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Summary: When we lose our ways emotionally or spiritually, we hurt ourselves and others. Herod, Herodias and Salome demonstrate the ways we can be seduced into losing our heads. John only lost his physical head but not his integrity.

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Do you know the poem, "If’, by Rudyard Kipling? I’m sure you’ve heard it a hundred times. But let me quote just a part of "If’.

"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you; if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too; if you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, or being hated, don’t give way to hating, and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise; if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, if all men count with you, but none too much; if you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, and -- which is more -- you’ll be a man, my son!"

Whew! Let me catch my breath after that mouthful! "If’. "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you ... you’ll be a man, my son." Well, some wit has rewritten Brother Kipling a little bit, and has said, "If, if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, you obviously don’t know what’s going on!"

I suspect all of us have had the experience of losing our heads, either because we didn’t know what was going on, or maybe because we did know!

We lose our heads, we get emotionally unstable, when things happen too fast for us to absorb. Too many things going on, and we just throw up our hands and quit. Remember the song, "Stop the world, I want to get off!"?

We lose our heads when someone blindsides us; when someone’s actions are so strange and bizarre that we don’t know what to make of it all. Like that driver that cuts you off on Piney Branch Road where the left-turn only lane is. You just want to rev up and beat him out!

We lose our heads when somebody attacks us, questions our motives, even suggests that we don’t love the Lord. You know the kind of thing? My mother used to drive me batty when she would disapprove of some decision I had made by saying, "Humph. I can’t imagine a minister doing that!" And I would just want to scream!

We lose our heads, don’t we? We don’t stay in control of our feelings. I imagine we would like to. I imagine we would like to be cool and stable under stress. Wouldn’t you want to be like that pilot, the other day? The one who, when the engines on his jet conked out, just coolly and calmly calculated how far he could glide and how much braking power he had, and took it in for a safe landing? Weren’t you impressed with that?

Wouldn’t we want to be like those Wimbledon tennis stars? They know that if they get flustered under attack, they will throw the game away. And so, no matter how aggressive their opponent is; no matter how hard pressed they are, they know that if they just let their gut feelings take over, they will blow the game. So they play the game in their heads as much as in their legs and arms. Now they may lose the game even while they think, think, think; but at least they will not throw it away. At least they will not have lost their heads.

It’s easy to lose your head. It’s easy to react to stress by lashing out. But it’s destructive. It’s not only destructive to others; it is ultimately a loss to your own soul.

So: "If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs...". Today the Bible presents us with the ultimate losing-your-head story. In this story, John the Baptist loses his head, literally and physically. But as we read the story, we need to ask, "Who lost his head spiritually? Who really lost his, or her, head? And how did it happen?"

I

Consider King Herod. Tetrarch of Galilee, whose father, Herod the Great, we know as the king who ordered all those innocent baby boys killed when Jesus was born. Herod, who had managed to lure his wife, Herodias, away from her first husband, Philip, who was in turn Herod’s own half-brother. By the way, if you want something complicated, try this: Herodias was, first of all, Herod’s niece, by blood; but she was also, or had been, his sister-in-law. And now, thanks to some fancy legal maneuvering, she was his wife! You folks with training in family therapy could have a field day with that one!

Herod had put John the Baptist in prison. John was too much to handle on the loose, so Herod put him behind bars. Now we come to this colorful scene, in which the king’s wife Herodias and her daughter Salome ask for the head of John the Baptist. And Herod agrees. Herod takes John’s life. John lost his head.

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