather Saul was slain by the Philistines; which meant that David’s hands were clean and opened the door for the people under Saul to seek out David’s leadership in a spirit of peace.
David has every intention of faithfully fulfilling the role of King for all of Israel. The people asked David to shepherd the people and David made a covenant with the people to become their shepherd. Just the language used by the writer highlights how God, David, and the people understood the role of King. The King of Israel was to be the shepherd of God’s people. David, of all people, understood what the duties of a shepherd.
First, the shepherd watches over the flock. He makes sure they are watered, fed, and all together. Second, the shepherd protects the flock from various threats; such as wolves, bears, and thieves. Ultimately, the shepherd puts his live on the line for his flock. David not only promises to shepherd God’s people, but David makes a covenant to shepherd God’s people.
So what is a covenant? A covenant in the biblical understanding is the establishing of an unbreakable bond and promise between two people with God as their witness. The covenant David makes with the people I believe at the time came completely from his heart and he had every intention of fulfilling that covenant. However, David wasn’t God and his journey as the King of Israel revealed David’s character defects which lead to many failures as a shepherd, parent, and person. The power and authority of being a King eroded the qualities that God saw in David back when he was tending his father’s sheep and not even significant enough to be invited to dinner. I say erode and not destroy because the light of God which shines in all of us can’t be completely destroyed no matter how hard we try to snuff it out.
When we look at Herod and David, it’s hard not to see the same pattern play out over and over again. With the best of intentions we are entrusted with power and authority and we squander it. I don’t just mean political leaders, or people in positions of power I mean each and every one of us. We all possess some power and authority. We all have the ability to choose how we interact in the world and how we treat those who are weaker, more vulnerable and fragile than ourselves. We have the power and authority to make the lives of others we come into contact with experience hope and joy. I believe that like David we have every intention of living faithfully as God’s chosen disciples, but we miss the mark.
So, in looking at the lessons today we could be left with the belief that there is no hope for us and that the best thing that could happen is for God to just send Jesus back and clean up this whole mess. But God already sent Jesus and God has already given us the tools we need to live faithfully. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he explains so beautifully that God is achieving in and through us what he first started in Christ.
In our hands absolute power corrupts absolutely. Ironically, God is absolute power and God’s power is revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Christ true power is turned on its head through the cross and absolute power is revealed in sacrifice for others. Jesus, who didn’t grasp power and authority, but rather embodied God’s true power. Christ’s life of love, mercy, justice and peace was the living example of shepherd leadership. Jesus lived an utterly selfless life and paved the way for all Christians to follow.
The covenant that David made with the people of Israel he was incapable of fulfilling. Jesus, on the other hand, fulfilled it. The truly beautiful aspect of Jesus’ covenant for us is that God has empowered, claimed, and sealed us with the Holy Spirit so that we might live in the glory of Christ. Yes, each and every one of us have been empowered with the authority of the Holy Spirit to live as a covenant people to the glory of God. Granted, we forget this amazing truth all the time, but that doesn’t make it any less true. What it means is that through our redemption we are given a fresh start daily and daily we can face the world with the belief that through us God is making the changes in the world that we desire. We are the means through which God is working His will.
God has called us, yes little ole, you and me, to be the means through which the gospel comes to life. We are to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the authority of God’s call, and faithfully walk through this life in the knowledge that we have a purpose in this world. That purpose is to promote the gospel through our daily actions and interactions. We are to love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly without God. We can live according to God’s promises because its God will and desire. Will we do it perfectly? No. And guess what God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. However, God expects us to be faithful because he has empowered us to be so.
The good news is that God knows we have it in us to live faithfully because God placed the ability in us. Now we just need to believe it in ourselves.