I am going to be the guest celebrant and preacher this Sunday at a church about 70 miles from here, and I’m struggling with the text. The lectionary has given us Mark’s story of the beheading of John the Baptist. Just that and nothing more. But consider this, what precedes it is the calling and sending out of disciples two-by-two into the nearby villages to cast out demons and heal the sick. They don’t even get out the door when the narrative changes to the beheading story. It ungraciously interrupts a perfectly coherent flow that rejoices in the return of the disciples. So why do you suppose Mark, or some editor, dumped the beheading pericope right in the middle? Perhaps it just slipped out of his hands and plopped down there by accident? No? I don’t think so either.
Kingdom language is not as prevalent in Mark as it is in Matthew or Luke, but it’s not lacking and shortly before this episode Jesus had quite a bit to say about it. Sending his disciples out two-by-two was intended to manifest evidence of that kingdom in the lives of those on whom they would call. Before we can find out how it went we get the story of Herod beheading John. When that is concluded we learn about the wonderful things the disciples witnessed on their adventure. It’s really a tale of two kingdoms isn’t it?
Now here’s the real question. Which kingdom do we live in most of the time and often fiercely defend. Is it the one of power, riches, selfishly sensuous delights, rampant injustice, hubris, cowardice and death? Or is it the other one? If we are honest, I think we know which one, and it’s the one that keeps interrupting the story of God’s work. So here’s the follow up question. What would it mean to be more like the disciples sent out two-by-two to bring the power of God’s love into the lives of the people they met in the places they visited? I don’t think it’s anything like an LDS or Jehovah’s Witness door knock campaign. I’ve got some ideas, but what do you think it might be like?