The Death of a Conscience” July 15, 2018
“The Death of a Conscience”
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
We’ve all seen the comic strip “Family Circus” written by Bill Keane. I admit that if given the chance, this is a comic that I never skip over. It’s funny, sure, but what makes it especially likeable is that it touches on our human condition. The funny part happens when Mr. Keane shows us this human conditions through the eyes of little kids. The strip that came to mind while reading this gruesome and icky account of the death of John the Baptist just happened to be one in which the little boy was at his bedside saying the Lord’s prayer. In it he on his knees at his bedside with hands clasped together and is saying, “As we forgive those who trespass against us. And leave us ninety two temptations….” You know, that wouldn’t be such a bad deal. I mean, if there were only 92 temptations to deal with in this world, then at least we might eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel. But of course, the temptations of this world are both infinite and diverse.
With that being said, I have to admit that I was tempted to skip over this rather perplexing story. It’s the kind of scripture that, no matter how you slice it, is going to leave a bad taste in your mouth so why bother? More importantly, where is the good news in this? Where is the lesson – the gospel truth – that we can take away, that brings us closer to God? So yes, I have to be honest with you: I just wasn’t feeling it. It’s all so petty and …well, worldly. I don’t need scripture to tell me about the world we live in; I get to see it and hear it and smell it and taste it and touch it every day, thank you very much. But you know, I couldn’t let it go. I kept thinking that if the writer of the gospel found it important enough to put down, then we shouldn’t ignore it. Also, unlike most of the writings in Mark, this account is detailed; lengthy almost. So I had an idea. What if instead of reading this as just another account of disgusting behavior by another disgusting Roman governor, what if we read this as if it were a parable? That works for me. That works for me because I simply can’t believe that Herod Antipas would have offered this 14 year old girl anything she wants. (vs 23) “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” See what I mean? This is the guy that poisoned his half brother and tried to kill his own father to get this job; and he’s going to offer it up because of what….a dance? But she doesn’t ask for half of his kingdom. Instead, she asks for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. And even though (vs 20) Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. (and) When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. Despite all that; despite the respect and even fear that Herod held for John the Baptist, because he had given his word, he ordered the deed to be done. I swear, I have probably read this account over 2 dozen times in my short life and every time I have found myself staring at the page asking the question, “What the heck just happened?”
I did an experiment years ago in a church I pastored in MT. I may have spoken about this once before, but it bears repeating. It was a small group – 6 or 7 us were sitting in the fellowship hall. And I asked them all to write down in just a few words what and who God was in their lives. I wanted them to write it down so they wouldn’t get ideas from others in the group, and yes, it was tough. When the sticky notes were gathered up though, I was in for a surprise. Some folks wrote, “God is love” which is a good answer. Others wrote things like companion or protector, but well over half the folks in that room wrote the same thing and I wasn’t expecting it. They wrote, “Conscience. God is my conscience.” I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. And so I asked them to explain it to me. I said, “Isn’t your conscience just the sum total of all the things you have been taught growing up? Isn’t it just the life lessons you have learned?” and they said, “Well, yeah but this is different. When God is your conscience, when you walk with Jesus every single minute of every day, you’re not so likely to fall through the cracks. When Jesus is running the show there ain’t no slipping, there ain’t no backsliding, and best of all, there ain’t no questions or doubts about what is right and what is wrong.” It was Martin Luther that once said for those that preach the word that it is our job to squeeze a passage until it finally yields good news. So I have to ask, is there any sort of good news to be found in this somewhat disgusting tale of Herod Antipas? I believe there is. I believe there is, if no other reason than we get to see what happens when conscience dies and it’s not pretty. Herod boxed himself in and to save himself he buried his conscience and drew the box in even tighter. The good news is that we are children of God. No oppression, no persecution, and no amount of peer pressure or political pressure can keep us from a life of abundance because God lives within us and we in him. So go ahead – leave us 92 temptations. We are a Kingdom people, we are a salvation people, we can handle it.
Amen & Shalom