Kahu's Mana‘o

July 14, 2024 - Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

"The Power & The Glory"

Rev. Gary Percesepe

Mark 6: 14-29

Do not fear those who kill the body ~ Matt. 10:28

The stench of death covers this tragic story. The curtain of royal power is pulled back to reveal Herod’s emotional predicament in the days before he foolishly orders John’s execution, a flashback that offers deep psychological insight into the nature of power and political leaders.

Herod fears John, but he is perplexed by John’s message. He enjoys listening to John and protects him, until he doesn’t. Herod’s ambivalence is motivated by cowardice. After murdering John, Herod is as haunted as Hamlet or Macbeth, fearful that Jesus might be the ghost of John returned from the dead.

Herod the Great ordered the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem. Herod Agrippa I executed the Apostle James. John’s beheading was ordered by Herod Antipas, a minor relative of Herod the Great. When you’ve met one Herod you’ve met them all. All wield the merciless power of the Roman empire. Sovereignty, a term once reserved for God alone, is now applied to nations; when threatened, nations employ violence to protect their interests.

Herod Antipas had an affair with his brother’s wife. John called him out. It took guts for a preacher to do that, and the price was high. A good person annihilated by the power of the state, again. You don’t have to attend church to hear a story like that. You don’t need the bible; you certainly don’t need me. You can find these stories any given day in the news.

We know the powerless suffer because of the powerful; what’s new and surprising is Mark’s revelation that there is greater power in nonviolence.

Gandhi showed that truth is more powerful than falsehood. The British Empire lied when it proclaimed that India was better off under British rule than if free and democratic. The British claimed to be in India for benevolent reasons (a similar lie believed by Captain Cook on the shores of Hawai’i). But as a shocked world watched British soldiers massacre unarmed Indian civilians, the international community reached a different verdict. So did the British people. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. adopted Gandi’s nonviolence with the same liberating results. Both Gandi and King learned it from Jesus.

The prophet’s head served up on a platter: does that seem like power? Antipas besmirched his sovereignty by having sex with his brother’s wife; he murdered God’s messenger at the command of a girl who reduced him to a quivering lump of desire by giving him a lap dance. This is power?

Behold the poverty of state power! Herod thought he’d silenced John, yet here we are today admiring John’s princely courage. Herod Antipas became a player in God’s salvation history. You can’t silence truth by executing children or preachers.

Courage makes all other moral virtues attainable. Cowardice is a character flaw. The coward is blind to the long-term consequences of self-preservation. You can disguise cowardice with names that normalize it: appeasement, expediency, compromise, consistency, cutting losses. Pleasing the base. But acting out of fear does great harm. The question cowardly leaders fear most is the prophetic question: “What are you protecting?” It’s usually fear of losing power, control, supporters or allies, fear of exposure, shame and humiliation.

Empires fall but the gospel endures. New disciples arise, some of them here today in this church. The word of God is the power of God unto salvation, and no tinpot dictator, president, or potentate can stop it. A far greater power is here, for at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.

The strong love to lord it over the weak, driven by sex, money, and power. But Mark’s story doesn’t end with Herod’s crime. Look closely at John’s disciples. They request a burial tomb. Imagine the kind of courage it takes to demand the body of someone publicly executed by empire?

Mark shows us that political courage didn’t die with John the Baptist. Herod thought he’d put an end to this meddlesome preacher, but Mark slyly leaks this burial detail. God’s word is proclaimed from the grave! Today, Rome’s empire lies in ruins, as does Britain’s. The gospel towers o’er the wrecks of time.

Courage continues right here in this hale pule. Jesus subverts the old world of fear through you! Whenever you speak aloha in the face of hatred, whenever you speak the truth about injustice, whenever you repent the sins of our missionary forbears against the native people of these isles and honor ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i, whenever you draw the circle wider to include the Other, when you choose hope over fear, you manifest the mana of God’s aloha in Jesus Christ. Fifteen weeks after Easter, we celebrate the Risen Christ who pulled up with him John, James, and all the aunties and uncles whose mortal remains rest in their graves but whose spirits are alive forevermore.

So don’t put your trust in princes, as the Psalmist says, or chariots or horses. Don’t trust in weaponry or state power. Forget about the relationship between Christianity and politics. Pay attention to the politics of Jesus. No earthly power can prevail. God shook the gates of hell off their hinges. Be not afraid. Be an Easter people.


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