I knew a man once who loved to hear sermons about fire and brimstone. He was himself, an indulgent man who wasted his life on behaviors that we should not talk about in polite company. And yet, every year he went to the annual “revival meetings” at a church he had gone to in his youth, looking forward to hearing about the fires of hell and the impending judgment God was to finally give to every man on the Last Day. He would go every night (at least every night he was sober) and sit and listen to the fiery sermons and genuinely be moved by them.
And he never changed. At least, not that any of us ever knew. But who knows the grace of God and His infinite mercy?
We all know people like this. They know what is right. They know they should conduct their lives differently. They easily confess their belief in God and that they should live their lives for Him. And they don’t. Since it’s just us talking, may I confess sometimes I do the same thing.
What’s really fascinating about this is that psychologists have discovered this is true of all of us. When I was taking counseling classes, one of the most amazing things our professor told us was that trained counselors know that practically everyone who comes to them for help already knows what they need to do to get better. They already know what they should change and how they should live BEFORE they come to counseling! The job of the counselor then becomes helping the person come to grips with what they know they need to do!
Look at our Lesson today in Mark 6:14-30:
At that time, Herod the King heard about the fame of Jesus, for his name had become known. He said, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; because he had married her. For John said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 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. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’ 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.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” And she went out, and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the baptizer.” 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.” And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 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, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
In our Gospel Lesson today we read of this very same situation. St. John the Forerunner (John the Baptist) is being what he is; a prophet. He is Truth-Telling the unvarnished truth to King Herod and his wife. And, no, as a matter of fact, the lady (if I may be so bold as to refer to her as such) doesn’t care for John or his sermons! We all know the story, and the end is always the same. John loses his head when he insists on valuing truth over his own comfort. Today is the Feastday of the Beheading of the Forerunner, and we pray we will have the same courage to value Truth over our own comfort!
So, the straightforward message of John was received gladly by King Herod. The message meant to disturb the anesthetizing “sleep” of destructive behavior, had done just that. The King was, indeed, perplexed. But King Herod’s right beginnings toward repentance were short-circuited by his slavery to his pride and passion. So, when he foolishly made the promise to Herodias’ daughter; the wicked girl, inspired by her wicked mother, tempted the wicked king to take John’s head!
No wonder the wisdom of the Church teaches us to daily pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is only when we keep our hearts tender and receptive through repentance and honest (without shame! Because God loves us!) confession of our need for grace and mercy that we are able to move past the precious and loving invitation to repentance from the Holy Spirit when He discomforts us in our destructive way to real transformation in His grace and strength. My dearest, please make an appointment with your spiritual father today for confession. Before the new Church Year is two weeks old, move beyond the beginnings of repentance and toward the life-giving spiritual “medicine” available to you in the spiritual hospital” of the Church. Do this, and you will be free from the sad “almost there” hell of knowing what you should do and never doing more than have good intentions!
Today, it isn’t enough to salve our disturbed (or perplexed) souls with the “intentions” of repentance. To be sure, we all recall that twinge of awareness when we hear sermons or we see godly people live godly lives, and we know the path we should be on as well. But if that twinge, if that precious and uncomfortable moment of being confronted and discomforted by the Truth isn’t followed up by the courage of repentance, those twinges get fewer and fewer as our conscience becomes calloused by neglect! And eventually, our soul is so calloused, we no longer feel the tug of grace on our hearts! Being a Normal Orthodox Christian means always keeping our hearts soft and our ears attentive to God’s call.
P.S. The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise, but the Lord’s testimony is sufficient for you, O Forerunner; for you have proved to be truly even more venerable than the Prophets since you were granted to baptize in the running waters Him Whom they proclaimed. Wherefore, having contested for the truth, you did rejoice to announce the good tidings even to those in Hades: that God had appeared in the flesh, taking away the sin of the world and granting us great mercy.
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