This is the message that I gave on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 16 July 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY. The Scriptures for that Sunday were 2 Samuel 6: 1 – 5, 12 – 19, Ephesians 1: 3 – 14, and Mark 6: 14 – 29
Earlier on in her life, my youngest daughter learned quickly not to ask her father, “Daddy, do you know what?” For as often as not, I would reply, “Yes, he plays second base for the Cubs.” Now, after the service last week several people told me that I said that Mark McGwire plays second base. Believe me, I know who’s on first.
If you are like me, you enjoy hearing the performance of Abbott and Costello’s routine of “Who’s On First?” which is surely one of the greatest comedy sketches ever created. For those that are not familiar, this piece revolves around the matter of understanding what the question was and what the answer is. If you are going to get the answer that you want, you have the right question.
For the people of Jesus’ time, the question was “Who was Jesus?” In the opening part of the Gospel reading for today, the people are saying that Jesus is really John the Baptist, raised from the dead. He might also have been Elijah or another prophet. The people don’t really know who Jesus is and it clearly shows that the expectations Israel had for its coming Messiah where in sharp contrast to the divine mission that Jesus was fulfilling.
And Herod is worried because he had ordered the execution of John by beheading because of a promise he had made to his wife’s daughter. Salome had danced to please Herod and his court and in return, as noted in Mark 6: 22 – 25., Herod promised anything that she might ask for. Because her mother, Herod’s wife, hated John the Baptist for publicly denouncing their marriage as sinful and a violation of Jewish law, Salome asked for John’s head on a platter. The nature of the way the promise was made meant that Herod could not refuse her. No wonder he was afraid when he heard of Jesus and what people were saying. He certainly must have thought that if it were John the Baptist who was preaching, it was a ghost and he would suffer for held to his promise.
Thought the Old Testament reading for today is mostly about celebration, there is also a hidden undercurrent of resentment present.
David has brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem and established that city as the capital of Israel. There is a great celebration, complete with dancing and shouting and music and good food. And David, in his celebration, extended that joy to all the people. In the last verse, after David had finished the burnt offering, he shared the offering with all the people who had shared in the celebration, something ordinarily not done.
But contrasted with this celebration is the anger of Michal, David’s wife and the daughter of the former king Saul. Michal felt that David’s actions and dress were inappropriate for a king. She was also angry that her father and brother had died in battle. To say that she despised David in her heart, as verse 16 indicates, was perhaps an understatement. If you read verse 20 of this same chapter, you see her anger in all its fury.
Against this anger, David reminded her that it was God who had chosen him to be king in place of her father and that he would gladly be more undignified and humble if that would honor God. David asked only to serve the Lord and he was rewarded. Unlike her brother Jonathan, who had accepted what God had given him, Michal could not accept what God was giving her and did not trust in God for future happiness. Instead, she became angry with both David and God and, as the last verse of chapter of chapter 6 notes, she died childless, the result of her estrangement from David and perhaps divine punishment because of her refusal to join in the celebration of God’s name.
If you ask for God’s help, you will receive it. The grace of God is open to all those who seek it. The people of Israel wanted a Messiah and God willingly sent His Son to fulfill that request. But what the people wanted was an earthly king, someone who would lift out of the bonds of slavery.
But the slavery that Jesus would lift the people out of was not the slavery to Rome or other earthly kings, it was the slavery of sin and death. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, God does not guarantee health, wealth, and prosperity to the New Testament believer. Rather, belief in Christ offers the promise of a life with Christ. Throughout this entire letter, Paul tries to explain what God’s grace means and what we must do in order to gain that grace.
Knowing what question to ask is sometimes the most difficult task. For if we do not know what we want, we cannot ask the right question. To many of the Ephesians, God’s grace was a mystery, a puzzle that only a few or the initiated could solve. But that was religion was viewed as a mystery. Paul told the Ephesians that God’s will, once hidden and obscure, was now revealed by the presence of Jesus Christ, the Savior.
As we come to the Communion Table today, remember that you are only asked one question. Do you come with a open heart, repenting of your sins, knowing that Christ died for you? If you have that question in your heart, then you will receive the promise of eternal life, you will get what you asked for.