Rev Alison’s video reflection can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu-rYnozkHw
Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29
In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen
Today’s readings could not be much more chalk and cheese. In our Gospel we have King Herod thinking Jesus as he began to teach and preach was John the Baptist raised from the dead. We then heard the sorry tale of how Herod had been intimately and entirely involved in the demise of John. It is a story packed with the seedier side of human nature – deceit, manipulation and inappropriate extra marital relations. In all of it, Herod had recognised that John was a ‘righteous and holy man’ and protected John even after arresting him for speaking out against Herod’s lifestyle choices. Yet subsequently, Herod’s hand was then forced after he had made an ‘extravagant’ and open-ended promise as a gift for a dance performance. Herodias, Herod’s wife, took her chance to enact her revenge on John who had spoken out about the inappropriate nature of her relationship with Herod. We also know deep inside Herod knew what he ultimately did was wrong, because it says the King was deeply grieved.
We recognise the sentiment in all of this in all probability, because sometimes we have all found ourselves resorting to devious means to get our own way, and then on a better day working out we should not have done it! I have seen someone preaching about this passage holding a silver salver to be the platter and asking people in their mind’s eye to put their behaviours of this sort on to it, asking God for forgiveness – It was an uncomfortable and humbling moment.
We occasionally use the phrase wanting someone’s head on a platter when they have done us wrong and we want revenge like Herodias did. This is an idiom of speech with direct origins from this story!! By in large revenge is not something that does any of us any good, much better for us to be seeking peace and reconciliation than ill-fated working out how to get even.
Anyway – as I said at the beginning this passage could not be much more of a contrast with the reading from Ephesians but there is a link. The Ephesians passage has us thinking about praising God across many dimensions of his love for us and rooting the basis of our spiritual blessings firmly in God’s love for us. The link between the two readings connects us to the essence of why Herod knew what he was doing was wrong, because our spiritual journey’s recognise the importance of our quest for holiness through praise and worship of the God who loves us so much. And it was that very thing that Herod recognised in John – he knew John was on the quest for holiness too. More than that he knew John was holy and righteous, and what Herod was doing was not!
When we think about our praising God across the many dimensions of his love for us, it is hard not to dwell on our experiences of the past 16 months or so (and very nearly all the time I have been here). When we have been able to praise God together in worship, we have had to follow quite complicated regulations about the ‘what and how’ of it, much of which has been most unwelcome. It has been very hard to bear the lack of singing, the being together and yet by necessity separate from each other. Inherent in praising God together in worship is heartfelt singing and deeper fellowship in person than we have been able to exercise for most of this time. Like all of us, I am really looking forward to having much greater freedom to worship, and share fellowship. For the first time in a long time, I can see the joy of singing together is finally more than peaking over the very near horizon! Thanks be to God.
As an aside for a moment, as we contemplate the wonder of singing together in praise of God’s glory – what should we start with? I would be very interested in hearing your choices and why you chose them. Though it might be our overarching favourite hymn – that might not contain words that really sum up what our first in church sung praise of God should be after such a long drought of this activity. Please do let me know your thoughts? I am minded to pick (if it is me picking) a good solid hymn of praise – possibly Praise my soul the King of heaven, To God be the glory, or Guide me O thou great Redeemer.
Let’s take a moment now though to dwell on the riches of this extract from the first chapter of Ephesians to remind us why we praise and worship God. There is a lot in this passage, and I am going to draw on just four of many riches to help top up our internal balance about it.
Firstly: We worship to recognise our blessedness by God and how we are his children through Jesus Christ.
Secondly: We worship as Jesus is the foundation of how we can stand holy and blameless before God through his love for us. Jesus who was there from the very beginning, who was and is and is to come.
Thirdly: We worship in God’s glorious grace, freely given to us and as the reading said that is lavished upon us. Not something we earn or deserve, but flowing abundantly from God’s love for us, lavishly as the reading put it.
Fourthly: We recognise the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives working in us and through us. In this instance Paul uses the language of inheritance, the power that accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, and toward the end of this passage that we are marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.
The passage also says there are three active responses we need to be busy with for the praise of God’s glory (which is another central facet of why we worship). The verbs St Paul uses for these are hoping, hearing and believing. These things help us to stay connected to God’s love for us and to be wholehearted in our praise.
Firstly, staying hopeful is important to us and living in the hope of God’s love for us beating in our hearts. This is a great comfort in the troubling times we have been living through, and has been a stream of peace and reassurance. One of the ways to stay in that hopeful place is to be consistent in our prayer and bible reading, which moves us on to keep hearing the words of scripture and letting them work in our hearts, which is St Paul’s second verb. In a little while, I will be embedding the daily Bible readings that have been supplied over all these months in our daily worship resources into our newsletter. When this all started I never imagined we would still be doing this all this time, but the joy of reading the psalm and short reading specified is usually that you will be reading it alongside many Christians across our land on that day and in unity together. God can work in us through the wonder of scripture – even the most familiar passage can have something new to say in us. As well as hoping and hearing the scripture – the third active response we need in praise of God’s glory is to believe and let the Holy Spirit work in us, boldly and freely in our belief!
As we move towards greater freedom in praising God’s glory together in the days and weeks and months ahead – let’s remember that that is what our worship together is about. We worship to give the glory to God. Technically this whole passage is written by St Paul as a very Jewish form of praise. Some of the original recipients of his letter would have recognised this intent as a psalm or hymn of praise. It was intended to be a way of blessing God for all the blessings God has showered on us, to encourage us in the walk of holiness, and draw us to reconciliation and peace.
At the moment, we need this kind of perspective altering vantage point that worship brings, to enrich our hearts and lives, just as much as our Ephesian forebears did. To take the next step forward revelling in God’s creative love, to remember the big picture of Jesus’ saving love for us and to allow the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s will in us through his counsel.
Let us pray: Praise be to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He chose us in love to be holy and blameless. He called us in love to hear the good news of salvation. He blessed us in love and included us in his most marvellous plan. Praise be to God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer – Help us to live with hearts on fire in praise of your glory. Amen.
Prayer adapted © ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2021. Reproduced with permission.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995