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Promises, Promises

Mark 6:14-29

The Rev. Jon Roberts

11 July


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

14 King Herod heard of it; for Jesus’[a] name had become known. Some[b] said, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Eli′jah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Hero′di-as, his brother Philip’s wife; because he had married her. 18 For John said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Hero′di-as had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Hero′di-as’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out, and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.


Salome Dancing before Herod, Gustave Mareau 1876

The best part about promises, is keeping them.[1]

A long time ago, there was a young boy who was caught acting up in Sunday School. The teacher called on him and asked, "Do you remember what you promised me?" The boy said, "Yes, that I wouldn't misbehave anymore." Then the teacher asked, "And do you remember what I promised you?" The boy responded, "Yes, that if I misbehaved again, I'd be sent to the Priest to make a confession.” After a pause, he said, “But since I broke my promise it's ok if you do too."

It is never OK to break our promises and if we do, confession is most necessary.

In the novel, Gulliver’s Travels, a young lad goes away, experiencing places and people, established societies to which are oddly, uniquely much smaller than him, or much larger. He was either a giant or a dwarf, depending on where he landed. It was wonderful fiction, quite political to illustrate the pettiness of governments and leaders, especially within the hypocrisy of promises not kept. To keep a society conformed and obedient, leaders made promises that were never kept. It was like offering a dessert, to which you could never enjoy. It seems that Jonathan Swift, the author of this book, and the Dean of deadpan, creates a satirical journey of misbehaving adults who were never held accountable for unkempt promises. Swift, who happened to be an Anglican priest and eventual dean of the cathedral in Dublin, put it like this: “Promises and pie-crusts are made to be broken.” [2]

What promises have we made that we did not keep? If you promise to be at supper on time, is it OK to be late? If you promised a friend to pick them up from the airport or the hospital, is it Ok for them to wait on you a little while longer because you did not anticipate the traffic? What about promissory notes? If you break one with your landlord or your bank, are you so easily forgiven? Politicians make promises all the time, most they do not keep. These are all examples of promises we make with other people. What about promises you make to God? Do you play it safe and keep your promises short such as, you promise to be “good?” Or, you promise to behave? That is awfully subjective but God set the stage when he sent Jesus, His Son to show us the way. Knowing how he lived, have you kept your promises to be good on the outside as well as the inside? Do your words reflect your behavior?
Then, there are promises made that are foolish. Not every promise is a good one, nor one that God would be in approval.

Take into account the story of Herod, whose daughter Salome danced before him and all the elite to which he called to banquet.[3] As the story goes, she entertained everyone there and the people were delighted. Daddy’s little girl put Herod in an awkward situation when after she finished, and everyone was clapping, he promised, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” “What should I ask for?” she replied. Knowing her father was a shrewd leader, she went to another who was shrewder than him. She turned to her mother who whispered what she should ask. “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist.” Everyone knew that the imprisoned prophet was a powerful man, more powerful behind bars as his followers demanded release. Herod feared he would make John a martyr, who would be even greater dead than alive, but feared more so his critics if he did not uphold his promise to his daughter. So, he had John executed and his head delivered to Herodias.

This is a story of great consequence. You see, God promised through the prophets he would provide safety, prosperity and triumph for the oppressed people of Israel. He did the same through providing his promise through the prophet Samuel in announcing David as the new King, that we read in the Old Testament.[4] This account of John the Baptist, God’s herald and promise keeper in Mark parallels Samuel. King Saul wanted to kill David because he was threatened by his rise to power and so it was with King Herod who wanted Christ killed because of John’s prophecy. If Herod kills the messenger, then the message will never arrive. This was calculated and Herod’s wife knew this. She knew the kingdom would perish and her husband would lose control if John continued to prophecy the promises of God, that the messiah was coming and that everyone should prepare.

Going back to our premise. What do you now believe? Is it OK to break our promise? Should Herod or Saul have broken their promises to protect their kingdom, and leave it to chance, or prophecy that another would oust them? Listen to that statement again, and those particular words, “to protect their kingdom.” When we make promises to protect our kingdom, without God’s guidance, then they are like pie crusts, meant to be broken. Do you pray about everything you promise? You should. You should think and pray before you speak. Let your thoughts be sure on what Jesus calls you to do. Yes, Christ lives in the things that are both smaller and bigger than us, just like young Gulliver witnessed. Just like young David and even Jesus himself who came to us in the flesh as a vulnerable man. Do not be so easily tempted to say “yes” to every request if it compromises your integrity, just to please others.

Remember, God kept His promise. He promised that He would come to save sinners, even those who confess their inability to keep promises to Him. Pray about it. Where is God leading you? What has He promised? It may not be wealth and health. It may simply be to sojourn with you in your imprisoned state like John the Baptist. You may lose your head, but if you promise to draw near to Christ, he will draw near to you.

Jesus is the promise of God, fulfilled in us. His promise of salvation is intended to be carried by us. Only through this message do we find hope, mercy and love. This may come as a threat to others who are trying to protect their kingdom, but God’s kingdom if far more great and through Christ we are reminded, the best thing about promises is keeping them.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversations, 1738.
[3] Mark 6:14-29
[4] 2 Samuel 6:1-19

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