A Sermon by The Rev’d Adrian Stephens
“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.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”” Mark 6:14b-16
John the Baptist fascinates me. His contribution to the introduction of Christ and his humility in standing aside are a wonderful example for us. Instead of claiming glory and power he constantly refers people on to the one who follows him. He constantly points people towards Christ.
This did not stop him teaching. In fact, it gave him a very sound platform from which to speak. And speak he did. I find it to be encouraging that he can be so self-assured, so powerful, so confident, when he teaches; and so humble when he looks to God.
John the Baptist spurned the religious leaders when they came down to the Jordon. Presumably, they came to be baptised for repentance, only to be challenged by John. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come?”
When Jesus came to him for baptism, John declared that it should be that Jesus would baptise him, not for him to baptise Jesus. John’s humility in the presence of Our Lord, and therefore looking toward God, is profound. If we are seeking a suitable image for John the Baptist, it is hard to think of anything other than his behaviour of being a signpost which directs the attention of the people away from himself, and towards God.
We might like to compare the humility of John the Baptist to the total lack of humility we see in Herodias. She is presented as a self-centred and selfish woman who undoubtedly influenced the behaviour of her daughter. We might wonder about the wisdom of a child being expected to dance in order to entertain the guests of Herod.
We might also question how a mother could suggest that the same child demand the death of someone Herod had been protecting. Can you imagine the psychological impact on the child as she walked around with the Head of John the Baptist on a platter? It is horrendous. One of the primary reasons that Herod imprisoned John the Baptist appears to be an effort to keep him safe. Not imprisoned for criminal behaviour, but to protect him. Possibly it was to protect John from Herodias who wanted him to be killed because of his challenge to her.
While a man could write a letter of dismissal, or divorce, and despatch his wife, the same could not be reversed. It appears that Herodias left her husband and attached herself to Herod. This is why John chastised her, and this is why she hated John with a passion. Herodias offered no evidence of humility in her behaviour, nor in her scheming. Even the promise of half of Herod’s kingdom could not distract her from her desire for the death of John the Baptist.
We have a continuing theme of humility in the letter to the Ephesians. Paul intentionally points to God in all things. The introduction to the letter to the Ephesians encourages us to recognise the greatness of God and to be humble before God.
Paul reminds us that God has chosen us; we have not chosen God. God destined us for adoption through Jesus Christ. In Christ we have been redeemed. In Christ we have gained an inheritance; that inheritance being eternal life. All of this is sealed by the promise of the Holy Spirit. In all the teaching from Paul there is no indication that we have earned or deserved anything that God offers us. We are chosen by God’s good will to be forgiven and to receive his glorious Grace. God’s whole approach to his creation is generated by love. It is God’s love for us and for all of creation. Paul states that it is the desire of God that in the fullness of time all things in heaven and earth will be gathered to him.
In all of this we are spectators and beneficiaries. It is in the face of this great gift that we are to experience humility. Humility before God.
Our faith is not all about us. Our faith is not some private little club to which we belong. Our faith is to be firmly established in God, and it is in faith and humility that we will reach out to others in our community and around the world.
Being humble does not translate into sitting on our hands and allowing the world to go mad around us. Humility does not mean that we are to become the doormat to bullies and the self-righteous. Humility does not mean always putting ourselves down and believing ourselves to be unworthy. To the contrary, to be humble is to care for the well being of the people around us. To be humble means that we are to gently correct and purposefully teach about the promises of God.
One thing is certain. When we jump in the air and cry out that we are humble, we have failed, and will need to begin again. John the Baptist was humble before God, and he was no shrinking violet. Paul teaches humility before God, and he is very definite in his teaching. Many of the saints and martyrs were humble before God, but they were strong in their faith in God; and just as strong in their dealings with other people.
Humility is not found in the misuse of power. Humility is not found in bullying or condemnation. Humility is found in our relationship with God and our desire to live the faith as best we can.
It is in humility that we look to the welfare of the people around us. It is in humility that we kneel and offer our prayers to God. It is also humility that will see us ask for strength and courage to stand for all that is right and true and to combat that which is evil and destructive.
We take our lesson from those who have gone before. And it is with humility that we strive to emulate them. And it is with the putting aside of selfish desires that we will trust God and seek to follow the example of Christ.