Pentecost +7, Year B

By Greg Masztal

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark 6:14-29; Psalm 24

   In listening to our readings today I was struck by the two bookends of the Kingdom of Israel: David, the 2nd King over Israel, and Herod Antipas, the last.

   In our 1st reading we hear of David singing and dancing before the Ark of the Covenant as it is being returned to the capital of Israel. In his youthful spirit and newness of kingship David was celebrating the symbol of God Most High.

   King Saul had lost the Ark of the Covenant in battle with the Philistines when he tried to use the Ark in as a sacred talisman, as if he had the power to control God. While Saul started his kingship in great humility and fervent intent, over time he became lost in a wasteland of power and self-indulgence.

   David, too, starts off his kingship in humility and fervent intent, but it’s not too long before he, too, becomes lost in the wasteland of power and self-indulgence, sending off one of his most trusted aides to be killed in battle in order to have his wife for his own self.

   The difference between David and Saul, however, is David realizes, after losing the throne to one of his sons, that he has lost his way, and makes a return to humility and fervent worship of God. David is returned to the throne, greatly chastened, but rules Israel in faith during his remaining years.

   It’s interesting to recall that the son that resulted from David’s murderous indiscretion, becomes an even greater King: Solomon. What mysterious and marvelous ways God works in this world!

   In our reading from Mark we hear of Herod Antipas, one of the last Kings of Israel before the destruction of Israel by Rome in 70 AD. Antipas, son of Herod the Great, is a conflicted person. He arrested John the Baptist, not so much because of John’s call to repent, but because John loudly condemned Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias.  

   Herod could have killed John when he was arrested, but a part of Herod still felt touched by John’s message of repentance and the coming Kingdom of God. It is only when Herod is caught out in his drunkenness during a court party, that Herodias finally has her way in killing John.

   Clearly, John’s death weigh’s heavily on Herod’s conscience, and when he hears of the miracles and teachings of Jesus he is convinced that John has returned from the dead.

   At the human levels of Saul, David, and Herod Antipas, I find people who are struggling with the inner pull of their spirit between following God’s message, and becoming lost in the wasteland of greed and power.

   Isn’t this the same struggle Jesus faced in his 40 days in the wasteland? Isn’t this the same struggle each of us faces in our own lives? The 19th Century politician Lord Acton once said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

   While it seems fashionable today to perceive our Presidents as “good guys” and “bad guys”, the fact is they are human like all of us, and each has a mix of successes and failures, whether it was President Trump, President Biden, or whoever comes next or has come before.

   The fact is I don’t wrap myself up in politics or place my faith in any politician, only in God! I believe that is the Way of following Jesus!

   After being away for a month, this past week I was working on one of my least favorite jobs: cleaning the filters for our Koi pond. After spraying green slime off of the foam filters, and cleaning the detritus out of the filter box and putting it all back together, I sat down with a glass of ice water in the shade to cool off and watch the waterfalls and fish.

   As I was sitting there I finally noticed almost a dozen blue and orange dragon flies flittering around the pond in courting dances, landing occasionally for a rest. One of the blue ones alighted on a waterlily flower and sat there looking at me—or at least one of their eyes was looking—I’m not sure…

   Then I noticed a honey bee that landed on a smaller leaf of another waterlily. She walked over to the edge of the leaf and then started sipping water out of the pond.

   In this beautiful moment of witnessing God in creation I realized just how ancient in age humans must seem from the perspective of this dragonfly and honeybee. A dragonfly lives for about 6 to 18 months, and a honeybee’s life ranges from 5 to 7 weeks.

   Without dragonflies our world would be overrun with flies and mosquitoes, and without honeybees we would lose most of our crops. In their short span of life, both creatures work towards God’s purpose for them in Creation. The intricacies of God’s creation is beautiful to behold. How precious all of it is to God.

   As humans we hope to live for a hundred years, or maybe even more! Even if we make it that far, (most of us don’t), we never believe it really is enough.

   Unique among all the creatures of the Earth, God gives each of us our freedom to choose what to do with our lives:

  • whether to worship God, or not;
  • whether to live in greed and self-love, or compassion for our fellow travelers;
  • whether to live alone in the wastelands of this world,
  • or in the garden of compassion and fellowship of others.

   Living as followers of the Way of Jesus it can be daunting to keep going surrounded by the brokenness of this world. We can take comfort that Jesus faced the same difficulties.

   It would have been easy for Jesus to take up his cousin John’s criticism of Herod, but instead he continued on with the work of the Kingdom, sending out his disciples to preach the Good News of Joy about living in the Kingdom of God.

   As Paul tells us and the Ephesians in his letter from prison, God chose us to be adopted sons and daughters through Jesus. Paul promises us, as Jesus promises us, that the brokenness of this world, and the brokenness of our inner beings, will be repaired, restored, and renewed in the next life.

   This restoration does not apply only to us, but to all of God’s creation “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”—the honeybees, the dragonflies, all creatures, and us, too! In times of sorrow and despair, the best Balm of Gilead is to hang onto this hope of God’s love.

   To think all of this comes from sitting down for a sip of water on a hot day and opening mind, ear, and eyes to God’s creation.

   May the Spirit of God continue to be with each one of you.