sermons

RETALIATION

November 18, 2018

It was one of the most delicious (pardon the choice of words here), but it really was one of the most satisfying pieces of revenge in silver screen history.

The movie is called “The Help.” Based off Kathryn Stockett’s book by the same name, the story is set smack dab in the middle of Mississippi during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.


Minny Jackson is the long-suffering maid to the horrible Hilly Holbrook, the self-declared moral authority around town who leads the community charge to segregate in-home bathrooms.


Hilly fires Minny for using the guest bathroom in the house rather than trudge through a storm to get to the outhouse she's supposed to use. So, Minny comes up with a plan to make Hilly eat her cruel words by making her a chocolate pie that contains a new special ingredient: If you’ve seen the movie, or if you can read lips, you know what it was.


It sounds foul and disgusting, and even a little disturbing, but truth is, to most of us it actually was quite delicious watching Hilly's brain catch up with her ears when she finally realizes what’s in that two pieces of pie she just had.


It was literally sweet revenge. I remember people in the theater cheering at the end of this scene.


We like it when the bad people get their comeuppance.


It’s the story line of so many books and films and TV shows. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.


When little Ralphie Parker in the iconic holiday movie “A Christmas Story” finally takes down the twice his size bully Scut Farkus, we all feel a sense of things finally being turned right.

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How much is a kid supposed to take? Scut had been terrorizing little Ralphie and his friends every morning and afternoon on their way to school. He threatens them and scares them and twists their arms and pushes them down and hits them with snowballs. He was their constant worry.


He’s a bully, and although most of us are too afraid to take him on ourselves, we cheer on the kid who’s finally had enough and does something about it because the bully isn’t supposed to win.


We use scenes like the ones we just saw to try and convince our children to always be good to others. Because the bad guys always get caught, and always pay the price. We tell them the bully never wins.


But we know that’s not really always true. Sometimes the bad people do come out on top, or at least it seems that way. And that feels wrong.

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The Bible is full of villains. It’s full of good people of course, but the list of people in the Bible who did horrible, horrific things, sometimes in the name of God or what they thought was right, is pretty long. And some of them seem to get away with their awful deeds.


We’re coming up on the Advent season in just a couple of weeks. We’ll be reminded of the story of the Christ child, and part of that story includes a heartless innkeeper, and a jealous King who was hearing rumors of a child King who was coming to take his throne. Since he couldn’t find the child and get rid of him, he simply got rid of all the boy children… he had them all killed just to be safe.


It was cruel. It was vicious. The bible says the weeping and sorrow could not be comforted. Imagine the government’s army coming into your neighborhood, onto your street and doing such a thing. It’s terrifying, and it hurts our hearts.


There are others in the Bible who did bad things, took advantage of the weak and powerless and used their own wealth, power, and control to keep the people in their place.


Right out of the gate, there’s Cain who killed his brother Abel.


There’s Abimelech who didn’t want to share being king with his brothers, so he killed them… all 70 of them. As a side note, one of his brothers, the youngest one, was able to escape.


There’s the notorious Jezebel who killed the truth-telling Jewish prophets she didn’t like, then sacrificed babies to her own made–up god to make up for it.


There’s the killer Jephthah and the traitor Judas Iscariot and the selfish patriarch Lot who was pathetic for offering his own daughter and a concubine to the men of Sodom who were pounding at the door trying to find someone to satisfy their lust and rabid urges.


And there was Herod Antipas who we read about today.


Here’s the story in a nutshell:

Herod Antipas was having an affair with his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. John the Baptist was making a big deal out of it. Antipas didn’t like the noise John was making, but he was afraid to silence him because the people regarded John as a prophet. And Antipas was fascinated with John himself. He believed him to be a holy man. 


However nervous Antipas was about getting rid of John, his mistress Herodias wasn’t giving it a second thought. John was calling them out on their affair, and she wanted him to shut up. So, she convinced Antipas to have him arrested.


It’s while John was in jail that Antipas was throwing himself a birthday party, and apparently throwing back a few drinks.


It was at this party that Herodias had an idea. She knew that Antipas not only had a thing for her, but was also putting eyes on her young daughter, Salome. So, when Salome did a dance for Antipas and all his party guests, he was so impressed and enamored by her performance that he promised to give her anything she wanted. 


Anything…

This was the opportunity Herodias had been looking for. She told Salome to tell Antipas that she wanted the head of John the Baptist. That would absolutely and finally shut him up.


Of course, Antipas wasn’t happy with Salome’s request, but he felt he had to honor his promise (not that honor means that much to a man who’s stealing his brother’s wife). But he also had a house full of dinner guests to save face in front of. So, he gave the order and John the Baptist was killed… his head actually delivered to the girl who then carried it to her mother.


As the story goes, someone got word to John’s disciples. They claimed his body and buried it.


Then they went and told Jesus what had happened.


Jesus and John were related. Remember it was John’s mother Elizabeth who felt the baby leap in her womb when her cousin Mary announced to her that she was pregnant with Jesus.


There are a variety of understandings of the relationship between John and Jesus. We know that John spent a lot of his ministry “preparing the way” for Jesus. He announced over and over again that one was coming who would be greater than him.


Back in the day, both John and Jesus were very well known. They both had strong followings, and some folks even got them confused. As a matter of fact, after John’s death when a guilt-laden Antipas started hearing about the miracles Jesus was doing, he thought that it was a resurrected John who was doing them.


But Jesus and John were also co-workers for the great cause. They saw each other as respected and admired partners in the good work of God. Their approaches were different… Jesus was more like a compassionate Billy Graham, whereas John was more like an angry Franklin.


But they supported each other. Jesus sought out John to be baptized.


I’d imagine the news of John’s death sent shockwaves through the region. People were probably shaken by it all. John’s disciples were of course. And some of Jesus’ disciples had once belonged to John’s followers and were still great students. There was a close connection there. And no doubt a lot of folks looked to see how Jesus would respond.
 

I wonder what John’s disciples were expecting when they came to tell Jesus about John’s gruesome death. I wonder if they talked about it on the way to where Jesus was.
 

“Every person at that party will regret being a part of this. Jesus will make this right. It may be lightning, or an earthquake, or a good old-fashioned plague, but Jesus is not going to allow this to come and go without some sort of justice.”


They’d seen Jesus do some pretty incredible things. Maybe he could use his power over nature and disease to set things straight for John.

Antipas, Herodias and Salome cannot be allowed to get away with this!
 

Then this…
 

13 When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities.14 When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick.

Well that’s not the way it’s supposed happen… unless you’re able to see things the way they really are… and apparently, Jesus could.
 

Jesus saw all of this for what it really was. He saw Antipas and Herodias and her daughter as the tools of evil, but not the source of it.


I don’t doubt that he was shaken and sad at the death of John. But I also believe he knew that depravity and jealousy and fear and an overblown sense of ego and pride… all of the things that are bred in the incubator of an evil and empty heart… he knew that the power and spirit of darkness was the real culprit here.
 

He knew the same thing here the Apostle Paul knew later when he told the Ephesians to…
 

10 … be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. 11 Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12 We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 13 Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.

He didn’t take the devil’s bait. He didn’t punch back at Antipas, Herodias or Salome with more violence. That wouldn’t played right into the enemy’s hands.
 

Jesus retaliated in the most awesome way!

13 When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place to be by himself. But when he arrived he saw a large crowd, and had compassion for them and healed those who were sick.

Want to show the heartless a thing or two? Start showing your heart!

Want to teach a lesson to those who attack education and educators? Volunteer at a school and support the teachers!

Think there’s a void of compassion in the world? Show more compassion!

Be more involved!

Stand against prejudice!

Support the groups, agencies and organizations that step in to help those in need!

Make time for a lonely friend!

Drop a can of something in the blue barrel!

Wrap your coat around a pair of cold shoulders!

Be better to the earth!

Show love to the most challenging person you know!

Be hospitable… love justice… do mercy… show kindness.
 

Jesus was pretty popular in his day. He could’ve made things pretty difficult for Antipas and the powers that be. And the people who followed him would’ve felt he was justified in doing it.
 

But, you know Jesus… That wasn’t his style. There were no unpleasant surprises in his pie.


He responded to violence and evil with compassion and good. It’s hard to do sometimes. It requires us to be patient and look at the long game.
 

That’s what this is… it’s a long game. It’s not about instant gratification or immediate justice or turning things right-side-up all at once.
 

And it’s really not even about retaliation. It’s about funneling the anger and fear into motivation and faith to do God’s work in the world.
 

Let’s go and do it.

It’s interesting that when Jesus was about to be crucified, he stood briefly in front of Herod Antipas who could have passed judgment and had him executed. But Antipas forwarded Jesus’ case on to Pilate.

Matthew 14: 1-14 CEB
At that time Herod the ruler heard the news about Jesus. He said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He’s been raised from the dead. This is why these miraculous powers are at work through him.” Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip.

That’s because John told Herod, “It’s against the law for you to marry her.”

Although Herod wanted to kill him, he feared the crowd because they thought John was a prophet. But at Herod’s birthday party Herodias’ daughter danced in front of the guests and thrilled Herod. Then he swore to give her anything she asked.

At her mother’s urging, the girl said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a plate.” Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests he commanded that they give it to her. Then he had John beheaded in prison. They brought his head on a plate and gave it to the young woman, and she brought it to her mother. But John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus what had happened.

When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities.When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick.

audio coming soon