488 years ago, this very day the Pope of the time, Clement VIII, finally got fed up with Henry VIII and told him that he would be kicked out of the Church (primarily for marrying Anne Boleyn). King Henry took no notice and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today we’ve heard the story of another king, Herod (son of the one who was around when Jesus was born), who is persuaded by his wife to kill John the Baptist.
In a nutshell, John the Baptist has criticised Herod’s wife, Herodias. She becomes angry and wants to kill John. Although Herod is angry too, he respects John and knows that he is a holy man.
However, at a party probably the worse for wear through drink, Herod promises his stepdaughter, Salome, anything she wants and, on her mother’s advice she asks for the head of John the Baptist. Herod has a problem. He does not want to kill John, but he feels he can’t lose face and has to keep a promise made in front of his guests. One foolish choice leads to another, and the result was the beheading of John the Baptist.
Both stories, and that of Amos raise questions - about who and what influences us, who we listen to, and what governs our actions. <span style="font-size: 1rem;">Amos and the Gospel tell of God’s servants who speak up for what they believe. John was criticising the personal </span><span style="font-size: 1rem;">morality of the royal court. Our papers do that today. </span><span style="font-size: 1rem;">Amos was critical of international and domestic policies and was viewed as a traitor.</span>
Today there are people are in prison or have ‘disappeared’ all around the world for criticising their leaders; in places like Afghanistan, for just wanting to be heard or to be educated.
People in universities or in the media spotlight are being ‘cancelled’ or denied the right to speak in debates by others who don’t like listening to opposite points of view.
Making wise choices in what we do or say is not always an easy path. Many evil actions begin, like Herod’s, in an ordinary way – it only takes one initial stupid decision. Think of the men, worse for drink, who accosted Chris Whitty a <span style="font-size: 1rem;">couple of weeks ago. In court, one said he wanted a selfie, to show off to his gran!</span>
One silly decision and now he’s lost his job, may end up in prison, will find it difficult to get insurance and loans - his integrity has gone.
In many ways, Herod behaved like a modern-day populist leader – he was rash and played to the audience. Gathered around him were sycophantic followers, fawning, flattering him and egging him on.
He didn’t like John’s wise words of warning and his wife, and her daughter clearly did not have his best interests at heart when it came to advice. He took what seemed the easy way out.
How might we know when to speak up and act for truth and goodness? To make wise decisions rather than take the easy way out? Who do we turn to for guidance? If it’s to friends or colleagues, how do we know whether or not they are advising us wisely? Do we ask God to give us the <span style="font-size: 1rem;">wisdom to do the right thing?</span>
Well, we have a God who listens to us, who is forgiving, who is always there for us, however many times we <span style="font-size: 1rem;">stumble. We have the teachings of Christ and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We have the lives of the saints who have gone before us. There is a cost to following the right path; it may not result in death, but we can expect criticism, and in some places worse. However, in the end it leads to the priceless gifts of peace of mind and the kingdom of heaven. </span>
Think of the times you’ve felt relief when you’ve made a difficult choicest the right decision. Thank God for those times. Ask for his help to overcome self-righteousness assuming our ‘rightness’ over those we disagree with. Ask for humility and love, so that our words and actions might always be proportionate and kind, ask for wisdom that our motives may be sincere and true.
Support those you admire, especially the England team tonight, but remember always the one who supports and forgives us, every one of us - our Father who is in heaven. Praise him for all his gifts and work with him so that his will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.