Pentecost +7b – Sunday 15th July 2012
Mark 6: 14-29
It’s been a rather sobering week. Along with many other stories to absorb it’s been sad to read about the deaths of Eric Sykes and Ernest Borgnine. Fortunately, they both lived to grand old ages and achieved a very notable status in life, being held in such high regard by so many people. On the face of it they were two very different characters, but a closer examination reveals they were more similar than you first think.
Eric Sykes, born here in Oldham, was a comic actor and scriptwriter. Best known for his own television sitcom – Sykes – and his award winning silent movie – The Plank – he also wrote for The Goons and many other radio comedies.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Ernest Borgnine was born in Connecticut, and starred in such epic films as Marty (for which he won an Oscar), The Wild Bunch, Ice Station Zebra, Jesus of Nazerath and as the voice of Mermaid Man in Spongerbob Squarepants!
The obituary written in The Guardian said: “(That) Eric Sykes did not look or sound at all like a comedian. One aspect of his appeal was that he was more like the bloke behind the counter of a DIY shop, or a harrassed minor local government official.” Ernest Borgnine on some levels was a typical Hollywood hell raiser. Married four times he had something of a reputation. Yet he once said:
“Ever since they opened the floodgates with Clark Gable saying, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,’ somebody’s ears pricked up and said, ‘Oh boy, here we go!’. Writers used to make such wonderful pictures without all that swearing, all that cursing. And now it seems that you can’t say three words without cursing. And I don’t think that’s right.”
And in that respect Borgnine and Sykes are very alike, for they believed in portraying life – despite all its grittiness and hurt – in ways so compelling and engaging that you didn’t need swearing and gratuitous outrage. They stuck to their principles and carved out successful careers – admired and lauded careers.
Stuck to their principles. Did King Herod have any principles? Was he similar to Sykes or Borgnine? It would be easy to say no. But in our reading from Mark we discover:
Herod was the one who had ordered the arrest of John, put him in chains, and sent him to prison at the nagging of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had provoked Herod by naming his relationship with Herodias “adultery.” Herodias, smoldering with hate, wanted to kill him, but didn’t dare because Herod was in awe of John. Convinced that he was a holy man, he gave him special treatment. Whenever he listened to him he was miserable with guilt—and yet he couldn’t stay away. Something in John kept pulling him back.
Something in John kept pulling him back. Were Sykes and Borgnine in anyway similar to Herod? Well, only in the sense that at the heart of the King he knew how wrong he was, and how challenging, forgiving and healing the words of John the Baptist were. There was a core of Herod that wanted to do the right thing, but he let it slip away.
I suppose we could say that Sykes and Borgnine were similar to Herod, in the same respect that we are similar to Herod. Despite the sin of our lives there is something in the love and mercy of God that keeps pulling us back to him. Despite complete unworthiness, God is like a magnet pulling us to him. As they say opposite attracts – the contamination of our lives matched with the purity of the heart of God. God won’t give up on us. He pursues us with every ounce of his being, determined to win us over, to transform our lives.
What a wonderful story, that regardless of the wickedness of our ways, God continues to reach out to us. Amazing grace. Wake up with a head like Herod today? I know I did. But there’s still hope for us yet.