‘Never a convenient time’…a lesson from Herod? Sermon for Adel Parish Church, 11th July 2021.
Mark 6: 14 – 29
One of my Monday morning jobs is writing my ‘to do’ list for the week. I wonder if you have ‘to do’ lists…and whether you too have the thing that keeps being transferred from one list to the next…
That thing which is a bit less straightforward, less pleasant, scarier than the others. It’s easy to fill my days with important jobs, and never quite get round to it…somehow there’s never a convenient time…
I wonder – if we had a ‘to do’ list for our relationship with God – what might that thing be? Might it be repentance…owning up to and letting go of the things that keep us from fully following Jesus?
Perhaps that was true for Herod. He was certainly interested in John’s message. ‘Herod feared John, knowing he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.’
John preached repentance, turning away from sins, preparing to follow Christ. Presumably this was what Herod ‘liked to listen to’. In some way it stirred his soul, made him feel better. Maybe he even changed his life a little…tackled a few of the easy things on his spiritual ‘to do’ list.
But he could never quite face the big one…the stealing of his brother’s wife. He was too fond…or scared of Herodias, too worried about appearing weak if he gave her up. There was never a convenient time for that repentance…it stayed on the ‘to do’ list. In the meantime Herod’s conscience was salved by protecting John, and listening to him…until that fateful day.
You can almost feel sorry for Herod as his birthday celebration spirals out of control. There he is, enjoying a drink…showing off his wealth, his wife; her daughter comes in and completes his evening. It’s all going so well. Then he makes that lavish, very public promise, and suddenly ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven is near’ hits the top of his ‘to do’ list in a way he never anticipated.
And what was already hard has become impossible – because now choosing the life John offers requires him to deny the lovely daughter, snub his wife, and go back on a public promise in front of the very people he’s trying to impress.
There’s never a convenient time for repentance…and suddenly what looks like his last chance has arrived at the least convenient time possible. And Herod isn’t up to it – much as he’s attracted by John’s preaching, he values power and reputation more, and has John beheaded.
We know he regrets his decision…is probably haunted by it…from the start of today’s gospel passage. When Herod hears about Jesus, his message of repentance and acts of power, his first thought is ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised’. It seems he knew John’s message was from God…but couldn’t quite act on it.
There’s never a convenient time for repentance…and it looks like Herod blew his chance when it came. But that’s not the end of the story…
In Luke’s gospel, after Jesus’ arrest, we learn that Pilate – finding Jesus was Galilean – sent him to Herod, ruler of Galilee. Herod ‘had been wanting to see him for some time’. I bet he had – this is the man John preached about, and died for.
Another chance for repentance. But this time it’s even harder…now Herod has the murder of a prophet to repent in addition to his other sins. This proves an even less convenient time for repentance…Herod mocks Jesus and sends him back to Pilate…to his death.
I trust none of us have stealing our brother’s wife or murdering a prophet on our consciences; but we too may have found there’s never quite a convenient time for repentance. We may have some sin, some regret that we never find the time or space to face…to share with properly with God.
Today’s story shows the dangers of power, lust and rash promises. But closer to home, it’s a story of how the message of God’s kingdom is not just for listening to…it requires action.
John and Jesus came with the same message, ‘the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news.’ Repenting is about dealing with the things in our lives that get in the way of our relationship with Christ. They may be trivial; they may be huge. They may be things we’ve done; they may be things we can’t forgive. But there’s a fair chance there’s something we need to deal with.
There’s never a convenient time to repent, we can always find something else important to do. But Herod’s story shows how it can get harder the longer we leave it.
Perhaps it might prompt us to set aside some time this week to consider repentance. Some time when we leave the other things on our ‘to do’ list and make time for a bit of serious thinking about what obstructs our relationship with Christ.
And we might try to do something. Perhaps there’s one action we need to take to deal with that thing we’ve been avoiding. Or maybe one small step at the start of a long journey, working on something we know shouldn’t be part of a Christian life.
This story brought to mind the would-be follower of Jesus saying, ‘first let me bury my Father’, and Jesus’ apparently unfeeling reply, ‘let the dead bury their own dead’.
Perhaps just a reminder that there are always other important things on our ‘to do’ list of life. If we’re not careful we never quite find a convenient time to really ‘repent and believe the good news’.
Wonderfully with God it’s never too late; God is patient, forgiving, always offers another chance. But a deeper relationship with Christ, and the joy of sharing that with others is surely worth facing anything lurking on our spiritual ‘to do’ list.
There’s never a convenient time for repentance – so we might as well get on with it!