Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sermon for Pentecost 7: "A Tale of Two Kings"

+ 7th Sunday after Pentecost – July 12th, 2015 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B: Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Mark’s account of John the Baptist’s beheading matches the world we live in.
Grim. Violent. Messy. Senseless.

Countless Christian churches have been targeted and burned throughout our country.
Same-sex marriage advocates work tirelessly, first to make the Christian church tolerate, then accept, and finally celebrate sin.

A South Carolina church still grieves the death of their pastor and parishioners at the hands of a wicked man.

Demonic hordes such as ISIS threaten, persecute, and behead our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, whether it makes the news or not.

How true our Lord’s words ring in our ears:
Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. (John 16:2-3)

We’re tempted to despair. To give up the fight. To cry out: “Who’s in charge of this mess? Is God defeated? How’s he at work in all of this chaos?

And yet…Even in death John the Baptist is the forerunner, pointing us to Jesus’s death for us.

See how John’s death reveals a great irony: Mighty Herod is afraid. John is faithful. Herod hears the truth but fails to keep it. John hears the truth and can’t help but speak. The powerful Herod is weak, while weak and lowly John is strong. And if we understand this, we see the entire Gospel laid out before us. God’s power made perfect in weakness. The last are first. God reconciles sinners. Jesus’ death is our greatest victory. And John’s brutal, innocent death points us to Jesus’ innocent suffering and death for us.

Like the prophets before him, John was beholden to no man. Herod’s ax couldn’t silence John’s preaching any more than Manasseh’s saw could quiet Isaiah, or the pit drown out Jeremiah, or Jezebel was able to muzzle Elijah.

Whatever the Lord spoke, John spoke, even if it meant imprisonment or death.. John was the Lord’s servant. The Lord’s mouthpiece. A witness.

This is why we call it the martyrdom of John the Baptist. Not simply because he was martyred, but because he was a witness in life and death to the One whose way he was called to prepare.

That’s what that little word martyr means: witness. To testify. To confess that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Who takes away your sin. My sin.
And that is what cost John his life. Speaking the truth.

But what about us? Are we more like John – bold in our conviction of faith, intolerant of immorality no matter what the world thinks, fearless in pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Or are we more like Herod – hiding in the shadows listening to the truth, but cowering in public, weak-kneed and without conviction?

Repent. For there’s a little Herod in each of us who is lukewarm and afraid to commit. There is a little want-to-be king in each of us that is more afraid of looking bad in front of the world than we are afraid of God’s wrath over sin. Oh that we would join our hands to our neighbors and beg them to run with us and join John in fleeing the wrath that is to come. That we would leap for joy in sharing the Gospel as John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. That we would be faithful witnesses to the Lamb who was slain and yet lives, even for sinners like us and John.

So on the one hand, John’s death serves as a warning and an antidote against any Pollyannaish notions we have about any victorious Christian living, or confusing the Gospel with positive thinking. Can you imagine if someone like Joel Osteen had been called to preach to John the Baptist in jail? “God has great plans in store for you, John, just stay positive...don’t worry; be happy!”

This is nothing but Tinkerbelle theology – you know, think happy thoughts. It might sound nice, but it’s a sham. It offers no hope, no comfort, and no forgiveness because it offers no Jesus crucified and risen for you.

We need John’s voice crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. We need John’s broken-record message: there is one coming who is greater than I. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.

Even in death, John is the forerunner, pointing us to Jesus’ death for us. For it is the suffering and death of Jesus that gives us consolation in our suffering and death.
And so John’s death is more than a warning. It is a witness.

John’s death is a great comfort when we – or anyone we know – is suffering, especially for their Christian faith.

Herod may have murdered the chief witness, but he could not silence John’s testimony. Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, but the Roman guards couldn’t keep him in the grave.

Churches in this country may burn, be sued, or come under attack for our confession of faith but we are built on the rock of Christ’s death and resurrection. The world rages around you; but you are safe in Christ. The devil will still scowl fiercely. But he cannot harm you. He’s judged. Defeated.

ISIS may persecute and even martyr more Christians, but they cannot and will not remove the head of the Church, who is Christ our Lord. He holds the field victorious.
Paul may have been imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, but even in captivity he wrote of our great freedom in Christ:
 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

You see, this is a tale of two kings.

Herod hosted dinner parties for the powerful and wealthy. Jesus ate and drank with sinners and outcasts.

Herod appears strong but is weak and powerless. Jesus is weak - humbling himself even to death on the cross – and reveal his power hidden in weakness.

Herod oversees the death of John for his own gain. Jesus lays down his life for others.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.

Is God at work in John’s death? Yes, even in death, John is the forerunner, pointing us to Jesus’ death for us.

Is God being defeated? Yes, for in his defeat you receive victory over sin and death. His suffering is your suffering. His death is your death. His life is your life.

And so, faith looks at John’s death and says, “This is the Gospel of the Lord.” Your faith is not blind. We see tragedy and persecution. But faith looks through the mess of this world to the cross. Faith looks to Jesus crucified for you, for John, and for this whole messy, sinful world.

“God give us the strength of conviction, the courage born of compassion, the zeal forged in the reality of this same Grace to follow in John’s example. For even in death, John who points not to our many sins, but to our Redeemer, the Lamb of God, who saves you. May He fix our eyes there and let them never be moved.” (Peterson)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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