Sermon Seeds: Lawful, Righteous, Holy

Sunday, July 14, 2024
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost | Year B
(Liturgical Color: Green)

Lectionary Citations
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 and Psalm 24 • Amos 7:7-15 and Psalm 85:8-13 • Ephesians 1:3-14 • Mark 6:14-29

Focus Scripture: Mark 6:14-29
Focus Theme: Lawful, Righteous, Holy
Series: Here I Am…Following (Click here for the series overview.)

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Prophets and powerful political figures tend to find themselves at odds. The role of the prophet requires them to speak truth to power. That is, they communicate God’s perspective in a given situation, which often translates into reflecting the sharp difference between human and divine leadership, aspirations, and standards. John the Baptist is not the first prophet nor was he the last, yet his ministry is situated in a particular relationship to the ascent of Jesus in public ministry. Their lives were intertwined from the womb of their mothers, who also demonstrated prophetic sensibilities in their proclamations of God at work in them and through them and their children. John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus, is often mistaken to be the Messiah himself, or the reincarnation of prophets of old, particularly raising similarities and comparison with Elijah. Elijah was followed by his protege, Elisha. John, on the other hand, is followed by Jesus. While Elisha was blessed with a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, no one would suggest that Elijah was not worthy to be equated with Elijah. In contrast, John himself notes his limitations when considered alongside the person of Jesus.

Yet, John does not stop ministering when Jesus arrives on the scene. While the two were only a few months apart in chronological age, John has already developed a following in both individual disciples and crowds who gather when Jesus makes his public debut. Notably, that moment takes place with the assistance of John as Jesus approached him to be baptized. It is the opening of the Markan account as the gospel writer does not concern himself with the life of Jesus before the public ministry of Jesus. It’s an interesting editorial choice as the other writers consider and present to their audiences material that is foundational to framing the public ministry. Mark seems to suggest that what Jesus does and says stands on its own without need for further commentary or context.

In the same way, the Prophets stand upon the foundation of the Law. The Incarnation of Christ continues as the next iteration of the redemptive work of the Holy One in creation. None negate the other, each joins in concert to restore the world from its brokenness and move the kindom forward. Each intervention demonstrates the divine’s relentless pursuit of right relationship with the human. Each action reinforces the Creator’s commitment to the covenant.

Ministry, in the name of God, calls disciples to reflect the redemptive, restorative, and covenantal character of the work, witness, and teachings of Jesus. John the Baptist does this concurrently to the introduction of Jesus. He does not become a disciple of Jesus the person yet his ministry certainly takes the same path as Jesus. In John, who all the gospel writers feature prominently with a remarkable consistency of storyline, the biblical witness demonstrates continuity of the eras of law, prophet, and presence.

Like all prophets, John communicated a message of repentance and righteousness. He performed baptisms as a ritual to reflect those internal commitments and undivided allegiance to the Sovereign One. The message of the good news of grace, redemption, and new life was not new, the means of conveying that message evolved. In Christ, the message and the messenger are one. At the same time, John, in his own life, embodied the message to the degree that his followers suspected that he might be the chosen one. John also provides Christians with an example of discipleship and acceptance of the call to ministry. His story demonstrates how the life one leads and values one espouses may be the strongest, and most threatening, expression of faith one may proclaim.

His testimony conveys the risks of being prophetic:

People begin to speculate that John the Baptist or Elijah has been raised from the dead (6:14–15). The ministry work of the disciples, work that clearly mirrors the ministry of Jesus, is now connected to John the Baptist. Prior to this point, Mark has told the reader that John was arrested (1:14). Now the reader finds out that John has been beheaded by Herod (6:16) and his death was orchestrated by Herodias (6:19–24). Like Jezebel, who sought to kill Elijah for condemning the worship of her gods and killing her prophets (1 Kings 19:1–2), Herodias wanted John executed for speaking against her marriage to Herod (6:18–19). At this point in the narrative, one sower is dead, and sowing the word lies at the root of his death. Members of Mark’s community, who already know of Jesus’ death, would also know that John will not be the only casualty in Mark’s story. Jesus will die, and Mark is laying the foundation to connect his death to John’s. In Mark’s narrative, both men are “handed over” or “betrayed” (paradothēnai, 1:14; 3:19; 14:41). The means of death (beheading and crucifixion) are the most shameful ways of executing a person during this time. Mark shows their words to be the precipitating factor in their deaths (6:18; 14:62). The people’s assertion that John has been raised from the dead (6:14) prepares Mark’s audience for Jesus’ prediction of his own resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:34).
Racquel S. Lettsome

Herod, a powerful Roman political figure, has indicated an interest in John’s message. As the text states, the ruler recognizes and fears John as a “righteous and holy man.” The powerful person knows he has been in the presence of a prophet. John reflects the incarnational ministry of Jesus that even Herod suspects that Jesus is the reincarnation of John. Herod even protects John as a sign of respect and honor. One of the reasons that prophets gain an audience with human rulers is that power recognizes power. Herod, although he does not follow John, listens to him until his interests are directly threatened by John’s message.

The filling in this Markan sandwich, the account of the execution of John the Baptist (6:14–29), seems to have little to do with the mission of the Twelve, or with Jesus, apart from the note that Herod had heard about Jesus, and that he mistook him for John the Baptist, whom he had executed, as risen from the dead (6:14; cf. 9:11–13). Some scholars see the insertion of this lengthy tale between the sending and return of the disciples merely as a device to mark the passage of time (e.g., Pesch 1976–77, 1:344; Hooker 1991, 158). However, a more-recent trend in scholarship is to seek thematic links between the frame and the insertion, providing a poignant contrast between the death of John, reported by his disciples, and the success of the Twelve, who report back to Jesus about everything they did and taught on their mission (6:30). The story is unusual in that it focuses on characters other than Jesus—Herod Antipas, his wife, Herodias, and her daughter. Although the death of John is at issue, the prophet remains offstage. The story is also unique in that it is the only story where Mark portrays female characters unsympathetically. Herodias and her daughter are clearly the main actors in the plot against John.
Mary Ann Beavis

The protected stance Herod holds toward John ends when the prophet’s message touches Herod’s household. It’s a cautionary tale for the church that prophetic witness can often falter when influential interests express displeasure, unease, and resistance when the message of God’s kindom conflicts with the powers of this world.

When has the church, charged to be the body of Christ, stifled truth in favor of congeniality, collegiality, and comfort? When do we submit to incrementalism when righteousness calls for immediacy? What accommodations and compromises has the church made to empire while ignoring or distorting the radical, healing ministry example set by Jesus…lawful, righteous, and holy?

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“Time To Die”
–Ray G. Dandrige
Black brother, think you life so sweet
That you would live at any price?
Does mere existence balance with
The weight of your great sacrifice?
Or can it be you fear the grave
Enough to live and die a slave?
O Brother! be it better said,
When you are gone and tears are shed,
That your death was the stepping stone
Your children’s children cross’d upon.
Men have died that men might live:
Look every foeman in the eye!
If necessary, your life give
For something, ere in vain you die.

For Further Reflection
“Love is holy because it is like grace–the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.” ― Marilynne Robinson
“No one is ever holy without suffering.” ― Evelyn Waugh
“If you don’t have a righteous objective, eventually you will suffer. When you do the right thing for the right reason, the right result awaits.” ― Chin-Ning Chu

Works Cited
Beavis, Mary Ann. Mark (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.
Lettsome, Raquel S. “Mark.” Gale A. Yee, Ed. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.

Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
This sermon series invites us to explore the call to Christian discipleship and to examine our response. In particular, encourage the congregation to amplify its prophetic witness.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (, also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page:

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.