The Text from Broadway: “When You’re Good to Mama” from the Broadway musical Chicago.
There's a lot of favors I'm prepared to do - You do one for Mama, she'll do one for you!
The Text from Scripture: Mark 6:14-29
Herod’s daughter came in and danced, thrilling Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the young woman, “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” Then he swore to her, “Whatever you ask I will give to you, even as much as half of my kingdom.”
Our soloist and I had a little chat when she was in to rehearse the other day, “Are you ok with me vamping it up a little bit?” It happens all the time with this Broadway series – a singer will come and say “are you sure you’re ok with…..” Ab-so-lutely. Nobody could ever honestly slap a G rating on the Bible. If we were to just focus on the nice wholesome bits on a Sunday, there would be a whole range of human experience that would not be reflected in our common worship. Life is not G-rated. So we bring it all to God – heart, soul, mind, strength… hands, feet, and head (whether it’s connected or not).
Let me give you a little window into King Herod’s court: the royal family tree has enough scandal embedded in it to parallel the most sordid reality television. Let me recap just the current generations: Woman marries her uncle. Woman dumps her uncle and marries her other uncle. Great-niece dances for great-uncle and a room full of party guests in a way that’s worth half a kingdom…or the head of a prophet.
Just what kind of a Gospel are we running here? Perhaps it would be best not to invoke Biblical family values too hastily. Herod’s birthday banquet offers an unsettling vision of what it’s like when self-interest is the name of the game, when everybody’s a free agent waiting to be bought off, and every decision is high stakes.
A fabulous birthday party thrown by Herod, for Herod. It’s a great day in Herod’s world– he knows his own tastes, and he’s in charge. Nobody’s going order the anchovy pizza or give him a clunker of a gift. Nothing but the best for Herod. Nobody he doesn’t want there, either. Everybody invited for a reason – someone to impress, someone to intimidate, someone to manipulate. He knows how to throw a razzle-dazzle kind of party.
From the guests’ and the servants’ perspective, well, things are a tense. It was relatively easy to earn the wrath of a Herod. Prophets, helpless infants, family members… it was all the same. If there’s a Herod in the story, there’s going to be a bloodbath. Murder and scheming are the order of the day. Family can’t be trusted. Choose your allies well, and be aware they’re just as likely to turn around and stab you in the back.
Everybody knows there’s something wrong, but nobody’s secure enough to say it openly. But then, in the middle of Herod’s birthday party, a young woman dances in a way that catches the eye, and they collectively breathe a sigh of relief. It’s something on which the edgy room can focus, and they grab it like a lifeline.
We know that lifeline, don’t we? We find it on E! TV and on the Internet, workplace intrigues and hallway chatter.
I wonder what would happen if we grabbed a different lifeline.
I wonder what would happen
…if we refused to be manipulated into doing the will of a corrupt kingdom.
…if we looked past the talking heads mouthing the talking points crafted by wealthy people behind the scenes.
…if we looked past the manufactured celebrity scandal of the week.
“I’ll give you whatever you want,” says Herod. Maybe I don’t want what Herod’s selling...or what Mama’s selling. I don’t think we’re supposed to sell ourselves that cheaply.
Maybe it means we turn down what’s being offered by the petty rulers of this world – their banquets, their sideshows, their illusions of security.
Maybe we should turn down their rotten deals. We’re so good at running to an outside authority to say, “What should I ask for,” and when we do that, we get the answer we deserve – money, fame, power, a collection of honey-dipped prophets’ heads.
We were called, siblings in Christ, to love God with our whole selves – heart, soul, mind, strength… hands, feet, and head (whether it’s connected or not). We are called to pick a different lifeline than the one we are being offered by the false powers of this world.
It seems as if we live in the middle of Herod’s banquet. We feel the edginess. We are desperate for a distraction, some focus for our existential anxiety. So we attach it to our finances, our jobs, our health, our homes and our families, schools, church. As further instructed by the media, we attach our anxiety to our waistlines, parenting, social security and terrorism.
So much anxiety in this realm of Herod’s. So little God. Did you notice that? Zero God spoken in that banquet hall.
But there is no place from which God is absent, even if God’s name is not spoken.
God is still God, whether you’re in Herod’s banquet hall, or the locker room at the health club, or digging through the mess in your basement. The living God reigns whether or not your job is on the cutting board in the current round of right-sizing…and if it seems like the death of hope, know this: Resurrection will come.
God is present. Wisdom cries out in the courtrooms and conference rooms where your divorce is being handled; the Spirit breathes in the exam room where you wait for test results, and in the operating room where the medical team makes decisions about how far to go in removing diseased tissue.
Siblings in Christ, we do not gather in Herod’s banquet hall. We do not belong to his bleak vision.
I say it again: So what if we chose a different lifeline? What if we remember the realm to which we really belong?
Here is the good news: we gather for Christ’s banquet. We already have a place at the table. The powers of this world, despite all outward appearances, do not rule. We belong to God. We have a different vision of how it all ends. We have a different lifeline. Thanks be to God.